9 Epic Responses To Legal Threats

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Lawyers don’t often get an opportunity to really cut loose and say exactly what it is they (or their clients) are thinking. We couch everything in very neutral terms and our threats are often veiled. But apparently there are vanishingly rare occasions where the absurdity of the threatened legal action matches up nicely with the devil-may-care attitude of a client, and then you get the stuff of internet magic: the epic smackdown letter.

We all long to write one, but few of us ever will. Here are some of the best we’ve found. Some of these were ostensibly written by the clients themselves, but we are just going to pretend that some lawyer somewhere got to give the go-ahead to those as well.

The Hopasaurus Rex Fight

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Steelhead Brewery in Oregon has a beer called the Hopasaurus Rex. Freetail Brewery in Texas has a brewing process that is, essentially, the dumping of even more hops in a beer, and they call that the Hopasaurus Rex. This apparently made Steelhead very sad, and they sent a cease-and-desist to Freetail, who responded directly rather than going through an attorney. Normally, we would advise against such a course of action, but since this response included a drawing of a T-Rex waving white flags in surrender, you can see why one would defer to one’s client.

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The One Groucho Marx Wrote

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In 1942, Warner Brothers released Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. You might have heard of it. It did pretty well at the box office, we are told. In 1946, the Marx Brothers were set to release A Night in Casablanca, which one can presume, even without seeing it, was to be quite a different movie, what with having the Marx Brothers and all. Warner Brothers sent a letter demanding a name change, which resulted in a delightful letter from Groucho. You can read the whole thing over at Chilling Effects, but we’ve got the best parts for you right here.

Dear Warner Brothers,

Apparently there is more than one way of conquering a city and holding it as your own. For example, up to the time that we contemplated making this picture, I had no idea that the city of Casablanca belonged exclusively to Warner Brothers. However, it was only a few days after our announcement appeared that we received your long, ominous legal document warning us not to use the name Casablanca. […]

I just don’t understand your attitude. Even if you plan on releasing your picture, I am sure that the average movie fan could learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo. I don’t know whether I could, but I certainly would like to try. […]

I have a hunch that his attempt to prevent us from using the title is the brainchild of some ferret-faced shyster, serving a brief apprenticeship in your legal department. I know the type well—hot out of law school, hungry for success, and too ambitious to follow the natural laws of promotion. This bar sinister probably needled your attorneys, most of whom are fine fellows with curly black hair, double-breasted suits, etc., into attempting to enjoin us. Well, he won’t get away with it! We’ll fight him to the highest court! No pasty-faced legal adventurer is going to cause bad blood between the Warners and the Marxes. We are all brothers under the skin, and we’ll remain friends till the last reel of “A Night in Casablanca” goes tumbling over the spool.

Who among us has not wanted to call an opponent “ferret-faced”?

The Incredibly Polite Jack Daniels C&D

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If you represent a client with any trademark interests, you know you need to be aggressive when protecting that trademark, which is likely why Jack Daniels was not able to just let this book cover for Broken Piano for President by Patrick Wesink slide, because that cover’s sole job was basically to look like the Jack Daniels label. However, you do not have to be a jerk about it, as this C&D showed:

In order to resolve this matter, because you are both a Louisville “neighbor” and a fan of the brand, we simply request that you change the cover design when the book is re-printed. If you would be willing to change the design sooner than that (including the digital version), we would be willing to contribute a reasonable amount towards the cost of doing so.

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Think of all the good will this one letter bought for Jack Daniels. Not enough good will for us to drink it, probably, but still.

The Very Succinct One From the Cleveland Browns

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Back in 1974, an attorney actually took it upon himself to write to the Cleveland Browns — on his firm’s stationary, no less — about the terrible problem of paper airplanes being launched during Browns games. Yes, paper airplanes.

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The response was a veritable textbook example of being economical with words yet still getting one’s point across.

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The Beer versus Coffee War

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Do you drink beer? When you do so, do you often mistake it for a whipped chocolate and coffee beverage? Probably not! But Starbucks was apparently very very worried that you might, so they sent an angry missive to Exit 6 Brewery in Cottleville, Missouri, for having a stout called Frappicino. The spelling error was presumably intentional. Exit 6 wrote a letter back in which they even avoided using the mere term “Frappuccino,” referring to it instead as “the F-word” throughout.

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Exit 6’s owner also wrote Starbucks a check for $6, the sum total of his profits from Frappicino Stout, and told them to put it towards their legal fees, of course.

The Soaring Porn Star Problem, Starring SCOTUSblog’s Tom Goldstein

[note: the video has the usual body parts blurred out but still may not be entirely safe for work. Similarly, Goldstein’s letter below is about the career of a porn star and contains some language some may find immodest.]

You all know Tom Goldstein from him helming SCOTUSblog, the internet’s best source for Supreme Court news. But did you also know that he was the author of a delightful piece of snark regarding a man who threw a porn star in a pool, but missed?

Goldstein represents Dan Bilzerian, a man whose job seems to consist of playing poker and being on Instagram. During a Hustler photo shoot, Bilzerian threw porn star Janice Griffith off a roof into a swimming pool, except he missed the swimming pool, as you can see in the video above. Griffith broke her foot and sent a letter demanding $85,000 to cover work she missed, which is when Goldstein swung into action.

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The “Which Enormous Company To Root For?” Fight

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Netflix and Verizon have been fighting for quite some time over whether Verizon throttles delivery of Netflix, a practice which creates network problems for Netflix and viewing problems for you as House of Cards devolves into a mess of stuttering. For a while Netflix’s error messages even told you that Verizon was to blame if you were experiencing playback problems. Because of that, Verizon sent a cease and desist and said they would sue unless Netflix provided data to back up its claims that Verizon was to blame. Netflix thumbed their nose at that request.

“As an ISP, you sell your customers a connection to the Internet,” Netflix wrote late Monday in its formal response. “To try to shift blame to us for performance issues arising from interconnection congestion is like blaming drivers on a bridge for traffic jams when you’re the one who decided to leave three lanes closed during rush hour.” […]

“We brought the data to your doorstep,” Netflix wrote. “All you had to do was open your door.”

Extra points to Netflix for the snide little nod to the Chris Christie bridge debacle.

What Happens When The Township Goes Mad With Power

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Jake Freivald lives in West Orange, New Jersey. He took a run at a town council seat and lost. After he did, he started westorange.info, which is basically a collection of links of information about the town. Seriously, it’s terrible-looking and utterly homemade.

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There is just no way anyone could mistake that for an official West Orange website, but the township attorney sent a jargon-filled cease-and-desist to Freivald. A sample of this legalese-stuffed prose:

The use of the Township’s name is unauthorized and is likely to cause confustion [sic], mistake or to deceive the public and may be a violation of the Township’s federally protected rights. The Info Domain falsely creates the impression that the Township is associated or affiliated with the Info Domain. At a minimum, this action has been taken with constructive knowledge of the Township’s name and Web site, and constitutes bad faith use of the Info Domain.

You are probably confused by what “federally protected rights” might be implicated here, and Freivald’s attorney was as well, so he shot off a delightful three-page response to the Township.

Stephen Kaplitt: Cease and Desist Response Letter

This Is What Happens When Lawyers Don’t Understand Jokes

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Every year, nerd paradise website ThinkGeek has several April Fools’ Day products, ranging from disgusting things like the Keurig Cup liquid meal to products that nerds deem so necessary that they actually become reality, like the Star Wars Tauntaun sleeping bag. Now you too can sleep inside the smelly innards of a wintry beast.

One of 2010’s April Fools’ Day products, however, was neither disgusting nor aspirational, because it was for canned unicorn meat, which is a thing that can never exist and a thing that has never existed because to do so would require a unicorn.

The entirely impossible nature of this product, however, didn’t stop a BigLaw firm from getting very mad that ThinkGeek had called their imaginary meat “the new white meat.” The National Pork Board, represented by BigLaw, felt this infringed upon their “the other white meat” slogan, and dashed off a 12-page (!) letter to ThinkGeek about it. ThinkGeek responded to this in the most retail-ish possible way: by using the whole drama to sell more stuff, complete with a “PORKBOARD” discount code.

“It was never our intention to cause a national crisis and misquide American citizens regarding the differences between the pig and the unicorn,” said Scott Kauffman, President and CEO of Geeknet. “In fact, ThinkGeek’s canned unicorn meat is sparkly, a bit red, and not approved by any government entity.”

Oh, and you can now buy canned unicorn meat over at ThinkGeek: it’s a dismembered plush unicorn stuffed in a can.

Bonus: You Don’t Mess with the Oatmeal

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(Thanks to Keith Lee for reminding us about this epic response.)

On his blog, popular cartoonist Matthew Inman called out FunnyJunk.com for stealing his comics. FunnyJunk retaliated by hiring “internet lawyer” Charles Carreon to make stupid threats. In response, Inman marked up Carreon’s letter, promised to raise $20,000, take a picture of it, and send it to Carreon along with the above drawing, and donate the money to charity. In fact, Inman raised over $220,000 for the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society, and Carreon learned a valuable lesson about the Streisand effect.

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Although Carreon didn’t actually learn anything, it turns out. If you want to read about the whole sordid saga, in which Carreon eventually wound up paying over $46,000 in attorney fees in a separate-but-similar case, dig into Popehat‘s posts. Carreon even went on to create Rapeutation.com, where yours truly makes a cameo. —Ed.

Originally published 2014-08-12.

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  • Jonathan Kleiman

    “I believe the slur ‘shyster’ is generally reserved for attorneys of the Jewish persuasion. I believe the proper term for someone like myself would be, ermm, eggplant.”

    Enemy of the State (1998 spy thriller film), one of the gangsters calls Will Smith’s character a shyster, to which Smith responds ^

    • Paul Spitz

      What kind of idiot picks a fight with Groucho Marx and doesn’t expect to be humiliated?

      • Jack the Ripper, who cut quite a figure in his day.

        I’d roll my eyes, but I’m laughing too hard.

        The “epilogue” is actually the best part:

        Unamused, Warner Bros. requested that the Marx Brothers at least outline the premise of their film. Groucho responded with an utterly ridiculous storyline, and, sure enough, received another stern letter requesting clarification. He obliged and went on to describe a plot even more preposterous than the first, claiming that he, Groucho, would be playing “Bordello, the sweetheart of Humphrey Bogart.” No doubt exasperated, Warner Bros. did not respond. A Night in Casablanca was released in 1946.

  • Jonathan Kleiman

    (FYI I love these)

    Second complaint: you don’t drink Jack??

    • We broke up after freshman year of college.

      • Ginger Tye

        hahahahahaha!

  • Paul Spitz

    Absolutely brilliant. It is necessary to point out, however, that the Cleveland Browns have never been able to replicate that epic smack down on the playing field.

    • I never get tired of that letter. While the others have their charm, the Cleveland GC’s letter has to be the most satisfying response to a legal threat in history. My only regret is that nobody was around to take a picture of Dale O. Cox’s face when he read it. I’m guessing he got all red and splotchy, but I’ll never know for sure.

      • Paul Spitz

        Well, the display on my fancy MacBook Air is apparently vulnerable to the coffee that erupted from my nose all over the screen, when I read that response.

      • garthpool

        I never will either. Here are some other examples from “Congressional Anecdotes” by Paul F. Boller, Jr.:

        Ohio Congressman Wayne Hays had a standard reply to nasty letters from his constituents: “Dear Sir: Today I received a letter from some crackpot who signed your name to it. I thought you ought to know about this before it went further.”

        Ohio Senator Stephen M. Young became famous for his tart replies to venomous letters. Sometimes he returned them with a note saying, “Some jackass is using your name.” To a woman who had been sending a series of vituperative letters, he finally wrote: “Dear Madam: You should know that some idiot in your town is sending me a series of crazed letters – and signing your name.”

    • Doug Humes

      As a “rest of the story” ps to this one, check here: http://www.snopes.com/business/consumer/browns.asp

  • Mark

    These are great! It reminds me to keep a sense of humor in a humorless profession.

  • This fails to list one of the best in recent memory, Funnyjunk v. The Oatmeal. See:

    http://www.popehat.com/tag/oatmeal-v-funnyjunk/

    • Oh man, you’re right. We totally forgot about that one somehow.

      Edit: Added!

    • CQ

      Wow, I read the first 3 letters and I’ve seen enough where it was heading. What a classic.

  • Adam Goldberg

    You forgot Wikipedia’s response to the FBI’s demand that Wikipedia remove the FBI logo from Wikipedia. See http://mashable.com/2010/08/03/wikipedia-fbi-seal/.

    • That’s the first I heard about it, but it’s pretty good!

  • Legendary win in .pdf format here: https://goo.gl/JfLb05

    Randazza –
    (1) Humiliates a professional jerkface and his lawyer using their own words;
    (2) Employs Mazinga, with picture, as part of a legit argument and reference to his client, 8chan; and
    (3) Educates the adversary as to why, both legally and prudentially, failing to take heed would be ruinous.

    Too many lines to quote, but I picked:
    “I can not express how much joy I would find in watching you try and articulate how your client’s reputation has been harmed by anything other than his own asinine, racist, sexist, rapey-creep-scumbag statements.”

    Marc Randazza has written a number of great legal letters and briefs that have been circulated around over the past decade or so. Surely after republishing the article from two years ago, it merits being updated with one like this. . . .

  • Amy Alkon

    I have to second the Randazza recommendation. There are a lot of hilarious Randazza letters and passages, but this is one of my favorites, especially for the ending:

    https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.documentcloud.org/documents/1362088/randazza-v-rsd-asshats.pdf

    Lets go back to page one. Your client is the guy who seems to advocate sexual assault against random women, on the basis that he’s Caucasian, and they’re not. Neither Mike, nor I, are in any danger of winning the “Male Feminist of the Year Award.” But Jesus Hello Kitty Christ on a Rocket-Powered Toboggan, are you FREAKIN’ SERIOUS?

  • M Berns
  • Daniel Flynn