Jan
16
2009

Legal tango

OK, the last few days events have been, well interesting.

On Tuesday I received an e-mail sent from my website via my contact form. The e-mail claimed to be from someone at the law firm Hewitsons asking for a response regarding a letter and e-mail sent to me on the 10th of December regarding me infringing copyright on something called the “Belbin SPI“.

First reaction: “What the hell?”.

So, I typed back an e-mail saying I had received no such e-mail and could they please re-send.

Wednesday morning I got a reply containing a PDF of the original that was apparently sent. Unsurprisingly it had been sent to the wrong place. I have always made sure you can’t trace my address, phone number etc from my site. In fact, you can’t really even get my e-mail. That said, I do have a contact form which by the very fact I replied to him, I do monitor.

The letter detailed a URL to a copy of the Belbin test I had on my blog. That link in fact comes from this blog entry made back in 2005. I wrote this having just done the Belbin test in college, and thinking it was quite interesting I took the document we were given at college and put it online for others to try out. The document I posted had no copyright notice on the bottom. Call me a little naive but I didn’t see an issue with this.

In the letter they firstly accused me of “passing off” my document as my own work and not their clients. The first thing I did was go back and re-read my entry. Although that entry is now different, the first 4 lines are the same. I explain in the entry who it was by and what the name of the book it was first published in. In my mind I don’t think that really counts as passing off.

Then they gave me a list of things they wanted done:

We are instructed to demand that we receive by close of business on Wednesday, 24 December 2008 the following:

1. a written undertaking that you will not hereafter whether by yourself, your servants, agents or any of them or otherwise howsoever

(a) supply or offer to supply services, not being services of our client, under, by reference to, or including the name BELBIN (or colourable imitations thereof)

(b) infringe our client’s copyright in the Belbin SPI

(c) cause, enable or assist others to do any of the aforesaid acts

2. the delivery up to this firm of all material (including without limitation, promotional or other business literature and hand-outs) in your power, possession, custody or control, the supply of services using which, would be a breach of undertakings in numbered paragraph 1 above

3. the names and addresses of all persons, firms and companies to whom the you have supplied services relating to BELBIN Team Roles using the Infringing SPI and/or the Belbin SPI

4. an accurate written statement setting out in reasonable detail the dates and numbers of SPIs provided by you or downloaded from your blog together with details of any remuneration received by you for providing these

After I spent some time pouring over that wonderful legal babble trying to decipher it into English I came up with the following: Remove the document.

You see, I can’t do much more than that of their list. This is the internet, I don’t know anything about the people who may have downloaded it. As an individual I am not required by law to keep access logs of my server and I can’t possibly have names and addresses. In fact, the only real thing I can do is work out how many times it has been downloaded and even that proved hard, I don’t have logs past 2006 and a lot of the early logs are incomplete or for the wrong site etc… (the web is a complicated place and I have moved the document around as I have changed sites).

The other reason I couldn’t do much more was because I had never supplied the document to anyone bar putting it online, nor had I ever had any money for this.

So, I removed the document (plus the other couple like it that they never mentioned, better safe than sorry). I then replied saying I had done all I could and would like confirmation that the issue was closed. I waited until yesterday lunchtime for a reply. I then phoned only to get through to voicemail. I called a couple more times before e-mailing again. This time I got an auto response saying he was out off the office that day.

This morning I finally received an e-mail saying that they were going to drop the issue and not pursue it further. They thanked me for helping and removing the document.

It has to be said, I am glad that is over, I never would have thought something posted almost 4 years ago would cause me so much trouble.

As a side note, I was rather unimpressed with the bullish wrong attitude taken by the Belbin company and their law firm. Had they simply used the contact form on the bottom of every page of my site instead of trying their hand at investigating my e-mail address and postal address they would have got in contact with me first time. I am also not impressed at such impossible demands made and the accusation that I was passing off the test as my own. They could well have been sending their message to someone without the technical knowledge to call them on the impossibility of most of what they asked. They would have been complete fools to go after me for this, things like this have been tested in court over and over and they simply wouldn’t have got anywhere. That said, they did give me a scare.

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