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Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers) about Chilling Effects

Select a Topic Area FAQ from this list or read the general questions below:

  • Q: What are Chilling Effects?
  • Q: What is the Chilling Effects clearinghouse?
  • Q: What if I need to contact an attorney?
  • Q: Who is behind the Chilling Effects project?
  • Q: Does the First Amendment protect online speech?
  • Q: Does this information apply in other countries too?
  • Q: What if the letter accuses me of something I'm not doing?
  • Q: What does it mean if the cease-and-desist letter I got has a copyright notice?
  • Q: Is a cease-and-desist letter confidential?
  • Q: Does a posting on Chilling Effects mean that a takedown was unlawful or wrong?
  • Q: What is the Streisand Effect?
  • Q: When shouldn't I contact Chilling Effects?
  • Q: Partial removal

    Question: What are Chilling Effects?

    Answer: "Chilling Effects" refers to the deterrent effect of legal threats or posturing, largely cease and desist letters independent of litigation, on lawful conduct. The Chilling Effects clearinghouse will catalogue cease and desist notices and present analyses of their claims to help recipients resist the chilling of legitimate activities (as well as understand when their activities are unlawful). The project's core, this database of letters and FAQ-style analyses is supplemented by legal backgrounders, news items, and pointers to statutes and caselaw. Periodic "weather reports" will sum up the legal climate for online activity.

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    Question: What is the Chilling Effects clearinghouse?

    Answer: The project invites recipients and senders of cease and desist notices to send them to a central point (here, at chillingeffects.org) for analysis, and to browse the website for background information and explanation of the laws they are charged with violating or enforcing. Clinical law students will prepare issue-spotting analyses of the letters in the question-and-answer style of FAQs, which we will post alongside the letters in an online database. The site aims to educate C&D recipients about their legal rights. Site visitors may search the database by subject area or keyword.

    For more, see about the Chilling Effects project.

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    Question: What if I need to contact an attorney?

    Answer: This website is meant as an aid to help you decipher Cease and Desist notices so you can make informed decisions about your course of action. If, after reading this, you think the C&D you received might have some merit, or you think you might engage your opponent in battle even if the C&D is, in your opinion, baseless, consultation with an attorney is always a good idea.

    The Online Media Legal Network (OMLN) is a network of law firms, law school clinics, in-house counsel, and individual lawyers throughout the United States willing to provide pro bono (free) and reduced fee legal assistance to qualifying online journalism ventures and other digital media creators.

    You can find an intellectual property attorney at www.martindale.com or by calling your state or local Bar Association and asking for a referral.

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    Question: Who is behind the Chilling Effects project?

    Answer: The Chilling Effects Clearinghouse is a unique collaboration among law school clinics and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Conceived and developed at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society by Berkman Fellow Wendy Seltzer, the project is now supported by the following clinical programs:
    Berkman Center for Internet & Society
    DePaul University College of Law
    Electronic Frontier Foundation
    George Washington University Law School
    Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic
    Santa Clara University School of Law High Tech Law Institute
    Stanford Center for Internet & Society
    University of Maine School of Law
    USF Law School - IIP Justice Project

    The information and reports on the chillingeffects.org website are written by law students, under the supervision of the participating organizations. Please see the About Us page for more information and contacts.

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    Question: Does the First Amendment protect online speech?

    Answer: The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." Under the First Amendment and cases interpreting it, the federal government (and states, under the Fourteenth Amendment) must meet a high level of scrutiny before restricting any kind of speech. In the first Supreme Court case dealing with the Internet, Reno v. ACLU, the Supreme Court affirmed that online speech deserves as much protection as off-line speech.

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    Question: Does this information apply in other countries too?

    Answer: Chilling Effects is a United States organization and information on this website is based on U.S. law. Other countries' laws differ, often significantly, so you should not assume that the analyses presented here apply outside the United States. If you have further questions about non-U.S. law, we recommend contacting a lawyer in your jurisdiction.

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    Question: What if the letter accuses me of something I'm not doing?

    Answer: If the cease-and-desist misinterprets what your website is doing, for example claiming you're "reproducing" things you just link to, you can try to send a response that clarifies the facts -- especially if the factual difference is legally relevant. First, though, you may want to judge from the tone of the letter whether that's likely to resolve the matter, or instead just to draw more attention to you and make the requester angrier.

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    Question: What does it mean if the cease-and-desist letter I got has a copyright notice?

    Answer: Copyright can be claimed on any original expression, but some uses of copyrighted works, including use for commentary and criticism, are fair uses, not infringement. It is highly unlikely that someone could sue successfully for the posting of a cease-and-desist notice (most notices are minimally creative; the use is for purposes of commentary and research; the amount used is necessary to the understanding; and there is no effect on a "market" for cease-and-desist letters).

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    Question: Is a cease-and-desist letter confidential?

    Answer: There is ordinarily no expectation of privacy or confidentiality in a letter sent to an adversary. Unless you have made a specific promise of confidentiality beforehand, such as in a protective agreement or NDA, a letter demanding confidentiality doesn't bind you.

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    Question: Does a posting on Chilling Effects mean that a takedown was unlawful or wrong?

    Answer: No. Chilling Effects serves as a clearinghouse for cease and desist letters. Our goal is to educate the public about the different kinds of cease and desist letters--both legitimate and questionable--that are being sent to Internet publishers. We annotate the letters to help the public understand their legal language, and collect as many letters as possible to help the public understand the types of letters that are being sent and what searches are affected by them. By posting cease and desist notices, we are not authenticating them or making any judgment on the validity of the claims they raise.

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    Question: What is the Streisand Effect?

    Answer: The "Streisand Effect" refers to the likelihood of a cease-and-desist demand attracting more attention to the complained-of material than it had before the demand.

    The effect gets its name from a 2003 incident in which Barbra Streisand sued a California photographer for including aerial photographs of her Malibu house on his coastal survey website. Instead of removing the image, the photographer publicized the suit, drawing further attention to the photo. See Andy Greenberg, The Streisand Effect, Forbes. Adelman, who maintained californiacoastline.org, obtained dismissal of the suit under California’s anti-SLAPP law, and won attorneys’ fees and costs. See Streisand v. Adelman, No. SC 077 257 (L.A. Sup. Ct. May 10, 2004).

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    Question: When shouldn't I contact Chilling Effects?

    Answer: Chilling Effects is not and cannot be your lawyer.

    We cannot help you execute a request to remove online content. Chilling Effects serves as a repository of requests made to others, along with analyses of the legal claims. We are not responsible for the removal of material.

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    Question: Partial removal

    Answer: The submitter reports that only some of the materials identified in this complaint have been removed or disabled.

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  • Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers)

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