There are a few surefire ways to tell you’ve achieved online success. The first is that your blog or website gets hacked by people looking to extort money from you — thankfully this isn’t very common. The second sign, which is much more common, is a legal threat of some kind. Maybe you said something that rattled somebody’s cage, maybe you posted an image you shouldn’t have or maybe you’re infringing on a trademark that you didn’t mean to. In any case, a legal threat is usually related to the size of your online profile. So in a way, kudos to you for being so successful!
Not a laughing matter
But back to business, a legal threat is no laughing matter, and if you’re not used to dealing with them, the first time you get one can be a daunting experience. Your first reaction is to probably panic. But panic won’t solve the problem, so take a moment to calm down.
Now read the legal threat itself carefully and look for specific details. What have you been accused of doing and by who? What demands (financial, content removal, etc.) are they making? Does the legal threat originate from your own country or a foreign nation. Remember your Web-based content is available internationally. Do you have to respond to this threat within a specified time frame?
Check facts before freaking out
You’ll probably have received either a cease-and-desist letter or a lawsuit. You need to be clear about what you’re facing before you take any action — this will save you headaches later.
Time is of the essence when you’re dealing with this type of legal threat, so until you can get professional advice, you should comply with the notice if possible. Compliance could mean removing a page of content or a picture, transferring ownership of a trademarked domain name (this is getting more and more common) or taking an entire website offline. You may not be able to comply with the legal request as immediately as you’d like, but until you get proper legal advice, that’s exactly what you need to do.
Seek legal advice
And of course, you need to seek professional legal counsel on this threat. You can find plenty of legal professionals who are more than willing to work on a “no-fix-no-fee” basis and will be willing to review the threat you’ve received as part of your initial consultation with them. Ideally, they’ll advise you to just dismiss the threat because it’s fake or has no basis in law. If, however, the threat is legitimate, it’s best to have your legal adviser draft a reply to the person or company who issued the threat in the first place.
Of course, once you engage legal help, you’re looking at having to spend money to resolve the problem. However, when the other party sees that you’re willing to put up a legal fight, the threat will often just evaporate (unless they’re a large corporation) and you’ll never need to worry about it again.
Help others help themselves
You can also add the threatening legal letter you received to the Citizen Media Law Project Threats Database (www.citmedialaw.org/database) so that other people who receive threats from the same company or people who are working to restrict your freedom of speech know what steps to take to deal with their issue. You can save other bloggers and webmasters a lot of worry by adding to this database.
Now you can get back to being the online superstar you were before all this legal mumbo-jumbo ruined it for you, eh?
This post is written by Lior Levin, an online marketing consultant for an html company that offers psd conversion services. He also consults for a company that provides shopping cart abandonment services to websites looking to improve conversions.