The preemptive legal threat, while not as worrisome as preemptive war, is a pretty unsavory tactic. Don't know what I mean by "preemptive legal threat?" Not to worry, here is an example. The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog reports that a lawyer for Denver Nuggets coach George Karl has threatened blogger Andrew Feinstein with legal action (well, sort of). Feinstein, a frustrated Nuggets fan, created a blog called Fire George Karl, lamenting what he sees as a series of "blown games, losses against sub-.500 opponents, porous defensive performances and incoherent offensive schemes." Last Tuesday (Feb. 26), Karl's lawyer, Bret Adams, sent Feinstein an ominous email:
Is your life really this boring and meaningless that you would spend the hours necessary to create such a website?
As Coach Karl’s counsel I am putting you on notice that I will sue you into bankruptcy should you cross the boundaries of permissible speech.
Note that there's no claim here that Feinstein has defamed the coach or done anything else worthy of a lawsuit. The message is different, something akin to "I'll be watching you. Conduct yourself accordingly." This is a jarring message for a blogger of ordinary means to receive (not that anyone wants to be "sue[d] . . . into bankruptcy"), and it's clearly intended to exert a chilling effect on critical speech.
Don't get me wrong -- there is nothing legally wrong with this, and it probably doesn't violate any canon of attorney ethics. But it is a coercive tactic meant to intimidate a less knowledgeable party, and I don't like it. And that's one of the reasons why the CMLP is working to inform citizen media creators about their legal rights and obligations, so that they are not susceptible to this kind of intimidation.