Copyright Law

This cease-and-desist smackdown has Spice Girls reference, copyright notice 'just for fun'

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A Vermont lawyer, an apparent Spice Girls fan, has dispatched a snarky smackdown reply to a cease-and-desist letter that had asserted the American Bankers Association has a copyright in bank routing numbers.

The association had asked Greg Thatcher to stop publishing the routing numbers on his website, claiming in a letter written by Covington & Burling that advances in routing numbers are “the result of significant effort and creativity” by the group, TechDirt reports. Now TechDirt and Above the Law have published the reply, written by pro bono lawyer Andrew Delaney of Martin & Associates in Barre, Vt.

Delaney’s letter includes a copyright notice (“just for fun,” a footnote explains) and this elaboration: “All rights reserved. But wait … fair use allowed and encouraged. Actually, go ’head and publish the whole thing as is. We don’t care.”

Delaney writes that routing numbers are like telephone numbers for banks, and the association’s bank identifier covers only four of the nine digits. Assuming arguendo that the number is copyrightable, he says, it’s only 44.4 percent of the entire number. He continues:

Even that we have trouble buying. [7] There isn’t any copyright notice on the download. And you must be aware that information itself isn’t copyrightable. It just isn’t. [8] In fact, there was a case this real important court decided back in the early ’90s that was about telephone numbers. [9] In that case, a company just took a local phone book and copied it exactly. The publisher of the phone book knew that the company had copied it because the publisher had popped some phony names in there. No kidding, right? And so the publisher sued the thieving company it caught red-handed. And the thieving company won because it was just information. [10]

[7] And we went to law school, which just illustrates how gullible we are.

[8] No matter how much one might want it to be. Even if one wants it like the Spice Girls want a “zigazig ha.”

[9] Feist Publications Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991).

[10] I know, right? I remember reading this case and being all like, No way!

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