With increasing vigilance against social engineering scams, individuals have become conditioned to disregard any unsolicited communications. If an unexpected email arrives from an unknown sender, and especially if the email makes monetary demands, most people hit delete without thinking twice. However, there are some times when you should think twice before hitting delete, and not doing so may cost you more in the long run.
In this digital age, intellectual property (IP) rights-holders often use email or other electronic means to contact alleged infringers. Furthermore, many rights-holders are making increasing use of collective rights organizations, or organizations set up to pursue copyright infringers on a large scale, to manage and enforce their IP rights. Collective rights organizations include copyright collective societies established pursuant to Canadian legislation such as SOCAN and SODRAC. Examples of private industry organizations set up to pursue copyright infringers on a large scale include BSA || The Software AllianceTM and PixsyTM. For both types of organizations, rights-holders can assign the right to enforce their IP to the organization, which then pursues alleged infringers on their behalf.
A consequence of the way that copyright enforcement organizations are structured is that demand letters are sent by them on behalf of the rights-holders, instead of directly from the rights-holder. For example, BSA may send a demand letter alleging infringement of Apple or Microsoft software, or SOCAN may send a demand letter alleging infringement of copyright in an individual artist’s musical composition. Because of this, and the general vigilance against unsolicited emails, demand letters from copyright enforcement organizations are often ignored.
Parties who initially ignore demand letters may face increasing demands, up to and including having a lawsuit filed against them. Ignoring demands, and especially becoming involved in litigation, greatly increases the time and cost to settle any dispute.
Any party who receives a demand letter alleging copyright infringement should think carefully before discarding it. Signs that a demand letter may be legitimate are that it is sent from a rights holder, a Canadian law firm, a lawyer licensed by a Canadian Law Society, or a society authorized by the Copyright Board of Canada. If there is any question that a demand letter could be legitimate, consider contacting a lawyer to review the letter, and help respond to the demand.