Is this legal? (Letters to gossip rags)

So I’ve got a blog where I respond to the letters readers write to Entertainment Weekly and People magazines. Because of a mention in another blog, I’m now getting quite a bit of daily traffic. However, this has me worried I’ll be slapped with a cease-and-desist. Anybody got a clue whether letters written to publications are copyrighted, or if it’s OK to reprint them online for use as criticism/parody? I’m just trying to cover my ass.

Mods, I didn’t know if this should go here or in GQ, so please feel free to move it if you see fit.

IANAL etc. but I believe that the current state of copyright law is that generally the physical letter belongs to the recipient but the contents of the letter are protected by copyright and belong to the writer. There was a case involving J.D. Salinger that established this. However, my WAG is that publications include boilerplate language somewhere that letters submitted for publication become copyrighted to the publication, much like the one on these boards.

Is your site satirical? You should be safe… and if you’re not, standard protocol for dealing with gossip-type blogs by ‘real’ magazines’ (celebs, production houses whatever) legal teams is send a cease and desist letter first, then file a lawsuit.

Oh, but one thing – most of those ‘readers’ letters’ you’re responding to have been written by lowly interns and in-house staff. Sad but true.

Sad? Actually, the idea that those letters only exist because someone is paid to write them is tremendous relief to me. What’s sad is that at least some of them are real.

Here’s the fine print for a magazine I happen to have with me, which is not an EW-like gossip rag but is pretty dishy.

Yep, it’s definitely satirical, though that might be tough to prove. What I consider satire someone else might think of as just mean-spirited ranting.

And I’ve had discussions about the letters with friends of mine before, and we often wondered if they were actually written by staffers - some of the language (“she’s a class act”) sounded so false that we couldn’t believe actual readers wrote them. Good to know!

ETA: If a majority of the letters are written by staffers, maybe that gives me some immunity - they might not want that fact coming out to the general public. Then again, I doubt anyone thinks of either publication as a paragon of integrity, so perhaps I’m off base.

Not all are fake – a former underling of mine (female) wrote one praising JLo’s booty.


Interesting, thanks. There’s nothing like that on the letters page of either publication I mentioned, but I just photocopy the letters pages from the issues someone in our publicity department gets from work, so I guess I should check out the print on the contents/publication data page.

Thank you for asking this question. I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a blog featuring the advice column letters I shred on my journal, but the copyright issue was something I needed to look into first.

Entertainment Weekly and People have such huge readerships that I guarantee that the letters they publish are from real readers and not staff-written.

And the answer to the OP’s question is that you have absolutely no right to republish these letters to mock or rant at them, just as you would have no legal right to republish posts here on the Dope on your site to mock or rant at.

In my crystal ball I see a c&d letter coming your way.

What is it? I adore satire!

Exapno is right. The satire defense doesn’t give you the right to reproduce the original letter in full any more than you could reproduce whole articles or stories.

You know, I’ve always wondered about those letters to the entertainment “magazines” inserted into Sunday newspapers. After a while, I couldn’t help noticing that every letter they published was along the lines of “What is so-and-so artist up to these days?” and the answers were always, “Why, so-and-so just happens to have a brand new album/movie/book/TV show debuting this week!” Thinly disguised advertising, you say?

Well, you may be right. I talked to someone in our contracts department here at work (publishing), and she thought it might fall under fair use, but said it was possible they’d try to slap a c&d on me. She’s looking into the specifics now. Ah, well. I guess I’ll see what happens.
Lionne, it’s here. Try not to pass it on to anybody on staff at either magazine.

How cool! I stumbled across the blog you must have been referring to, where they talked about your blog, and I was meaning to check it out. My first experience with Dopers being actual people!

Thanks. I’ll keep it hushed up.