In recent weeks, the public has heard of numerous letters of demand filed to gain access to the contents of a book that has not yet been published, but also for sharing blog posts, spreading rumours, and writing opinion pieces. Everyone is offended, and everyone is suddenly being overcharged.
Until a few years ago, the public and lawyers looked upon the practice of filing letters of demand poorly. Today, every major law firm has adopted this practice, established a defamation department, and started drafting demand letters for everyone and every occasion.
So, what do you do when you are one of the ’lucky’ ones to receive a letter of demand for defamation in your inbox?
The first thing to do is to sit down, take a deep breath, and take a closer look at the claim made against you in the first place. Your next course of action will depend on whether the claim has a basis.
You do not have to compensate anyone if you haven’t shared incorrect statements of fact or undue value judgements.
If you don’t, you may have been too graphic in your use of words or made unverified and inaccurate statements of fact rather thoughtlessly; the consequences must be dealt with.
What are the options?
Most often, defamation damages for non-material damage are around 1,000 euros + additional legal fees, depending on the law firm. Legal costs can run into hundreds of euros. Most law firms already have an excellent letter-of-demand template that can be used repeatedly.
In addition, AI – ChatGPT – can produce a perfectly polite letter of demand in just 27 seconds. Perhaps you don’t need a lawyer to draft a demand letter nowadays.
Once you have received a demand letter, you can always start by apologising. You can also make your offer of compensation for non-material damage. In various defamation cases, courts have recently awarded an average of €300-€600 in compensation for non-material damage.
If you are at fault and want to compensate the damaged party, you can make a reasonable compromise offer to the other party. It would be suitable for the other party to accept the offer. If no agreement can be reached, the case goes to court, and the court awards compensation similar to the amount you offered; the court may award all or most of the costs of the proceedings to the party who did not accept the compromise in the first place. It is therefore entirely possible that the person who asked you for compensation will get the same amount as you offered at the beginning and will have to pay both their legal costs and yours.
Failure to respond to demand letters does not give you an advantage. The other party can also go to court without pre-trial compromise negotiations. The likelihood of going to court and against whom depends mainly on the infringement’s seriousness and the defendant’s identity. However, only some letters of demand will be followed by legal proceedings, and only some initiated legal actions will necessarily have a positive outcome for the offended party.
In conclusion, the first recommendation is to be self-critical about the text and content of what has been published. However, if you feel that you have been defamed, our lawyers recommend contacting the person who has published the text and asking them to take it down or make changes. Failing that, one can indeed seek legal advice to defend one’s rights, but humanity should also be expected from lawyers. Giving just a few days for negotiations and paying the so-called compensation is an unfair amount of time and generally a bad practice.
The article was originally published in the Estonian daily „Eesti Päevaleht.“« Back to articles