Well, I Got Another Threat and Takedown Demand Today

I received this email this morning, from a hotmail account no less

Subject:  Unlawful Use of Name


I am writing on behalf of [redacted], whose name you published on your blog citing the PBS article about harassment in the Forest Service.

You do not have legal permission to publish his name. Please remove it immediately to avoid legal action.


Heather Appelhof

I didn't really have to, but I redacted the gentleman in question's name, at least until Ms. Appelhof has a chance to respond.  Here was my response:

Ms. Appelhof:

Mr. _____'s name was quoted on my blog in the context of a much longer verbatim quote from the PBS website as it appeared on March 5, 2018. This sort of quotation taken directly from a respected national media outlet is a speech activity that is highly protected in this country. In particular, your argument that I did not have "legal permission to publish his name" is completely specious. There is no such legal requirement in this country to obtain prior permission before publishing someone's name, particularly in the case of a public figure in a leadership position of a public agency. As an example, I publish all takedown requests my blog receives so your name will get published on my blog as part of the email.

Few things irritate me more than people who threaten me with laws that do not exist. However, since Mr. _____'s name was really incidental to the point I was trying to make, I am open to a valid legal or ethical argument for removing it and will give you a second chance to provide one. Note that "this gentleman is upset about all the negative media coverage and has engaged me to try to intimidate people into removing his name" is not a valid reason.

There are obviously niche legal situations in which it is illegal to publicly reveal names -- a doctor revealing his patients' names and medical information is highly restricted under HIPAA, for example. However, I am not aware of any such situation that obtains here. I suppose there could be some sort of specific court order in play here, but if that is the case it should be easy to share it with me and I will respect it. It is possible Mr. _____ believes he was libeled by PBS, but that hardly applies to my merely quoting their story, particularly since I can't have had any malice towards him since I have not given him a second thought before or after publishing that post, at least until your email arrived.

This leaves ethical arguments, and I can certainly be swayed by such arguments more quickly than by empty threats. For example, if the accuser in the story has recanted her accusation, or if PBS had confused Mr. ______ with someone else, those would certainly be good reasons to remove his name.

You are welcome to try again.


The original PBS story I quoted is here.  After I sent Ms. Appelhof this response, I noted that PBS had removed this gentleman's name from the article with a note at the bottom saying:

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated. The name of the Forest Service supervisor in Oregon has been removed. We stand by our reporting and thank the multiple women who went public for this story.

Despite this email ticking me off with its tone and absurd legal opinion, I actually want to do the right thing so I have reached out to the PBS editorial team on this story to see if I can get a hint why the name was removed.  A reason good enough for PBS is probably going to be good enough for me, since, again, the story was more about accountability issues on Forest Service fire teams than it was about this person in particular.

Update:  I can't get the details, but there were apparently legal charges and settlements at PBS that led to their taking down the name.  I will defer to their judgement and do the same, because honestly the name was just incidental to my post anyway.  Ms. Appelhof wrote me back with a MUCH more compelling and intelligent email outlining a lot of investigation that has occurred since and she claims cleared the man in question.  I am not sure who is wrong or right but I am happy to retreat from this particular fray.  Having had to fight a number of takedown requests in the past, her initial email was worded in a way to rub my fur all the wrong ways.


  1. Mark Creatura:

    This Heather Appelhof?
    "In 2015, Heather Appelhof was a General Arts And Information Employee at the Forest Service in Naches, Washington. In 2015, Heather Appelhof was a GS-[___] under the general schedule payscale."
    Though I don't think the makers of bumptious threats deserve much consideration, I've followed our host's lead in removing the one piece of information that might be considered private.

  2. box_500:

    From a hotmail account? Not an official account? Odd.

  3. Orion Henderson:

    This is fascinating for all the wrong reasons. I feel like publishing a blog with Heather Applehof's name as the domain and the only entry.

    But seriously, would it surprise anyone if PBS removed a name of a government employee? They wouldn't remove the name of a business person accused of bad behavior-but the forest service person is one of their own.

  4. Orion Henderson:

    Because she knows she has no legal standing-so she doesn't want this affecting her employment.

  5. Doc:

    I've had a website since 1995 and every takedown notice I have ever received has clearly been intended to look as if a lawyer wrote it but to my knowledge, not a single one has ever come from a lawyer, and for good reason--lawyers are generally familiar with the law!

  6. Cloudesley Shovell:

    Is Heather Appelhof a lawyer? This email doesn't quite cross the line into the practice of law, but reasonable minds might differ. Also, I wonder what the chances are that Heather is in some sort of personal relationship with some guy named Drew.

  7. box_500:

    Amazing that PBS enables comments at all. Not surprising they then hide them though.

  8. Peabody:

    Gotta love the Streisand effect.

  9. blackbellamy:

    I don't get it. The woman quoted in the article named the guy. So it's not like PBS made a mistake doing some investigative work. They printed what she said. If there was some issue later, the correction should have been "Mary X has since recanted" or "Mary X has settled her claims against her supervisor".

  10. jon49:

    They could hide them for web performance reasons. Disqus is known to cause problems on mobile.

  11. Dimitri Mariutto:

    *cough* 07 *cough*

  12. Joe B:

    Anyone who is really interested can always look up the article on the way back machine internet archive. Nothing that is published on the internet ever goes away completey.

  13. marque2:

    There is nothing illegal about a lawyer sending a threatening takedown notice. They are hoping the intimidation causes it to work. Small time blog owners usually don't have the funds to fight even dubious claims and frequently will capitulate. Goodness even a fake lawyer worked on PBS.

  14. SamWah:

    There's an old post on a dead and gone blog called CowtownCop that I've been unable to find.

  15. b w:

    Seems to me, by giving in to this demand, you're implicitly calling Michaela Myers a liar. We have an allegation by a victim that was apparently insufficiently corraborated to go forward with official sanctions. How is this different from Roy Moore - would you expunge his name from a blog based on an email from an unknown hotmail user?

  16. BGThree:

    You're basically correct in broad strokes, but incorrect on a couple details, and every lawyer reading the response you sent is thinking "OK that was good, now end it. No. No. W-wh-why? Is he seriously analyzing whether he published with malice? No! Make it stop! 'merely quoting their story'...No! No! It burns! It burns! Turn the garden hose on it before it starts trying to communicate with PB... OH GOD NO!"

    Ahem. While you are correct that the takedown letter is baseless, a couple of your arguments are also shaky - not the arguments to make if actually sued. "Merely quoting" a story satisfies the "publication" requirement of libel. Each publication of defamatory material is a separate legal injury. Whether the material has already been published or is already well known* is irrelevant to whether your quotation satisfies the publication element. It does.

    Malice. You keep using this word, but I do not think it means what you think it means. That's because the legal meaning of "malice" is completely, literally completely, and yes I know what it means, unrelated to its colloquial meaning. And defamation actual malice has nothing to do with the malice aforethought, and neither has any more to do with colloquial malice than it does with Michael Malice.

    Protip: If you are in a defamation lawsuit, and you're the defendant, and your only defense is based on the malice element, perhaps you should consider ending this lawsuit before a jury does.

    Protip: An otherwise defamatory republication may not give rise to liability if the plaintiff's reputation was not harmed by the republication because "everyone already knew that anyway." Note that this goes to the DAMAGES element not the underlying liability.

    Protip: Continue shaming takedown senders, but take pity on lawyers and use a short form response. All this improv about malice and publication... nothing good can come of it.