The Undeniable Tour Preview Talk at ASU Law

Legal Rebel Photoshoot 2012 by Don McPhee

Legal Rebel Photoshoot 2012 by Don McPhee

I’m so excited that I get to speak at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law on Thursday, October 23rd and present the talk I’ll be taking on the road during The Undeniable Tour.

I’ll be sharing my story about how I went from a middle-of-the-pack nothing special law student to being a lawyer with a successful solo practice, three best-selling books, and the first person ever selected from Arizona to be an ABA Legal Rebel.

What I did wasn’t rocket science, but it did require tenacity, a strong desire to learn and make connections with people, and having a life outside of law school. That’s where I found my passions for flash mobs and social media and developed those into niches that are now the hallmarks of my practice. Along with sharing my story, I’m going to be talking about how to use social media and blogging as networking tools that can be leveraged to make connections and open doors for opportunities that someone wouldn’t have otherwise.  I sincerely hope the audience walks away from my talk inspired to try some of my suggestions and to be motivated to seek out their own professional passions.

It’s always exciting to visit my alma mater. My talk is at lunchtime in Room 114, but I’ll be in the law school starting around 11am and I’ll probably stick around until 3ish to chat with students in the rotunda.

Thank you to the Career Services Office at ASU Law for inviting me to do this. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

What to do if You’re Accused of Copyright Infringement

Watch it or lose it - thieves at work by Tristan Schmurr from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Watch it or lose it – thieves at work by Tristan Schmurr from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to control where their work is copied, displayed, and distributed. If they think that someone is using their work without permission, there’s a good chance they’re going to react. They may be passive aggressive and write a blog post about you. They might b direct and send you an email or call you. If they sell their work for a living, they may just send you a bill. They may also hire a lawyer to send a cease and desist letter, a DMCA takedown notice to your webhost, or they may just sue you.

If you are accused of violating someone’s copyright, the first thing you want to do is examine the situation. What are they claiming is on your site or your materials that belongs to them? Some people will tell you that you can use anything you find on the internet as long as you provide and attribution and a link to the original – and that’s just not true. What you may have done is commit infringement and admit it. So look at the image or text in question and try to determine where it came from. If you created it from scratch, there’s a good chance it’s not infringement. If you got it from someone else, you may have a problem.

In most cases, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your copyright lawyer if you’re accused of committing infringement, especially if the other side contacted you through their lawyer. He/she can examine the situation, explain your options, and help you choose the right course of action for your situation. In most cases, the person who claims you stole their work doesn’t want to sue you. They likely want you to stop using their material, and possibly pay a licensing fee for the time you used it. In many cases you want to respond either as yourself or through your lawyer with what you did or could do to resolve the situation.

There are times where you might want to risk not responding. Some people do this is they think nothing will happen if they ignore the notice from the person claiming you stole their work. Sometimes this is effective. Sometimes it leads the person to escalate and sue you or report your company to a regulatory body that oversees your company. It’s not a decision to make lightly.

So what are the best and worse-case scenarios in these situations? In the best-case scenario, the person making the claim against you is wrong because you haven’t violated their copyright sending a response to that end or ignoring them will resolve the situation. In the worst-case scenario, you’ll be sued (and lose!) for willfully stealing someone’s copyright and sued for $150,000 per image or article you stole, plus the copyright holder’s attorney’s fees.

Legal Side of Blogging Book CoverBecause the penalties can be so high, you want to be careful when you use other people’s content on your website or marketing materials. You need to be sure that you own or have permission to use content created by third parties.

If you need a legal resource on this topic or anything related to the laws that apply to social media, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It covers a lot of the major issues that apply to copyright and the internet. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.

Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Telling the Truth when you get Free Stuff

Our Books Arrive by Jarkko Laine from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Our Books Arrive by Jarkko Laine from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

One of the perks of being a blogger is sometimes you get free stuff. Companies will send you free things with the hopes that you’ll write about it. One of my writing gigs is product reviews for lawyers so I have to use various office gadgets and software and write about it.

If you are lucky enough to get free stuff in the mail or you review products as part of your job, there are some rules you need to know. By federal law, you have to do two things if you do product reviews:

Your review of the product must contain your true opinion about it that is not misleading.

You must disclose when you are compensated for giving your opinion.

This means that you have to be honest about what you think about a product and not feel compelled to say nice things just because you got it for free or paid for the review. And you have to tell the audience that you got a benefit for the review – perhaps so they can be aware of the potential bias. The disclosure doesn’t have to be a big deal – just a “XYZ sent me this product for free and here’s what I think about it.”

If you don’t follow this rule, you could be fined up to $11,000 by the Federal Trade Commission. They can go after the reviewer or the company who sent the product. I suspect they’ll go after who has money to pay the fine.

Legal Side of Blogging Book CoverA company that sends out free products to bloggers or reviewers should include a reminder to their reviewers that they need to comply with this rule. This rule also applies if you’re writing comments on other blogs or websites or writing original content for your own site.

This rule also applies to review sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor. If you’re a Yelper, your must only post accurate reviews and you can only review products and services you’ve used. A company can’t legally tell its employees to post exaggerating positive reviews about the company or fake negative reviews about their competition.

If you need a legal resource on this topic or anything related to the laws that apply to social media, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It covers a lot of the major issues that apply to copyright and the internet. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.

Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Who Really Owns Your Content?

ZombieGrafitti by RhodanV5500 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

ZombieGrafitti by RhodanV5500 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

If you outsource any of your content creation (blog, photos, videos, etc.) you need to read this.

A lot of business professionals have the misconception that if they pay for something, they automatically own it. If your marketing department or employees create your content, that’s true. The company will own the copyright in (and actually be the author of) everything your employees create within the scope of their employment.

That is not always the case when you use third party contractors to create content for your company. If you don’t have a contract with your independent contractor, the law says the contractor owns the copyright in whatever you’ve hired them to create. You only get an implied license to use the content. The contractor can stop you from using the content in a different way than the original project.

If you find yourself in that situation where you thought you owned the contract but you only had a license and you wanted to become the copyright owner, you would need to have the contractor sign a copyright assignment to give it to you. This is a contract that must be in writing. And since the contractor owns the copyright, it’s his/her prerogative to charge whatever they want to assign it to you. So that means they can basically make you pay for the same work twice.

So how do you avoid being in this situation? When you work with independent contractor, you need a solid contract for each project that explains what you’re hiring them to create and who will own the final product. Many contractors I’ve worked for have requested contracts that state that the hiring company only owns their work product when the company has paid its bill in full. If the company doesn’t pay its bill, the company doesn’t own the content and the contractor has legal recourse to prevent the company from using their work.

Legal Side of Blogging Book CoverIf you work with independent contractors on a regular basis, consider having a lawyer create a contract template for you to ensure that the document is complete and that all your interests are protected.

If you need a legal resource for laymen on this topic, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It covers a lot of the major issues that apply to copyright and the internet. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.

Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Drones, Privacy, & Arizona Law

Drone vs Cow by Mauricio Lima from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Drone vs Cow by Mauricio Lima from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

As drones become more popular, there seems to be more concerns about how they will impact privacy. Recently there was a news story where a woman was upset when she discovered that someone used a drone to shoot footage of her neighborhood.

I understand her concerns. No one likes to be spied on. However, if someone shoots an innocuous video of their neighborhood using a drone and posts it on YouTube, how is this different than the Street View on Google Maps? If you happen to be outside and in the area when the Google camera car drives by, your picture is going on the internet.

Arizona does not currently have any specific laws about drones, but there are FAA guidelines. It’s generally permissible to use them for mapping, artistic purposes, or if flying drones is your hobby. There are laws in Arizona, however, aimed at protecting people’s privacy.

In general, a person has no expectation of privacy when they are in public. So if you’re caught on camera by a drone while you’re out and about, there may be little you can do about it. You do have a greater expectation of privacy in your backyard and within your home – if you can’t be easily seen through the windows or from your neighbor’s second floor. Even if you can be seen, you still have some rights and options for recourse depending on the situation.

Criminal Voyeurism: It’s a felony in Arizona to invade someone’s privacy without their knowledge for sexual situation or to share photos or videos taken while invading their privacy.  This applies to up-skirt cameras, bathroom cameras, and likely using a drone to spy on someone for your own sexual gratification. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-1424)

Revenge Porn: Arizona passed a law against “revenge porn” this summer. It’s now a felony to share or offer to share a photo or video of a person when they’re in a state of nudity or sexual act if the person offering the photo or video knew or should have known that the person in the photo or video had not consented to the person sharing them. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-1425)

Lawsuit for Personal Injury: If a person learns that photos or videos of them were taken by a drone and possibly shared, the person may have grounds for some type of tort lawsuit such as commercializing a person’s image without authorization, infliction of emotional distress, or public disclosure of private information. These cases would, of course, depend on the facts of the situation and need to be evaluated by a personal injury attorney.  Additionally, if a drone operator injures a person or their property with their drone, the operator could be held criminally and civilly liable for the damages.

This is an emerging and developing area of law. Lawmakers are still determining what the rules regarding drones should be. Ultimately the laws regarding drones could vary from state to state so it’s important to be educated on the laws that apply to you if you have a drone.

If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Check the USPTO Database Before You Brand

Fake Brands (Weird News No. 4) by "Caveman Chuck" Coker from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Fake Brands (Weird News No. 4) by “Caveman Chuck” Coker from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I asked my friends who work in marketing, who create campaigns and brands for a living, whether they check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database before finalizing a project for a client. I was surprised when all of them said, “No.”  To me, this would be an obvious step in the brainstorming or idea development process.

Let’s go over a little bit about trademarks. A trademark is the name, slogan, logo, etc. you put on your company or products to differentiate them from your competition. A trademark has two components – the mark itself and your product or service. That’s why it’s permissible for two unrelated companies to have similar names – like Delta Faucets and Delta Airlines. You can’t put a trademark on your company or product that is so similar to your competition that consumers are going to be confused about what they’re buying.

If you create a brand but don’t register it with the USPTO, you only get common law protection for it which extends only as far as your geographic market. You also risk being in the Burger King situation where you could be limited in your ability to expand if someone registers your trademark after you’ve started using it.

When a company registers their trademark, they get the exclusive right to use their mark on their category of goods and services everywhere in the United States. No one can enter the marketplace with a confusingly similar name on similar products or services, even if they do it in a geographic area where the trademark owner isn’t doing business. They can send you a letter demanding that you rebrand or sue you for infringement. This happened to a friend of mine who had a dog training business that had a similar name to a dog trainer who lived across the country. Since the other guy registered his trademark for dog training, he had the authority to make my friend change her business’ name.

The USPTO trademark database isn’t that hard to use if you’re only looking up words. When you are researching potential names and slogans, make sure you look up various spellings of the word(s) and watch out for the word you want in other languages. It’s a good idea to verify with a trademark that the name or slogan you want as your trademark is available. You don’t want to invest a lot of time, money, and energy in creating a brand that you can’t have. I’ve worked with too many companies who have had to rebrand their company or a product because they got a cease and desist letter from someone who had registered the name.

I also made a video about the importance of checking the USPTO database when selecting a brand.

I’m also a huge advocate of registering the trademark in your blog because if someone else takes your name, it can essentially shut down your site. If you want to chat more about trademarks, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Kickstarter New Terms of Service

Kickstarter Logo

Kickstarter Logo

In case you didn’t hear, Kickstarter announced that it’s revising its terms of service. The changes will apply to projects launched on or after October 19, 2014.

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform. People can launch a project they need funding for and backers and pledge a specified amount of money to support it in exchange for a benefit listed on the project’s page. The creator has to state their fundraising goal and deadline on their project page and backers only have to pay if the goal amount is reached.

Kickstarter provides a forum for people needing funding and potential backers to find each other. They don’t really get involved beyond that. Kickstarter makes to guarantee that the creator will follow through on their obligations to complete the project and they stay out of disputes between creators and backers except to assist law enforcement with fraud investigations.

In the new terms of service, Kickstarter still doesn’t get involved in disputes but they provide guidelines regarding what should happen if a creator can’t complete their obligations. The new terms say, “If a creator is unable to complete their project and fulfill rewards, they’ve failed to live up to the basic obligations of this agreement. To right this, they must make every reasonable effort to find another way of bringing the project to the best possible conclusion for backers.”

When a project is funded, it creates a contract between the creator and backers. If the creator doesn’t perform as promised, they’ve breached the contract and must amend the wrong. I think these new terms are an acknowledgement that Kickstarter realizes their users are beginners in the business world, and so it’s helpful to provide this additional information and guidance for situations when a creator can’t follow through after being funded.

Hat tip to Kickstarter for replacing the legalese in the previous terms of service with everyday language. The new verbiage and the layout of the terms are much more user-friendly and appropriate for your audience. I wish more sites were like this.

If you’re interested in talking more about the legalities of using Kickstarter or website terms of service, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Arizona Drone Law Basics

Drone and Mood by Don McCullough from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Drone and Mood by Don McCullough from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

There has been a lot of controversy and questions around unmanned aerial vehicles – aka drones. According to Amazon, you can get one for under $100 and they look really cool. If you equip a drone with a camera, the potential footage is amazing. Improv Everywhere used one this year to shoot part of Black Tie Beach 2014. Apparently there’s a way to attach a beacon to yourself and have your drone follow you, which could make for amazing footage if you’re involved in a hobby like surfing or rock climbing.

I’ve been getting questions about the legalities of having a drone in Arizona. So I did some research and here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Arizona does not have any drone-specific laws at this time. You can legally fly a drone, with or without a camera, Arizona; however, there are some guidelines about that. You have to keep it under 400 feet and you can’t fly it within five miles of an airport without permission.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits the use the drones for commercial purposes. That means you can’t make money from your drone. You can’t sell services that include using a drone – like a video production company or a realtor who wants to use a drone to shoot footage of properties that are for sale. It also means you can’t run ads on the videos you shoot with your drone and post on YouTube. I have friend at Fox 10 Phoenix and he said the station has a drone but they don’t use it because they make money by sharing videos of newsworthy stories.

If you injure a person or their property with your drone, you will be responsible for paying for the damages. This is same rule that applies if you’re playing catching with a friend and you accidentally hit your neighbor with your ball or throw it through their living room window.

There have been discussions about whether the City of Phoenix will create city ordinances around drones. I think drones should be dealt with at the state level, not the city, especially a metropolitan area like Phoenix where there’s not space between where one city end and the next begins.

One of the challenges that I expect will emerge related to drones is related to the fact that it’s not always easy to tell who is operating a particular drone. Unlike remote-control aircrafts, you don’t need line of sight to operate a drone. If someone violates the FAA rules or any law with a drone, it may be difficult to identify the operator.

This is an emerging area of law that I will keep an eye on. The FAA’s rules regarding hobbyists’ use of drones are expected to be released in 2015. You can learn more about the FAA’s guidelines for drones here.

Fellow Phoenix attorney and overall nice guy James Arrowood is also following developments in drone law. He did a fantastic interview on PBS about this topic recently.

If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

The Real Cost of a Social Media Misstep

Money by Andrew Magill from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Money by Andrew Magill from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I was talking with some non-lawyer entrepreneurs lately, and I asked them what they thought would be the worst case scenario if their company broke the law via their social media, and they both responded that they would have to take responsibility for their mistake, apologize, and do some damage control. While I appreciate that these business owners appeared to have integrity and good intentions, I internally cringed that they both assumed that saying, “I’m sorry,” should be enough to fix a problem.

I want to share some numbers for the costs a business could easily face if they violate a law with their online posts.

Trademark Infringement – Cost of Rebranding
Think about how much time and money you’ve spent selecting the name for your business or product, your logos, your slogans, your domain, and your website. Now, how would you feel if you had to do it all again? That’s what could happen if you select a name for your business or product that’s already been registered by someone else in your industry. In the best case scenario, they’ll send a cease and desist letter and demand that you rebrand. In the worst case scenario, they’ll sue you for infringement, and you could be spending tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and fines.

This is why I suggest companies check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Database for registered trademarks to verify the name or slogan they want to use hasn’t been claimed by someone else.   I’m also an advocate of registering your trademark as soon as you can afford it, so no one can restrict your use of your own name or steal it from you.

Illegal Social Media Policy – at least $10,000
Every company needs a social media policy, but employers need to understand that a federal law called the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) that protect union activities also apply to employees talking about their work – even in public online forums. If you fire an employee for violating the company social media policy and it turns out your policy violates the NLRA, you could be ordered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to pay the ex-employee back wages, damages, and offer them their job back. My friend who works on these cases says if you have to pay the ex-employee $10,000, you got off easy.

Copyright Infringement – $150,000 per Work Copied
Many business owners don’t understand that they can’t use any image they find via a Google Image search. There are even marketing “professionals” who will tell you that you can use any image you find online as long as you give an attribution and a link to the original. Both of these are excellent ways to commit copyright infringement. And photographers are becoming more savvy about protecting their rights so if you use their work they may send you a bill or a lawsuit instead of a cease and desist letter or a takedown notice. In the worst case scenario, you may face a lawsuit for $150,000 per image you used without permission.

Be careful if you outsource your content creation that your contracts clear state that the writer or artist who creates your content also indemnifies you if you are ever accused of copyright infringement because of something they created for your site or posted to your social media.

Defamation – $2,500,000
Defamation generally requires making a false statement about a person to a third party that hurts the person’s reputation. When I do talks about social media horror stories, I talk about a case where a blogger was sued for defamation because of one blog post and was ordered to pay him $2.5 million. 1 blog post. $2.5 million. (The case is currently up on appeal but I don’t think it looks good for her.) This is when little words matter because it’s easy to think you’re stating an opinion but your phrasing creates a statement of a fact – and if it’s a lie, it could be defamatory. Think before you post and check your sources.

ruthcover smallerPlease note, these numbers do not include legal fees you could face in addition to damages if you’re sued because of your social media posts. The legal issues listed above only scratches the surface of what wrongs a person or company can commit online. The good news is most of these problems are preventable with education and diligence. I strongly recommend you stay abreast of what laws apply to your social media postings and developments in this area of law.

If you need a legal resource for laymen on this topic, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It covers a lot of the major issues that apply to blogging and social media. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

How the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Works

Hueco Tanks Lightening Storm by Dana Le from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Hueco Tanks Lightening Storm by Dana Le from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I got a message from a photographer friend who said a company is using many photographers’ work on their site without permission. He investigated the company’s copyright policy and was astonished that they make people provide six things to get an image removed. He sent me the link. Here’s what they require:

  1. Information reasonably sufficient to permit us to contact the complaining party (e.g., address, telephone number and email address);
  2. A physical or electronic signature of the person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the copyrighted work(s) that is/are alleged to have been infringed;
  3. An identification of the copyrighted work(s) you claim is/are being infringed or, if multiple copyrighted works at a single online site are covered by a single notification, a representative list of such works at that site;
  4. Identification of the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity, and information reasonably sufficient to permit us to locate the material;
  5. A statement that the complaining party has a good faith belief that use of the material is unauthorized; and
  6. A statement that the information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

When I saw the list, I smiled. This is how the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) works. When you send a DMCA takedown notice, you have to tell the web host who you are, which of your photos is being used, where they can find the image on the alleged copyright infringer’s site, and you have to promise that you’re telling the truth. If you provide this information, they are required to remove the image from the alleged infringer’s site.

This is what disturbs me about this situation. This company uses many images on its site. As an outsider looking in, it appears that they at least suspect that infringement is happening and their way to dealing with it to remove the infringing images when they’re notified. I would not be surprised to learn that this company outsources their content creation so they wouldn’t know if their use of an image was violating someone’s copyright. I hope they have a policy to fire contractors with a track record of copyright infringement.

Sending a DMCA takedown notice is only one option when a photographer suspects their work is being used without permission. Some photographers opt to send a bill or file a lawsuit against them instead.

If you want a resource that explains the legalities of copyright and social media in plain English, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.