The Paisley Dress and the FTC: A Cautionary Tale

Lord & Taylor by Mike Mozart from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Lord & Taylor by Mike Mozart from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

If you want a story of what not to do when it comes to working with influencers and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), look to Lord & Taylor.

To promote their new clothing line collection, Design Lab, Lord & Taylor sought out influencers on Instagram. They sent a piece from the collection – a paisley dress – to 50 influencers, and paid each of them $1,000-4,000 to post a picture of themselves wearing the dress on a specific day (“product bomb”). The agreement with each influencer was that they would use certain campaign designations and hashtags and that Lord & Taylor would review and approve these posts prior to the product bomb day.

The Infamous Paisley Dress

The Infamous Paisley Dress

This is where this story hurts my head:

  1. Lord & Taylor didn’t require the influencers to disclose that these posts were part of a campaign.
  2. When Lord & Taylor reviewed each post, they didn’t insist that the influencers add this information.
  3. None of the 50 influencers who were paid to post a picture of themselves wearing the paisley dress included the disclaimer or asked about it.

How can marketing professionals claim they’re competent at creating social media campaigns and not know about the basic FTC rules about native advertising?

How can an influencer who wants to use their social media platforms as a business and not know the basic rules of the game? The rules are not hard to follow:

  • Only give your truthful and accurate review of products, and
  • Always disclose when you have a relationship with a company.

If a company doesn’t want you to do this, send them a link to the FTC rules and run away as fast as you can. If they don’t understand these basic rules, they don’t know what they’re doing. I’d be worried about what else they’re doing wrong.

Companies should insist on these disclosures. When I did product reviews, my contract required me to include what I liked and didn’t like about the product and to always disclose that I got to use each product for free.

Luckily for Lord & Taylor, they appear to have gotten off with a warning. The FTC could have fined them or their influencers up to $11,000 per violation ($11K x 50 influencer posts = $550K). The next company that makes this mistake may not be so lucky.

I’m looking forward to speaking on this topic at BlogPaws to help bloggers avoid getting in hot water. If you want to talk with me about the FTC rules and social media law, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content, entrepreneurial tips, and rants that are available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

 

Copyright Protection – Ideas vs Expression

Golden Gate Bridge by Julian Fong from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Golden Gate Bridge by Julian Fong from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

A common mistake among professional creatives and amateur is understanding the scope of copyright protection, In the U.S., when you have a copyright, you have protection for your original expression, not the ideas contained within your work.

What Does Copyright Protect
Copyright applies when you have an “original work of authorship” that is “fixed in a tangible medium.” When you have a copyright, you can prevent others from using or claiming your work without permission, but it doesn’t give you a monopoly over the ideas contained within a work.

The image above is a photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge by Julian Fong. By taking this photo, he has the copyright in the image; however, he can’t stop others from taking picture of the bridge. If I went to San Francisco and determined where he was standing, I could take a photo that is nearly identical to his, but that is not a violation of his copyright. He can only stop me from claiming his work as my own or using his work without his permission. He can’t stop me from creating my own picture. His rights only extend to his exact expression, not the idea of capturing an image of this bridge on a sunny day.

The same rules that apply to images also apply to written material. This is why multiple people can write about the same topic and even express similar sentiments without risk of violating the other’s copyright rights. As long as one writer is not deliberating copying the other’s work word-for-word and claiming it as their own, it’s possible for two people to create similar works without violating the other’s rights. It is permissible under the concept of fair use to quote another writer and provide your own thoughts and others’ perspectives about the issue.

What Is Not Protected
Copyright only protects original expression, it does not protect facts, ideas, methods, titles, names, short phrases, or recipes. Copyright can protect and original arrangement of facts, but not when it’s an unoriginal arrangement. That’s why a cookbook may be protected by copyright (original arrangement of recipes and images) but a phonebook is not.

I regularly receive questions from people about what is the scope of copyright protection and whether contributing to a project (such as being the subject of a photo) gives them rights in the resulting product. Copyright, like many areas of law, has few definite answers. Each situation must be evaluated based on its merits.

If you want to talk with me about copyright law and protecting your rights, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content, entrepreneurial tips, and rants that are available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Planning for the Digital Afterlife

Candlelight Vigil 6 by B. W. Townsend from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Candlelight Vigil 6 by B. W. Townsend from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Your accounts on websites and social media platforms, website domains, and all the content you post are your property, and therefore part of your estate.  When you pass away, your estate plan determines who will inherit your possession, including your property online. When you write your will, make sure it includes information about who will own your online content when you die.

Copyright Ownership
Under the U.S. Copyright Act, you are the copyright owner in any original works you create the moment they are “fixed” in any tangible medium (including digital files). This includes the photos and videos that you take post on social media and the content you create and post on your websites. For any individual, the copyright in each work does not expire until 70 years after you die. It’s important to designate who will be the copyright owner for your content.

Maintain Accounts
You may have accounts that require payment to maintain them – such as your web domains. Your accounts could be disabled or delete if they are not maintained, meaning the content could be lost if someone doesn’t continue to pay your domain, hosting, and account fees. If you want a website to live on after you pass away, include instructions and money for doing so.

For your other social media accounts, check with each site’s terms of service about what happens to an account when a user passes away. There may be processes in place to transition your account into a memorial page and/or transfer control to your loved ones.

Settling your Online Affairs
When you create an estate plan, you designate an executor or personal representative for your estate who is responsible for settling your affairs. Consider designating a representative to oversee you online affairs. Provide a list of your online property and instructions regarding what should happen to it. You may also want to give this person instructions regarding the files on your computer, in your phone, or in the cloud.

You may select one person as your regular personal representative and a tech savvy friend to address your online affairs. Your online executor may need access to your passwords to your computer, phone, and for each account. (This is when using a password storage system like LastPass is handy.) Your online executor is also the best person to clear your browser history, delete images from your machine, and possibly remove items from your home that you don’t want your family to see.

Dying Without a Will
If you die without an estate plan (aka die intestate), you’ll have no say over who inherits what from your estate. The court will appoint a personal representative and the laws of your state will determine who inherits your estate. In Arizona, if you die without a will, your spouse inherits your estate. If you don’t have a spouse, your children inherit your estate. If you don’t have a spouse or children, your parents inherit if they are living, otherwise your property goes to your then-living siblings. If you are an entrepreneur, you should also be aware of what happens to your LLC when you die.

If you want to talk with me about who owns your online content now and in the afterlife, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content, entrepreneurial tips, and rants that are available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Stolen Images: How to Respond if Someone Uses your Photo Without Permission

Caught in the Act by *sax from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Caught in the Act by *sax from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

What should you do if you discover that someone is using a photo you took without your permission? As the person who took the photo, you are likely the copyright owner, which gives you the right to control where and how your work is copied, distributed, displayed, and used in other works. You may have grounds to sue the person for copyright infringement, but that’s often not a practical course of action, especially if your damages are minimal or the alleged infringer doesn’t have means to pay you the damages.

In many cases, the owner simply wants the person to stop using their image, so what do you do? If your goal is removal of the photo and cessation of further uses, this is one way to proceed.

1. Dial Direct: Contact the suspected infringer directly, inform him/her of your concerns, and request that they remove the image. Many people still believe that they can use any image they find on the internet as long as they give an attribution and a link to the original.

Look for contact information on their website if that’s where the alleged infringement is occurring. If that information is not available, it might be listed on WhoIs from when the person registered the domain.

2. Send a DMCA Takedown Notice: If you can’t contact the person or they don’t respond to your request to remove your image, you can send a DMCA takedown notice to the company that hosts their content. If the image is on a person’s website, be aware that the company that registered the domain is not necessarily the same company that hosts the site. Before I send a DMCA takedown notice, I usually contact the hosting company and verify that they host the site in question. I also ask if there’s a specific email address to use to send DMCA notices or if they have a form on their site for submitting them.

The downside of sending a DMCA takedown notice is that it may result in the image being removed, but only for a short time. The infringer can have the content restored to their site merely by sending a counter takedown notice.

3. Consider the Court or the Court of Public Opinion: If sending a DMCA takedown notice is not effective, you may have to sue the person to get the image removed from their site or account. You may also consider turning to the court of public opinion. If you pursue the latter option, be careful about what you say. You don’t want this person to have grounds to sue you for defamation, false light, or a similar claim.

If you’re interested in seeing an epic copyright battle that was fought in the courts and the public eye, I recommend The Oatmeal vs. FunnyJunk. Be sure to read this update, this one, and this one too.

Of course if you’re in this type of situation, it’s best to consult a copyright lawyer to determine the best course of action based on your specific circumstances. If you want to talk with me about copyright issues, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content, entrepreneurial tips, and rants that are available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Why Don’t Lawyers Have Empathy?

Shark Car Ornament by  peggydavis66 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Shark Car Ornament by peggydavis66 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

One of my entrepreneurial friends recently asked me this question. He works with lawyers in various aspects of his life. He previously asked me, “Why are you the only lawyer I like?” His most recent question made me ponder if and how empathy plays a role in the practice of law.

We Do Have Empathy
Good lawyers do have empathy for their client’s situation. I respect that my clients are often angry and scared. Their livelihood and sense of security may be on the line. I get that. Effective lawyers get that. If nothing else, it shows that we respect our clients’ perspective on the situation.

However, the fact that we don’t commiserate with you doesn’t mean that we don’t care. The client will always be more emotionally invested in the can that the lawyer. That’s partly why you hire us – we’re more clearheaded and able to attack the situation logically, rather than feed our client’s anger and desire for revenge.

We’re Professional Problem Solvers
If you hire a lawyer, you’re paying us to fix or prevent a problem. At our core, that’s what we do.

When you’re dealing with a legal problem, there’s always a chance you could lose. By hiring a lawyer, you’re betting that the odds of getting the outcome you want are better than if you hired someone else or tried to handle it yourself.

It may seem like we don’t care if we’re not empathetic all the time, but at the end of the day, that’s not what you hired us to do. If we’re putting time and energy into validating your feelings, that’s time and energy we can’t put towards actually addressing the problem you hired to fix.

It’s Not our Job to be Nice
Sometimes we have to say things to our clients and prospective clients that they don’t want to hear, things like

  • I don’t think you have a case.
  • That’s not how the law works.

One of the reasons why the world needs lawyers is because the law is not black-and-white. If the answers were easy to find or resolution easy to achieve, people wouldn’t need lawyers to solve their problems. Sometimes the situation involves bad choices by on people on both sides of the dispute. I don’t tell my clients that they fucked up, but often times, lawyers are hired to deal with preventable problems. I don’t shame my clients for their choices – everyone makes mistakes – but I try not to sugar coat it either.

We’re lawyers, not miracle workers. We have to play the hand our client gives us.

We’re Saving You Money
One of the challenges of being a lawyer is the fact that we work and bill by the hour. I work in an eat-what-you-kill environment, so if I’m not billing, I’m not earning income. I take pride in the fact that I respect my clients’ budgets, but that means I have an obligation to work efficiently.

If a client wants to have an empathy session, that’s fine, but I have to schedule and bill them for it. On most days, I have a to-do list of projects related to multiple client’s cases and I have as much of an obligation to do quality work for each one.  That’s why when I’m in the middle of working on work for a client, I won’t take calls because the distraction will impact my work for both clients, which will force me to take longer to complete my tasks for them.

This question spawned some interesting conversation among my fellow legal eagles. It’s good to know that most lawyers I encounter seem to be thoughtful about this issue. If you want to hear more of my perspectives about being a lawyer, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content, entrepreneurial tips, and rants that are available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Know the Fine Print – Dispute Resolution

Fine Print by CJ Sorg from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Fine Print by CJ Sorg from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Every contract needs a dispute resolution clause – every contract. It’s something you should look for in every contract you read. If you’re given a contract to sign that doesn’t have one, I strongly recommend adding one in. That’s what I would do.

The dispute resolution clause in a contract is the how-we’re-going-do-deal-with-problems provision. It lays out how and where problems will be resolved when they occur.

How Problems will be Resolved
There are three main ways people general resolve problems in a contract:

  • Mediation: Hire a mediator to help you resolve the problem – more likely to results in “splitting the baby” and not a winner and loser.
  • Arbitration: Hire an arbitrator (or panel of arbitrators) to hear/review your arguments and make a decision. (This is what they used in Erin Brockovich.) Sometimes arbitration is faster and more cost effective than litigation, but not always.
  • Litigation: This is the traditional civil lawsuit. This is what I recommend for most contracts I write for clients.

You’re not limited to only these three options. You can have anything in your dispute resolution clause as long as it’s legal. So if you want to resolve disputes by throwing darts or Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock, you can.

Where Problems will be Resolved
The dispute resolution clause should specify in which county and state disputes will be resolved. If you’re writing the contract, you want the opposing party to have to fight you on your turf if there’s a problem. This is why most contracts I write for clients require them to resolve all disputes in Maricopa County, Arizona and that all parties agree to that jurisdiction. Without such a provision, you may find yourself having to travel to fight disputes in the opposing party’s state, and possibly needed to employ a local lawyer for additional assistance.

Which Law Applies
The laws in each state are slightly different. This is why it’s imperative that your contract state which state’s law will govern the contract for all non-federal claims. Federal claims (like many intellectual property issues) are governed by federal law. You don’t want to have a dispute within the dispute about which law applies to the state-law claims.

There may be other provisions in the dispute resolution clause like a requirement to notify the other party in writing if you believe they’ve breached the agreement and a set time in which they have to cure/fix it before you can take further action against them. Another clause to look for is a provision that requires the loser in a dispute to pay for the winner’s attorney’s fees. I like to add this into contracts I write. It makes people think twice before going after the other.

Next time you buy a ticket for a show, professional sports, travel, or sign up for an account on a website – read the fine print. See what the dispute resolution clause requires. You’ll quickly see that whoever writes the contract, does so with their (or their client’s) best interests (not yours) in mind.

If you need help writing or reviewing a contract, speak to a business lawyer about your needs and options. If you have questions about contracts that you want to discuss with me, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Reclaiming your Copyrights

Music by Brandon Giesbrecht from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Music by Brandon Giesbrecht from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

It was recently announced that Sir Paul McCartney filed papers in the United States to reclaim the rights to 32 songs from The Beatles’ catalog. The rights to these songs are currently owned by Sony. Yes, there is a provision (call if a loophole if you will) in the U.S. Copyright Act that allows for this.

How the Rule Works
This is a rule that applies to all creatives, not just a rule that applies to the rich and famous. You can look it up at 17 U.S.C. § 203 if you want to read it for yourself. The purpose of this rule is to five an author a “second bite of the apple” to those who may have granted a copyright transfer or license that they later regret. It protects people from being taken advantage of.

Here’s how the rule works: 35 years after the copyright assignment or license was granted or 35 years after the work was published, the author(s) can send notice to terminate this transfer or license and reclaim their rights. There’s a relatively small window in which an author must send the notice of termination with the effective date. A copy of this notice must be filed with the U.S. Copyright Office. If an author has passed away, whoever has the author’s “termination interest” in the work can send the notice – usually the author’s family.

There is one caveat to this rule – it does not apply to works made for hire.

Why More People Don’t Take Advantage of This
Why is this the first time most people are hearing about this loophole? Most of the time, it’s not worth pursuing.

At 35 years after a work was created, there is likely little or no money to be made off the work, so from a financial perspective, it’s not worth pursuing. If money is being made from the work, the author may be better off leaving their work in its current situation and the royalties keep flowing in. They don’t have to fix what’s not broken.

In Sir Paul McCartney’s case, he signed over the rights to his work decades ago, and yet he is still going strong as a musician. The BBC article on his bid to reclaim his rights specifically stated that he’s trying to obtain the publishing rights in his music. John Lennon’s share of the rights in the McCartney-Lennon catalog will remain with Sony.

If you signed away your copyright in a work and you wish to reclaim your rights, speak to a copyright attorney about your options. If you have questions about copyright or intellectual property ownership that you want to discuss with me, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Arizona’s New Revenge Porn Law

Bound by Connor Tarter from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Bound by Connor Tarter from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Arizona has rejoined the ranks of U.S. states that have criminal law against revenge porn. This bill was announced with much fanfare in January, but there was barely a whisper when Governor Ducey signed it into law earlier this month. And because this law was passed on an “emergency” basis, it became effective the moment it was signed.

The New Law
A.R.S. § 13-1425 makes it illegal to intentionally disclose the image of an identifiable person in a state of nudity or engaged in sexual activity, when the person has an expectation of privacy, with the intent to harm, harass, intimidate, threaten, or coerce the depicted person. Some important things to note, “image” includes photos, videos, and other digital recordings; and to “disclose” an image means to display, distribute, publish, advertise, or offer.

Offer. Just offering to share revenge porn could be a crime.
Let that sink in for a minute.

The Penalties
If you are convicted of revenge porn using electronic means (email, text message, or social media) under this new law, it’s a Class 4 felony, which is punishable by 1.5 years in prison and a fine up to $150,000.

If you’re convicted of threatening to post/share revenge without actually disclosing the image, that’s a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by 6 months in prison and a fine up to $2,500.

Additionally, it will be up to the judge’s discretion to declare whether your crime makes you a registered sex offender.

These are significant punishments for actions taken when you’re merely pissed off at an ex. It’s not worth the risk when the consequences are this severe.

What if I Sext Someone a Naked Picture?
One question I’m frequently asked is if someone texts or emails you a naked selfie, whether you can post that image online. If someone sends you an explicit image, they have not relinquished their expectation of privacy. If you post that image online or share it with others, it could be criminal revenge porn.

If you believe you are the victim of revenge porn or threatened revenge porn, contact law enforcement for assistance. I’m curious to see the outcomes of the first cases tried in Arizona under this new law. If you have questions about social media law or internet privacy that you want to discuss with me, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Treat your Blog as a Business

Office Hours by Tanel Teemusk from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Office Hours by Tanel Teemusk from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

If you are making money from your blog, or you want to make money from your blog, you have a business. Treat it like the business that it is. You are no longer a hobbyist; you’re an entrepreneur.

Form a Business Entity
Creating a business entity is a relatively straightforward process. In general, it takes paperwork and money. Check with your state’s corporation commission or the secretary of state office to determine how much it will cost – because they significantly vary from state to state. If you have questions about whether you should form a limited liability company (LLC) or a corporation or whether you should form your business in your home state or elsewhere, as your accountant. Most clients I work with in Arizona opt to form Arizona LLCs.

The purpose of having a business entity is to protect you (the person) from liability. With a proper business entity, if the company gets sued, only the business assets will be on the line. Your personal assets (home, car, stuff, dog, etc.) will not be at risk.

Separate Bank Account and Credit Cards
You begin to protect yourself from liability by forming a business entity. The way you perfect that protection is by having separate bank accounts and credit cards for the company. You need to have a clear delineation between where you the person ends and the business begins. This often referred to as maintaining the “corporate veil.”

When you receive money as income, make sure business income passes through the business accounts. Additionally, when you spend money, use your personal accounts to pay for personal expenses (mortgage, groceries, etc.) and use the business accounts to pay for business expenses (office supplies, webhosting, etc.). To steal a line from Ghostbusters, “Don’t cross the streams.”

See your Accountant
Unless you’re a CPA, no entrepreneur should do their own taxes. You can probably make more money if you take the time you would need to do your own taxes to work on your business while someone else does your taxes for you. Having an accountant has saved me a lot of time and headaches. A good accountant is worth their weight in gold.

I love my accountant. He makes doing my taxes so easy. He’s been there to answer all my questions about what can and can’t claim as business expenses and what other information I should track, like mileage.

If you’re new to operating your blog as a business, or if you’ve been doing everything on your own up to now, do yourself a favor and hire a lawyer for an hour. Have a consultation to educate yourself about the legalities of running your business. As an entrepreneurial blogger, you want to be familiar with business formation, contract basics, privacy, copyright, trademarks, and the FTC rules regarding promotions and product reviews. There is a lot to know, but it’s not so complicated that a lay person can’t grasp and apply the concepts.

If you want more information about the legal rules regarding your blog and social media, please check out The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat with me about social media law, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that’s shared only with my mailing list, by subscribing to the firm’s newsletter.

Five Ways to be Legal Killed for your Blog

Batgirl on Jersey Ave. (behind bars) by margonaut from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Batgirl on Jersey Ave. (behind bars) by margonaut from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Yes, you can be legally killed because of something you post on your blog – just not in the United States. As a social media attorney, I deal with a lot of situations involving people behaving badly online, but none of them amount to circumstance where a post can result in crime punishable by death.

There are crimes you can commit via your blog that are punishable by death in certain countries:

Witchcraft: Saudi Arabia

Membership in the Muslim Brotherhood: Syria

Homosexuality: Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen

Atheism: Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, The Maldives

Opposing the Government/Treason: Bahrain, Belarus, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, India, Libya, North Korea, Singapore, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates

This list makes me nervous for travel bloggers, including my friends The Opportunistic Travelers who trek all over the world. If you hit the authority’s radar in the wrong country, it could lead to some serious consequences – such as being caned in Singapore for graffiti. Before you pack your bags for your next adventure, make sure you research the laws that impact your actions in real life and online.

If you want more information about the legal rules regarding your blog and social media, please check out The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat with me, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that’s shared only with my mailing list, by subscribing to the firm’s newsletter.