Pro Se’s kitchen sink approach results in a loss – Lloyd v. Facebook

The “kitchen sink approach” isn’t an uncommon complaint claim strategy when it comes to filing lawsuits against platforms. Notwithstanding decades of precedent clearly indicating that such efforts are doomed to fail, plaintiffs still give it the ole’ college try. Ironically, and while this makes more sense with pro se plaintiffs because they don’t have the same legal training and understanding of how to research case law, pro se plaintiffs aren’t the only ones who try it … no matter how many times they lose. Indeed, even some lawyers like to get paid to make losing arguments. [Insert the hands up shrug emoji here].

Plaintiff: Susan Lloyd

Defendants: Facebook, Inc.; Meta Platforms, Inc.; Mark Zuckerberg (collectively, “Defendants”)

In this instance Plaintiff is a resident of Pennsylvania who suffers from “severe vision issues”. As such, she qualified as “disabled” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Ms. Lloyd, like approximately 266 million other Americans, uses the Facebook social media platform, which as my readers likely know, is connected to, among other things, third-party advertisements.

While the full case history isn’t recited in the Court’s short opinion, it’s worth while to point out (it appears anyway with the limited record before me at this time) that the Plaintiff was afforded the opportunity to amend her complaint multiple times as the Court cites to the Third Amended Complaint (“TAC”). According to the Court Order, the TAC alleged claims violations of:

Plaintiff alleged problems with the platform – suggesting it inaccessible to disabled individuals with no arms or problems with vision (and itemized a laundry list of issues that I won’t cite here … but suffice it to say that there was a complaint about the font size not being able to be made larger). [SIDE NOTE: For those that are unaware, website accessibility is a thing, and plaintiffs can, and will, try to hold website operators (of all types, not just big ones like Facebook) accountable if they deem there to be an accessibility issue. If you want to learn a little more, you can read information that is put out on the Beebe Law website regarding ADA Website Compliance.]

Plaintiff alleged that the advertisements on Facebook were tracking her without her permission … except that users agree to Facebook’s Terms of Service (which presumably allow for that since the court brought it up). I’m not sure at what point people will realize that if you are using something for free, you ARE the product. Indeed, there are many new privacy laws being put into place throughout various states (e.g., California, Colorado, Utah, Virginia and Connecticut) but chances are, especially with large multi-national platforms, they are on top of the rules and are ensuring their compliance. If you aren’t checking your privacy settings, or blocking tracking pixels, etc., at some point that’s going to be on you. Technology gives folks ways to opt out – if you can locate it. I realize that sometimes these things can be hard to find – but often a search on Google will land you results – or just ask any late teen early 20s person. They seem to have a solid command on stuff like this these days.

Plaintiff also alleged that Defendants allowed “over 500 people to harass and bully Plaintiff on Facebook.” The alleged allegations of threats by the other users are rather disturbing and won’t be repeated here (though you can review the case for the quotes). However, Plaintiff stated that each time that she reported the harassment she, and others, were told that it didn’t violate community standards. There is more to the story where things have allegedly escalated off-line. The situation complained about, if true, is quite unsettling … and anyone with decency would be sympathetic to Plaintiff’s concerns.

[SIDE NOTE: Not to suggest that I’m suggesting what happened, if true, wasn’t something that should be looked at and addressed for the future. I’m well aware that Facebook (along with other social media) have imperfect systems. Things that shouldn’t be blocked are blocked. for example, I’ve seen images of positive quotes and peanut butter cookies be blocked or covered from initial viewing as “sensitive”. On the other hand, I’ve also seen things that (subjectively speaking but as someone who spent nearly a decade handling content moderation escalations) should be blocked, that aren’t. Like clearly spammy or scammer accounts. We all know them when we see them yet they remain even after reporting them. I’ve been frustrated by the system myself … and know well both sides of that argument. Nevertheless, if one was to take into account the sheer volume of posts and things that come in you’d realize that it’s a modern miracle that they have any system for trying to deal with such issues at all. Content moderation at scale is incredibly difficult.]

Notwithstanding the arguments offered, the court was quick to procedurally dismiss all but the breach of contract claim because the claims were already dismissed prior (Plaintiff apparently re-plead the same causes of action). More specifically, the court dismissed the ADA and Rehabilitation claim because (at least under the 9th Cir.) Facebook is not a place of public accommodation under Federal Law. [SIDE NOTE: there is a pretty deep split in the circuits on this point – so this isn’t necessarily a “get out of jail free” card if one is a website operator – especially if one may be availing themselves to the jurisdiction of another circuit that wouldn’t be so favorable. Again, if you’re curious about ADA Website Compliance, check out the Beebe Law website]. Similarly, Plaintiff’s Unruh Act claim failed because the act doesn’t apply to digital-only website such as Facebook. Plaintiff’s fraud and intentional misrepresentation claims failed because there wasn’t really any proof that Facebook intended to defraud Plaintiff and only the Terms of Service were talked about. So naturally, if you can’t back up the claims, it ends up being a wasted argument. Maybe not so clear for Pro Se litigants, but this should be pretty clear to lawyers (still doesn’t keep them from trying). Plaintiff’s claims for invasion of privacy, negligence, and negligent infliction of emotional distress failed because they are barred by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230. Again, this is another one of those situations where decades of precedent contrary to a plaintiff’s position isn’t a deterrent from trying to advance such claims anyway. Lastly, the claims against Zuckerberg were dismissed because Plaintiff didn’t allege that he was personally involved or directed the challenged acts (i.e., he isn’t an “alter ego”).

This left the breach of contract claim. Defendants in this case argued that Plaintiff’s claim for breach of contract should be dismissed because the Court lacks diversity jurisdiction over the claim because she cannot meet the amount in controversy. As the Court explains, “28 U.S.C. §1332 grants federal courts’ original jurisdiction over civil actions where the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 and the parties are citizens of different states.” Indeed, they are parties are from different states, however, that requirement that the amount in controversy is to exceed $75,000 is where Plaintiff met an impossible hurdle. As discussed prior, users of Facebook all agree to Facebook’s Terms of Service. Here, Plaintiff’s claim for breach of contract is based on conduct of third-party users and Facebook’s Terms of Service disclaim all liability for third-party conduct. Further, the TOS also provide, “aggregate liability arising out of.. .the [TOS] will not exceed the greater of $100 or the amount Plaintiff has paid Meta in the past twelve months.” Facebook having been around the block a time or two with litigation have definitely refined their TOS over the years to make it nearly impenetrable. I mean, never say never, BUT…good luck. Lastly, the TOS precludes damages for “lost profits, revenues, information, or data, or consequential, special indirect, exemplary, punitive, or incidental damages.” Based upon all of these issues, there is no legal way that Plaintiff could meet the required amount in controversy of $75,000. The Court dismissed the final remaining claim, breach of contract, without leave to amend, although the court did add in “[t]he Court expresses no opinion on whether Plaintiff may pursue her contract claim in state court.” One might construe that as a sympathetic signal to the Plaintiff (or other future Plaintiffs)…

There are a few takeaways from this case, in my opinion:

  1. Throwing garden variety kitchen sink claims at platforms, especially ones the size of Facebook, is likely to be a waste of ink on paper on top of the time it takes to even put the ink on the paper in the first place. If you have concerns about issues with a platform, engage the services of an Internet lawyer in your area that understands all of these things.
  2. Properly drafted, and accepted, Terms of Service for your website can be a huge shield from liability. This is why copying and pasting from some random whatever site or using a “one-size-fits-all” free form from one of those “do-it-yourself” sites is acting penny wise and pound foolish. Just hire a darn Internet lawyer to help you if you’re operating a business website. It can save you money and headache in the long run – and investment into the future of your company if you will.
  3. Website Accessibility, and related claims, is a thing! You don’t hear a lot about it because the matters don’t typically make it to court. Many of these cases settle based upon demand letters for thousands of dollars and costly remediation work … so don’t think that it can’t happen to you (if you’re operating a website for your business).

Citation: Lloyd v. Facebook, Inc., Case No. 21-cv-10075-EMC (N.D. Cal, Feb. 7, 2023)

DISCLAIMER: This is for general information only. This is not legal advice nor should it be relied upon as such. If you have concerns regarding your own specific situation, be sure to reach out to an attorney in your jurisdiction who may be able to advise you of your rights.

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GoDaddy not liable for third-party snagging prior owned domain – Rigsby v. GoDaddy Inc.

This case should present as a cautionary tale of why you want to ensure you’ve got your auto-renewals on, and you’re ensuring the renewal works, for your website domains if you plan on using them long term for any purpose. Failing to renew timely (or ensuring there is actual renewal) can have unintended frustrating consequences.

Plaintiffs-Appellants: Scott Rigsby and Scott Rigsby Foundation, Inc. (together “Rigsby”).

Defendants-Appellees: GoDaddy, Inc., GoDaddy.com, LLC, and GoDaddy Operating Company, LLC and Desert Newco, LLC (together “GoDaddy”).

Scott Rigsby is a physically challenged athlete and motivational speaker who started the Scott Rigsby Foundation. In 2007, in connection with the foundation he registered the domain name “scottrigsbyfoundation.org” with GoDaddy.com. Unfortunately, and allegedly as a result of a glitch in GoDaddy’s billing system, Rigsby failed to pay the annual renewal fee in 2018. In these instances, typically the domain will then be free to purchase by anyone and this is exactly what happened – a third-party registered the then-available domain name and turned it into a gambling information site. Naturally this is a very frustrating situation for Rigsby.

Rigsby then decided to sue GoDaddy for violations of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a) (which for my non-legal industry readers is the primary federal trademark statute in the United States) and various state laws and sought declaratory and injunctive relief including return of the domain name.

This legal strategy is most curious to me because they didn’t name the third-party that actually purchased the domain and actually made use of it. For those that are unaware, “use in commerce” by the would be trademark infringer is a requirement of the Lanham Act and it seems like a pretty long leap to suggest that GoDaddy was the party in this situation that made use of subject domain.

Rigsby also faced another hurdle, that is, GoDaddy has immunity under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d) (“ACPA”). The ACPA limits the secondary liability of domain name registrars and registries for the act of registering a domain name. Rigsby would be hard pressed to show that GoDaddy registered, used, or trafficked in his domain name with a bad faith intent to profit. Similarly, Rigsby would also be hard pressed to show that GoDaddy’s alleged wrongful conduct surpassed mere registration activity.

Lastly, Rigsby faced a hurdle when it comes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230. I’ve written about Section 230 may times in my blogs, but in general Section 230 provides immunity to websites/platforms from claims stemming from the content created by third-parties. To be sure, there are some exceptions, including intellectual property law claims. See 47 U.S.C. § 230(e)(2) there wasn’t an act done by GoDaddy that would fairly sit square within the Lanham Act such that they would have liability. So this doesn’t apply. Additionally, 47 U.S.C. § 230(e)(3) preempts state law claims. Put another way, with a few exceptions, a platform will also avoid liability from various state law claims. As such, Section 230 would shield GoDaddy from liability for Rigsby’s state-law claims for invasion of privacy, publicity, trade libel, libel, and violations of Arizona’s Consumer Fraud Act. These are garden variety tort law claims that plaintiff’s will typically assert in these kinds of instances, however, plaintiffs have to be careful that they are directed at the right party … and it’s fairly rare that a platform is going to be the right party in these situations.

The District of Arizona dismissed all of the claims against GoDaddy and Rigsby then appealed the dismissal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. While sympathetic to the plight of Rigsby, the court correctly concluded, on February 3, 2023, that Rigsby was barking up the wrong tree in terms of who they named as a defendant and appropriately dismissed the claims against GoDaddy.

To read the court’s full opinion which goes into greater detail about the facts of this case, click on the citation below.

Citation: Rigsby v. GoDaddy, Inc., Case No. 21016182 (9th Cir. Feb. 3, 2023)

DISCLAIMER: This is for general information only. None of this is meant to be legal advice nor should it be relied upon as such.

Section 230 doesn’t protect against a UGC platform’s own unlawful conduct – Fed. Trade Comm’n v. Roomster Corp

This seems like a no-brainer to anyone who understands Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act but for some reason it still hasn’t stopped defendants from making the tried and failed argument that Section 230 protects a platform from their own unlawful conduct.

Plaintiffs: Federal Trade Commission, State of California, State of Colorado, State of Florida, State of Illinois, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and State of New York

Defendants: Roomster Corporation, John Shriber, indivudally and officer of Roomster, and Roman Zaks, individually and as an officer of Roomster.

Roomster (roomster.com) is an internet-based (desktop and mobile app) room and roommate finder platform that purports to be an intermediary (i.e., the middle man) between individuals who are seeking rentals, sublets, and roommates. For anyone that has been around for a minute in this industry, you might be feeling like we’ve got a little bit of a Roommates.com legal situation going on here but it’s different. Roomster, like may platforms that allows third-party content also known as User Generated Content (“UGC”) platforms, does not verify listings or ensure that the listings are real or authentic and has allegedly allowed postings to go up where the address of the listing was a U.S. Post Office. Now this might seem out of the ordinary to an every day person reading this, but I can assure you, it’s nearly impossible for any UGC platform to police every listing, especially if they are a small company and have any reasonable volume of traffic and it would become increasingly hard to try and moderate as they grow. That’s just the truth of operating a UGC platform.

Notwithstanding these fake posting issues, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants have falsely represented that properties listed on the Roomster platform are real, available, and verified. [OUCH!] They further allege that Defendants have created or purchased thousands of fake positive reviews to support these representations and placed fake rental listings on the Internet to drive traffic to their platform. [DOUBLE OUCH!] If true, Roomster may be in for a ride.

The FTC has alleged that Defendants’ acts or practices violate Section 5(a) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45(a) (which in layman terms is the federal law against unfair methods of competition) and the states have alleged the various state versions of deceptive acts and practices. At this point, based on the alleged facts, it seems about right to me.

Roomster filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for Plaintiffs alleged failure to state a claim for various reasons that I won’t discuss, but you can read about in the case, but also argued that “even if Plaintiffs may bring their claims, Defendants cannot be held liable for injuries stemming from user-generated listings and reviews because … they are interactive computer service providers and so are immune from liability for inaccuracies in user-supplied content, pursuant to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230.” Where is the facepalm emoji when you need it? Frankly, that’s a “hail-mary” and total waste of an argument … because Section 230 does not immunize a defendant from liability from its own unlawful conduct. Indeed, a platform can be held liable for for offensive content on its service or system if it contributes to the development of what makes the content unlawful. This is also true where a platform has engaged in deceptive practices, or has had direct participation in a deceptive scheme. Fortunately, like many courts before it, the court in this case saw through the crap and rightfully denied the Motion to Dismiss on this (and other points).

I smell a settlement in the air, but only time will tell.

Case Citation: Fed. Trade Comm’n v. Roomster Corp., Case No. 22 Civ 7389 (S.D. N.Y., Feb. 1, 2023)

DISCLAIMER: This is for general information only. None of this is meant to be legal advice nor should it be relied upon as such.

Anti-SLAPP Laws Without Mandatory Award of Fees and Costs is a Hinderance to the Access to Justice and Chills Free Speech

Arizona recently passed a new anti-SLAPP law, 2022 Ariz. HB 2722 (it’s not in effect yet and won’t be for a few months at least) and while a colleague of mine and are are working on a more comprehensive discussion about anti-SLAPP and this new law specifically (which I will link here once done and/or you can always follow me here or on various social media to get the latest) as I was writing the initial draft of that article this week I became more and more frustrated. Anti-SLAPP laws without a mandatory award of attorneys fees and costs to the prevailing party of such motion is a hindrance to the access to justice for real victims of SLAPP suits and chills free speech. How? Let me elaborate.

I should preface this with the fact that I spent the better part of a decade working as in-house counsel of an interactive online forum and I’ve pretty much seen it all when it comes to true victims sharing their honest stories (and being threatened because if it) and bad actors using the Internet as a source of revenge (where people are desperate to make the harassment stop and to remove untruthful, hurtful, information from the platform). As such, my opinion is through a lens of having heard countless stories from all sides.

Generally speaking (obviously there are always outliers) those who lawfully criticize wrongdoers, especially online, do so because they don’t have the means to file suit regarding the experience that led to the criticism. Complaining online is their remedy. If those being criticized are powerful and/or wealthy, it’s really easy to say “Take that content down or I’ll sue you.” Many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, but even if they are comfortably above that, they often cannot afford to be sued. Just look at how long it took to get through the Depp/Heard case. Granted, that was where two parties were heavily pushing back on who was right … but this is not unlike many civil cases. In fact, the behaviors exhibited in that court room and on display for the watching world to see is not all that unusual for litigating parties. The only difference there is that it was televised and people care enough about celebrity dirt to watch the case unfold on live television/online streaming.

But if you aren’t a celebrity or wealthy individual … if you cannot afford to fight back through expensive lawyers, even if you’re in the right … what do you do? Chances are you begrudgingly remove the content to save your own pocket book, or worse, lose a legal action and end up with a, albeit by default, judgment against you if you cannot, for whatever reason (and there are many reasons) don’t appear in a case. Ahh, yes … the threat of a SLAPP suit is indeed a huge and powerful sword.

But what happens if you cannot remove the content because the website’s terms of service prohibit it, or such posting has been scraped and put up elsewhere such that you do not have control over it? Oh yes, this happens all the time online. People don’t read Terms of Service and unfortunately, copy cat websites scrape content that isn’t theirs. In this instance, chances are, you will get sued anyway. Why? Because it’s worth it for the wealthy/powerful to try to get a court order to remove the content from the internet and they can’t do that without a suit. After all, many platforms will honor court orders for content removal even if they are obtained by default.

And in a lot of ways, this makes sense. Especially when bad actors/defamers hide behind anonymous accounts and/or are in foreign countries that make pursuing the perpetrator cost prohibitive or near impossible for real victims. Real victims need relief and this is one such pathway to remedy. On the other hand, for the truth tellers, it can be hard to stand up to wealthy/powerful bad actors when faced with a lawsuit. Those who speak up honestly can get the short end of the stick. If a suit is filed, and they can’t afford to defend against it, are they to be victimized yet again by default? I know it happens. I’ve seen it happen. Let me give you an example.

Imagine with me for a moment that you are a business owner of a new start-up company called Cool Business, LLC operating in Arizona, and you want to engage the services of a advertising company. Your friend, Tim, gives you the name of Great Advertising Co. based out of New York. A New York advertising company sounds fancy and you think they will probably do a far better job than anyone here in little Arizona so you reach out to them. The conversation goes great, they send you a basic contract to sign for the work to be done for Cool Business, LLC and require a $6,000.00 deposit so they can get started on the work and another $4,000.00 in 90 days for a total contract of $10,000.00 over three months. You skim the agreement, gloss over the headings of the boilerplate terms (because they’re all the same, right?), sign it and send them the $6,000.00. Everything goes great at first, but months into the relationship, and dozens of calls later, you realize that Great Advertising Co. is flakey. They aren’t delivering the services on time, there is always an excuse for why the work isn’t done, but when the 90 days hits, they still ask for their additional $4,000.00 pursuant to the contract. The business relationship at this point has soured. Great Advertising Co. demands their additional $4,000.00 under the contract, which you refuse to pay, and you instead demand a refund of your $6,000.00. Great Advertising Co. refuses to refund you the $6,000.00. Pissed off, you take your story to your favorite business attorney in Arizona and she reviews your contract and advises you that while you may have a breach of contract claim, the terms of your contract say that you agree to litigate any matters stemming from the agreement in a court in New York and that because the contract is with Cool Business, LLC that you’d have to hire a lawyer, in the state of New York, to handle the matter for you because businesses have to be represented by a lawyer in the court that you’d have to file in. Knowing that New York lawyers can be very expensive, you decide it’s not worth the hassle and to cut your losses. Understandably being upset, however, you take to the Internet to tell everyone you know how, truthfully, Great Advertising Co. ripped you off and you explain in detail what happened. You post your reviews to Google, Yelp, Facebook and any other place you can find to help spread the word about these unscrupulous business tactics and you leave it at that. Ten months later you receive a letter from a Great Advertising Co.’s New York lawyer telling you that you need technically still owe the $4,000.00 under the contract and that Great Advertising Co. doesn’t appreciate the negative reviews and demands that you immediately remove them or they will file a lawsuit against you for defamation. You ignore the letter because you know that you have a good breach of contract case and the First Amendment on your side because what you said was 100% the truth and you know, after talking to your favorite defamation attorney a few years back, you know that the truth is a defense to a claim of defamation. A day prior to the one year anniversary of your pissed off customer online posting tirade you are served with a complaint, based out of New York for defamation. You’ve watched the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation trial. You saw how long that case was drug out and you know that you don’t have the funds to pay an attorney to fight for your rights in New York. You didn’t even have the funds to hire a New York attorney to bring a breach of contract case against Great Advertising Co. to try and get your $6,000.00 back. As such, feeling defeated, and without talking to your favorite defamation attorney again, you just ignore the complaint. You figure, what’s the worst that can happen. Great Advertising Co. obtains a default judgment against you individually with an order to take down the content and the judge awards $2,500.00 in damages.

Now, this entire hypothetical, while obviously facts have been changed and such, is based off a true story of what one individual experienced and how these types of situations can go south in a hurry. There are countless similar stories just like this out there. Good folks are victimized not just once, by the initial acts, but twice in some instances like in this hypothetical. But this is where good anti-SLAPP laws come into play.

Anti-SLAPP laws are designed to fight back against those who file lawsuits just to try and silence their critics, but without the promise of attorney fees and costs for the work, victims of little means are hard pressed to find lawyers willing to help (hence the hinderance to access to justice). The sad truth is that most lawyers (like most professions) cannot afford to work for free – being a professional is expensive and it’s not getting any cheaper. When anti-SLAPP laws include such fee provisions, it’s a lot easier for attorneys to consider taking on a SLAPP case, with low or no money down, case because they know they will get paid when they win. This is of course presuming it’s a deep pocket that filed the SLAPP in the first place because the reality is a judgment is only worth one’s ability to collect.

When anti-SLAPP laws fail to include such provisions, there is little deterrent to filing a SLAPP suit. Yes, if the little person being picked on has means, maybe they will think twice but that’s not often the case and the SLAPP filers know, and bank on, the litigation causing financial hardship or stress so that the truth teller will simply give in to the demands to remove the content prior to even answering the complaint, thus chilling truthful speech. It’s a powerful tactic. If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be so many states with anti-SLAPP laws trying to curb such problems in the first place.

As many legal practitioners are painfully aware, it can be very difficult to get a judge to award attorneys fees and costs absent it being statutorily required. So even if you fight against a SLAPP suit, and win, you could still be out tens of thousands of dollars (or more depending on the case) with no guarantee of recovery. As an attorney, when you have to tell potential clients this, you can see the defeat in people’s faces before you even get going. It’s scary. What average person has tens of thousands of dollars laying around to pay to a lawyer to fight for their First Amendment right to free speech?

Would those odds make you excited about standing up for yourself? I think not. If you knew all this, would you be so willing to share with the public honest information about bad actors and you personal experience? I think not.

And this doesn’t just go for complaining consumers, but also for investigative journalists. If you think a random, but bigger company, going after an unhappy customer who got ripped off is bad and complained about it is bad … imagine what a powerful elite will try to do to an investigative journalist trying to uncover some very serious dirty laundry and expose it to the world?

Bottom line, for any anti-SLAPP law to be a true shield, among other things, it must contain, at minimum, a statutory award of attorney fees and costs.

Disclaimer: This is for general information purposes only and none of this is meant to be legal advice and should not be relied upon as legal advice.

#firstamendment #defamation #antiSLAPP #legislation #accesstojustice

“Internet Law” explained

For some reason, every time one says “lawyer” people tend to think of criminal law, family law or personal injury law.  Perhaps because those are very common.  Most people even understand the concept of a corporate or business lawyer, someone who handles trust and estates, or even one that handles intellectual property.  However, when we say “Internet Law” many people get the most confused look on their face and say: “What the heck is that?” If that is you, you’re in good company.  And, to be fair, the Internet really hasn’t been around all that long.

If you were to read the “IT law” page on Wikipedia you’d see a section related to “Internet Law” but even that page falls a little short on a solid explanation – mostly because the law that surrounds the Internet is incredibly vast and is always evolving.

When we refer to “Internet Law” we are really talking about how varying legal principles and surrounding legislation influence and govern the internet, and it’s use.  For example, “Internet Law” can incorporate many different areas of law such as privacy law, contract law and intellectual property law…all which were developed before the internet was even a thing.  You also have to think how the Internet is global and how laws and application of those laws can vary by jurisdiction.

Internet Law can include the following:

  • Laws relating to website design
  • Laws relating to online speech and censorship of the same
  • Laws relating to how trademarks are used online
  • Laws relating to what rights a copyright holder may have when their images or other content is placed and used online
  • Laws relating to Internet Service Providers and what liabilities they may have based upon data they process or store or what their users do on their platforms
  • Laws relating to resolving conflicts over domain names
  • Laws relating to advertisements on websites, through apps, and through email
  • Laws relating to how goods and services are sold online

As you can see just from the few examples listed above, a lot goes into “Internet Law” and many Internet Law attorneys will pick only a few of these areas to focus on because it can be a challenge just to keep up.  Indeed, unlike other areas of law, “Internet Law” is not static and is always evolving.

Do you think you have an Internet Law related question? If you are in the state of Arizona and are looking for that solid “friend in the lawyering business” consider Beebe Law, PLLC!  We truly enjoy helping our  business and individual clients and strive to meet and exceed their goals!  Contact us today.

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.

 

 

 

 

Data Privacy: Do most people even deserve it?

Repeat after me: Everything connected online is hackable.  Nothing online is really ever totally private. Most everything about my online activity is likely being aggregated and sold.  This is especially true if the website is free for me to use. 

Okay, before we get going, realize that this article is not discussing things that we would like to think is relatively safe and secure…like banking and health records.  Even then, please repeat the statements above because even for those situations it still holds true.  What I’m going to talk about is the more run of the mill websites and platforms that everyone uses.

The truth of the matter is, most people never read a website’s terms of service or privacy policy and readily click the “I agree” or “I accept” button without knowing if they have just agreed to give away their first born or shave their cat.  Or, to be more realistic, that a free to use website which you don’t have to spend a penny to use is likely to track your behavior so they can render you ads of products and services that you might be interested in and/or sell aggregated data and/or your email address to marketers or other businesses that might be interested in you as a customer or to learn more about consumer habits in general.  Hello people…NOTHING IS FREE!  Indeed, most humans are lazy as sh*t when it comes to all of that reading and so forth because really, who in the hell wants to read all that?  Hey, I’m guilty of it myself,  although since I write terms of service and privacy policies as a way to make a living sometimes I will read them for pure entertainment.  Don’t judge me…I’m a nerd like that.

We are quick to use, click or sign up on a website without knowing what it is that we are actually agreeing to or signing up for…because we want entertainment and/or convenience…and we want it NOW.  Talk about an instant gratification society right? Think about the following situations as an example: Go to the grocery store and buy ingredients then take another 35-40 minutes to make dinner or simply use an app to order pizza? Send someone a handwritten letter through the mail (snail mail) or shoot them an email? Sit down and write checks or schedule everything through bill-pay? Pick up a landline phone (they do still exist) and call someone or send them a text from your mobile device?  Go to the local box office and purchase tickets to your favorite concert or buy them online? Stand in line at the theater for tickets or pre-pay on an app ahead of time and walk right in using a scan code through that app? Remember and type in your password all the time or ask your computer or use your thumb print to remember it all?  Take pictures with a camera that has film, get it developed and send those images to family and friends or take pictures with your phone and instantly upload them to a social media platform like Facebook to share with those same people, for free? By now you should be getting my point…and that is that we want convenience, and technology has been great at providing that, but for that convenience we often forget the price that is associated with it, including a loss of data privacy and security.

Low and behold, and not surprisingly (to me anyway), something like the Facebook – Cambridge Analytica situation happens and Every. Damn. Person. Loses. Their. Mind!  Why? Well, because mainstream media makes it into a bigger story than it is…and suddenly everyone is “conveniently” all concerned about their “data privacy.”  So let me get this straight: You sign up for a FREE TO USE platform, literally spend most of your free time on said platform pretty much posting everything about yourself including who your relatives are, what you like and don’t like, the last meal you ate, your dirty laundry with a significant other, spend time trolling and getting into disputes on bullsh*t political post (that are often public posts where anyone can see them), check in at every place you possibly go, upload pictures of yourself and your family…all of this willingly (no one is holding a gun to your head) and you are surprised that they sell or otherwise use that data?  How do you think they are able to offer you all these cool options and services exactly? How do you think they are able to keep their platform up and running and FREE for you to use?  At what point does one have to accept responsibility for the repercussions from using a website, signing up or clicking that “I agree” button?  Damn near ever website has a terms of service and privacy policy (if they don’t steer clear of them or send them my way for some help) and you SHOULD be reading it and understand it…or at least don’t b*tch when you end up getting advertisements as per the terms of service and privacy policy (that you didn’t bother to read)…or any other possible option that could be out there where someone might use your information for – including the possibility that it will be used for nefarious purposes.

I’m not saying that general websites/platforms that house such content shouldn’t have reasonable security measures in place and that terms of service and privacy policies shouldn’t be clear (though its getting harder and harder to write for the least common denominator).  But again, nothing is 100% secure – there will always be someone that will find away to hack a system if they really want to and it’s really your fault if you fail to read and understand a website or platforms terms of service and privacy policy before you use it or sign up for something.  Why should people scream and cry for the “head” of a platform or website when people freely give their data away?  That’s like blaming the car dealership for theft when you take your fancy new car to a ghetto ass neighborhood, known for high crime and car theft, leave it parked on a dark street, unlocked and with the keys in it.  “But they should have watned me it would get stolen!” Wait! What?Okay, maybe that’s a little too far of an exaggeration but seriously, the internet is a blessing and a curse.  If you don’t know of the potential dangers, and you don’t take the time to learn them, perhaps you shouldn’t be on it?  Remember, entertainment and convenience is the reward for our sacrifice of data privacy and security.

You know who has a heightened level of privacy, doesn’t have social media accounts hacked, data isn’t mined from online habits and doesn’t get spammed to death?  My dad.  Why? He doesn’t get on computers let alone get online and he doesn’t even own a smart phone.  True story.  The dude still has checks, writes hand written notes, and hunts for his meat and gardens for his vegetables. Can you say “off the grid”?  Want heightened data privacy?  Be like dad.

Repeat after me: Everything connected online is hackable.  Nothing online is really ever totally private. Most everything about my online activity is likely being aggregated and sold and sold.  This is especially true if the website is free for me to use.

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction. 

 

 

Domesticating a Foreign Subpoena in Arizona

So you have initiated legal action in your local state court but an entity or person that you need information from is based out of or otherwise located in the state of Arizona.  What do you do?  Well, if you want someone to tell you how to do it (yep, step by step instructions) or otherwise don’t really want to mess with it much at all, you can seek help from Beebe Law, PLLC.  Simply start by filling out the Arizona State Subpoena Domestication Intake Form.  If you just want to learn a little more…keep reading.

Every state has their own unique set of laws and procedures when it comes to domesticating a foreign subpoena and Arizona is no exception.  The following are a few important points:

  1. Make sure you know who the entity’s statutory agent is and where they are located.  You should be able to find this by searching the Arizona Corporation Commission’s website.
  2. Ensure that you are complying with Arizona’s Interstate Depositions and Discovery rules.
  3. If you are asking for medical records or anonymous author information, there are special rules/laws surrounding that you will need to research.
  4. If you are commanding attendance at a deposition or hearing be sure you are doing it at a location consistent with the rules.
  5. Don’t forget your witness fees!
  6. You will have to arrange to have the subpoena served, e.g. through a process server.

Many can absolutely accomplish the goal of foreign subpoena domestication in Arizona entirely on their own (as long as you pay close attention to the rules) however, if you are unsure of the process, or otherwise just don’t want the hassle of it, feel free to reach out to us.  We are here to help you navigate and/or take over the nuances and have created an entire Foreign State Subpoena Domestication Intake Form to get you started.

If you are in need of assistance with laws and procedure in the state of Arizona and are looking for that solid “friend in the lawyering business” consider Beebe Law, PLLC!  We truly enjoy helping our  business and individual clients meet and exceed their goals!  Contact us today.

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.  

10 Online Safety Hacks You Can Implement Today

Every day you read about major companies, or even law firms, getting hacked.  Talk about some frustrating stuff! It’s even worse when it actually happens to you.  Of course, with the increase of technological convenience comes greater cyber security risk.  One of my personal favorite cyber security gurus and “Shark Tank” star Robert Herjavec recently provided insight for an article that outlined 10 safety hacks that are easy to implement if you aren’t already doing them.  What are those 10 safety hacks?  Continue reading…

Some of these seem pretty intuitive.  Others perhaps not so much but are a good idea.

  1. Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) for all of your accounts.
  2. Cover internal laptop cameras.
  3. Don’t do any shopping or banking on public Wi-Fi networks.
  4. Ensure that websites are SSL secure (https instead of http) before making financial transactions online.
  5. Delete old, unused software applications and apps from your devices.
  6. Update your anti-virus software as soon as updates become available.
  7. Refresh your passwords every 30 days for all accounts and use unique passwords for each account.
  8. Update computer/mobile software regularly.
  9. Don’t click on unknown links or open unknown attachments.
  10. Change the manufacturer’s default passwords on all of your software.

One of my favorites is the “cover internal laptop cameras.”  I personally used to get made fun of because I would place a sticky note over the top of my camera on my computer.  I suppose it didn’t help that it was bright green (or hot pink) depending on what color sticky note I had handy so it drew attention until I was given a better one (a plastic slider made specifically for this purpose) at a networking event from Cox Business. Now it doesn’t seem so silly after all.

Another one that I know is important, but probably more difficult to do, is to “refresh your passwords every 30 days for all accounts and use unique passwords for each account.”  Holy moly!  Think of how many accounts have passwords these days?  Literally every different system/app/website that you use requires a password! One LinkedIn user listed as a “Cyber Security Specialist” for a software company offered the solution of a program like LastPass.  Apparently, according to this particular individual anyway, LastPass saves all of your passwords in a securely encrypted container on their servers and have many other built in safety features in the event of stolen or hacked data.  This way all you have to know is one password and LastPass will do the rest.  While surely there are other similar solutions out there, if you are interested, you can read more about LastPass on their How It Works page. Sounds pretty cool, right!?! It might help you break out of that password hell.

A little common sense plus adding in these 10 security hacks can go a long way! Do you have any security hacks to share? Have a favorite password protector that you use? Let us know in the comments!

If you are in the state of Arizona and are looking for that solid “friend in the lawyering business” consider Beebe Law, PLLC!  We truly enjoy helping our  business clients meet and exceed their goals!  Contact us today.

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.  

Schools and Sunscreen to License Plate Covers: 10 new Arizona laws that may impact you – effective this week.

Often times, when laws are passed, they are done without most people noticing.  That’s because small changes to state statutes aren’t all that “news worthy” and it seems that the only people that care are those that wrote them.  However, starting Wednesday, August 9th, 2017, there are 10 laws that Arizonans might actually find relevant, or at least interesting:

  1. Sunscreen in School: Remember the frustration with trying to get your kid to be able to use sunscreen at school, camp or daycare without a prescription?  Stress no more!  HB 2134 fixed that by allowing school aged kids to have and use sunscreen without a note or prescription!
  2. Schools and Inhalers: I can recall growing up with asthma and recess could be troublesome without an inhaler.  Fortunately, that probably won’t be an issue anymore. HB 2208 grants trained school personnel the authority to administer a rescue inhaler to a student (or adult) provided that such student or adult is showing signs of respiratory distress during school or a school sponsored event.  It also allows schools to apply for grants and accept donations to buy inhalers and spacers.
  3. Hot Cars are No Place for Pets and Kids: We’ve seen more than our share of news stories about kids and pets being left in hot cars and dying as a result.  Passers by have long been concerned about civil liability for breaking into locked and unattended vehicles in order to rescue the pets or kids. After all, no good deed goes unpunished, right? Well, worry no more! HB2494 remedied that by protecting persons who enters a locked, unattended, vehicle in connection with the rescue of a child or pet if that person believes that the kid or pet is in “imminent danger of physical injury or death.”  The caveat is that the person MUST call the police or animal control first and stay with that animal or child under they police or animal control arrive.
  4. Background Checks for Private Gun Sales: There has been a lot of confusion surrounding whether or not one had to do a background check on someone when there was a private sale or gift of a gun. Confusion be gone. SB 1122 has made it clear that the state, county and city governments cannot require background checks to be done on private gun sales, gift, donations or other transfer.
  5. Arizonans with Disabilities Act: Businesses know that in order to operate they often need to take into consideration patrons/customers that have disabilities. There has been recent talk about this even applying to a business’s website. Nevertheless, it appears that to help out businesses, SB 1406 amends the Arizonans with Disabilities Act to give a business up to 90 days in order to cure violations for structural access before a lawsuit can be filed against them, and websites have also been exempt from from the state accessibility requirements.  Of course, for the website business owners, this doesn’t mean that a case won’t be brought against you in a different state that doesn’t have the same rules (people are crazy litigious like that) but it’s good to know that you’re seemingly safe, for now, with the laws of this state.
  6. Crummy Moving Companies Beware: Nothing says “crummy moving company” like one that will get all of your belongings loaded up and to your (in-state) destination but refuses to unload your stuff if you have a disagreement over the payment – like added surprise charges that you weren’t anticipating. HB 2145 addresses that problem by making it illegal for a moving company to fail to unload your belongings over a disagreement over the bill.  Moving companies have to provide a written contract and disclose all fees.  No more surprises = no more disagreements (hopefully).
  7. End of Life Decisions are Difficult: At the end of one’s life – decisions that are being made take a toll on all of those involved – doctors and nurses included. SB 1439 protects doctors, nurses and entire medical facilities from discrimination when they refuse to participate in or otherwise provide any service or item that would result in the death of an individual.
  8.  License-Plate Covers: For all those who think they are being slick with the fancy license plate covers, electronic devices or film that “hides” your license plates from cameras, etc. – you might want to get rid of them.  SB 1073 makes it illegal to cover your license plate in a manner that obscures the license plate from any angle.
  9. Serving Age of Alcohol Decreased: HB 2047 reduces the age in which a person can serve alcohol.  Under the old law one had to be 19 years old before they could serve alcohol.  Under the new law a person only has to be the age of 18.
  10. Pharmacists and Emergency Prescriptions: It can be scary to run out of necessary medication and not be able to get a refill timely.  SB 1269 now allows pharmacists to issue a one-time emergency refill of a non-controlled medication used to treat an ongoing medical condition in particular circumstances including when the pharmacy has had prior record of the patient such patient has a history of being prescribed such medication.

If you are in the state of Arizona and are looking for that solid “friend in the lawyering business” consider Beebe Law, PLLC!  We truly enjoy helping our  business clients meet and exceed their goals!  Contact us today.

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.  

Copyright Infringement: The Basics of a DMCA Notice for Online Content

I’ve been receiving calls from people alleging that someone is infringing on a their copyright (almost always online) and asking for information relating to what goes inside a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) Notice so that they can try to get the alleged infringing content removed. While there is a full legal analysis that should go into whether or not submitting a DMCA notice would be proper, if you know that you are in the right, the following are the basics that need to go into a DMCA Notice:

Any DMCA removal request directed to a website should comply with 17 U.S.C. § 512(c)(3) and include at least the following things:

  1. Your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address;
  2. A description of the copyrighted work that you claim has been infringed;
  3. The exact URL or web address where the alleged infringing material is located;
  4. A statement by you that you have a good faith belief that the disputed use has not been authorized by you, your agent, or the law;
  5. Your electronic or physical signature or the electronic or physical signature of the person authorized to act on your behalf; and
  6. A statement by you made under penalty of perjury, that the information in your notice is accurate, that you are the copyright owner or authorized to act on the copyright owner’s behalf.

The decision to submit a DMCA Notice to a website should be made carefully.  DMCA Notices are NOT good for Reputation Management purposes and if you make any false statements in your demand (like you aren’t actually the copyright holder, etc.) the law does impose substantial liability for any damages and attorneys’ fees incurred as a result. 17 U.S.C. §512(f).

Do you have questions about the DMCA Notice process or other general Copyright related questions? If you are in the state of Arizona and are looking for that solid “friend in the lawyering business” consider Beebe Law, PLLC!  We truly enjoy helping our  business clients meet and exceed their goals!  Contact us today.

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.  

Digital Millennium Copyright Act: It’s NOT for Reputation Management

Let me start out by saying that if your entire business model is based on submissions of Copyright infringement notices (“Digital Millennium Copyright Act Notices” or more commonly referred to as “DMCA Notices”), you should first have a clue about: 1) what goes in one; and 2) what circumstances will likely be found by the court as “infringement.”  If you can’t even get that right, you are doing a disservice to both your customer and are risking litigation against you.  #PetPeeve Yes, I have services in mind but they shall go unnamed.

I understand that in today’s modern world it is incredibly easy for someone to take a picture that posted of someone on the internet and then turn around and upload it elsewhere.  Indeed, depending on the circumstances, it may very well be an instance of Copyright infringement and a DMCA Notice may very well be warranted.  There is an entire legal analysis that often goes into determining Copyright infringement and those who are untrained should consult legal counsel who regularly handles Copyright infringement issues to help walk through the elements.

Notwithstanding the above, if you think that submitting a DMCA Notice to a site where such image is being used in connection with a review, in an effort to get that review or image to be removed from that site, you are likely going to fall flat and may have just wasted time and money.  Why? Because such use is more likely than not going to be considered “fair use” by a court.

The doctrine of fair use is codified at Section 107 of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 107 (“Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work … for purposes such as criticism [and] commentary … is not an infringement of copyright.”); see also Suntrust Bank v. Houghton Mifflin Co., 268 F.3d 1257, 1265 (11th Cir.2001) (“copyright does not immunize a work from comment and criticism.”).  Similarly, courts around the country have upheld the fair use doctrine for the type of claim that most people write to review websites about, i.e., an image connected with a critical review. See Dhillon v. Does 1-10, Not Reported in F.Supp.2d, 2014 WL 722592 (N.D.Cal. 2014) (finding of fair use when Plaintiff’s professional headshot was used for article criticism and commentary); Galvin v. Illinois Republican Party, Slip Copy, 2015 WL 5304625 (N.D.Ill. 2015) (finding of fair use when Plaintiff’s photograph was used in a flyer for the purpose of criticism and commentary); Katz v. Chevaldina, Slip Copy, 2014 WL 2815496, 111 U.S.P.Q.2d 1281, (S.D.Fla. 2014) (finding unauthorized use of unflattering photo of businessman in a blog that is critical of his business practices to be fair use as a matter of law); Katz v. Google, Inc., —F.3d—, 2015 WL 5449883 (11th Cir. 2015) (finding of fair use when blogger used a photograph of a businessman, which he owned the copyright to, in a posting that was to deter others from conducting business with businessman); and Weinberg v. Dirty World, LLC, et al., 2:16-CV-09179 (C.D.Cal. Jul. 27, 2017) (finding fair use when photograph, captured from a video clip which Plaintiff had rights to, was uploaded to an online review website to “ridicule, mock, and critique” the figures in the image).

Moral of the story: if you are considering using a DMCA Notice (or hiring some Reputation Management company who uses this “method”) in effort to try and get postings or images removed from the internet…you should seriously reconsider your strategy. Chances are such companies (or law firms – I’ve seen ridiculous letters from attorneys too) are just taking your money and you may not get the results boasted about. Remember, there has to be a good faith believe that the use is infringing and when there is an abundance of case law that says “fair use”…one questions the “good faith” requirement.

Are you a business that operates a website where you regularly receive DMCA Notices? If you are in the state of Arizona and are looking for that solid “friend in the lawyering business” consider Beebe Law, PLLC!  We truly enjoy helping our  business clients meet and exceed their goals!  Contact us today.

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.  

 

 

Trademarks and Fair Use in Commentary

I have clients who operate websites that allow third-party content.  While NOT my clients, think about sites like Yelp, Twitter, Glassdoor, or even Facebook as examples. When you operate websites that allow other people to go online and write whatever they want, chances are you are going to see an allegation of some variation of Trademark Infringement via a cease and desist letter.  I typically see them in the context of someone alleging trademark or service mark infringement because someone is using the trademark to talk about them online – most often critically – but not always.  Sometimes content creators are using a brand’s trademark to speak highly of the brand or explain how to use something.  Either way, these cease and desist letters come in from attorneys (which I always raise an eyebrow at), reputation management companies (again which I raise an eyebrow at) and everyday people which I can better understand because many simply don’t have an understanding of this area of law.

Due to the overwhelming issues that I see with these cease and desist letters (or even a friendly, hey, could you not use our stuff), I thought it might be good to cover some basics:

What is the Purpose of Trademark Law?

Trademark law helps ensure that consumers can rely on various types of marks (trademark, service mark, etc.) to identify the source of goods or services by prohibiting competitors from using the marks in a way that would confuse consumers about the source, sponsorship, or affiliation of goods or services.

What is a Trademark?

A trademark is a word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof, that is used to distinguish the goods of one person from goods that are manufactured or sold by others.  Think of it as telling people the source of the goods or services.  Think of “Pepsi” or “The Home Depot” for example.  Those are trademarked words that clearly distinguishes them from other sources of goods like “Coca-Cola” or “Lowe’s.”

What is a Service mark?

A service mark, is essentially identical to a trademark, with the exception that the mark is used to identify and distinguish services rather than products.  Think of the well known service marks of American Express or Southwest Airlines. These are services marks that clearly distinguish them from other service marks like Discover or American Airlines.

Protecting your Marks.

It is important to police your trademark so as to keep it from falling by the way of generocide (death by becoming too generic due to its popularity and/or significance) or being counterfeited (knock-offs). A common example of generocide includes trademarks like “escalator” for the moving staircases.  If you are curious you can read more about generic trademarks.  A common example of trademark counterfeiting includes the cheap knock-off/fake Louis Vuitton handbags.  You know, the ones that look like it’s the real deal at first glance but any savvy fashionista knows better upon closer inspection.

Trying to use Trademark as a Reputation Management Method.

Yes, there are times when you should be policing your trademark as discussed above. However, just as I cannot talk about The Home Depot without saying “The Home Depot,” the same goes for anyone else wanting to talk (or write), good or bad, about a particular brand. Such use falls under what is called “nominative fair use” which applies when a person has used one’s trademark to describe or refer to the trademark holder’s product. As with most aspects of law there are caveats and tests, however, generally speaking, just because you have a registered trademark doesn’t mean that you can submit cease and desist letters and allege trademark infringement as a way to get websites/content creators to take down content about your business, especially if it is critical of your business.  Chances are, in that critical context, it is NOT trademark infringement.

If you are in the state of Arizona and are looking for that solid “friend in the lawyering business” consider Beebe Law, PLLC!  We truly enjoy helping our business clients meet and exceed their goals!  Contact us today.

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.  

Five Benefits to Keeping Your Business Lawyer in the Loop

Let’s face it, the word “lawyer” for many is akin to a four letter expletive that people are offended by. Typically because it reminds people of getting sued and/or having to shell out, often unexpectedly, loads of cash that they rather have spent elsewhere…like on a vacation.  Similarly, like in all professions, not all lawyers are created equal, and not all lawyers really have their client’s financial interests at heart – after all, being a lawyer and having a law firm is a business. I personally pride myself on NOT taking advantage of my clients…giving them direction on how they can do things themselves and helping only where they REALLY need/want it…but after 18+ years in the legal field, I know that not all lawyers share my same client-friendly mindset. It is no wonder that people cringe at the thought of having to use a lawyer.

Lawyers don’t have to be a thorn in your side through.  In fact, a good lawyer can be a business’s greatest adviser and advocate – keeping in mind that a job of a lawyer is to tell you what you NEED to hear which can sometimes be very different than what you WANT to hear. All businesses should have a lawyer or two that they keep in regular contact with and it should be part of your regular business operating budget.

Before you go thinking I’m crazy, here are a few reasons that keeping your lawyer updated on the goings on of your business is advantageous:

  1. Lead Generation: Your lawyer can often be your biggest cheerleader (and lead generator) for future customers. Chances are your lawyer is tapped into many different networks.  You never know when someone they know will need your business’s products or services and a solid referral from your lawyer could be future revenue in your pocket.
  2. Idea Generator: An attorney that understands you, your business, and your goals can be an invaluable asset when it comes to creative thinking.  Brainstorming on new ideas with your lawyer may prove to be helpful in that they may be able to think of concepts outside the box for your business that you may not have already thought about.  What if that lawyer helps you generate the next million dollar idea?
  3. Cost Cutting: One thing that many lawyers are good at is organizing and streamlining processes – it’s part of the way we think.  What if your lawyer was able to give you ideas on how to streamline an existing process that will considerably help cut costs moving forward?  If a few hundred dollars for your lawyer’s time on the telephone could save you thousands of dollars in the next year, wouldn’t you do it?  Sure you would.  You’d be a fool not to.
  4.  Risk Mitigation: When you brainstorm with your lawyer on a new business concept, they can often help you plan your road-map to reach your goals and help you navigate around pitfalls that you might not even think about.  For example, when clients come to me talking about setting up a new business I always ask them the business name and ask if they have considered any reputation issues with that new business name.  The same goes for contracting issues, employee issues, etc. To that end as well, there is a LOT of bad information being circulated around on the internet. Indeed it is wise to conduct your own research but don’t you think it prudent to have your research double-checked by someone who knows where to actually find the correct information when it comes to the law? As Dr. Emily So once said, “better information means better ideas, means better protection.”
  5. Cost Effective: It is a lot cheaper to keep your lawyer up to speed on your business as it grows, even if through a short monthly 15 minute call, than it is to try and ramp your attorney up (trying to teach them everything about your business, including policy changes and the like in a short amount of time) when you suddenly need advice in order to be reactive to a situation – like when you are named as a defendant in a lawsuit.  When you are named as a defendant in a lawsuit, you typically only have 20 days (varies by court and jurisdiction) from the date that you are served with a complaint in order to determine what your defenses are and what sort of a response you will need to file.  That process becomes a whole lot easier if your attorney already knows about you, your business, it’s policies and procedures, etc.  It is also easier to to budget in a few hundred dollars a month to keep your attorney up to date then to get smacked with a request for a $20,000.00 retainer, most of that potentially being eaten up just “learning” about your business, and then having subsequent large litigation bills.

As you can see, there are many reasons to regularly communicate with your attorney and hopefully you would find it more advantageous and beneficial than paying your monthly insurance bill. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”

If you are in the state of Arizona and are looking for that solid “friend in the lawyering business” consider Beebe Law, PLLC!  We truly enjoy helping our  business clients meet and exceed their goals!  Contact us today.

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.  

 

ADA Compliance and Websites: Yes, it’s really a thing.

I’ve said it before…it seems like everyone today has a website.  Whether you are a stay at home mom blogger, operate an e-commerce boutique shop, a local mechanic shop with a basic website or a full blown tech company – chances are you are no stranger to the internet and websites. Websites are how people find and interact with you or your company. Depending on what your website is designed for, you may have more risks to consider.  For example, as I recently discussed, if your website hosts third-party content, there are risks associated with that kind of a website.  Similarly, if your website collects email addresses so that you can later market to them, that presents an email marketing risk. This article is going to briefly discuss a new potential risk for website operators – that is compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

You might be thinking: “How could a website become an issue with the ADA?”  That was my initial reaction too until I considered people who are blind or have a hearing impairment.  It’s easy to take for granted senses that we are used to having.  Think of all the “closed captioned (cc) for the hearing impaired” text that we have heard/seen on the television in the past.  Well, how does that work for those videos that you are making and posting to your website?  How do people navigate your website if they can’t see? Until a recent conference I had never even thought about how a visually impaired person accesses the internet.  I have since discovered that the visually impaired often access the internet through a special screen reader.  JAWS seems to be the most popular and I found a few interesting YouTube videos that give a demonstration of the JAWS program from different perspectives.  If you are curious, like I was and want a unique perspective that may help you with your website accessibility, you can see two of the links I found HERE and HERE.  The second video is from a student’s perspective which has a lot of good insight – including difficulties with .pdf documents, etc.

The above examples coupled with the legal actions that have been taken against websites in relation to an ADA claim, and the fact that I am starting to see solicitations from Continuing Learning Education companies teaching attorneys how to initiate actions, sends a solid message that this is something people/businesses need to be thinking about as they move forward with their existing websites and/or build out  new websites.

THINGS TO KNOW AND UNDERSTAND:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employments, State and local government services, places of public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.
  • These laws can be enforced by the Department of Justice (DOJ) through private lawsuits and indeed there are cases where the DOJ has specifically stated in rulings that websites should be designed so that they are accessible to those who have physical disabilities including vision and hearing.
  • The DOJ has already required some websites to modify their sites to comply with the ADA guidelines – see the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
  • There is no set required standards YET but it’s expected soon and they may require compliance within 12 months from the date of publication of the new standards to the public register.  If you have a big website, and perhaps a lot of changes that will need to be made, that isn’t a lot of time.

WHAT IS BEING LOOKED AT FOR COMPLIANCE?

WebAIM.org appears to be a pretty decent resource for information.  They have a pretty comprehensive checklist that may assist you and your website developing team out, however, below is a few points for consideration:

Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.

  • Guideline 1.1: Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need online – think of large print, speech, symbols or simpler language.
  • Guideline 1.2: Provide captions and alternatives for multimedia.
  • Guideline 1.3: Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example a more simplistic layout) without losing information or structure.
  • Guideline 1.4: Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from background.

User interface components and navigation must be operable.

  • Guideline 2.1: Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
  • Guideline 2.2: Provide users enough time to read and use content.
  • Guideline 2.3: Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures (like flashing content)
  • Guideline 2.4: Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.

Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.

  • Guideline 3.1: Make text content readable and understandable.
  • Guideline 3.2: Make web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
  • Guideline 3.3: Help users avoid and correct mistakes.

Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

  • Guideline 4.1: Maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.

WHAT IF MY WEBSITE ISN’T COMPLIANT?   

For websites that aren’t compliant the following are some things you should consider:

  • Have a 24/7 telephone number serviced by a live customer service agent who can provide access to the information on the website – the phone number must be identified on the website and be accessible using a screen reader.
  • Consider starting to make adjustments to your website to help ensure you are compliant.

NEED HELP ENSURING COMPLIANCE?

It is always a good idea to get a formal legal opinion on these kinds of matters if in doubt. Being proactive is a far better position to be in than being reactive and in a time crunch and money might be tight. If you are in the state of Arizona, and need help with suggestions on how to help make your website ADA compliant or would like to discuss this topic generally so that you have a better understanding of how this issue might impact your business, Beebe Law, PLLC can help!  Contact us today.

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.  

 

 

Email Marketing | Non-Compliance with CAN-SPAM Can Be COSTLY!

So many businesses now rely on email marketing to help generate traffic and revenue. However, failure to comply with the rules set forth in the CAN-SPAM Act could be financially ruinous!

The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) explains that the CAN-SPAM Act “is a law that sets the rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations.”  Just how tough of penalties you ask?  Try penalties up to $40,654for each separate email, found to be in violation!

Uneducated businesses owners, trying to save a buck by doing email marketing for themselves in lieu of a more traditional professional service, may very well unknowingly send out emails that are in violation of the rules set forth by the CAN-SPAM Act.  In fact, in spite of the connotation that might stem from its name, CAN-SPAM doesn’t just apply to email messages that are sent in bulk – you know, like what you would normally think of as “SPAM.”  The rules under the CAN-SPAM Act apply to ALL commercial email messages that are for the primary purpose of commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.  Even emails that are to a former customer, maybe announcing a new product or service, has to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act rules….or else…potential OUTRAGEOUS penalties.  Let’s assume that you email 100 former customers; those emails were not compliant with CAN-SPAM, and assuming maximum penalties would be awarded against you, that would be $4,065,400!  Yes, you read that right.

THE MATH:  100 (non-complying emails to people) x $40,654 (the maximum penalties for violation) = $4,065,400.

Fortunately the rules are not all that difficult to comply with and the FTC’s website has provided a Compliance Guide for Business.  The basics include the following:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information.
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines.
  3. Identify the message as an advertisement.
  4. Tell recipients where you are located.
  5. Tell recipients how they can opt out from receiving future email from you.
  6. Honor opt-out requests right away.

One other key thing to remember is EVEN IF you rely on someone else to do mass email marketing for you, YOU ARE STILL RESPONSIBLE!  You cannot turn a blind-eye to your advertising communications and expect to go unscathed if those communications do not comply with the law.

It is always a good idea to get a formal legal opinion on these kinds of matters if in doubt. If you are in the state of Arizona, and are seeking assistance with ensuring that your marketing emails, are in compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act, be it ones you created yourself or if you want to double check what your marketing vendor is doing,  Beebe Law, PLLC can help!  Contact us today.

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.