Technology Continues to Test The Bounds of Copyright Law

The Internet is an unprecedented source of disruption. From retail services (e.g. Amazon) to media and entertainment, almost every industry has been forced to rethink its business model due to the accessibility, ubiquity and democratizing force of the Internet. Aereo was positioned to disrupt the traditional media distribution model by giving consumers greater control over what were otherwise “free” over-the-air transmissions.

The Aereo service was premised on the idea that consumers should be able to watch and record over-the-air broadcast television programming via the Internet. Major broadcast networks that owned the content made accessible through Aereo challenged the model on the grounds that Aereo was violating the exclusive “public performance” right guaranteed by the Copyright Act.

Copyright law provides copyright owners six exclusive rights. One of those rights is the exclusive right to publicly perform the copyrighted work. Because this right is a statutory construct, one must look to the statute to determine its meaning. To “perform” and to perform “publicly” means “to transmit or otherwise communicate a performance or display the work to a place … or to the public, by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times.”

While many reacted by asking whether the case would stifle innovation and have a chilling effect on start-ups, this case does highlight the increasing tension between technological advances and copyright law.

From a practical standpoint, one need not be alarmed about the impact of the decision on most types of innovation. For one thing, the Court went to some lengths to craft a reasonably narrow decision, which applies only to broadcast TV retransmitted over the Internet.

As with any type of innovation, there are different types of risk. On the one hand, there is technology risk: the risk that whatever technology is necessary for some business plan simply won’t work. On the other hand, there is legal risk, highlighted by the Aereo decision: the risk that the entrepreneur’s interpretation of some act or case law won’t ultimately prevail. That’s what happened to Aereo.

As an IP lawyer, I am somewhat perplexed. It is hard for me to understand why Aereo made such a bold move. However, at least the district court agreed with Aereo’s interpretation.

Do you work with start-up companies and need a basic understanding of the various intellectual property issues that can arise?

I will be co-presenting in this online seminar that will help you:

  • understand the trademark and copyright problems your client may encounter with branding;
  • learn how to protect your client’s branding once established;
  • familiarize your practice with patents, including what they protect, timing, and strategies to prevent inadvertent loss of patent rights before filing the application;
  • understand trade secrets and the importance of non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements;
  • recognize intellectual property issues relating to technology, including open source code and the cloud;
  • establish a proactive approach toward intellectual property ownership between cofounders, employees, and vendors; understand business names, domain names, promotional issues, and website content concerns.

The program qualifies for 1.5 hours MCLE credit.

I would like to personally invite you to attend the upcoming Law Ed program titled, “Identifying Intellectual Property Issues in Start-Ups,” which I will be co-presenting via live webcast on Tuesday, May 27th.

Presented by the ISBA Business Advice and Financial Planning Section

Co-Sponsored by the ISBA Intellectual Property Section

Online marketing continues to evolve and affiliate marketing can be a great method of building brand awareness. Online marketers need to stay ahead of legal and regulatory compliance trends. This article looks at recent Federal Trade Commission (“FTC,” “Commission,” or “agency”) activity that impacts online marketing.

Given the lack of a comprehensive federal regulatory scheme, and the increasing awareness of deceptive marketing practices, it is not surprising that the FTC has ramped up enforcement efforts against entities not covered by existing, industry-specific federal regulations over the last decade. Notably, one company has defended itself against the FTC by challenging the FTC’s authority to pursue such broad enforcement.

Jurisdiction

The widely-watched case of FTC v. Wyndham Worldwide Corp is not just about Cybersecurity.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has just won the first major round of its fight with Wyndham Hotels over data security. However, the importance of the case has more to do with the FTC’s jurisdiction, challenged when Wyndham moved to dismiss the FTC’s case. Affirming the FTC’s broad jurisdiction, the federal judge overseeing the controversy noted that the case highlights “a variety of thorny legal issues that Congress and the courts will continue to grapple with for the foreseeable future.”

Affiliate Marketing: A Roadmap for Compliance: Text Message Marketing

The Commission is cracking down on affiliate marketers that allegedly bombard consumers with unwanted text messages in an effort to steer these consumers towards deceptive websites falsely promising “free” gift cards.

For example, in eight different complaints filed in courts around the United States, the FTC charged 29 defendants with collectively sending more than 180 million unwanted text messages to consumers, many of whom had to pay for receiving the texts. The messages promised consumers free gifts or prizes, including gift cards worth $1,000 to major retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and Target.

By now, many in the Affiliate Marketing industry are familiar with the Legacy Learning Systems case. In March, 2011 the FTC settled charges against Legacy — which sells instructional DVDs — that Legacy represented, directly or indirectly, expressly or by implication, reviews of their products were endorsements reflecting the opinions of ordinary consumers or independent reviewers, when many of the favorable endorsements were posted by affiliate marketers who received a commission from Legacy for sales they generated.

Regardless of the form of affiliate marketing – email campaigns or text message campaigns – there are a couple key take-aways here.

First, identify and disclose a material connection between a product user or endorser and any other party involved in promoting the product. A “material connection” is a relationship that affects the credibility of an endorsement and wouldn’t be reasonably expected by consumers. See our article about complying with the endorsement guides here.

Second, set up and maintain a system to monitor and review affiliates’ representations and disclosures to ensure compliance. For example, Legacy looked at its top 50 revenue-generating affiliates at least once a month, visiting their sites to review their representations and disclosures. It has to be done in a way designed not to disclose to the affiliates that they’re being monitored.

Third, understand he requirements for conducting legally-compliant text message marketing. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) makes it unlawful to make any call (other than a call made for emergency purposes or made with the prior express consent of the called party) using any automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice … to any telephone number assigned to a . . . cellular telephone service … or any service for which the called party is charged for the call. The prohibition on calls to cell phones applies to text messaging.

Privacy Law Update: California “Do Not Track” 

Two California laws went into effect at the beginning of the year that  require additional notifications to consumers.  The California Online Privacy Protection Act (“CalOPPA”) requires that web sites, mobile apps and other online services available to California residents (in reality anyone with a web site that may be accessed by a CA resident) post a privacy policy that gives notice to consumers regarding behavioral or interest-based advertising practices (“OBA”).

Disclosures must explain:
1. If a web site operator allows other parties to use tracking technologies in connection with the site or service to collect certain user data over time and across sites and services; and
2. How it responds to browser “do not track” signals or other mechanisms designed to give consumers choice as to the collection of certain of their data over time and across sites and services

In addition, the “California Shine the Light Act” requires that companies (except non-profits and businesses with less than 20 employees) collecting broadly defined personal information from California consumers on or offline either: (a) give consumers a choice as to the sharing of that information with third parties (including affiliates) for direct marketing purposes; or (b) provide notice of, and maintain, a method by which consumers can annually obtain information on the categories of information disclosed the names and addresses of the recipients of that data, and a description of the recipients’ business.

If an e-commerce service offers tangible goods or services, or vouchers for them, to California consumers, it must give certain notices to consumers, including how they can file a complaint with the CA Department of Consumer Affairs.

Are you  concerned about how to disclose how your service responds to “Do Not Track” signals or similar tools and settings, and whether third parties are permitted to collect personally identifiable information about consumer online activities over time and across different websites when a consumer uses that online service? We may be able to help. We can review your policies, your information gathering and sharing practices, and advise on whether there is room for improvement.

Please contact us for a no-fee consultation.

At the end of August, the California passed an amendment to the California Online Privacy Protection Act that will require commercial websites and services that collect personal data to disclose how they respond to Do Not Track signals from Web browsers.

AB 370, as introduced by California Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, requires a business that discloses a customer’s personal information to a third party for direct marketing purposes to provide the customer, within 30 days after the customer’s request, as specified, in writing or by e-mail the names and addresses of the recipients of that information and specified details regarding the information disclosed.

This bill, available here, would declare the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that would regulate online behavioral tracking of consumers.


The rapid growth and expansion in the mobile market presents a number of privacy and security issues for mobile software and hardware developers, platform operators, advertisers and marketers who collect, store, use and share consumer information. As awareness of privacy risks grow among consumers, legislators and regulators are increasing scrutiny of mobile privacy and privacy policies in mobile apps.

Businesses operating in the mobile industry are facing a widening array of Regulatory compliance issues. Staying abreast of legal risks and issues can be daunting. How can mobile operators and application developers spot trends and adjust strategies to start competitive? First, keep an eye on FTC activity. Second, monitor new bills coming up in Congress. Third, follow this blog, adlerlaw.wordpress.com.

FTC Privacy Enforcement Actions

Earlier this year, the FTC expanded mobile privacy obligations beyond software to include hardware makers when it announced a settlement with HTC America over charges that HTC failed to use adequate “security by design” in millions of consumer mobile devices. As a result, the company is required to patch vulnerabilities on the devices which include #Smartphones and #Tablets. The settlement, the first action involving a mobile device manufacturer and the new “Privacy By Design” guidelines, sheds some light on the legal risks for mobile device manufacturers and, to some extent, mobile application developers.

Congressional Privacy Laws, Bills & Initiatives

Not surprisingly, federal legislators are taking up the mantle of Consumer Privacy in the area of Mobile Applications. In January 2013, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, introduced his mobile privacy bill, The Application Privacy, Protection and Security Act of 2013, or the “APPS Act,”. The bill focuses on transparency, user control and security, mandating that an application 1) provide the user with notice of the terms and conditions governing the collection, use, storage, and sharing of the personal data, and 2) obtain the consent of the user to the terms and conditions. Significantly, the privacy notice is required to include a description of the categories of personal data that
will be collected, the categories of purposes for which the personal data will be used, and the categories of third parties with which the personal data will be shared.

The Bill also requires that application developers have a data retention policy that governs the length for which the personal data will be stored and the terms and conditions applicable to storage, including a description of the rights of the user and the process by which the user may exercise such rights in addition to data security and access procedures and safeguards.

App developers unaware of the data protection requirements may face significant risks and potential harm to their reputation among users of smart devices. If you have concerns about what key data protection and privacy legal requirements apply to mobile applications and the types of processing an app may undertake contact us for a mobile app legal audit. Vague or incomplete descriptions of the ways which a mobile app handles data or a lack of meaningful consent from end users before that processing takes place can lead to significant legal risk. Poor security measures, an apparent trend towards data maximisation and the elasticity of purposes for which personal data are being collected further contribute to the data protection risks found within the current app environment.

Learn more David M. Adler here.

Financial Services is one of the most heavily regulated industries. As electronic communications devices and platforms proliferate, message retention and oversight is a top priority for many compliance officers. A recent survey of compliance professionals in the financial services industry identified the following key issues:

    Firms are working smarter, not harder to manage the growing compliance burden.

As the types of messages that Financial services firms are required to monitor and store continue to increase, firms are re-evaluating and updating supervision and retention procedures. Key areas of compliance concerns are

    New regulations
    New communications channels (e.g. social media, text messaging)
    New communications devices (e.g. smartphones and tablets)
    Increased scrutiny/enforcement by regulators
    Inefficiencies of the supervision process
    Mobile devices and communications are emerging as a top concern.

Like many other industries, Financial Services firms are facing the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) challenge: growing use of smartphones and tablets as well as adoption of mobile-specific communications like text messaging. This presents a challenge to conventional compliance practices which has not gone unnoticed by regulators. Last year, FINRA issued Regulatory Notice 11-39, stating that firms are required to retain, retrieve and supervise business communications regardless of whether they are conducted from a work-issued device or a personal device. This presents a challenge to companies that must separate business and personal communications in order to ensure regulatory compliance.

    Social Media and other online communication channels present new concerns.

Use of Social Media is on the rise in the Financial Services industry. However, policies and procedures for supervision and retention lag behind the pace of adoption. In terms of the most requested message types during examination! Email was first, followed by Website pages (including
RSS feeds, blogs, wikis) with Bloomberg or Reuters messages and instant messages ( tied for third place.

Conclusion

While regulatory examiners are increasing their oversight and moving from a check-the-box approach to compliance to scrutiny of the messages themselves, financial services firms are getting more savvy about their approach to compliance. In addition, as the opportunities for new types and channels of electronic communications increase, so too are the archiving and supervision technologies allowing firms use of these emerging communication tools with a greater sense of security.

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