GEAR UP FOR FALL! Now Is A Good Time To Take A Look At Those Contracts

Contracts

One of the most important tools to protect your business – your ideas, customer relationships and talent pool – is your written contract. A solid contract is the foundation for a reliable relationship for you, your customers and your employees. More importantly, it helps to prevent misunderstandings and false expectations that can lead to a breakdown in your customer relationship, jeopardize the project and result in litigation.

Many companies start with a model or “form” contract adapted from forms available online or drafted when the business first started. As businesses develop over time, you may have revised your contracts, adding a little here, removing a little there. Maybe you read an article about an important case in your industry and decided to add some text from the contract discussed in the court’s legal opinion. In many cases, over time, the agreements become “Franken-contracts” an odd amalgamation of trade lingo, inconsistent terms and even contradictory conditions. At best these are ambiguous and confusing to read. At worst, they become unenforceable.

At some point, you should review, revise and generally “tighten” existing contracts. You should have your lawyer review them to make sure that there are no mistakes, ambiguities or omissions that could cost you or your customers. I urge clients to have their contract forms reviewed on an annual basis. Depending on changes in the law, changes in the industry or changes in your own business, this process should only take a few hours.

The following are six things to consider as you review your existing contract forms and business practices.

First, are you using a written contract? Simply having a written agreement in place will help prevent the often difficult, time-consuming and expensive dispute that comes down to a “he said / she said” situation.

Second, make sure that the key terms of your contract are consistent and understandable. Pricing and payment terms, clear descriptions of the services to be performed or the goods to be delivered, as well as due dates and acceptance criteria will go a long way toward preventing breach of contract claims. More importantly, ambiguous and internally-contradictory terms may expose you to fraud claims or claims under an unfair business practices act. These types of claims are typically much more difficult and more expensive to defend against.

Third, create a mechanism for changes in your contract. Circumstances change. When they do, make sure that you document them and that your customer initials and dates any additions or changes to the contract after it is signed.

Fourth, don’t overlook intellectual property (“IP”) rights, Many business relationships involve collaborative sharing or development of knowledge, skills and protectable IP assets such as copyrights, trademarks, patents and trade secrets. Intangible assets are often the most important drivers of revenue creation and value. Overlooking creation, ownership and control of IP rights may result in the loss of these assets.

Fifth, ensure that your contracts are up-to-date with respect to local laws and industry regulations. Recent developments in technology, e.g., BYOD, Social Media, Mobile commerce, and online privacy had produced a raft of state, federal and industry specific laws, rules and regulations. Do you regularly update your forms to make sure they comply with changes to local laws?

Sixth, understand your “escape” options. Not every relationship is meant to last forever. Your contracts should have clear and concise terms for ending the relationship such as failure to perform, failure to pay or adverse business conditions.

To find out more about how the Adler Law Group can help you tighten your contracts, or even draft new ones, contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation.

Whose Social Media Account Is It Anyway?

As a result of the rapid shift in marketing from unilateral one-to-many communications, to the multilateral, many-to-many or many-to-one conversations enabled by Social Media, employees and employers are struggling to manage accounts that are used for both work and personal purposes.

This new phenomenon has benefits, but it also creates a number of legal challenges. For employees, it may result in greater efficiency, more opportunities for authentic customers engagement and the ability to stay on top of the most current grands and business issues. For employers, it presents opportunity to reap substantial benefits from lower communications and customer support costs. For in-house counsel, it raises a host of legal and practical issues with few easy solutions and significant liability and regulatory risks.

First, there are hardware issues. Smartphones, tablets and other personal electronics often have social networking capabilities built in. in addition, they contain contain both personal and business data. Because these devices are always on and always connected, they are more than just personal property. They have become essential business tools. For both sides of the workplace equation, employers and employees must understand where the privacy lines fall between personal versus work-related information.

Second, there are data issues. Employers must balance their needs to monitor employee usage, employees’ privacy concerns, and the risk of liability for theft or exposure of data if a device is lost or stolen, or from lack of proper safeguards on account usage. For in-house counsel tasked with drafting policies to address these risks, , Prior to implementation of any policy, the legal team needs to educate front line employees and management on reasonable expectations of privacy and security and the harms that the organization seeks to prevent.

Lastly, recent cases such as the Cristou v. Beatport litigation, highlight the struggle to define and control the beginning and end of employee social media accounts, ownership and protection of intellectual property and the post termination risks that arise from the absence of appropriate policies.

As we prepare to start a new year, the time is ripe to establish security and privacy policies governing creation, maintenance and use of employees’ social media accounts for work functions. In-house counsel must lead the charge to educate, inform and train employees about privacy, security and evidence-recovery implications associated with use of social media.

World Social Media Legal

Gartner Predicts Huge Rise in Monitoring of Employees’ Social Media Use
PCWorld

New technologies and services are enabling the growth in employee monitoring, but companies will need to closely manage their monitoring efforts for ethical and legal issues, Andrew Walls, research vice president at Gartner, wrote in the report.

The Legal Ambiguities of Social Media
Human Resource Executive Online

Employers continue to look for guidance on issues related to the evolving use of social media by employees. Creating an appropriate policy remains difficult, but the authors offer some expert advice that may help.

Social Media Changing the Face of Criminal Justice
HispanicBusiness.com

The Virginia State Bar tracks ethical issues concerning how attorneys communicate by and glean evidence from social media, said James McCauley, ethics counsel for the state bar.

DISH® Announces Topic for 2012 “Best in Class” eDiscovery Legal Research
Sacramento Bee

This year, law students will be challenged to address the question of “Under what standard should a court subject an employee’s non-business personal computing activities (eg, social media, documents stored on a personal computer, and/or personal email)?

The Case for Facebook
The Atlantic

Consider this a skeptic’s guide to the bull case for the social network. Facebook just had modern history’s worst IPO and it’s down again today by some percentage that will be quoted endlessly. Yet Facebook is still the world’s largest social media platform.
The Atlantic

Religious freedom issues at heart of HHS lawsuits, legal scholars say
Catholic News Service

(CNS) — The mass media have done the public a disservice by consistently referring to health reform law regulations so narrowly as the “contraceptive mandate,” because it leads people to think the regulations are a matter of interest only to Catholics.

Firms expected to cyberstalk for security
ZDNet Australia

The research and advisory organisation recently published a report into conducting digital surveillance ethically and legally, and found that 60 per cent of corporations will be monitoring social media channels for security breaches and incidents.

Most Corporations Will Spy On Employees By 2015: Research
TechWeekEurope UK

The majority of corporations are expected to monitor their employees’ social media interaction by 2015, suggests research by Gartner, published today. This practice could be increasingly adopted to prevent security breaches and incidents.

Russia’s VKontakte delays IPO after Facebook debacle
Reuters

By John Bowker | MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian social network VKontakte says it won’t risk going ahead with its planned initial public offering fearing a repeat of the botched Facebook float which left US regulators red-faced.

Got a story? A Question? Please comment. Please follow me on Twitter here: @adlerlaw

Social Media Legal Issues: Trade Secrets & Social Media Accounts

Is it “misappropriation of a trade secrets” to contact each person who follows an ex-employer’s Social Media profile for purposes of promoting a competing business?

Early in my law school career, one phrase stuck with me right away: “tough cases make bad law.” This, of course, begs the question, what makes a “tough” case. Usually it’s a unique fact pattern that has limited applicability to a broader spectrum of cases. In the nascent and growing area of Social Media law, there is no shortage of quirky cases.

My hat is off to Eric Goldman who recently blogged about a social media case that is “tough” because of the way that the lawyers framed the issue. On its face, the case of Christou v. Betaport is an unfair competition case between a night club owner and one of his former partners. The case, being tried in a federal court in Denver, Colorado, involves  trade secret theft and antitrust allegations and alleged misuse of MySpace “friends.” Essentially, the complaint alleges that Roulier, a principle of Beatport and former associate of Christou, used a MySpace account to promote his club at the expense of Christou.

Goldman gets to the heart of why this case is tough: “the plaintiffs allege that they “secured the profiles through web profile login and passwords.” This is a garbled allegation.” Put another way, the lawyers whose job it is to supply the facts that frame the issues, probably meant to say something else. According to Goldman the plaintiffs probably meant that the defendants accessed an account impermissibly and in so doing accessed information they did not have a right to access. In terms of a claim for trade secret misappropriation, the harm came when defendants used that information.

I like Goldman’s article because he takes the time to break down both the confused framing of the issue, but also the court’s apparent confusion with how to address it. It’s a short article and definitely worth the few minutes it takes to read.

From my perspective the key take-away is a perspective on the trade secret implications of Social Media accounts. Business and their lawyers are constantly trying to evaluate the legal risks of Social Media and provide guidance on how best to mitigate those risks.

Protecting a Social Media account as a trade secret seems a tricky proposition. Ostensibly, the primary “value” of an account is the list of “followers.” A list that is publicly available is, therefore, not a secret. A better approach is to treat the login credentials themselves as the trade secret since this control’s ones ability to access the account and to communicate with those followers.

Please feel free to comment and follow me here: @adlerlaw