Ping® May 2022 – Improving Affiliate Engagement

Affiliate Marketers: Want to learn best practices, strategies, and tactics from a seasoned legal professional who works with businesses and regulators at the federal and state levels? 

David Adler takes clients through the ins-and-outs of providing advertisers, merchants, agencies and affiliates the tools they need for running a trustworthy and successful business.

On May 25, 2022 David Adler is presenting Trafficking in Trust: How to Enhance Affiliate Engagement an AMDays Workshop at Affiliate Summit East 22. In case you can’t make the presentation, here’s an excerpt of one of the topics covered:

The 3 C’s of Affiliate Marketing Disclosures: Clear Conspicuous Content. 

Clients often seek my counsel on issues related to Affiliate Marketing legal disclaimers and disclosures. For example, this might require guidance on the substance and placement of legal disclaimers for a consumer-oriented, product review and ratings website. This type of website needs to include at least two different, but related, disclosures. First, it must disclose that it is compensated when a user clicks on a link. Second, it must disclose certain material connections. 

Affiliate Disclosure Content

There are several factors to the affiliate commission disclosure. Appropriate disclosures have both the necessary content and the correct placement within a specified context.

What needs to be in your affiliate commission disclosure? 

The disclosure must make clear that you earn a commission if a user buys something after clicking on a link on your site.

Affiliate Disclosure Context

Where is the optimal location for the disclosure?

Although there is a general practice of putting disclosures on the bottom of the website pages, it can be somewhat obscured and less effective. A location at the bottom of the page, in the same font style, font color, size, and placement as the rest of the text on the bottom of the page, does not help it “stand out.”   

The key to proper affiliate link disclosures is making sure the disclosure is “clear and conspicuous.” This depends on both context (placement and proximity to the relevant content) as well as the content of the disclosure itself.  The general rule is that the closer the disclosure is placed next to the relevant message, the better.

Although not required, it is recommended to add the affiliate link disclosure on the home page, above the fold. While there is no explicit requirement, FTC disclosure cases and guidelines suggest that, in their view, this is required for adequate disclosures. 

What should I do now? Always seek experienced counsel. A seasoned lawyer will help you address other considerations including prominence, distractions, industry vertical (i.e. healthcare, financial services) requirements, and language. 

Ping® February 2022 – Just How Enforceable Are Online Terms?

Just How Enforceable Are Online Terms? What You Need To Know

We have all, at some point while online, clicked on the “I Accept” button without giving it a second thought. Whether creating a social media account, signing up a for an online service, or just trying to get to bank statements, more and more businesses are linking to their standard terms and conditions online for suppliers and customers. But just how enforceable are these? Does it matter where the link is displayed or how it is displayed. Some courts have refuse to enforce online disclosures due to perceived problems with website layout.

Almost every commercial website provides some amount of information and resources. More often than not, today’s websites offer robust features and content such as article commenting/discussion groups and “pay-wall” access to restricted content and features. In addition, many websites offer content, feeds and articles that are licensed from third parties the use of which may be restricted to in-browser page viewing or caching, with further commercial use restricted. For most businesses, since customers will search and purchase through a website (or mobile application), the principal ecommerce risk is the legal relationship between website users and the web site operator. Whether users only browse information or continue to complete a purchase transaction, a contractual relationship can be formed addressing both parties rights, obligations and remedies.

Two Types of Online Contracts

With respect to contract law in relation to the offer and sale of goods or services, online (ecommerce) contracts generally take one of two forms: (1) Click-through or “Click-wrap” agreements, and (2) User Agreements, often referred to as Terms of Use, Terms of Service, or “Browse-wrap” Agreements. As a general proposition, formation of contracts (offer and acceptance) and enforceability of contractual provisions (choice of governing law) are matters determined by reference to state law. However, in the United States, federal courts are often required to determine matters of state law and most states have relatively uniform requirements with respect to the three principal concepts in the determination of contract enforceability: offer, acceptance and consideration.

Click-wrap Agreements

The first type of contract, the so-called “Click-wrap” agreement, is usually the agreement formed when a website user purchases goods or services through an ecommerce shopping cart application (e.g. purchasing airline tickets). In the context of online contracts, a user is presented with the online terms and conditions and must “click-through” as part of the transaction.

“Click-wrap” agreements derive their name from the shrink-wrap agreements that were first incorporated into commercially-distributed software. Users were deemed to have accepted the terms of the agreement by opening the package and installing the software. In ProCD, Inc. v. Zeidenberg, the court held that a user was bound by the terms and conditions of a software license agreement (contract) included in a users’ manual within the packaging, and which was displayed on a computer screen upon installation and use of the software. Such contracts are enforceable unless their terms are objectionable on grounds applicable to contracts in general (for example, if they violate a rule of positive law, or if they are unconscionable).

Browse-wrap Agreements

The second type of contract, commonly-known as “browse-wrap” agreements, apply to contractual agreements between the website user and the website operator that arise even though the user may not engage in pro-active contract acknowledgement. Browse-wrap agreements are generally comprised of terms and conditions posted on a website, typically accessible via a hyperlink appearing on various pages on the website, or at the bottom of the website pages, with no requirement that a website user take any affirmative action to indicate assent to the terms and conditions. 

The existence and enforceability of browse-wrap agreements is crucial to operation of a website because as a user may search information, information related to the other programs or other information available on the website, without actually consummating a purchase transaction. Since a business likely wishes to protect its proprietary information and other content available to users of the website, it is important review the availability and enforceability of browse-wrap contracts.

Two Cases Two Different Outcomes

Maine State Court held in Sarchi v. Uber Technologies (2022 ME 8 – Maine Judicial Branch) that online contracts are enforceable only if the consumer (1) has reasonable notice of the online contract terms, and (2) has manifested consent to those terms. Following First Circuit’s formulation in Cullinane v. Uber Technologies (No. 16-2023 (1st Cir. 2018)), the Court held the contract unenforceable because 1) the consumer was not provided reasonable notice of the terms, 2) the hyperlink to the contract terms was not readily identified as a link through the use of underlining, blue text, or appearance as a button; 3) the hyperlink was inconspicuous given the use of small font; and 4) the hyperlink was unlikely to draw attention because the screen focused on payment information rather than the hyperlink.

Additionally the Court concluded the consumer did not assent to the terms by clicking the “Done” button on the payment screen because the significance of clicking that button to indicate the user’s consent to the terms of agreement was not explained.

Ping® January 2022 – Reminder To Review Your Contracts

Review Your Contracts Every Year.

One of the most important tools to protect your business – your ideas (copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, confidential and proprietary information), customer relationships and talent pool – is your written contract. Your 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 projects, or even worse, result in litigation.    

Starting with a form is just OK.

Many companies start with a model or “form” contract adapted from forms available online or drafted when the business first started.  Oftentimes, I am presented with form contracts “downloaded from the Internet” or provided by a form-filling service that will do cheap and quick corporations or LLCs, without actually providing any legal services. Although these forms may be a good starting point, your business needs, it deserves, contracts tailored to the specific needs of the enterprise or relationships.

Franken-contracts can ruin your business.

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.

Review contract annually to avoid weak spots.

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.

Contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation.

To learn more about how we can help your with your business and contracts, contact the Lawyers at the Adler Law Group at David @ adler – law . com (without spaces) or (866) 734-2568. Learn more abut us here:

http://www.adler-law.com

Ping® Webinar: 5 Things Every Design Contract Needs

I want to give a big thanks to Houzz PRO for hosting this webinar.

This program covered: 

–The five key problem areas in design contracts 

–What the key terms of a contract should be, why they are there and when they should be changed 

–Rights & Remedies: what a designer can do if a client is not living up to his/her side of the deal.

Read More Here.

Ping® October 2021 Changes Coming to Non-Compete Agreements in Illinois

EMPLOYMENT (820 ILCS 90/) Illinois Freedom to Work Act.

Illinois passed a law that amends the Illinois Freedom to Work Act. Expands the scope of the Act to apply to all employees (rather than only low-wage employees). Prohibits all covenants not to compete.

Scope

The law goes into effect January 1, 2022 and amends the Freedom to Work Act (the Act), which restricts the use of non-compete agreements for low wage workers. For the first time, Illinois will have statutory requirements for mandatory review periods, definitions of adequate consideration and legitimate business interests, as well as specific salary minimums for employees subject to restrictive covenants. 

Application

The law will apply to non-compete and non-solicit covenants. The law does not apply to contracts covering confidential and proprietary information, protection of trade secrets, or inventions assignment agreements. The law also does not address covenants for independent contractors, and expressly carves out restrictions on a person purchasing or selling the goodwill  or an ownership interest in a business.

Mandatory Review

The law requires that an employer advise the employee in writing to consult with an attorney prior to entering into the covenant and provide the employee with at least 14 calendar days to review the agreement. 

Consideration

Contract lawyers know that to be enforceable a promise must be supported by consideration. Due to the unique nature of restrictive covenants, there is heightened scrutiny of what will constitute sufficient consideration for a restrictive covenant under the Illinois law. The leading Illinois case, 

Fifield v. Premier Dealer Services, Inc., 993 NE 2d 938 (Ill.App.1st 2013), an Illinois court decided that mere employment or continued employment for at-will employees, is not adequate consideration to support a restrictive covenant unless the employee remains employed with the employer for at least two years after signing the agreement. 

Illinois law will now expressly defines “adequate consideration” as either (1) the employee working for the employer for at least two years after signing the non-compete or non-solicitation covenant or (2) other sufficient consideration, such as “a period of employment plus additional professional or financial benefits or merely professional or financial benefits adequate by themselves.”

The law leaves open the definition of “additional professional or financial benefits.” Courts have found signing bonuses, equity grants, and other types of consideration sufficient under current case law. 

Going Forward

While there is time to plan for the effect of the new law, it’s not too soon to begin reviewing current existing “form” contracts and consider changes. One-size-fits-all contracts always need fine-tuning. Change sin the business operating environment require a closer look at non-compete and non-solicitation covenants. 

Ping® – Arts, Entertainment, Media and Advertising Law News – Protecting Furniture Design Keeps Getting Harder

Herman Miller, Inc. – a leading furniture brand and purveyor of the iconic Eames Chair Design – suffered a loss at US Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) in its bid to protect as “trade dress” the design of the chair. The case involves a well-known chair design dating from the 1940’s, by designers Ray and Charles Eames. The chair ultimately was recognized by Time Magazine as the Best Design of the 20th Century, and now is in the design collections of numerous museums. Herman Miller sought registration of most of the chair’s configuration as a mark, depicted in more than one view, for “furniture, namely, chairs.”

The court weighed each of the Morton-Norwich factors, concluding that the proposed three-dimensional product configuration as a whole indicates that it is functional. The court found that patent evidence, the advertisements touting utilitarian advantages of the design, and the limited availability of alternative designs that would work equally well, proved functionality.

Key Take Aways:

  1. Beware of patent evidence in trade dress protection due to risk that distinctive design elements be treated as de jure functional. In general, examining attorneys no longer make this distinction in Office actions that refuse registration based on functionality. De facto functionality is not a ground for refusal. In re Ennco Display Sys. Inc., 56 USPQ2d 1279, 1282 (TTAB 2000); In re Parkway Mach. Corp., 52 USPQ2d 1628, 1631 n.4 (TTAB 1999).
  2. Ensure that advertising promotes the nonfunctional design elements, such “look for” advertising. Examples include evidence, including SEO data, that connected the applicant’s efforts to promote the applied-for mark as a trademark and consumers’ ability to conceive of the applied-for mark as such, and examples of unsolicited media coverage

Ping® – Arts, Entertainment, Media & Advertising Law News – “Five Rs” To Remember

“Five Rs” To Remember When Letting Employees Go

It is inevitable in almost every business. You will need to let an employee go. Whether it’s a seasoned designer coming with plug-and-play experience or a fresh face just out of design school, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Recently, several of my designer clients have had to fire an employee due to the employee’s misconduct. This could be anything from soliciting and directing company clients and prospects, to doing personal consulting work on the company’s dime, to taking property and information. Regardless of the reason, here are five “R”s to keep in mind.

1. Review the contract.

2. Reconcile and pay.

3. Request return of property.

4. Reiterate respectfulness. 

5. Reserve rights.

With those ideas in mind, let’s consider each one. A little more.

1. Review the contract/offer letter. This is always the first step and will provide guidance on termination rights, procedures and remedies, if any.

2. Reconcile and pay what’s owed. See number 1. Ensure that except for payment of contractual and statutory amounts, no other salary, commissions, overtime, bonuses, vacation pay, sick pay, severance pay, additional severance pay or other payments or benefits whatsoever will be paid.

3. Request return of property and information, in whatever form. Request all property any and all property or documents the employee created or received in the course of employment, including, but not limited to e-mails, passwords, documents and other electronic information, hardware such as laptop computers and cellular telephones, calculators, smartphones and other electronic equipment (mobile phone, tablet, etc.), software, keys, company credit cards, calling cards, parking transponder, information technology equipment, client lists, files and other confidential and proprietary documents, in any media or format, including electronic files.

4. Reiterate a professional’s obligation to remain respectful. Specific admonition of non-disparagement such as “refrain from saying, making, writing or causing to be made or written, disparaging or harmful comments about us, our employees and/or our clients.”

5. Reserve rights. Close your termination notice by expressly reserving legal and equitable rights and remedies.

Please note that this is not legal advice and you should consult your own lawyer regarding your rights and obligations in the context of terminating your employee’s employment.

What Is Cyberlaw?

On November 13, I had the honor of providing a lecture on Cyberlaw to students at the Boston College Law School. Virtually, of course. I had been asked to talk about trends in Cyberlaw with a specific focus on issues related to intellectual property.

So what is Cyberlaw? Simply put, it is the “Rules of the Road” for the “information superhighway.” Cyber law is the law that governs rights, obligations and remedies of people and transactions conducted over global computer networks.

In a year that has seen hyperbolic growth in technology, commerce, and communications, this topic couldn’t be more timely. In order to frame the discussion, the scope featured a discussion of the Three Cs of Cyberlaw: Connections, Content and Commerce.

The first part of the discussion centered around Content, or issues related to Copyright, such as Free Speech/First Amendment CDA Sec. 230, Creative Works, Media and Entertainment, UGC and the DMCA.

The Second part of the discussion centered around Commerce or issues related to Trademarks, marketing and branding, such as: Marketing/Advertising, Domain NamesCyberpiracy prevention, Keyword Advertising and Social Advertising.

The third and final part of the discussion focused on Connections and Communications and issues related to Personal Data, Stalking, Harassment, Surveillance and Sovereignty, issues around Social Media Freedom of Speech v. Freedom of Reach, and the latest developments around Political speech online.

The lecture closed with a Q&A focused primarily on Navigating Law School and Professional Practice.

Is It Necessary To Register A Design Copyright?

A client was asking “is it necessary to fill out all the paperwork to register a design even though the law says you already own it?”

It’s a good question. Technically, under the Copyright Act as amended in 1976, the author (creator) of a work owns the copyright. The 1976 Act states that copyright protection extends to original works that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. This wording broadens the scope of federal statutory copyright protection from the previous “publication” standard to a “fixation” standard. No further action is necessary. Under previous versions of the law, there were publication requirements to perfect ownership.

Under section 102 of the Act, copyright protection extends to “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”

Until the ’76 statutory revision to U.S. copyright law the Copyright Act of 1909 governed, under which federal copyright protection attached only when those works were 1) published and 2) had a notice of copyright affixed. In addition, state copyright law governed protection for unpublished works creating inconsistencies.

Despite the successful streamlining and efficiency of rights creation and enforcement, some challenges and inconsistencies remained. Most noticeably, there had been spit in the federal courts. Some courts required the certificate to litigate, some courts only required proof that an application had been filed.

Last year, the US Supreme Court ruled that in order for a copyright owner to enforce its rights against infringers, the copyright owner must have a registration certificate for the works that are being infringed.

In Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, LLC, 586 U.S. ___ (2019) (PDF here) decided March 4, 2019, the US Supreme Court resolved this split among courts around the country by holding that the mere filing of a copyright application is not sufficient to allow a copyright owner to file suit – actual approval of a copyright application by the United States Copyright Office is required before suit can be filed. Approval comes only in the form of a Registration Certificate.

Returning to the client’s question, while it is true that the Copyright Act says  one owns the copyright in a work when it is fixed, it is no longer true that one can ignore the registration requirements. Yes, one does not have to do anything formal to own a copyright in a work one creates. However, one cannot enforce those rights without the registration certificate in hand. For all practical purposes, there is no reason not to register the copyright in any design, pattern or other distinctive element you create. The fees are relatively low ($65.00) and completing/filing the form can be done electronically.

A word to the wise, like all areas of Intellectual Property, there are nuances that are easily overlooked by the uninitiated. You should always consult with an experienced copyright lawyer when evaluating any individual situation.

Why Now is the Time to Buy or Sell a Business

Looking for Business Opportunities Ahead of the Economic Fallout

In this difficult time of staying at home, people may be looking to buy or sell a business. We have all been impacted in different ways, each of which may be a reason to make a change. Traditional reasons people exit a company arise because of changing economic conditions, a tragic family event, a loss of passion, or simply the desire to retire. At the same time, buyers may be seeking to expand in a sector or industry, add talent, enlarge the customer base, or acquire technologies or resources that can provide a competitive advantage. Witness the unprecedented overnight shift to tele-work, tele-health, remote online primary school education, and live-streamed happy hours and family gatherings.

Thinking of Buying or Selling a Business?

If you are thinking of buying or selling a business, here are three key reasons to act now. First, labor is in flux, and available. As retailers, restaurants, travel companies and other service sectors that employ tens of millions of Americans get squeezed, the tech sector, which tends to have relatively few employees, has surged. Many target businesses may have a lower headcount while retaining a leaner operating infrastructure and access to a ready, willing, and trained talent pool.

Second, the federal government will do what it takes to stabilize the economy and accelerate the recovery. Nevertheless, there is a real risk of many “main-street” companies going bankrupt – making them easy acquisition targets. Opposite that, large-scale public companies (consumer-packaged goods, media) are boosting the broader recovery. Companies on either side of this equation may benefit from the changing market dynamics and opportunities for what comes next. As of this writing, nine states have lifted the stay-at-home orders or will let them expire, with many others soon to follow. The window is closing.

Third, one of few benefits of the current crisis is the acceleration of investment and escalation of consumer-facing products, services, and technologies. Reports indicate that 2020 shows a year-over-year (YoY) increase of over 15% in use of contactless payments.  This is a real opportunity for companies to not only “get lean” but also digitize business practices that can improve the customer experience.

Changing consumer behavior will continue to force this along. According to Forbes, U.S. YoY online retail revenue growth is up 68% in April, surpassing the earlier peak of 49% in early January. U.S. & Canadian e-commerce orders grew 129% with 146% growth in all online retail orders. Online conversion rates increased 8.8% in February, an increase of shopping intensity usually seen only during rare events such as Cyber Monday.

Bottom Line

Most people are sitting around waiting for things to shift and change around them, while others are moving through it all and pivoting on their own. Don’t wait for your competitors to invest in the next generation technologies. Working with experienced legal counsel will help you identify the opportunities and act quickly to negotiate and close a deal. If you are interested in learning more about buying or selling a business, please get in touch.