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 & 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.

Social Media Advertising Tools And User Consent: What Are The Requirements?

Perhaps you’ve seen them, those television and radio ads that talk about the “creepy” nature of some adverting on the Internet that follows consumers across their social media. According to Pew Research, most Americans believe their online activities are being tracked and monitored. 

The fact is, most companies can and do share data with social media platforms to ensure targeted advertising reaches receptive audiences. As more tools become available and the variety of data sources grows globally, platforms and advertisers are re-examining their rights and obligations when it comes to something as simple as matching customers’ email addresses with their Facebook accounts. 

Facebook’s Customer List Custom Audiences (“Custom Audiences”) tool is one such tool that has the potential to expand an advertiser’s liability for unauthorized use of customer data. For EU customers, a German Data Protection Authority ruling requires a individual’s explicit consent to such sharing.

The Facebook Custom Audiences tool enables advertisers to create targeted advertisements to Facebook users by combining Facebook data with the advertiser’s data such as email addresses and phone numbers. To use marketing tool the advertiser must comply with the consent and privacy expectations of individuals who have provided email addresses.

Consent to Use Email Addresses

While the use and disclosure of email addresses is regulated in some countries, the U.S. does not have a uniform data privacy protection scheme. U.S. privacy rights are protected through a patchwork of laws addressed to specific types of harm, such as unauthorized access and disclosure of financial (Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. § 1681) or healthcare-related (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) 42 U.S.C. § 1320d–2) data. While the CAN SPAM Act (15. U.S.C. § 7701 et seq.) specifically regulates email, the Act excludes communications based on a previously existing relationship. 

Importantly, for most purposes, permission of the e-mail recipient is not required. However, messages MUST contain a mechanism to request to opt-out of future email messages. If email addresses are acquired from third-party sources, such as marketing databases or social media, ensure users are given reasonable notice and choice about the use of such data.

The Federal Trade Commission endorses a market-style model of ensuring the fair use of information that allows individuals to participate in decisions on the disclosure and use of their personal information. As articulated by the FTC, the elements of this approach are notice, choice, access, security and enforcement.

Contractual Requirements of Facebook Custom Audiences 

In order to use the Custom Audiences tool, the advertiser must agree to additional terms and conditions. Facebook’s Custom Audiences terms require that the advertiser have both “all necessary rights and permissions” as well as a lawful basis to disclose and use the email addresses “in compliance with all applicable laws, regulations, and industry guidelines.” 

Recommendations

Review your Privacy Policy, Website Terms & Conditions, and membership/subscription applications to confirm the existence of a clear mechanism to opt-out of future email messages. If email addresses are acquired from third-party sources, such as marketing databases or social media, review data gathering practices, review scope of permissions granted to the sources of data and ensure users are given reasonable notice and choice about the use of such data.

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.

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.

Choosing the Right Legal Entity for Your Business – Webinar

Seasoned business owners usually know enough to invest in the protection of some form of business entity. Too often, these individuals fail to engage in the necessary business and tax planning to get the most from their investment.
Whether you are a sole proprietor, partnership, corporation, limited liability company (LLC), limited liability partnership, or hybrid entity, you will gain useful knowledge. This webinar covers why a business owner should consider the benefits and costs of each type of entity, the existence of limited liability for owners, flexibility in terms of governance and ownership structure, and favorable treatment under state and Federal income tax laws. More sophisticated entrepreneurs may find certain advantages in terms of estate and gift planning and flexibility in operations and management.
I want to say thanks to the folks at IVY for giving me the opportunity to present the Ivy Webinar – Choosing the Right Legal Entity for Your Business with David M. Adler. In case you missed it, there is a link to the full webinar details below.
NOTICE AND DISCLAIMER: The webinar content is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice and does not create a lawyer-client relationship with David M. Adler.
View Webinar Here.

Declaratory Judgment Action for Copyright Infringement

At a time when #media creation & consumption is traveling across a growing number of devices, at increasing speeds, and without care for for borders whether physical, digital, or geographic, licensing, distribution and use of digital content can cause problems.

The case of Fastcase, Inc. v. Lawriter, LLC, Case No. 17-14110 (11th Cir. Oct. 29, 2018) (Tjoflat, J), involved a dispute between two legal publication service companies over the right to re-publish the Georgia Regulations.

The Declaratory Judgment defendant and presumptive rights owner had no enforceable copyright or contract rights in the Regulations. Defendant updated the terms so that unauthorized re-publication of the Regulations would result in liquidated damages of $20,000 per instance, which was relevant to the jurisdictional issues of whether § 411(a) is a jurisdictional bar.

From The National Law Review, source for this story: “Practice Note: A demand letter alleging infringement under the Copyright Act—or even alleging state law claims that would arguably be preempted by the Copyright Act—confers jurisdiction on a federal court to hear the recipient’s declaratory judgment action.”