Copyright Must Read: SKIDMORE V. LED ZEPPELIN reversed, remanded for prejudicially erroneous Jury Instructions.

Hat tip to Joshua L. Simmons, Copyright Division Council Liaison from KIRKLAND & ELLIS LLP in New York for keeping the #Copyright Bar up to date on important developments.

From this week’s news letter is the decision in Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin involving a claim by Michael Skidmore, a Trustee, alleging Led Zeppelin copied key portions of its timeless hit “Stairway to Heaven” from the song “Taurus.” At trial, the jury found in favor of the Defendants. Skidmore appealed on the grounds of alleged trial errors. He also disputed the district court’s determination that the scope of the copyright for unpublished works under the Copyright Act of 1909 (“1909 Act”) is defined by the deposit copy.

The appellate court made several key holdings. First, the failure to instruct the jury that the “selection and arrangement of unprotectable musical elements are protectable” was prejudicial error.  Second, a jury instruction incorrectly stated that copyright does not protect “chromatic scales, arpeggios or short sequences of three notes.” Third, a jury instruction on originality  incorrectly omitted a statement that “any elements from prior works or the public domain are not considered original parts and not protected by copyright.” “In copyright law, the ‘original’ part of a work need not be new or novel.”  Lastly, the district court must revisit the issue whether as a matter of law, that Skidmore’s “evidence as to proof of access is insufficient to trigger the inverse ratio rule.”

For more more information:

SKIDMORE V. LED ZEPPELIN
No. 16-56057, 16-56287, 2018 WL 4654729 (9th Cir. Sep. 28, 2018)

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Illinois law and enforceability of postemployment restrictive covenants

Every business in this, the Information Age, is highly dependent on confidential and proprietary information.  As many design and creative professionals know, a design business is often based on intimate, personal relationships with clients. As a result,  relationships are built upon a high degree of trust and the professional reputation of the designer.  In addition, the designer brings a host of regular vendors and proprietary skills, knowledge, experience, including private and confidential information about clients, used for operating the Business.  It is not surprising that businesses will seek to prevent disclosure of business, technical and financial information (including information relating to clients, employees and vendors, as well information an employee learns during her employment.

Do I need a Non-solicitation agreement for my Design Business?

Increasingly, I am being asked by clients to prevent departing employees from using proprietary and confidential information and form poaching clients and employees.  These non-disclosure or non-solicitation provisions seek to prevent an employee from encouraging or soliciting any client, employee, vendor, or contractor to leave. Unfortunately,

Restrictive Covenants Are Hard to Enforce!

Post-employment restrictive covenants are carefully scrutinized by Illinois courts because they operate as partial restrictions on trade. Fifieldv. Premier Dealer Services, Inc., 2013 IL App (1st) 993 N.E.2d 938 (citing Cambridge Engineering, Inc. v. Mercury Partners90 BI, Inc., 378 Ill.App.3d 437, 447 (2007) ). In order for a restrictive covenant to be valid and enforceable, the terms of the covenant must be reasonable. It is established in Illinois that a restrictive covenant is reasonable only if the covenant (1) is no greater than is required for the protection of a legitimate business interest of the employer, (2) does not impose undue hardship on the employee, and (3) is not injurious to the public. Reliable Fire Equipment Co. v. Arredondo, 965 N.E.2d 393 (2011). The courts consider the unique factors and circumstances of the case when determining the reasonableness of a restrictive covenant. Millard Maintenance Service Co. v. Bernero, 566 N.E.2d 379 (1990). However, before even considering whether a restrictive covenant is reasonable, the court must make two determinations: (1) whether the restrictive covenant is ancillary to a valid contract; and (2) whether the restrictive covenant is supported by adequate consideration. Fifield, 993 N.E.2d 938. Absent adequate consideration, a covenant, though otherwise reasonable, is not enforceable. Id. ¶ 14 (citing Brown & Brown, Inc. v. Mudron, 887 N.E.2d 437 (2008) ); see also Millard, 566 N.E.2d 379.

For most businesses, enforceability of such covenants turns on the concept of “consideration.” The current Illinois authority on “consideration” is Fifieldv. Premier Dealer Services, Inc., 2013 IL App (1st) 120327. In Fifield, the Illinois appellate court noted that Illinois courts have repeatedly held that there must be at least two years or more of continued employment to constitute “adequate consideration” in support of a restrictive covenant.  The court also clarified the process by adding that “Fifield [did not overrule or modify] Brown, which engaged in a fact-specific approach in determining consideration.

As a general rule, courts do not inquire into the adequacy of consideration. However, postemployment restrictive covenants are excepted from this general rule because “a promise of continued employment may be an illusory benefit where the employment is at-will.”  Most design businesses have at-will employees.

Fifield is equally important for both what it says and for what it does not. Clearly employment alone – any less than two years duration – is  NOT adequate consideration. However, the Fifieldcourt also stated that there could be other or additional factors such as an “added bonus in exchange for this restrictive covenant, more sick days, some incentives, [or] some kind of newfangled compensation,” that could be considered additional compensation that could support enforcement of the covenant.

Despite the recognition that the bar is set high for the amount of consideration necessary to enforce restrictive covenants, it makes sense to include them in your agreements with those who work for you.

In addition to the non-solicitation language, one should create a strong and broad definition of protectable proprietary and confidential information.  While it may not always be possible to stop a former employee from directly competing against you, it is possible to prevent said employee from using your own proprietary and confidential information against you.

 

Recent Court Decisions Provide Some Clarity in Ever-changing Techlaw Landscape

As every CIO knows, today all business is digital business.  From the corner mom and pop bodega using Square to process credit cards up to Cisco Systems global network of devices supporting Zetabytes of data over an increasing number of devices.

What began as largely static website e-commerce at the turn of the millennium is now every day operations across multiple devices and the many different brands of platform and content delivery network.  In case you missed it, two recent cases will have a wide impact regardless of industry period

Law Enforcement Access To Cell Phone Location Data Requires Warrant

In the case of Carpenter v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement must obtain a warrant to have access to location and other data contained on a suspect’s cell phone.  In case you’re not familiar with the case, the facts in the Carpenter case are worth mentioning. In 2011, the government, conducting a criminal investigation in Detroit, obtained months’ worth of time-stamped records known as cell-site location information (CSLI) for suspects.  Wireless carriers produced CSLI for petitioner Timothy Carpenter’s phone, and the Government was able to obtain 12,898 location points cataloging Carpenter’s movements over 127 days—an average of 101 data points per day.  Carpenter moved to suppress the data, arguing that the Government’s seizure of the records without obtaining a warrant supported by probable cause violated the Fourth Amendment.  The District Court denied the motion, and prosecutors used the records at trial.  Carpenter was convicted, based in part on the cell-site records, and he appealed. holding that the government’s acquisition of historic cell-site location information (HCSLI) – at least to the extent it includes 7 days or more of cell-site records – was a search and thereby required a warrant.

In reversing the conviction, a majority of the Court has recognized that individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the whole of their physical movements and a warrant is required only in the rare case where the suspect has a legitimate privacy interest in records held by a third party.  The Court downplayed the significance of its ruling, calling its decision “a narrow one” that “does not express views on “real-time CSLI” or question the application to … a range of other information-gathering tools, such as security cameras.”

What this means for business.  While pundits are wisely praising the decision as a victory for privacy, I for one, do not believe it applies that broadly. Even so, there is a tangible benefit for corporate counsel at technology companies, especially those that maintain location information about their customers. Lawyers and compliance pros will feel some relief knowing that they do not have to scramble, prevaricate or litigate with law enforcement when a company receives a subpoena or other demand for location data without a warrant attached.

For additional views on this decision, please see an article from the International Association of Privacy Professionals here, and another from the Electronic Frontier Foundation here.

States Can Now Require That Internet Retailers Collect Sales Tax

The other notable decision to come down from the Supreme Court involves the long-simmering issue of state taxation on internet sales.

The decision, in South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc., was a victory for brick-and-mortar businesses that have long complained they are put at a disadvantage by having to charge sales taxes while many online competitors do not. And it was also a victory for states that have said that they are missing out on tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue.

The South Dakota Legislature enacted a law requiring out-of-state sellers to collect and remit sales tax “as if the seller had a physical presence in the State” to address the erosion of its sales tax base causing a corresponding loss of critical funding for state and local services (“Act”).  The Act covers only sellers that, on an annual basis, deliver more than $100,000 of goods or services into the State or engage in 200 or more separate transactions for the delivery of goods or services into the State.  Top online retailers with no employees or real estate in South Dakota who met the Act’s minimum sales or transactions requirement, but do not collect the State’s sales tax opposed the Act. South Dakota filed suit in state court, seeking a declaration that the Act’s requirements are valid and applicable to respondents and an injunction requiring respondents to register for licenses to collect and remit the sales tax. At trial and on appeal, courts held that the Act is unconstitutional.

The ruling effectively overturned a system that it created.  In 1992, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution bars states from requiring businesses to collect sales tax unless they have a substantial connection to the state. That case was Quill Corporation v. North Dakota.  The Quill decision helped pave the way for the growth of online retail by letting companies sell nationwide without navigating the complex patchwork of state and local tax codes.

South Dakota’s attorney general, called the ruling “a big win for South Dakota and Main Streets across America.”  The case should benefit both rural businesses where local businesses have been hit hard by competition from online retailers and municipal coffers as well, because in some states local sales taxes are collected at the state level.  Owners of brick-and-mortar stores like the decision as a means of leveling the playing field because they feel they often missed out on sales of big-ticket items since sales tax could have had an amplified effect on the price.  For consumers, this could mean paying more for products bought online.  Although most have a “use tax” that works like a state sales tax for online purchases, few if any consumers actually pay it.

Since the beginning of my practice in 1999, I suggested businesses take a state-by-state approach when it comes to issues like sales tax, since it can vary widely by jurisdiction.  No business is entirely virtual. All businesses will need to examine their ecommerce strategy to see whether and to what extent this case affects the business model.

Advanced Issues in Contracts for Interior Designers

Every business transaction is governed by contract law, even if the parties don’t realize it. Despite the overwhelming role it plays in our lives, contract law can be incredibly difficult to understand.

Successful Interior Designers know how to manage the legal needs of the business while bringing a creative vision to life for a client or project. Confusion about rights, obligations, and remedies when things go wrong can strain and even ruin an otherwise promising professional relationship.

This program teaches new designers and entrepreneurs answers to some basic questions, such as:

  • What to do when clients / vendors / contractors don’t pay?
  • How can one use Indemnifications, Disclaimers and Limitations of Liability clauses to balance business risk when the parties may not be economically balanced?
  • What types of remedies are available and what are the limitations in scope for certain types of monetary and “equitable” remedies?

Take a deeper dive into advanced issues for interior design professionals. Learn how contracts can protect your design business and how to safeguard your rights.

Qualifies for .1 CEU credit.

This program was originally delivered on Aug. 17, 2017 at the Design Center at theMART 14th Floor Conference Center, 222 Merchandise Mart Plaza, Chicago, IL 60654

ICYMI – Cyber Security & Forensics “Data At Risk” 2017

In case you missed this year’s ForenSecure Conference on Cyber Security and Data Forensics, there is a link below to my presentation. To give you an idea how fast the law is changing in these areas, you need look no further than the state of New Mexico. New Mexico joined 47 other states when it passed its own state data breach notification law in April 2017.

Other notable and recent observations:

  • On March 7, 2017, the CIA got doxed by the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks. Nearly 9,000 documents appeared online.
  • In 2016, 106 major healthcare data breaches were attributed to hackers.
  • Financial Services – Third overall security incidents, but first in number of incidents w/confirmed loss.
  • University of Central Florida announced a data breach affected approximately 63,000 current and former students, faculty, and staff.
  • Yahoo – general counsel resigned and the CEO lost 2016 cash payout as well as 2017 equity award.

See the full presentation with notes here:

Forensecure 2017 Data At Risk

Cybersecurity is one of the top risks organizations must manage in 2017

This article first appeared in THE LEGAL SIDE OF TECH on CIO.com here.

Recent high-profile data breaches highlight the challenges in understanding how laws apply to a wide variety of information management scenarios and a host of other regulatory, compliance and legal issues.

Cybersecurity and privacy continue to make headlines. Experts have more questions than answers addressing risk management concerns in the evolving cybersecurity market.

High-profile data breach incidents

On March 7, 2017, the CIA got doxed by the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks. Nearly 9,000 documents appeared online showing the CIA sought to observe conversations, online browsing habits and other activities by infiltrating the systems that contained them, such as Apple and Android smartphones, laptops, TVs and even cars. The government is not alone.

Nearly every industry that handles sensitive data has been breached recently:

  • Healthcare: ransomware attacks are projected to rise 250%, and hackers were responsible for 106 major healthcare data breaches in 2016.
  • Financial services: Despite ranking only third in volume of security incidents, the financial services industry came in first in number of incidents leading to confirmed data losses.
  • Insurance: Risk is twofold in this market, because insurers are not only targets of hackers, they’re also providers of coverage to victims.
  • Education: At the beginning of February 2016, the University of Central Florida announced a data breach had affected approximately 63,000 current and former students, faculty and staff.

Third-party vendor risk

Third-party vendors remain a growing source of concern. Companies are well-advised to look beyond their own cybersecurity policies and standards to the potentially bigger risk that arises from giving third-party vendors direct access into their systems. Indeed, low-tech threats like errors by vendors’ employees represent an often-overlooked danger to company data security. Newer technology trends such as enterprise-level SaaS provisioning and cloud data storage and processing offer new possibilities and perils alike.

Given the inevitability of cybersecurity breaches, companies are increasingly looking to insurers to offset the losses they are likely to face after suffering an attack. However, because the cyber insurance market is young and growing rapidly, the scope and availability of policies is still fluid. Companies should carefully review the specifics and limits of coverage. According to one source, most questions right now are focused on coverage for business interruptions and losses related to fraudulent transactions.

Smaller companies may face even bigger challenges. Few small companies have the staff or the resources to actively manage cybersecurity risk, and many assume that their business risks are small. Despite their smaller size, these businesses will incur the same level of breach-related costs as larger companies.

U.S. Supreme Court Protects Varsity Brands Uniform Designs

By now it’s hard to say anything new about the U.S. Supreme Court victory of Varsity Brands in the STAR ATHLETICA, L.L.C. v. VARSITY BRANDS, INC. copyright infringement lawsuit.

If you don’t know the case it’s fairly straightforward: Varsity Brands has over 200 copyright registrations for two- dimensional designs (lines, chevrons, and colorful shapes) used on the surface of the cheerleading uniforms that they design, make, and sell. Varsity sued Star Athletica, who also markets cheerleading uniforms, for copyright infringement. Star won in District Court on theory that the designs were ineligible for copyright protection. Varsity won on appeal to the Sixth Circuit who held the graphics could be “identified separately” and were “capable of existing independently” of the uniforms qualifying for protection under the U.S. Copyright Act.

Justice Thomas writing for the Court held: “an artistic feature of the design of a useful article is eligible for copyright protection if the feature (1) can be perceived as a two- or three-dimensional work of art separate from the useful article and (2) would qualify as a protectable pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work either on its own or in some other medium if imagined separately from the useful article.”

What seems plain and simple on its face may prove otherwise. The Star Athletica decision is simply the jumping-off point for future controversies regarding the existence and scope of protection for fashion designs and concepts. While the Court does note the commercial aspect of the situation, “two- dimensional designs—consisting of various lines, chevrons, and colorful shapes—appearing on the surface of the cheerleading uniforms that they design, make, and sell,” little is made of this fact elsewhere in the opinion. Given the $2.4 Trillion global value of the Fashion Industry, I suspect the case will form the basis of many IP enforcement cases soon to come.