Contracts & Copyright: Issues for Authors, Writers & Creative Professionals

To find out more about how the Adler Law Group can help your business identify risk and issues related to intellectual property ownership, corporation or LLC formation, or just assess risk associated with your business, contact us for a freeno-obligation consultation by emailing David @ adler-law.com, visiting our web site www.adler-law.com, or calling toll free to (866) 734-2568.

Failure to Mind Corporate Details Leads to Loss of Copyright, Infringement Lawsuit

The case of Clarity Software, LLC v. Financial Independence Group, LLC is a great example the serious, negative consequences to intellectual property ownership when business owners and legal counsel fail to ensure that tasks are completed.

The short version is that the creator of computer software, Vincent Heck, sold the copyright in his software to settle a debt to a creditor, Eric Wallace, who intended to form Clarity Software, LLC to own and distribute the software. The lawsuit was for infringement of the copyright in the software.

As they say, “the devil is in the details.” In this case, the detail that became a devil, and ultimately prevented Wallace from enforcing a copyright in the software, was the fact that Clarity Software, LLC was never properly formed and therefore lacked standing to sue for infringement.

Forgive me for employing yet another trite phrase, but “truth is often stranger than fiction.” The Defendant proved that a veritable comedy of errors had occurred resulting in no record of the formation, including 1) the Department of State of Pennsylvania losing the certificate of organization, along with all records of the submission and filing of the certificate of organization, 2) the Plaintiff’s bank (PNC Bank) losing its copy certificate of organization provided when Wallace opened a bank account (even though PNC Bank still had the signature card completed when the account was opened), and 3) Wallace, himself a former President of the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants, losing his copy of the certificate of organization and all records of his communications with his attorney.

Defendant successfully moved for summary judgment based on its argument that Plaintiff did not own the copyright at issue in the litigation since it was not properly organized as a Pennsylvania limited liability company and never acquired valid ownership of the copyright.

Hat tip to Pamela Chestek and her blog, Property Intangible, where she first wrote about this case October 13, 2014. The opinion and order can be found here: Clarity Software, LLC v. Financial Independence Group, LLC, No. 2:12-cv-1609-MRH (W.D. Pa. Sept. 30, 2014).

To find out more about how the Adler Law Group can help your business identify risk and issues related to intellectual property ownership, corporation or LLC formation, or just assess risk associated with your business, contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation by emailing David @ adler-law.com, visiting out web site www.adler-law.com, or calling toll free to (866) 734-2568..

Contract Drafting: Limitations of Liability & Exceptions

One of the most important functions of a contract is to reduce uncertainties and mitigate risks. That is why almost all professional or personal services contracts contain “limitations of liability” provisions. Although they may seem like densely-worded, “boilerplate” provisions, and often overlooked, these provisions broadly affect a party’s ability to bring a claim, show liability, and prove damages that can be recovered.

A limitation of liability clause is a provision in a contract that limits the amount of exposure a company faces in the event a lawsuit is filed or another claim is made. As a preliminary observation, it is important to note that enforcement of limitation of liability provisions vary from state to state. The general rule in contract law is that in the commercial context, many states have found these clauses to be a mere shifting of the risk and enforce them as written.

Limitations of Liability generally address two areas of concern. First, the types of claims that may be barred. Second, the amount or scope of liability for claims that are not barred.

Limiting The Type Of Claim

A typical limitation of liability clause may look something like this:

“IN NO EVENT SHALL A PARTY OR ITS DIRECTORS, OFFICERS, EMPLOYEES, OR AGENTS, BE LIABLE FOR ANY CONSEQUENTIAL, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, PUNITIVE, EXEMPLARY, OR INDIRECT DAMAGES, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO ANY DAMAGES FOR LOST PROFITS. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE TOTAL LIABILITY OF A PARTY EXCEED THE AMOUNTS PAID BY CLIENT, IF ANY, FOR THE SERVICES.”

This clause limits the types of damages that may be claimed, prohibiting claims for:

  • Consequential damages (damages resulting naturally, but not necessarily, from the defendant’s wrongful conduct, BUT they must be foreseeable and directly traceable to the breach)
  • Incidental damages (includes costs incurred in a reasonable effort, whether successful or not, to avoid loss, or in arranging or attempting to arrange a substitute transaction)
  • Special damages (often treated the same as “consequential” by courts, “special” damages have been defined as those that arise from special circumstances known by the parties at the time the contract was made)
  • Punitive damages (damages that may be awarded which compensate a party for the exceptional losses suffered due to egregious conduct; a way of punishing the wrongful conduct and/or preventing future, similar conduct)
  • Exemplary damages (See “Punitive damages”)
  • Indirect damages (See “Consequential damages”)
  • Lost Profits (Cases in New York (and elsewhere) have a held that a clause excluding “consequential damages” may no longer be enough to bar “lost profits” claims; therefore, consider including more specific provisions in contracts- if parties want to exclude lost profits for breach of contract, a clause specifically excluding “lost profits” should be included.)

Lost profits that do not directly flow from a breach are consequential damages, and thus typically excluded by a limitation of liability clause like that above. But lost profits can be considered general damages (and thus recoverable) where the non-breaching party bargained for those profits, and where the profits are a direct and probable result of the breach.

Limiting The Amount Of The Claim

If found to be enforceable, a limitation of liability clause can “cap” the amount of potential damages to which a party is exposed. The limit may apply to all claims arising during the course of the contract, or it may apply only to certain types of claims. Limitation of liability clauses typically limit the liability to one of the following amounts: (i) the compensation and fees paid under the contract; (ii) an sum of money agreed in advance; (iii) available insurance coverage; or (iv) a combination of the above.

Parties can and typically do agree in their contract that liability is capped at some dollar amount. If liability exists and if damages can be proved, then the aggrieved party recovers those damages, but only up to the agreed cap. Sometimes these are mutual; other times they are one-sided. Sometimes the cap is a fixed sum (e.g., “the amounts paid for the services” or “$100,000”). Other times, the parties may choose to tie the cap to the type of harm, (e.g. personal injury, property damage, violations of confidentiality obligations).

However, sometimes that parties may agree that certain types of harm should not be limited. These “exceptions” put the parties in the same position they would have occupied if there was no limitation of liability provision in effect. For example:

  • exposure for violations of intellectual property (copyright, trademark, trade secret, patent) or proprietary rights (right of publicity, right of privacy, contractually-defined proprietary information)
  • in the event of an obligation to indemnity and defend for 1) breach of intellectual property representations, and/or 2) third party intellectual property or proprietary rights
  • in the event of an obligation to indemnify because a party didn’t have the right to provide data or information
  • in the event of an obligation to indemnify and defend for non-compliance with data security standards
  • exposure for violations of confidentiality obligations
  • personal injury or property damage due to negligent acts or omissions

Best Practices

Businesses that rely upon limitation of liability clauses should periodically reexamine those clauses. Questions that you should be asking include: “what’s my maximum recovery if the other party breaches,” and “what’s my maximum liability if I breach?”

These are only effective if enforceable, that’s why drafting is key. According to many courts, following certain drafting guidelines will help reduce the likelihood that a limitation of liability clause will not be enforced. Such guidelines include:

  • Make the clause conspicuous: set the clause in bold face print or underline or otherwise place the clause apart from the rest of the text on the page on which it appears so that the other party is aware of its existence.
  • Make the language clear and concise: make sure that the clause is concise and unambiguous as it relates to the contract as a whole.
  • Identify specific risks: be specific in identifying the types of damages you think should be excluded.
  • Negotiate the clause: discuss the clause with the party that is signing the agreement and negotiate if there is a discrepancy.
  • Retain drafts of revisions: keep drafts of any revisions made to the limitation of liability clause so that you have proof that the clause was negotiated.
  • Add language stating that these damages are not recoverable even if they were, or should have been, foreseeable or known by the breaching party.
  • Recite that the limitation of liability clause is an agreed benefit of the bargain, and that it remains in effect even if any remedy under the contract fails of its essential purpose.
  • Consider including a liquidated damages clause for specific breaches, which would replace a damages claim.

DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Please consult  qualified attorney to discuss your specific situation.

If you are concerned about how to tighten your contracts, we may be able to help. We can review your contracts, your business practices, and advise on whether there is room for improvement.

Please contact us for a no-fee, no-obligation consultation. (866) 734-2568 David [at] adler-law.com

AEREO LOSES COPYRIGHT CASE

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.

Launch Designer Workshops By EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Contracts

Contracts for Interior Design Professionals

This crash course on legal contracts is designed for interior designers who are drafting a contract for the first time or wanting to make an existing one airtight.

There’s a reason you became a designer, and it probably didn’t have anything to do with lawyers and contracts.

You’re the expert in color, fabric, floor plans, and furniture schemes, not intellectual property and arbitration provisions. If you’re already confused, don’t fret. This crash course is designed for those drafting a contract for the first time or wanting to make an existing one airtight. Led by David Adler, an actual lawyer who understands the ins and outs of the design industry, this workshop will cover the clauses you need to protect yourself in the unfortunate event that something doesn’t work out as planned. Clients can be difficult enough. Don’t let legal trouble slow you down.

In this class, you will learn how to:

  • Define what you are doing for your client, as well as NOT doing for them
  • Make sure you get paid on time and in full
  • Protect yourself against outside factors that may affect cost and ability to complete a project
  • Give yourself a way to get out of your contract if things aren’t working

By the end of class, you will have:

  • A basic understanding of key contract terms and the reasons as to why they are there
  • A basic client agreement that you can use or customize

The Instructor, David Adler, is an attorney, nationally-recognized speaker, and founder of a boutique law practice focused on serving the needs of creative professionals in the areas of intellectual property, media, and entertainment law. He provides advice on choosing business structures, protecting creative concepts and ideas through copyright, trademark, related intellectual property laws and contracts, and structuring professional relationships. He has 17 years experience practicing law, including drafting and negotiating complex contracts and licenses with Fortune 500 companies, advising on securities laws (fundraising) and corporate governance, prosecuting and defending trademark applications, registrations, oppositions, and cancellations before the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO), and managing outside counsel. Currently recognized as an Illinois SuperLawyer® in the areas of Media and Entertainment Law, he was also a “Rising Star” for three years prior. He received his law degree from DePaul University College of Law in 1997 and a double BA in English and History from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Outside the practice of law, David is an Adjunct Professor of Music Law at DePaul College of Law, formerly chaired the Chicago Bar Association’s Media and Entertainment Law Committee, and is currently a member of the Illinois State Bar Association Intellectual Property Committee.

Identifying Intellectual Property Issues in Start-Ups – Live Webcast!

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

Is Your Company’s Web Site Privacy Policy Compliant With New California Law?

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.