What is an “Ad” These Days?

–  Joseph I. Rosenbaum

On Friday, December 8, 2017, I had the privilege of presenting a seminar, hosted by Lawline, entitled “Augmented, Native and Interactive: The New World of Digital & Mobil Advertising.”  This was broadcast live on the Web and recorded for subsequent on demand viewing and was my second presentation at Lawline.  The first “Online & Mobile Digital Interactive Advertising: Video Games, Branded Entertainment, Native Advertising and Beyond” remains available as a web-based, on demand offering at Lawline.

This seminar provided an update on many of the concepts and principles discussed in the first program, including some basic principles of advertising law that applies in both the traditional and digital/mobile environment and provided updated information on game advertising – both advertising the game and in-game advertising – as well native advertising and guidance from the Federal Trade Commission.  This recent session also delved into a number of digital and mobile advertising issues that were not part of the first presentation, such as celebrity endorsements, bloggers, experts & consumer testimonials in social media, augmented reality and advertising in virtual worlds, programmatic buying and the current tensions in the industry concerning transparency and relationships between advertisers and integrated agencies.  You can view the slide images of my presentation “The New World of Digital & Mobil Advertising” and, of course, you can view the recorded session which is available exclusively through Lawline.

As always, if you need assistance or require any additional information, feel free to contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, at Rimon, P.C.

The Digital Economy is So Taxing

– By Stephen Díaz Gavin and Claudio Palmieri

Economic activity is not only transnational, but increasingly digital.   A business is physically located in one country, sells goods or services in another country and then declares its profits in yet a third country?  Who is the taxing authority? Where is the transaction taxed and to which government do taxes get paid? This has never been a simple question internationally, but in today’s digital world, where borderless transactions are more frequent and more common, the leaders of the G-20 countries, in the Summit declaration of 18-19 June 2012 in Mexico, decried the consequences of these developments — tax base erosion and profit shifting to lower-tax jurisdictions.  Even the proposed U.S. tax reform currently before the U.S. Congress addresses concerns about tax base erosion.

In 2013 the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (“OECD”) began a project to combat tax base erosion and profit shifting and the first action item of their Final Report of 2015 concludes the digital economy cannot be considered separate from the rest of the economy for tax purposes – it is increasingly becoming the economy itself.   Significantly, the OECD believes solutions lie not so much in creating new rules, but adapting existing regulations to address the new, digital environment.  Meanwhile, the European Union and some countries in Europe are making their own provisions for dealing with changes caused by the digital economy. With its Communication of September 2017, A Fair and Efficient Tax System in the European Union for the Digital Single Market, the European Commission (“EC”) announced a legislative proposal for the Digital Single Market in Europe, that is intended to be available for implementation if an adequate, ready and preferably international solution inside the G-20/OECD project framework is not implemented.  The two main policy challenges addressed by the EC are: (1) where to tax digital services provided by companies with little or no physical presence and (2) what is taxable (e.g., the value created by intangible assets, data and knowledge).  While a long term approach is favored, the EC is focused on short term measures to address some of these problems quickly such as a tax on untaxed or insufficiently taxed income generated from internet-based business activities (whether creditable against the corporate income tax or as a separate tax); a standalone gross-basis withholding tax on certain payments made to non-resident providers of goods and services ordered online; a levy on revenues generated from the provision of digital services or advertising activity.

In addition to European-wide solutions, some individual countries are also attempting to address the taxation of the digital economy.  For example, in September 2016, a bill was introduced before the Italian Parliament regarding tax measures applicable to competition in digital commercial activities (DDL S.2526 “Misure in materia fiscale per la concorrenza nell’economia digitale” del 10 novembre 2016).  The bill would not only reinforce the powers of Agenzia delle Entrate, the Italian governmental agency which collects taxes and revenue, but would introduce a “hidden permanent establishment” (“stabile organizzazione occulta”) concept which would consider revenues generated from certain types of international transactions, as income generated in Italy. For example, fees paid to non-Italian companies by Italian consumers for the purchase of software licenses distributed on the Italian market. Thus, if a U.S. company engages in online business regularly, with greater than 500 transactions in any six-month period and collecting more than € 1 Million in that same period, that company would be considered to have a “hidden permanent establishment” subject to tax by the Italian authorities.  In addition, the proposed Italian 2018 Budget Law (not yet adopted), includes a proposal for a 6% web tax on services provided by nonresident companies and individuals on revenues generated from the sale to Italian residents  of fully “dematerialised services” (e.g., intangible services such as video and audio downloads).

The common theme in these new proposals in the European Union and EU member countries suggests that governments will look increasingly to tax where economic value is delivered.   If your business is part of the digital economy you clearly need to monitor these developments and pay attention to the legislative and regulatory initiatives being considered at the national, regional and multinational levels, especially in Europe, an important market and one which appears to be moving more quickly than other regions of the world.  You can read the full Client Alert on this issue and if you need more information, have questions or would like assistance, the International Practice Group at Rimon, with an office in Rome, is particularly well suited to serve your needs.  Feel free to contact Stephen Díaz Gavin, Partner based in Washington, DC and Rome or Claudio Palmieri, Counsel to Rimon and principal of Studio Legale Palmieri – Rimon Italia,  based in Rome.   Of course, you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or any of the lawyers at Rimon with whom you regularly work.

 

Inter Net Neutrality

What an interesting play on words.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “inter” is a verb that means “to deposit (a dead body) in the earth or in a tomb.”

Earlier this week, the Chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) outlined plans to bury the Internet rules promulgated under the Obama administration that required providers of Internet services to treat all web traffic equally.  Those rules, among other things, limit the ability of ISPs to favor content or customers, to block or slow down the online services they provide.  Under the proposed changes, ISPs (wired and wireless) would be allowed to offer web-based services at different speeds and differing quality of service.  In addition, they could enable more favorable speed or quality, or both, for websites that paid a fee – as long as that relationship was disclosed.

Over the years, a lively and heated debate over the nature and extent of regulation needed to protect consumers without stifling innovation has continued.  Proponents of eliminating the rules claim that allowing the market to create different financial and performance models will spur investment and the development of technology, while critics argue that consumer prices would increase and so would barriers to entry and start-up costs for new companies.  Critics point to the airline industry (where the FCC net neutrality rules have never been applicable) as an example of the potential for harm – one U.S. air carrier provides easy access to one online video service which has paid the airline for such priority status, while others are not enabled with the same speed or quality.

Under the previous administration, the Internet and ISPs (both wired and wireless) were treated as utilities, virtually excluding them from regulatory oversight by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), whose fact-based, case-by-case, analytical approach to regulation is generally perceived as more suitable (and friendly) for emerging technology and evolving markets.  Based on Chairman Ajit Pai’s remarks, in another reversal of the prior administration’s approach, it appears the FCC is now willing to share oversight with the FTC and have the FTC be responsible for monitoring ISP disclosures, determining if consumers are being harmed and determining whether these firms are engaging in anti-competitive or unfair trade practices.  The FCC indicated it plans to enact the new rules early in the new year.  Stay tuned.

If you have any questions or want more information about this or any Legal Bytes’ post, don’t hesitate to contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, a New York based partner at Rimon, P.C., or any of the other lawyers at Rimon with whom you regularly work.

 

 

The Antitrust Division Finds the Nails

– By Stephen Díaz Gavin

Just yesterday (Monday, November 20th), as Stephen Diaz-Gavin’s article “For Want of a Nail: The AT&T – Time Warner Merger” was posted on Legal Bytes, the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) filed a lawsuit opposing the merger in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, asking that the proposed merger and related transactions be permanently enjoined.  The lawsuit is a significant departure from U.S. antitrust policy in recent years, which has generally permitted vertical mergers and, as we pointed out in our original post, highlights the problems in not having availed themselves of the FCC’s  public interest review to address the concerns about the merger, publicly.  AT&T  immediately responded that it will defend the merger, but win or lose, one thing is a sure thing – approval of AT&T’s $85.4 billion entry into the content production business — is no longer a sure thing. You can read the full text of the DOJ Complaint and again, if you have any questions feel free to contact Stephen Díaz Gavin directly. Of course, you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, a Partner at Rimon in New York or any of the lawyers at Rimon with whom you regularly work.

 

All Good Things Must . . . .

–          Dror Futter

So far this year, offerings of blockchain based tokens have raised over $3 billion and for a long time regulators seemed to be ignoring these Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs).  Indeed, some commentators asserted they were outside the scope of government regulation.

This past summer, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began to take aim.  While the SEC has not yet provided detailed guidance as to which tokens would be categorized as securities and which considered “utility tokens” (outside the SEC’s jurisdiction), the SEC has indicated such tokens can be securities, basing its determinations on a ‘facts and circumstances’ analysis.  Having said that, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton reportedly deviated from prepared remarks earlier this month and said: “I have yet to see an ICO that doesn’t have a sufficient number of hallmarks of a security.

Since the summer, China and South Korea have banned ICOs, while  Canada, the UK, Switzerland, Australia and most recently the EU, issued SEC-like guidance stressing that tokens may be securities and as a result, subject to the oversight of securities regulators.

In addition, the first lawsuits related to ICOs have now been filed, reminding us that regulatory action is far from the only legal risk faced by ICO sponsors of ICOs.   In one of the current lawsuits,  only one of the claims is for the sale of unregistered securities, while other claims include allegations of fraud, false advertising and unfair competition under State law. Civil suits by disappointed investors and class action lawsuits relating to large scale offerings are likely to increase in the months and years ahead.

While recent developments don’t foretell the end of ICOs, they highlight more than the typical significant legal and regulatory risks associated with early stage venture investing.  Indeed, investors may not be able to rely on the same types of legal protections they might obtain when acquiring conventional securities.  Even after the initial issuance of these ‘tokens,’ their resale could raise even more issues and compliance may affect liquidity and valuation.  In an uncertain regulatory environment, risk mitigation is an important element of counseling clients, but hardly a basis for avoiding risk altogether and clients and their lawyers have good reason to be cautious. In fact, even creating an impression that an ICO has been ‘blessed’ by lawyers may not make it clear that opinions have a significant level of assumptions, qualifications and caveats well beyond routine legal opinions.

This posting was adapted and extracted from a more detailed Client Alert written by Dror Futter, a New York-New Jersey based Partner at Rimon, P.C.  You can read the entire alert, entitled “Spoiler Alert: ICOs – The “Good Times” May Be Ending,” and if you need more information, feel free to contact Dror Futter  directly. As always, if you need any assistance you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, a New York based Partner at Rimon,  or any of the lawyers at Rimon with whom you regularly work.

For Want of a Nail: The AT&T – Time Warner Merger

– By Stephen Díaz Gavin

In Poor Richard’s Almanack, Benjamin Franklin included his own version of an old proverb : “For the want of a nail the shoe was lost, For the want of a shoe the horse was lost, For the want of a horse the rider was lost, For the want of a rider the battle was lost, For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost, And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.” In the case of AT&T’s proposed $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner Communications, for want of the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), the battle might now be lost.

When the merger was announced, AT&T confidently predicted that the deal would get the regulatory “green light”, from the FCC and the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) portraying the deal as a classic “vertical” merger that removed no competitors from any market. Mindful that AT&T was still smarting from its 2011 failure to convince the FCC to permit its acquisition of T-Mobile in a horizontal merger, AT&T wanted to avoid FCC review, if at all possible.  AT&T and Time Warner maintained this situation was different.  They pointed to the fact that both DOJ and FCC had allowed a large vertical merger to proceed in 2011 when Comcast was permitted to acquire NBC Universal from General Electric.  Just this past February, Time Warner reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) that it did not plan to transfer any of its licenses to AT&T, so FCC approval would not be necessary. Curiously, few questioned AT&T’s suggestion that there was no role for the FCC because the licenses did not themselves provide service to the public, even though the Communications Act applies to all radio licenses, not just those intended to provide direct service to the public. Apparently a sure thing only weeks ago, the acquisition has  run into significant regulatory difficulties and the DOJ has now raised the prospect that AT&T will have to divest either the Turner Broadcasting unit, which includes CNN and other popular channels, or its DirecTV business.

So what is happening now and why? Consider the political landscape for one. There has been considerable bipartisan political opposition to AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner. Both leading Republican and Democratic members of Congress have spoken skeptically of the merger. Indeed, despite some relatively benign requirements (not including any divestitures), the DOJ approved the Comcast/NBC Universal merger with no divestiture obligations on Comcast. It is no coincidence that opposition to the Comcast acquisition was largely from programmers and public interest groups, but not, as is the case here, politicians as well.

Comcast and AT&T already control 62.3% of U.S. high-speed internet broadband capacity – significant market power and the capability, as internet service providers, to engage in strategies intended to block competitors. Public interest groups and content providers have again raised the concern that like Comcast before it, AT&T will now itself be a programmer with an incentive for anti-competitive behavior. On the programming side, “competitors” like Google, Amazon.com Video, Facebook and others are dependent on ISPs like Comcast and AT&T to reach users. Some officials at DOJ are also apparently frustrated with AT&T trying to circumvent the regulatory process by creating a sense of “inevitability” around approvals and although behavioral safeguards were imposed in the Comcast/NBC approval, there has been growing concern these have not been successful in preventing abuses.

If the AT&T/Time Warner merger fails, it may well be for want of the FCC’s involvement at the very outset. For many reasons, this entire situation might well have been avoided if AT&T had bit the bullet and sought review by the FCC, along with DOJ. Not doing so, bypasses the public notice and comment procedures and disregards the “safety valve” provided by same public airing of the issues. Although impossible to know at this point, perhaps the public interest emphasis of the FCC might even had taken some pressure off the DOJ to look at more drastic alternatives, such as divestitures of key assets. Instead of the FCC that would have considered imposing “public interest” conditions on the merger, AT&T must now deal with a DOJ Antitrust Division head who believes only in structural remedies, such as divestitures.  We may never know if want of the FCC, like the want of a nail, will cause the battle to be lost, but it increasingly looks that way.

This posting was adapted and extracted from a more detailed Client Alert written by Stephen Díaz Gavin, a Partner in Rimon’s Washington, D.C. office and coordinator of Rimon’s Affiliation with Studio Legale Palmieri in Rome, Italy. You can read the entire alert, entitled “AT&T’s Multibillion Dollar Purchase of Time Warner Might Fail for Not Involving FCC,” and if you need more information, feel free to contact Stephen Díaz Gavin directly. As always, if you need any assistance you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, a Partner at Rimon in New York or any of the lawyers at Rimon with whom you regularly work.

Global Social Media Handbook

I am proud to be among the 22 legal professionals, including 7 of my colleagues at Rimon, who contributed and co-authored a new book entitled Handbook on Global Social Media Law for Business Lawyers, published by ABA Publishing. This comprehensive work, sponsored by the Business Law Section of the American Bar Association, was co-edited by Valerie Surgenor, a partner in the Glasgow, Scotland, law firm MacRoberts LLP and John Isaza, my friend and partner here at Rimon, P.C.   Although principally focused on the United States, there are contributions from foreign lawyers in key regions around the world, including Canada, the European Union, Australia, Russia and Asia.

The Handbook deals with national and international law principles and emerging issues related to social media law, ethics, compliance and governance, including cybersecurity, cyber terrorism and risk management in a social media environment (e.g., hacking, corporate espionage, data loss and data breach); intellectual property issues in social media;  defamation, “fake news” and social media;  implementation of a social media crisis plan; use of social media as a tool in recruitment of employees and the privacy implications to employers;  promotional, endorsement and social media disclosure guidelines promulgated by the Federal Trade Commission in the US; and recent trends in UK and European social media legislation and regulation.  There is a separate chapter that discusses information and records management within the context of social media.

If you are interested, you can order a copy directly from the ABA (Handbook on Global Social Media Law for Business Lawyers) and of course, if you need more information or want to discuss your particular requirements with knowledgeable and experienced professionals, feel free to reach out to me, Joe Rosenbaum, or to any of the lawyers at Rimon with whom you work with regularly.

 

Total Eclipse of the . . .

You may have started humming the Bonnie Tyler song, but it’s not our hearts that will be eclipsed . . at least not today.  Instead, today, Monday, August 21, 2017,  the moon will pass in front of the Sun, displaying a total solar eclipse to millions and a partial solar eclipse to many more millions.  A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon’s apparent diameter is larger than the sun’s, blocking all direct sunlight, turning day into darkness.

While the rest of the United States and many other parts of the world will experience a partial solar eclipse, a total solar eclipse will be visible to viewers within a 70 mile wide swath crossing parts of fourteen states of the continental United States: Starting in Oregon, continuing through Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and finally South Carolina before heading out over the Atlantic Ocean. That’s about 12 million US residents and another 10 million estimated tourists flocking in to witness the event!

If you want to know when the eclipse will start, peak and end near you, Vox Media has an Interactive Web Page that allows you to put in your  Zip Code and see the start, peak and end times, as well as the percentage of totality that will be visible in your area. You can also turn your smartphone or tablet into a guide for the event, using Android or iOS apps such as Eclipse Safari or Clear Outside.

Enjoy the rare and magnificent astronomical event and remember – safety first – don’t look directly at the sun.  Even if you are using “approved” glasses (Certified as ISO 12312-2 compliant) make sure they are from a legitimate vendor and they are actually legitimate.  As a test, put the glasses on and look at your brightest bulb or any really bright light — you shouldn’t be able to see ANYTHING (as in zero, nada, zilch, nothing!)  A safe solar glass filter will give you a view of the sun (and ONLY the sun) that will look like a full moon, surrounded by dark sky and it will also block UV and IR radiation.  If you look up and find the sun uncomfortable to look at, out of focus or with a haze around it, don’t use them (or if they are scratched or appear damaged in any way). According to the American Astronomical Society, those won’t be safe.

For you trivia buffs, the last time a total solar eclipse was visible crossing the entire continental U.S. was on June 8, 1918, and the next time a total solar eclipses will cross the U.S. (12 States) will be in April of 2024 and another total solar eclipse will cross 10 States of the continental United States again in August 2045.

First Joint Consultations May Foreshadow Effectiveness of Privacy Shield

–  Stephen Díaz, Partner, Rimon, P.C. &  Claudio Palmieri, Of  Counsel Rimon, P.C. (Principal, Studio Legale Palmieri –Rimôn Italia)

On October 6, 2015, the Court of Justice of the European Union invalidated the so-called “Safe Harbor” that previously governed data transfers between the U.S. and the EU (Case C-362/14 – Maximillian Schrems v. Data Protection Commissioner, 6 October 2015).

As you already know if you read our Legal Bytes’ posting in May concerning the US-EU Data Transfer Privacy Shield, personal data cannot be transferred to from the EU to a non-European Union/European Economic Area country, unless that country can ensure “adequate levels of protection” for such personal data. While the European Commission had identified a number of countries that met the ‘adequate protection’ test, the United States was not one of them and without the Safe Harbor understandings, transatlantic exchanges of data – both for commercial and national security reasons – were at risk of being non-compliant with EU regulations!  In an attempt to temporarily address the data transfer issues, the EU and the U.S. proposed a new framework for exchanges of personal data for commercial purposes, known as the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield (“Privacy Shield”) which was formally launched on July 12, 2016.

Further complicating matters, a new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect on May 25, 2018.    In furtherance of a formal and more permanent agreement under the Privacy Shield and in contemplation of the new regulations, representatives of the U.S. and the EU have announced they will meet in Washington, DC during the week of September 18, 2017, for the first Annual Review of the Privacy Shield.  In advance of the meeting, the EU’s official Working Group (WP 29) sent the European Commission their recommendations and consistent with previous pronouncements, they believe the meeting should focus on enforcement of rights and obligations, as well as changes in U.S. law since the adoption of the Privacy Shield.  WP29 recommended discussions focus on these issue and that any formal agreement must deal with both commercial, as well as law enforcement and national security access.

These concerns and considerations are explored in more detail in our full Client Alert: No Certainty in Future of Privacy Shield as Transatlantic Consultations Set to Begin and it is clear that the September consultations may well be an indication of whether the Privacy Shield will prove an adequate regulatory regime for the transatlantic transfer of personal data and whether meaningful progress is likely in the current environment.

If you would like more information, a better understanding or need guidance regarding compliance with these regulations, contact Stephen Díaz Gavin, a Rimon Law Partner based in Washington, DC or Claudio Palmieri is of counsel to Rimon, P.C. and the principal of Studio Legale Palmieri –Rimôn Italia in Rome, Italy. Of course you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or any of the lawyers at Rimon with whom you regularly work.

 

OFAC Targets Sports & Entertainment Figures

Jill Williamson, Partner, Rimon, P.C.

On August 9, 2017, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) at the U.S. Treasury Department, issued a Press  Release and identified Mexican national Raul Flores Hernandez and the Flores Drug Trafficking Organization (Flores DTO) as Significant Foreign Narcotics Traffickers pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, also known as the Kingpin Act. OFAC also designated a large number of individuals and 42 entities for involvement with, and acting as fronts for, Raul Flores Hernandez.

Many of these individual and entities are in the sports and entertainment industries, including  professional soccer player, Rafael Marquez Alvarez (Rafa Marquez), Mexican singer Julio Cesar Alvarez Montelongo (Julion Alvarez), Mexican Soccer Club Club Deportivo Morumbi and the Grand Casino Guadalajara.

As of the issuance date of these designations, no U.S. persons, companies, nor any individuals in the US, are allowed to conduct transactions with these individuals or entities.  Penalties under the Kingpin Act can run as high as $10MM per violation, with individual violators subject to imprisonment for up to 30 years.  Even civil penalties for inadvertent violations can run over $1M per violation.  It is worth noting that OFAC violations are based on strict liability.

If you would like more information, a better understanding or need guidance regarding compliance with these regulations, contact Jill M. Williamson, a Rimon Law Partner based in Washington, DC. Of course you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or any of the lawyers at Rimon with whom you regularly work.