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.

A Cryptocurrency by Any Other Name May Still Smell Like a Security

Dror Futter, Partner, Rimon, P.C.

Although the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has been studying blockchain and cryptocurrencies since 2013, until its recent pronouncement, the SEC had been silent with respect with respect to its regulatory authority with respect to Initial Coin Offerings. An Initial Coin Offering (“ICO”) is a company’s release of its own cryptocurrency in exchange for tokens of a pre-existing cryptocurrency (e.g., bitcoins and in rare instances, a fiat currency – currency backed by the issuing government such as Dollars or Euro). The ICO issuing company effectively ‘sells’ a pre-defined number of coins or crypto-tokens to purchasers.

The surge in ICO’s has been so dramatic, that in 2017 ICO’s surpassed venture capital as the primary source for funding blockchain ventures and recent news reports suggest that funds raised through an ICO were “crowding out” venture investors. Most ICO’s in the United States have been conducted without registration under U.S. securities laws. Typically, the issuer simply provides potential investors with a “White Paper” outlining how they intend to use the money raised by the ICO.  To put it charitably, the quality and detail of these White Papers varies widely.

The similarity between the term “Initial Coin Offering” and “Initial Public Offering” or IPO is more than coincidental and these similarities have now prompted the SEC to issue its first pronouncements on the subject of ICO regulation under the securities laws and on July 25, 2017, the SEC did just that and issued the following three documents:
• An SEC Report of Investigation;
• A Press Release about the report; and
Guidance to Purchasers of Digital Tokens

The issue the SEC has been grappling with is the application of the definition of a “security” to the tokens being issued in an ICO.  In a 1946 Supreme Court case Securities and Exchange Commission v. Howey Co., the U.S. Supreme Court identified four criteria (which have evolved a bit since that decision) that need to be present for an investment contract, within the meaning of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, to be a security.  They are: (1) the investment of money or other consideration, (2) In a common enterprise (although there is a split over how “commonality” should defined), (3) where investors expect a profit, and (4) any returns to the investors are derived solely from efforts of the promoters (issuers) or other third parties. The Court noted that the facts and circumstances of each case will determine whether an instrument is a security, even if it does not technically fall within the narrow criteria of their specific decision.

In short, the SEC press release stated:
• Tokens offered and sold by “The DAO” (the case that had been investigated) were securities, subject to the federal securities laws;
• Issuers of blockchain technology-based securities must register offers and sales unless a valid exemption applies;
• Those participating in unregistered offerings may be liable for securities law violations; and
• Securities exchanges enabling trading in these securities must register unless an exemption applies.

The SEC’s documents are silent on so-called “utility tokens” or “service tokens” – tokens that allow the purchaser to obtain a service (e.g., data storage; online games) and it is likely we will hear more from the SEC in future, since their press release contained a clear warning the securities laws and regulations apply to ICO’s. Although not all tokens sold in an ICO will automatically be considered a security, there remains significant uncertainty and most knowledgeable attorneys in this arena have already been advising their clients to avail themselves of the exemptions to the registration requirements (e.g., Reg D, Reg A+ or Crowdfunding under the JOBS Act).

This is an extremely complex and challenging (and evolving) area of the law and regulation and you can read the entire Client Alert: Casting Light Over Recent Events Concerning the SEC’s views on ICOs, Cryptocurrencies, Tokens, Securities and their Legal Repercussions.  Of course, if you want to know even more or need guidance, you should contact Dror Futter directly and you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or any of the attorneys at Rimon Law with whom you regularly work.

Retaining Jurisdiction Requires More than Just Words

By Douglas Schneller, Partner, Rimon Law

Bankruptcy plans and contracts approved by bankruptcy courts routinely include “retention of jurisdiction” provisions, but a case decided last month, Gupta v. Quincy Med. Ctr. (“Gupta”), reminds us that the jurisdiction of a bankruptcy court is not unlimited merely by reciting the words. In the Gupta decision, the First Circuit held that unless the dispute involves or affects the debtor’s estate or requires interpretation of a bankruptcy court order or bankruptcy law underlying the dispute, the appropriate venue to consider the dispute may be state court, even against the expectations or wishes of the parties.

In this case, the parties entered into an agreement for the sale of assets by the seller and in the contract, the buyer agreed to pay severance to any employees of the seller that were fired after closing. Literally the day after signing the agreement, the seller (the ‘debtor’) filed voluntary Chapter 11 petitions and a sale motion under the Bankruptcy Code seeking approval of the asset purchase agreement. The Bankruptcy Court approved the agreement and sale, which then closed. The Bankruptcy Court’s order, as well as the order confirming the proposed Chapter 11 plan of reorganization, each contained a provision that the Bankruptcy Court would retain jurisdiction over disputes.

You can guess what happened next. After the closing of the asset sale, the buyer terminated the seller’s executives, effective as of the closing date and refused to pay severance. Inevitably, the lawsuits followed. Although the Bankruptcy Court decided it had jurisdiction to hear the claims based on the ‘retention of jurisdiction’ clauses, on June 2, 2017, the First Circuit Court of Appeals decision concluded that the Bankruptcy Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The First Circuit vacated the judgments against the buyer and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the claims against the buyer. In short, the court concluded that the contract language in the asset purchase agreement was not sufficient by itself for the Bankruptcy Court to retain jurisdiction to hear disputes, because a bankruptcy court cannot retain jurisdiction it never had. Indeed, the court noted that the claims could well have arisen entirely outside of bankruptcy and could be decided solely under Massachusetts contract law.

There is a lot more detail and analysis and if you want to read the entire Client Alert: First Circuit: Bankruptcy Court “Retention of Jurisdiction” Provision Requires More Than Mere Words and contact Douglas Schneller directly.

Of course, you should always feel free to contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or any of the professionals at Rimon Law with whom you routinely work.

Legal Entity Identifiers Require More Invasive Information

Robin Powers, Partner &  James Ballard, Paralegal

The Global Market Entity Identifier Utility issues Legal Entity Identifiers (LEI) which are unique 20-digit alpha-numeric identification codes, based on standards developed by the International Organization for Standardization.  Many regulatory authorities require financial market participants that engage in certain transactions to obtain an LEI. Read more about the LEI.

In the past, an entity could simply provide self-identifying information (i.e., “Level 1 Data”), but now GMEI Utility is requiring Level 2 Data – information relating to the parent companies of its registered entities, based on the accounting relationship of the entities.

This reporting requirement will permanently link data collected in relation to an entity’s LEI to all of its daughter entities. If the parent does not have its own LEI, other identifying information (parent’s legal name, address and registration authority information) is now being required. There are some exceptions or allowable reasons for opting out of providing certain information, but it is clear that LEI issuers are seeking additional scrutiny of parent companies.

Could an enterprise reorganize in order to avoid reporting by qualifying for an exclusion? Perhaps. Could contractual restrictions on disclosure allow for an opt-out?  It’s possible. Could accounting and financial restructuring dis aggregate the basis for the connection? Maybe. Whatever the consequences and reactions, legal counsel should be consulted to assess the risks of providing such additional information in this context.

You should contact Robin Powers and James Ballard directly if you have questions and they have prepared a more detailed client alert you can read:  Maintaining Your Legal Entity Identifier Just Got More Invasive.

Of course, if you need assistance or more information, you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum or any of the attorneys are Rimon Law with whom you regularly work.

Marketing Hedge Funds – Why “Fiduciary” Matters

–  by  Thomas M. White

The Department of Labor (“DOL”) recently adopted a rule expanding the definition of who may be a fiduciary under ERISA.  Significant because ERISA-covered plans control enormous pools of capital and ERISA fiduciaries are prohibited from engaging in self-dealing transactions.  The new rule, which went into effect on June 9, 2017, affects how investments in hedge funds will be marketed to ERISA-covered plans and IRAs.

If a person makes a “recommendation” regarding an investment or investment management and receives a fee from a plan, a plan participant, a fiduciary, an IRA or an owner of an IRA that person will be considered a fiduciary and that definition applies even if the underlying assets are not “plan assets” within the meaning of the DOL’s Plan Asset Regulation.  If this sounds confusing, appreciate there is litigation currently pending regarding whether the DOL’s rule applies to IRAs or their owners.

Probably the most critical determination will be whether a “recommendation” has been made for purposes of this new rule.  A “recommendation” involves the purchase, holding, managing or sale of securities and is “a communication that, based on its content, context and presentation, would reasonably be viewed as a suggestion that the advice recipient engage in or refrain from taking a particular course of action.”  In fact, a series of communications may result in a “recommendation,” even if each individual communications may not rise to that level.  Although general communications are not, advice based on individual characteristics of a potential investor are likely “recommendations.”

There are a number of regulatory exemptions, such as recommendations made to a “sophisticated” adviser or investor or if an adviser offers advice to an independent plan or IRA fiduciary in an arm’s-length transaction and the adviser reasonably believes the independent fiduciary is a qualified financial institution (e.g., a bank, insurance company or a broker-dealer) or if the recipient of the information manages at least $50 million in assets regardless of whether those assets are plan assets.

Why does all this matter.  Make a presentation covering the general features of a specific hedge fund to a meeting room packed with potential investors and investment advisers.  After the formal presentation concludes, an audience member comes over to the presenter, describes himself as an IRA owner and his particular circumstances – a discussion ensues.  If the speaker isn’t careful about what is said, and a fee may be earned by the hedge fund it may be a problem.  There are other examples too numerous to describe here.

To minimize the likelihood they will be considered fiduciaries under the new rule, hedge funds should determine if they want to market to IRAs, small plans and individuals who have investment discretion over the investments in their profit sharing and 401(k) accounts.  Marketing materials should be reviewed to determine if they need to be modified to avoid a problem.  Even subscription agreements should make it clear the potential investor is not a small plan or an IRA unless it is being advised by an investment professional who fits under the exemption. Marketing professionals should be trained as to what they may and may not say and written reports describing conversations and communications with potential investors should be retained.

If you want to read more about the potential application of this new rule you can read the entire Rimon Client Alert or contact Tom White directly.  Mr. White specializes in the full scope of human resources management, such as Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation, Healthcare, and Employment Law.

Net Neutrality: Is the Cease Fire Over?

By Stephen Díaz Gavin  *

The way the U.S. Government regulates the Internet is back in play again. The outcome of the long running battle over “net neutrality” and regulation of the Internet – now more than 15 years old — is still uncertain. However, it is clear that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is stepping back from the stronger supervision of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) adopted in March 2015 under former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler at the insistence of former President Obama.
On May 18, 2017, the FCC voted to release a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to step back from the agency’s controversial March 2015 decision to treat ISPs as “common carriers” under Title II of the Communications Act. Instead, the “proposed rule,” will revert to classifying ISPs as providers of an “information service” and return jurisdiction over ISPs privacy practices to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – a clear indication of the direction the FCC will take under the current administration.
Law professor Tim Wu coined the term “net neutrality” in 2003.  As the FCC’s current Chairman Pai recently noted in an interview in the Wall Street Journal, the term “[i]s one of the more seductive marketing slogans that’s ever been attached to a public policy issue”.  Who can be against “leaving the Internet alone?” (“Why ‘Net Neutrality’ Drives the Left Crazy,” Wall Street Journal).   Apparently, many believe that it should not be left alone: the FCC received nearly 1.25 million comments submitted via the Internet in the three weeks following FCC Chairman Pai’s announcement that he intended to reconsider the Title II rules; nearly all opposing the proposal.
At the core of the dispute is the tension between the ISPs on the one hand, and streaming content providers like Netflix and Amazon, as well as Internet giants like Google and Facebook on the other.
Consumers fear a slowdown in service. The ISPs maintain the March 2015 common carrier regulation decision will stifle investments and ultimately produce what consumers fear:  a slower Internet.  Indeed, in the NPRM the FCC cited a decline in investment since the March 2015 Order in support of changing the rules.  The clash of interests highlights how outdated the old ways of government oversight of telecommunications have become. The Communications Act of 1934, was originally enacted to monitor the monopoly telephone provider at the time (ATT), based on the model of regulating railroad service and freight rates under the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 – hardly a relevant basis for overseeing the backbone of 21st century technology.
The common carrier regulatory model prohibits additional charges for streaming content providers, which could be viewed as discriminatory. However, such a regulatory structure does not account for how ISPs pay for upgrades to maintain service quality as consumer demand increases for such content streaming.  Video content producers that stream large volumes of data, slow up Internet connections. Although the largest ISPs have agreed voluntarily not to charge the Netflix and Amazons of the world for doing so, where must the money come from in order to continue to upgrade capacity to maintain high speed download?  Retail consumers are concerned about higher rates, surcharges or deliberate “slowing” of service, yet these same consumers are customers of over-the-top online video gaming and streaming services that consume huge amounts of capacity.  Consumers always want more and faster service and they want it at the lowest price.
Given the current Republican majority, the FCC will likely eliminate Title II regulation of ISPs as it has proposed.  However, the decision can and will again be challenged in the courts (as has every prior rule on net neutrality).  Even if upheld by the courts, only Congress can define ‘net neutrality’ once and for all and give some degree of regulatory certainty to the regulations (which can be changed by a Democratic majority just as easily as the current Republican controlled FCC has done to the Obama era rules).
Net neutrality is now a hot political issue and despite current Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, it is uncertain whether a working majority in both exists that can adopt legislation to guide the FCC.  No matter who you are, in the debate over net neutrality, clearly nobody is neutral. Until Congress acts to give some greater definition to the term, successive FCC Chairmen will be able to reinterpret net neutrality as they see fit.

* This post was derived and adapted from a Rimon Law Client Alert “No Peace in Sight for Net Neutrality” by Stephen Díaz Gavin, who you can contact directly for more information.  

Missing Children, Genetics & the Law

As I mentioned in my Legal Bytes post a few weeks ago (Forensic DNA and Missing Children: The Legal & Ethical Issues), I had the honor and privilege of being a featured speaker on 25th of May 2017 – International Missing Children’s Day – at this year’s conference for Missing Children and Genetic Identity, organized and chaired by Patrícia Cipriano, President of the Portuguese Association for Missing and Exploited Children [Associaçāo Portuguesa de Crianças Desaparecidas] held at Lusófona University in Lisbon.

Featuring expert investigators, law enforcement, geneticists and forensic scientists, the conference explored how tough police work, forensic science, government legislators, judges and lawyers can work more effectively and cooperatively within and across national borders.  It also reminded us that DNA kits and learning aides for use by parents, coupled with greater educational efforts and more timely reporting, can help save children’s lives and futures.

The conference was attended by notable dignitaries, including Charlie Hedges, Police Expert, Missing Children and European Alert Coordinator for Amber Alert Europe, Professor Maria do Carmo Fonseca, President of the Institute of Molecular Medicine, Professor Maria do Ceu Machado, President of Infarmed, members of Portuguese Assembly of the Republic , senior law enforcement and forensic scientists with closing remarks delivered by His Excellency Dr. Fernando Negrão, a jurist and former Minister of Social Security, Family and Children, Minister of Justice, director general of the Judicial Police and chairman of the Board of Directors of the Institute of Drugs and Drug Addiction.

The conference highlighted the work being done in Portugal and, of course, the work that still needs to be done.  You can read and download the Conference Agenda & Brochure (Lisbon, PT) and feel free to take a look at my presentation Missing Children – Missing Opportunities, Legal Obstacles in our DNA (Rosenbaum) right here on Legal Bytes.

As always, f you would like to know more about this post, the conference, or the topics discussed at the conference, feel free to contact me, Joe Rosenbaum.