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.

 

 

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.

US-EU Data Transfer Privacy Shield

Being referred to by the European Union as the most important change in data privacy regulation in 20 years, the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect on May 25, 2018.  There is even a ‘countdown’ clock on the website and under the GDPR, “Personal Data” means information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (including email addresses, telephone numbers, addresses and IP addresses).   While the European Commission has determined a number of countries already meet the ‘adequate protection’ test, the United States is not one of them!

As most readers of Legal Bytes already know, 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.

As background, in July of 2016, a new framework for the movement of personal data between the EU and the US was finalized – EU-U.S. and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield Frameworks – which was put into place in an effort to meet the requirements of the EU Data Directive.   However, critics noting the holes in that framework, have generated increasing concern as the 2018 effective date of the new EU GDPR approaches.   A few months ago, immediately following the inauguration ceremony, President Trump issued United States’ Executive Order 13768 (January 25, 2017) that has created even greater concern.  While it is possible a new or refined agreement and framework may be put into place in the months leading up to 2018, there is no certainty.

What do you need to know? What should you consider doing now?   My colleague Jill Williamson has written an article which has been published in Risk & Compliance Magazine, entitled “The Fragile Framework of the Privacy Shield“.   If you want to know more about the privacy and data protection implications of the new framework, its potential risks to your business and what you should be considering as you look to the future, feel free to contact Jill Williamson directly.  Of course, you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or any of the Rimon lawyers with whom you regularly work.

FTC Warns Celebrities Over Social Media Endorsements

Two weeks after presenting Keys to Celebrity & Paid Endorsements in Social Media at the ABA Business Law Section Spring Meeting, the Federal Trade Commission has sent out over 90 letters to celebrities, athletes, marketing firms and other influencers, warning them to clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationships to brands when promoting or endorsing products through social media (see, FTC Staff Reminds Influencers and Brands to Clearly Disclose Relationship).   An advocacy group, Public Citizen, which petitioned the FTC to act, said Instagram had become “a Wild West of disguised advertising” and in connection with its own investigation last year, named celebrities including Kim Kardashian and Rihanna, among over 100 influencers who the group claimed made endorsements without proper disclosures.

The potential for misleading consumers was raised after a review of Instagram posts reviewed by the FTC, recognizing that if consumers knew that a celebrity was being paid, gained a benefit or was somehow associated with the product, service or brand, it may well affect their perception and the weight accorded any claims made through such endorsements.  As mentioned in the presentation to lawyers at the ABA meeting, the FTC Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising applies to individual endorsers, as well as to bloggers, marketing companies and sponsoring advertisers.   The letters sent out by the FTC noted that if a post includes “more” to indicate there is additional content available, the disclosure must be before or above that reference and that some disclosures weren’t clear even when made conspicuously. For example, “#sp” referring to ‘sponsored’ or “Thanks (name of product/service/brand)” or similar oblique references, especially when placed in a string of other symbols, abbreviations, links, hashtags (#), emoticons and emojis are not likely to be conspicuous or easily understood by many consumers.

Although the FTC did not publicly disclose the names of the recipients of the letters or the actual letters themselves, this is the first time the FTC has directly targeted social media influencers themselves, highlighting the requirements set out in the Guides that any “material connection” (e.g., paid sponsorship, contractual obligation, gifts, ownership interest, etc.) must be clearly and conspicuously disclosed unless the context already makes the connection clear.

Understanding the nuances of national and international advertising, marketing, promotions and sponsorships can be daunting.  Implementing practical policies and practices to avoid problems before they arise, while meeting your marketing objectives, building brand recognition and strengthening your intellectual property assets is never simple or easy.   The FTC’s jurisdiction includes everything from multicultural marketing, promotional campaigns involving user-generated content, sweepstakes and contests, as well as the privacy and data mining implications of marketing and promotional activities.  Whether you are reviewing your current slate of endorsements, native advertising, product placement or branded entertainment, trying to enhance customer loyalty, affinity, co-branded marketing or reward programs, or if you are simply looking at new and innovative ways to use technology, including mobile and social media, to advertise, promote and market your brand, your products or your services – you need to understand the law and regulation that surround these activities.

As always, if you need or want to know more about the information or subject of these Legal Bytes, always feel free to contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, at Rimon Law!

 

The Paradox of Illumination

I first heard about the paradox of illumination from Lee Loevinger, an extraordinary gentleman I was privileged to know professionally.  Lee was a multi-faceted, multi-talented, thought-provoking lawyer whose sage advice and stimulating ideas continue to resonate with those honored to have known him, and everyone else wise enough to read his work and the words he left behind.

In a nutshell, the paradox of illumination is extraordinarily complex, but simple to describe.  Much like Albert Einstein who, when asked about his theory of relativity and the notion that time is not constant, described it in personal terms: if a man is at dinner for 10 minutes with a beautiful woman, it seems like a fleeting instant; but sit on a burning hot stove for 10 minutes and it seems like an eternity :).

The paradox of illumination can similarly be described on a personal level.  Sit in completely dark room.  Really.  Completely dark.  What can you see?  Nothing.  You know little about your surroundings and can only sense your own body – in fact, you don’t even know how far your surroundings extend beyond your immediate sensations.

Now light a match.  The circle of illumination allows you to see a little of what is around you – but the perimeter and beyond are still dark.  Now light a candle.  The circle of what you can see illuminated by the light is larger than before, but the size of the perimeter beyond which you cannot see is also a lot larger than before.  The larger the light, the larger the area of illumination, but larger by far is the perimeter beyond which we know nothing.

The more we can see and the more we know and understand about the world around us, the larger the amount becomes that we don’t know.  In other words, as the circle of our knowledge grows, so does the amount of knowledge we cannot see and don’t know.  The paradox of illumination is the paradox of knowledge.  Perhaps that is why Michelangelo, when he was more than 87 years old, still said, “Ancora Imparo” (I am still learning).

Curiosity

Curiosity requires a sense of inquisitiveness.

Not all inquiries reflect curiosity, curiosity is inquisitive by nature.

Curiosity is the desire to learn by asking questions, dissecting, examining, exploring and investigating.

Curiosity is at the heart of most experimentation, and to be truly satisfying requires the ability to avoid preconceived ideas or foregone conclusions, but not necessarily ignoring them.

Stephen Hawking once said that “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”

Curiosity is a recognition of what we don’t know and the hope that by exploring the unknown, we may learn and discover new questions to ask.

It is the paradox of illumination – but more on that next time.

Thought Leadership

Thought leadership is a state of being in which one or more individuals articulate innovative ideas – ideas that stimulate thought and are futuristic or leading-edge.

Thought leadership requires confidence and a willingness to share ideas in the form of insights and principles that inform and guide future considerations.

Thought leadership is often controversial. New or different ideas, like innovative technology, can cause evolutionary change, but can also create disruptive or revolutionary change.

Although not all thought leadership must be actionable, it is often the basis for a re-evaluation of existing pathways, and a guidepost for new roads ahead.

2016 Metamorphosis *

Legal Bytes will soon morph** and undergo a transformation***

Watch For It

*    Metamorphosis: A noticeable change in character, appearance, function or condition.

**    Morph: To undergo dramatic change in a seamless and barely noticeable fashion.

*** Transformation: A marked change in appearance or character, especially for the better.

Thank You for 2015 – Best Wishes for 2016

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This is the time of year when many of you are celebrating holidays; spending time with family, friends and loved ones; bidding farewell to 2015; and looking forward to the New Year – 2016. A time when many of us pause to reflect on what has happened in the past year and wonder what the new year will bring. There are people who have touched us and some with whom we’ve gotten closer; some we have missed and many with whom we resolve to try and be better in the new year; and perhaps a few we might like to forget. We pause to remember those who are no longer with us and appreciate that by remembering them, we keep their spirit – all we have learned from them and all they have meant to us – alive. As 2015 comes to an end, we reflect on friendships and relationships, events and experiences. Many will use the opportunity to thank those who have helped us in tough times and those with whom we cherish sharing the good times.

For me it has always been a time to resolve to keep doing the good things I’ve done and to be better about trying to do those things I should have done. This time of year gives me an excuse to say thank you and express appreciation to everyone who has enriched my life. If you are reading this, you are part of my audience – part of the fabric of my professional life and, like the threads of that fabric, you have helped me weave the patterns and textures you read in these digital pages and the thoughts and sensitivities that become imprinted in my mind. I am grateful for your readership and in some cases, your friendship. I am always appreciative when you take a moment to read and perhaps gain some insight, while also being a little entertained.

So let me take this the opportunity to wish each of you, your families, friends, loved ones and yes, even an enemy or two, a beautiful and joyous holiday season and a healthy, happy new year, filled with wonder and magic, health and joy, challenge and opportunity, and prosperity and success. I especially want to thank a few people at Rimon like Kaitlin Southron, Lois Thomson and Rebecca Blaw who make this blog happen. These are the people you don’t see, but I do! They make Legal Bytes come alive. They are always amazing, consistently awesome and unbelievable under pressure. There are insufficient words to express my gratitude and appreciation – especially when they get my email that says “can we please post this ASAP.” Thank you. You make it look easy, you make me look good. I could not do this without you!

Continue reading “Thank You for 2015 – Best Wishes for 2016”

FTC Finally Defines ‘Unfair’

According to the FTC: “The basic consumer protection statute enforced by the Commission is Section 5(a) of the FTC Act, which provides that “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce … are … declared unlawful.” (15 U.S.C. Sec. 45(a)(1)). Safe Web amended Sec. 5(a) “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” to include such acts or practices involving foreign commerce that cause or are likely to cause reasonably foreseeable injury within the United States or involve material conduct occurring within the United States.”

Given that view and the FTC’s traditionally robust enforcement activities in areas of false, deceptive or misleading advertising, it is not surprising that most advertising, marketing and promotional professionals are familiar with section 5.

However, of lesser fame are pronouncements by the FTC in what is “unfair” competition – another segment of the authority vested in the Federal Trade Commission by section 5 of the FTC Act. This is the lesser-known part of section 5 that gives the FTC the authority to take action when it determines that “unfair methods of competition in or affecting commerce” may be deemed illegal – essentially an antitrust concept.

For the first time, the FTC, this past Thursday (August 13, 2015) released a single page “Statement of Enforcement Principles Regarding ‘Unfair Methods of Competition’ Under Section 5 of the FTC Act“. Perhaps indicative of the challenges and internal discussions among the regulators themselves, the principles are short and, to many, appear to be a re-statement of what has already been the enforcement practices of the FTC in recent years concerning this provision of the Act.

The Commission announced it will follow three basic principles. In short, enforcement will be considered: (1) Using the same underlying principles that guide antitrust law – protection of consumer welfare; (2) if the practice causes, or is likely to cause, harm to competition or the competitive process, without any counter-balancing justification; and (3) if enforcement under the Sherman or Clayton Act is insufficient and independent action is considered necessary.

If you want to know more or have questions, please contact me or any Rimon attorney with whom you work.