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.

 

That Face is Written All Over Your Expression – Facebook Adds Ads

Hi. Do you like Legal Bytes? Have you told friends about Legal Bytes? Shared the link www.LegalBytes.com with at least 10 friends and colleagues? Have you told anyone about an article, a Useless But Compelling Fact or perhaps a Light Byte on Legal Bytes? Well, have you? I mean do you REALLY like Legal Bytes? If you do, please click the icon now:

What? Nothing happened? Well, that’s right. Nothing happened. Sorry to disappoint you, but aside from the satisfaction of reading very exciting and timely postings; thoroughly enjoying the insights; admiring the wit and wisdom of the authors and editor; and, we hope, feeling enlightened and mildly entertained – this is, after all, a legal website, and you get nothing. We don’t even publish comments or invite debates – that’s not what Legal Bytes is about. Oh, and we don’t use your name or email address. We just want you to read, and we thank you!

Not so any more on Facebook; and although I have been given absolutely nothing and have had no contact with any of the following companies about this or any other blog posting, here goes:

Have you been posting nice things on your friends’ Facebook pages about your morning Starbucks coffee or perhaps checking in at Steamboat Springs, eager to hit the slopes? Have you felt compelled to comment to a Facebook friend that you just bought a new General Motors Cadillac and how great it now looks and drives? Has your Twitter feed, your LinkedIn comment, or your Digg dig shown up on Facebook, remarking about the lovely feel of Proctor and Gamble’s Charmin bathroom tissue? Perhaps you have been browsing the official Facebook pages of MTV or Coca-Cola, or marveling at Kellogg’s Cares? Like what you see? Well just click the "Like" icon at the top of those pages to let them and the world know.

Advertisers will now be able to take your nice posts, comments, remarks and words – those messages posted about brands – or your "like" clicks, and turn them into advertisements and "sponsored stories" for your friends to see. Although they won’t be edited – not even the advertiser will be able to do that – postings on your wall that now show up on your "friends’" news feeds will now also show up on your friends’ home page, right along with the other advertisements – more noticeable and conspicuous to be sure.

Although you won’t be notified it’s happening and you can’t opt out, don’t worry about someone stealing your words or preferences. The ad will have your name and profile photo, and will appear as an advertisement, along with the others, only now labeled as a "Sponsored Story." Going one better than "word of mouth," your posts, your check-ins and your likes will be as plain as the expression on your Facebook. According to what we have read, Facebook has stated that "A sponsored story never goes to somebody who’s not one of your friends."

So far the griping has not been whether Facebook has the right, or even about keeping the ads limited to Facebook "friends" who already can see your postings. It’s been about not being told that my "check-in," which enables me to connect with others while I’m on the move, is now going to be used to "promote" the places I check into – without my approval or without me necessarily knowing. If my neighborhood diner is going to get an endorsement (explicitly or implicitly), do I get royalties (or a complimentary egg-white omelet)? Listen up, Converse, I need a new pair of sneakers. 

Online Endorsements, Testimonials and Reviews Fake? Really?

Online ratings got you perplexed? Seems like someone forgot to put “user ratings” on the list of reality shows. Well maybe, just maybe, those user ratings aren’t really “user” or “ratings” at all. What should you consider?

Well, on October 23, 2009, Joe Rosenbaum was interviewed by Sally Herships for Marketplace Money, a regular feature of Public Radio. If you missed it on the air, you can now listen to the audio, read a transcript of the interview, download an MP3, or subscribe to the podcast, by checking out the interview at: “Don’t let online reviews fake you out.”

Legal implications abound—for website operators and ratings’ services that enable users to post reviews and content, as well as for anyone posting fake reviews or failing to disclose a material connection to the advertiser, its brands or products. So go listen and then come back if and when you need legal support. Contact Joe Rosenbaum, or the Rimon attorney with whom you regularly work.

FTC (Revised) Endorsement Guides Go Into Effect

This post was written by John Feldman.

Yesterday, Dec. 1, 2009, the revised “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” released by the Federal Trade Commission came into effect. If you are a loyal Legal Bytes’ reader, you know we have been following this as early as November 2008, when we posted Endorsements & Testimonials – FTC Broom Proposes Some Sweeping Changes. Numerous updates and informational pieces have graced these pages since then (now when we say “pages,” we mean web pages), and you can refer back to any or all of them, or you can check out any you may have missed right here: FTC Testimonial and Endorsement Guides Stimulate Industry Comment (March 2009); a presentation given at the University of Limerick on the subject entitled “Trust Me, I’m a Satisfied Customer: Testimonials & Endorsements in the United States,” which you can download (If You Didn’t Make It to Ireland …); Ghostwriters: Medical Research or Paid Endorsers (and are they mutually exclusive?) and Rights of Publicity – Wake Up and Smell the Coffee! (both in August 2009); and FTC Releases Updated Endorsement & Testimonial Guidelines and Rimon Analysis of the New FTC Endorsement and Testimonial Guidelines (both in October 2009).

Yesterday, John P. Feldman, an authority in these types of advertising regulations and compliance and who is based in Washington, D.C., put together some thoughts concerning the implications of these Guides upon coming into effect, continuing his thoughtful and practical analysis. While we will maintain bringing you news and information about the Guides, John’s analysis is timely and helpful, and outlines some considerations every advertiser – online, in social media and off-line – and every blogger, viral marketer, celebrity endorser or consumer making a testimonial, should take into account. John’s analysis, which you can download and read in its entirety by selecting the link below, asks and answers the following questions about these Guides:

  • What does this mean for advertisers?
  • What is the most dramatic shift in enforcement policy?
  • What will this mean for advertisers that use celebrity endorsers?
  • How much control should sponsoring advertisers exercise over endorsers in new media channels?
  • What impact will the FTC’s new approach to clinical trials have on the OTC, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industry?
  • Is there a role for self-regulation and what do you make of the proposed “best practices” recently announced by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA)?

You can download your own copy of John’s analysis or you can read it online right here: “FTC Endorsement Guides (Revised) – Some Thoughts As They Become Effective“. You won’t be disappointed. In addition, if you want to know more about these issues or have questions about your particular circumstances, please do contact John P. Feldman directly, or you can call Joseph I. Rosenbaum or Douglas. J. Wood or, of course, any Rimon attorney with whom you regularly work.

Rimon Analysis of the New FTC Endorsement and Testimonial Guidelines

A few days ago, Legal Bytes alerted you to the fact that the Federal Trade Commission has issued revised "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising". These revisions update the FTC’s Guides, last modified in 1980, that provide direction to advertisers and agencies regarding compliance with the FTC Act.

John P. Feldman, a partner in our Washington, D.C. office and a key member of our Advertising Technology & Media law team, has prepared (and you can view and download) an Analysis of the New Guides. Of course, no memorandum prepared for general information or a summary of this type can provide legal advice, and you should be careful not to rely on it since everyone’s circumstances and the facts of each situation will differ – at a minimum, based on the type of product or service, the target audience, and the advertising media, among other things. That said, the summary will give you a good overview of what is in the Guides and what is different or updated from the prior Guides.

Of course, if you need specific guidance or need to know more about the FTC Guides, or the implications to social media advertising and marketing or traditional advertising, feel free to contact John P. Feldman, Douglas J. Wood or Joseph I. Rosenbaum, or the Rimon attorney with whom you regularly work.

FTC Releases Updated Endorsement & Testimonial Guidelines

Although it will be published in the Federal Register shortly, you can download and read the text of the Federal Trade Commission’s  revised "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising" issued earlier today, right on Legal Bytes now. As reported previously in Legal Bytes, the final revisions are intended to update the FTC’s guidance, last revised in 1980, that provide advice to advertisers and agencies regarding compliance with the FTC Act.

While the prior guidelines allowed advertisers to use a “results not typical” disclaimer, that is no longer a safe haven from liability, and advertisers will be required to disclose what a consumer should generally expect when purchasing or using the product. Furthermore, any connection that a consumer might not reasonably know between an advertiser and an endorser needs to be disclosed. In recent years, comments by bloggers, through word of mouth, buzz or viral marketing were never addressed in the Guides. The updated version now deals with and provides examples of when these rise to a level of connection requiring disclosure.. For example, if a blogger receives any consideration in cash or in kind (e.g., free gaming console to try) to review products or services, that would now be considered an endorsement that requires disclosure – even if the review remains unbiased. 

The fact that a consumer should be informed about a material connection between the advertiser and the maker of the statements is now firmly embedded in the FTC Guides, even though these cases were always subject to review on a case-by-case basis. Of course, what constitutes a “material” connection will still be subject to a factual determination, but if a company, for example, sponsors research about its products or services (or potentially about the products or services of a competitor, if the results will be used in a comparative ad), then the company must disclose its sponsorship in the ad. Similarly, although consumers may expect celebrities to be paid for appearing in commercials, if an endorsement is made outside that context – for example, on a talk show, at a book signing, at a motion picture premiere, or on Facebook, Twitter or other social media – any material relationships must be disclosed.

The proposed new guidelines were the subject of a seminar, "Trust Me, I’m a Satisfied Customer: Testimonials & Endorsements in the United States", presented by Joseph I. Rosenbaum, at the University of Limerick in July. You can go to the previous Legal Bytes blog post and download a copy of the presentation at any time.  "

Want to know more about the FTC Guides, or the implications to social media advertising and marketing, or traditional advertising? Feel free to contact me or the Rimon attorney with whom you regularly work.

Rights of Publicity – Wake Up and Smell the Coffee!

Did you ever have the experience of someone walking up to you and telling you that you look just like someone . . ? Most of us at one point or another have had that experience. Well, Russell Christoff was in a store in 2002, when someone came up to him and said he thought he looked just like an image he had seen on a jar of coffee. Perhaps he laughed at that moment, but about a month later, when Mr. Christoff actually saw the jar of Taster’s Choice instant coffee on a shelf – with his recognizable image on the label – he bought the jar of coffee, stopped laughing, and called his agent.

It seems Mr. Christoff, a former model, had posed for a photo shoot for Nestlé (owner of the Taster’s Choice brand) back in 1986 and was paid $250, with the understanding that if the company used his likeness in marketing, he would receive $2,000 in compensation. Thus begins the tale and trail of a legal battle that continues to this day. Mr. Christoff filed suit in 2003 alleging violation by Nestlé of his right of publicity. (California Civil Code § 3344 bars, among other things, unauthorized use of a person’s image for commercial purposes.) The statute allows for damages, punitive damages, the award of attorneys’ fees AND (unlike many other state statutes protecting rights of publicity), profits attributable to the unauthorized use.

As the action unfolded, Mr. Christoff discovered Nestlé’s had begun using his image in 1986. Not only had he never been paid the $2,000, but there was more as well. Much more. It appears that from 1997 to 2003, Nestlé had also used his image on eight different varieties of Taster’s Choice brand labels in 18 different countries, including in Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Mexico, South Korea and the United States. At the trial, a jury concluded that Mr. Christoff should have been paid $330,000 for the use of his likeness and was entitled to damages of more than $15 million! California’s right of publicity statute, as it relates to proof of a defendant’s profits, states that the plaintiff needs to “present proof only of the gross revenue attributable to such use,” (emphasis supplied) while the defendant must prove “deductible expenses.”

In this case, even though the jury determined that only 5 percent of the sales of Taster’s Choice over the period of 1997 – 2006 were attributable to the use of the image, a profitable product and extended use made the jury award substantial, to say the least. Now you would think that the jury verdict in 2005 might have put an end to it, but predictably, Nestlé appealed and the saga continues.

Based on Nestlé’s appeal, the appellate court reversed the jury’s verdict based on the fact that Mr. Christoff had not brought his lawsuit before the statute of limitations had expired; but just this past Monday (Aug. 17), the California Supreme Court ordered the case back down to the trial court to take another look. Why, you may ask? Because the Supreme Court wants the trial court to answer the following question: What’s the correct way to calculate the statute of limitations – start date/end date – in lawsuits involving rights of publicity and product labeling?

Since Mr. Christoff brought his lawsuit six years after Nestlé USA, Inc. began using his image (but less than a year after he discovered it), the original trial court instructed the jury to use a two-year statute of limitation, but to use the point at which Mr. Christoff knew, should have known, or could have reasonably suspected his image was being used on the label, as the starting point for calculating when the statute of limitation would bar his lawsuit. It seems the trial court determined that unlike offensive or defamatory remarks that would not be considered “published” over and over again, simply because they were repeated in 100,000 copies of the same book, the “Single Publication Rule” (Uniform Single Publication Act as codified in Civil Code section 3425.3) did not apply to cases involving the use of someone’s likeness or image. So here’s how the wrinkle unfolds . . .

Continue reading “Rights of Publicity – Wake Up and Smell the Coffee!”

Ghostwriters: Medical Research or Paid Endorsers (and are they mutually exclusive?)

When Merck was busy battling lawsuits emanating from the pain medication Vioxx, the Wall Street Journal, among other news organizations that were reporting on the proceedings, also reported on the practice of “ghostwriting,” alleging that five out of the six authors of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association were paid consultants to Vioxx lawyers! An editorial accompanying the studies in JAMA opined that manipulation of publications in the promotion of drugs by paid ghostwriters might not be such an uncommon occurrence. The Washington Post even went so far as to report that the JAMA studies essentially “accuse” the drug manufacturer of “scientific fraud.”

Merck responded to the Wall Street Journal article expressing disappointment at reports that trial lawyers might have made payments to authors whose work found their way into medical journals. While a majority, if not all, of the Vioxx cases have been settled, inquiries into the practice of ghostwriting—payments by pharmaceutical manufacturers for articles frequently extolling the virtues of one drug or another and appearing in medical journals—seems to be a continuing, and problematic, means of promoting pharmaceuticals.

As they say, timing is often everything. A few weeks ago, I had prepared a presentation for an international gathering of lawyers at Limerick University in Ireland, describing the use of testimonials and endorsements in advertising. You can read my previous post and obtain a .PDF copy of the presentation. In briefing the assembled professionals—mainly from the United States and Europe—my presentation and their interest focused heavily on the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed updates and revisions to its Guides that were last revised in 1980.

One of the items clearly on the FTC’s agenda is DISCLOSURE—specifically, disclosure of material connections between those who promote and endorse products and services, and the advertisers and companies that create, manufacture, distribute and sell these products and services. Indeed, the FTC is considering extending liability to endorsers themselves who promote goods and services, if the claims being made are found to be false, deceptive, or misleading, or if they represent unfair competition. While much of the discussion surrounding these revisions has focused heavily on new social media and digital distribution—buzz, viral and word-of-mouth marketing, social networks, bloggers, vloggers, sploggers and virtual worlds—and both traditional and revised Guides (as well as specific advertising guidelines for regulated pharmaceuticals), all focus on the potential for misleading consumers as to the credibility of the speaker or writer, where a material connection to the sponsor is not clearly disclosed. Whether a physician who reads an article that is authored by a paid ghostwriter and that appears in a medical journal, would be considered a “consumer” under these circumstances; or whether an independently peer-reviewed article would be considered advertising or promotional activity, are separate questions. But clearly these are topics that have created “buzz.”

Well, here we go again. Just recently, the ABAjournal.com reported that Wyeth paid ghostwriters for articles published in medical journals—in this case promoting certain replacement hormone therapy in menopausal women. You can read the full article here. While proponents (or should we say “defenders”) of payments made to authors assert that if the medical professional is qualified; if the content is subject to rigorous peer-review by independent experts; and if the authors retain complete editorial control over the content and the views that are expressed; it should not be a problem and should be considered perfectly fine.

Assuming, as both the pharmaceutical companies and the individual authors assert, that the content of these articles is scientifically accurate, many questions arise. For example, is disclosure even necessary under these circumstances? Could failure to disclose these payments be construed as deceptive or misleading—always, or only under specific circumstances, and if so, what circumstances? What criteria will be used to determine if a payment is “material,” and if disclosing (or not disclosing) that fact that would affect the reader’s perception of the credibility or impartiality of the authors? Is this even a “consumer” regulatory issue or does this belong to the FDA or another regulatory body relevant to the medical profession, since this isn’t really “consumer” advertising? These are questions perhaps that that FTC and David C. Vladeck, its new Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, may well decide to focus upon.

FTC Testimonial and Endorsement Guides Stimulate Industry Comment

Rimon acts as counsel to many of the advertising industry’s leading trade and membership associations – The Association of National Advertisers, The Word of Mouth Marketing Association, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, to name only a few. As you may have notices, a recent Legal Bytes blog post noted that just last month the FTC supplemented its December 2007 “Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising” report.

Well the FTC has been busy in re-examining it’s policies regarding testimonials and endorsements in this digital age. As previously reported in Legal Bytes, the FTC indicated it was revising it’s Testimonial and Endorsement Guides (the first time since the 1980s). Well comments have now been submitted and we strongly recommend that anyone in the advertising and marketing business take a look at some of them. In fact, to help you, Legal Bytes has a couple you can look at right now – Comments for The Association of National Advertisers and Comments for The Word of Mouth Marketing Association – and when you finish reading them ask yourself:

  • Now that public comments are in, what do we think will happen?
  • What is in front of the FTC that might affect its decision making?
  • How would self-regulation differ from the way the FTC has been operating?
  • What does the new FTC Chairman think about self-regulation?
  • Do we expect the new administration to shift direction? If so, which way?
  • How is all this likely to affect advertising and marketing using product placements, branded entertainment, blogs, consumer generated content, buzz, viral and word of mouth marketing?

If you need to know, you need to contact John Feldman, Douglas Wood or Joseph Rosenbaum – or your favorite Rimon attorney – who will be more than happy to help you.

Touchdown!

The NFL Players Association was recently ordered to pay $7 million in compensatory damages and $21 million in punitive damages to retired football players who claimed they were excluded from lucrative marketing deals. The class action claimed the “Madden” interactive football games, and deals involving sports card and sponsorships, intentionally scrambled images of retired players to avoid paying royalties. Active players received royalties for their images, but retired players’ images were scrambled. Now normally that might be a key question of fact to be determined by a jury. Unfortunately, there was a smoking gun! Someone at NFLPA wrote to Electronic Arts, publisher of the popular Madden games, explaining that unless they scrambled the retired players’ images, payments would be required. Oops.