Online Gambling. Time to Change Legal Bytes to Legal Bets?

On December 23, 2011 the U.S. Department of Justice reversed its decade long position on the applicability of the U.S. Wire Act to online gambling that does not involve sports betting. In previous years, prosecutions were brought against any form of online gambling based on their interpretation of the Wire Act. This opinion, reverses the long standing position and may well clear the way for States to become more aggressive in legislatively enabling intra-State online gaming and who knows, perhaps the Federal government will consider licensing and regulation permitted online gambling. This is not simply big news within the United States. Gaming and gambling operators around the world who may already be working with governments on their lottery initiatives and many other companies who have no presence in the United States may now be looking to establish a foothold and ultimately a major presence in the U.S. Similarly, U.S. casino and gaming operators already licensed, may sense the opportunity for foreign investment and the injection of new capital, new expertise and a more global platform.

Rimon and its interdisciplinary team of experienced gaming transactional, e-Commerce, payment, privacy, technology and marketing lawyers have their eye on this new development that has the potential to energize the data-intensive, multi-billion dollar online gambling industry in the U.S. market. Joe Rosenbaum, Ramsey Hanna and Joshua Marker have authored a Client Alert which you can read here:  U.S. Federal Government Reverses its Stance on Online Gaming.

Advertising Internet Speeds: Can You Handle the Truth?

In The Wall Street Journal online, Carl Bialik, The Numbers Guy writer and blogger, analyzes the numbers behind advertised versus actual broadband Internet download speeds, and government efforts to measure what the consumer receives compared with what is promised by the ISPs.

In his posting entitled, "How Speedy Are High-Speed Internet Lines?", Mr. Bialik examines the issue of whether statistics derived from a report commissioned by the Federal Communications Commission (www.fcc.gov) are used in a way that is meaningful to consumers when evaluating the offerings of Internet service providers.

Notably, Mr. Bialik’s article also compares the approach taken by the UK’s Office of Communications (Ofcom) in measuring the speeds offered on the other side of the pond, which maintains the panel of tested carriers in secret to prevent any "gaming" of the test process and system.

Joseph I. ("Joe") Rosenbaum is quoted in the posting in connection with some of the legal issues that arise when statistics and factual information contained in government or other reports are used in advertising. Truth (facts) may not, as in the case of defamation, be an absolute defense.

The government may feel that consumers can’t handle the truth. Or at least the truth, depending on the context and the manner in which it is used in advertising. When, for example, can statements that are literally true become false or misleading? As has been previously noted in Legal Bytes, using old facts can be deceptive and misleading when facts are outdated and new facts are available, or when the old facts clearly don’t apply.

In some cases, even current facts can be misleading. If I advertise that an article will be posted on Legal Bytes once a month and I post two, can I claim that Legal Bytes beats its own advertised promise to consumers by double? If you and I enter a race and I win, can you advertise that I came in next to last and you came in second? Is that true? Yes. Is it misleading? Yes. I’ve omitted facts that are material to the information quoted and that are material to the context for you to evaluate.
The truth, after all, is not always that simple and I am grateful for that. As in the words of William Jennings Bryan: "If it weren’t for lawyers, we wouldn’t need them."

Whatz Gnu

Many thanks to the International Law Office (ILO) for publishing a derivative of our Legal Bytes article. You can download and read a personal copy of the ILO posting FTC Targets Ads That Target Kids, or you can read the original Legal Bytes blog posting at "Mom, is it OK for them to follow me?" FTC Targets Ads That Target Kids.

Lawyer Advertising – Manipulate This!

When it comes to advertising, lawyers are bound not only by laws and regulations that apply to all advertisers, but also by the rules set by the professional licensing authorities in each state in the United States, as well as by many “Bar” Associations (Bar as in Barrister, not barista or your local tavern). These authorities and associations often set more stringent advertising standards and rules, based on ethical guidelines and professional standards.

Florida has some of the most stringent restrictions on attorney advertising in the United States. For example, Florida’s rules prohibited ads that were “manipulative” (whatever that means) or that included “background sound other than instrumental music” – presumably to prevent the sounds of ambulance sirens or jail cell doors slamming.

The restrictiveness of attorney advertising, including Florida’s tough rules, has been the subject of criticism, as noted in a previous Wall Street Journal article.

Yesterday, a federal judge in Jacksonville, Fla., ruled that these restrictions are vague and violate the First Amendment rights of lawyers, and must go! The judge’s ruling noted that, “The term ‘manipulative’ is so vague that it fails to adequately put members of the Bar on notice of what types of advertisements are prohibited” – declaring the standard void. The judge also overturned the prohibition on background sounds, noting that such a rule violates the free speech rights of attorneys. Here is the entire Harrell v. Florida Bar decision [PDF] if you are interested.

In honor of the occasion, one clever individual decided to create a “lawyer ad” parody, which, by the way, has sounds previously banned by the Florida regulations. Enjoy.

 

Advertising: Misleading? Deceptive? What Do Consumers Think?

I have to thank Carl Bialik, The Numbers Guy writer and blogger for The Wall Street Journal, for including a quote in his recent (September 23, 2011) column, Bag Battle Takes a Statistical Turn.

The column focuses on the use of statistics by competitors and analysts alike – in this case statistics that related to claims made by Chicobag about the environmental impact of reusable plastic bags that many retail stores use to bag items, from groceries to clothing, when you check out with your purchases. It seems that Chicobag made some claims – citing statistics – about its products. Mr. Bialik’s column notes that Hilex Poly and some other competitors challenged the claims being made by Chicobag, and were unable to come to grips with either the numbers or the claims; litigation ensued.

Although Mr. Bialik focuses on the way numbers are used and the difficulties inherent in accumulating and using statistics – often when the subject matter may actually be a moving target – the legal issue is similarly complex. More often than not, false, misleading, deceptive advertising claims challenge the explicit veracity of a claim and whether that claim can be substantiated or whether the “net impression” or implicit claims (e.g., pictures or activities) can mislead or potentially deceive consumers. This claim, brought as an action under the Lanham Act – seeking an injunction and damages for false advertising and unfair competition for both a violation of section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a), and under a state statute (South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act, South Carolina Code Annotated § 39-5-10, et seq.) – really revolves around whether the veracity or inaccuracy of claims (even if they can be substantiated or derived from facts that were believed to be true when stated) makes any difference at all in the minds of consumers.

Without giving away The Numbers Guy’s secrets (or forgetting the Federal Trade Commission Act that prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce”), the legal claim, in my view, hinged not on whether the statistics claimed by Chicobag were incorrect or even in some cases materially inaccurate, but whether the particular claims as made using those statistics, were material to a consumer. Whether a consumer was likely to make a different purchasing decision – or might at least be informed enough to consider doing so – based on the degree of inaccuracy.

So when you think of my blog Legal Bytes, I’ll close with a claim that everyone sees on those pizza cartons around the country – maybe the world: “You’ve tried the rest. Now try the best!” Can you say “puffery”?

“Mom, is it OK for them to follow me?” FTC Targets Ads That Target Kids

Many of us remember when kids were actually worried about being caught misbehaving. Back in those days, parent’s concern over children’s behavior dealt with whether the kids were ‘fresh’ or ‘mischievous’ or talked too much in school. I was perennially the subject of “he would do so much better in class if he just stopped horsing around and paid attention.” Dear Mrs. Frohman, Mrs. Handel, Mrs. Flynn and Mrs. Bernstein – thanks! It took me several decades, but I finally got the message. Today, however, when we hear the terms children and behavior – well, at least according to the FTC, it ain’t the children that are misbehaving.

In a proposed amendment to rules that have been in effect since 2000, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) is proposing amendments to COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act”) that “would require parental notification and consent prior to the collection of persistent identifiers where they are used for purposes such as amassing data on a child’s online activities or behaviorally targeting advertising to the child.” In describing the proposed changes (the proposed  Amendment runs 122 pages long), the FTC notes that these new rules would apply to any identifying or tracking technology (cookies) that would link a child’s browsing behavior across multiple web pages and services – ostensibly including advertising networks and metric/measurement/analytical service providers who routinely have access to such information.

Although a ‘safe harbor’ for compliance with self-regulatory programs is included within the FTC’s proposal, it did suggest that these programs (and individual company compliance with these programs) be more closely monitored and supervised – including mandatory audits every 18 months and reports detailing actions taken by the self-regulatory body against the companies that do not comply. Clearly, one of the FTC’s objectives is to not only ensure a mandatory review of compliance, even for those companies that have not been subject to proceedings, but also to create a record-keeping and reporting system that gives the FTC the ability to obtain detailed information about the proceedings and the compliance efforts of individual companies.

Comments, which are due by November 28, 2011, may be filed with the FTC using it’s COPPA Rule Review Form. If you are interested, concerned, want your voice heard, or otherwise need to be guided by experienced counsel in this area, please feel free to contact me, Joseph I. Rosenbaum, or the Rimon lawyer with whom you regularly work. We would be happy to help!

The FTC vs. Google: Who Are You Going to Call?

Late this past June, the Federal Trade Commission indicated it was launching an investigation into Google’s search engine technology and whether it pushes consumers to Google’s other services in a manner that is unfair to competition.

That also means that the FTC will not only be asking Google for records and information about the way it conducts its business, but it will also be asking for information from Google’s competitors (presumably who would provide information gleefully, except that they best be careful about celebrating too prematurely when they hand over information to the government), AND – here it comes – lots of companies who do business with Google: The host of third parties that are advertising and marketing networks, publishers, services, sponsors and, yes, even advertisers and agencies themselves.

What should you do? Well we’ve prepared a handy reference guide – What Should You Do When the FTC Calls About Google? to explain what the FTC can ask, to explain a few of the basic legal principles that apply to the “asking” the FTC may engage in and, frankly, a warning that you should be calling your lawyers—lawyers knowledgeable in this process—and protecting your interests. For you in-house lawyers out there, if you aren’t familiar with handling these inquiries and third-party requests, perhaps you should consider engaging the services of outside lawyers who know how to help. So whether you know you need help, before or after receiving an inquiry from the FTC – formal or informal – or if you aren’t sure, you might just want to call Joseph I. Rosenbaum, Rachel A. Rubin or the Rimon lawyer with whom you regularly work. We would be happy to help!

The New Robocop in Town: TCPA, When ‘ALL’ Really Means ALL

This post was written by Judith L. Harris, James M. Duchesne, and Joseph I. Rosenbaum.

It’s Election Night 2010 in Maryland, where a high-profile gubernatorial race is coming to a close. The telephone rings once again, but this time, the message is not “go out and vote before the polls close.” Instead, a recorded message tells the voter, “Relax. Everything is fine. The only thing left is to watch [election results] on TV tonight.” The automated call with a recorded message (a “robocall“) ends with no indication as to who made it or where it came from. This was what actually happened to more than 112,000 African-American voters in Maryland on November 2, 2010. While these “robocalls” may have violated Maryland election laws (criminal charges were recently issued), they may also have violated the TCPA – the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (47 U.S.C. 227).

The TCPA amended the Communications Act of 1934 and is the primary law regulating telemarketing in the United States. Subsection (d) of the TCPA, entitled “Technical and procedural standards,” requires the Federal Communications Commission to create minimum technical and procedural standards for making calls using an artificial or prerecorded voice system (a “robocall”) and makes it a violation of the law if an individual ignores those standards. As part of those minimum standards, one must, at the beginning of the robocall, clearly disclose the identity of whoever initiated the call and at some point during the call, disclose the telephone number or address of that business, individual or entity.

The TCPA allows each state attorney general to enforce the law in federal court, and Maryland brought an action against the company that initiated the offending calls, as well as one of its owners, and one of its employees, claiming they violated the TCPA’s disclosure requirements in an effort to confuse voters and suppress voter turnout (Maryland v. Universal Elections). In response, Universal filed a motion to dismiss the suit, and just a few weeks ago (May 25, 2011), in its opinion dismissing that motion and allowing the suit to proceed, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland made some noteworthy observations regarding TCPA liability:

Purpose Doesn’t Matter. The defendants claimed that making “political robocalls” exempted them from the requirements of the TCPA. Nope. While the FCC may have exempted political robocalls from the requirement of obtaining prior consent, neither Congress nor the FCC exempted political robocalls from the minimum disclosure standards of the TCPA – the plain language of the rule states: “all artificial or prerecorded telephone messages.” Any robocall, for any purpose – commercial, political, or charitable – must contain a disclosure regarding who initiated the call and where that entity or individual can be contacted.

Individuals Can Be Liable. The plain language of the statute, cited in the court’s opinion, states: “It shall be unlawful for any person . . .” to violate the robocall disclosure requirement. Whether an owner of the company or an employee acting on behalf of the company, the court noted several instances in which individuals acting on behalf of corporations could be held personally liable for violating the TCPA (e.g., if they, “had direct, personal participation in or personally authorized the conduct found to have violated the statute”). The owner and employee here could be found liable not because they worked for Universal Elections, but because they were directly involved in initiating the calls that may have violated the TCPA. In other words, if an individual causes a corporation to act in a way that violates the TCPA, that individual can be found liable for the corporate action. Corporate, political campaign and nonprofit decision makers should be aware of this personal liability when they plan their calling campaigns.

One Who Initiates the Call, Not Just Makes It, Can Be Liable. In its motion, Universal argued that because it did not physically make the robocalls, it was not subject to the procedural disclosure standards of the TCPA. It hired a third party to place the robocalls and only recorded the message and uploaded it, and the 112,000 telephone numbers to be called, into the vendor’s system. Guess what the court said? “As the persons and entity responsible for recording the message, the defendants,” and not the conduit that distributed the message, “were in a position to ensure that the content of the message complied with the TCPA.”

If you are making pre-recorded calls, compliance is cheaper than the risk of damages. Maryland is seeking not just to enjoin the defendants from ever violating the TCPA again, but is also seeking monetary damages of $500 per TCPA violation (i.e., each call); and since the state alleges the violations were made willfully and knowingly, it claims the defendants were trying to deceive voters by failing to disclose who made the call, and is also asking the court to triple the damages and require the defendants pay the state’s attorneys’ fees.

A special thank you to James M. Duchesne, a legal intern at Rimon and one of the primary authors of this post. His contribution is greatly appreciated. If you need legal advice and representation on issues related to telemarketing, look no farther than Judith L. Harris and her team, working with our Advertising Technology & Media law practice group. Experienced. Knowledgeable. Seamless. Responsive. Cost Effective. We are happy to help.

Advertisements going Mobile – something new or just the matrix reloaded?

Wow! I thought I was cool playing “Going Mobile” by The Who (from their album – remember albums? – Who’s Next, released in the United States August 14, 1971) to introduce my presentation about the legal implications of mobile advertising and mobile marketing (see Advertising on the Go – Mobile Marketing or Mobile Mayhem).

But I tip my hat to you Legal Bytes readers. You are on the ball. After blogging about the presentation, a friend and avid Legal Bytes reader reminded me of an article I wrote in 2005, published in the New York Law Journal Magazine, entitled “Transformed“, in which I stated: “No longer tied to desks or offices located in centers of commerce and society, we carry our electronic tool boxes with us wherever we go. We have pagers, cell phones and wireless PDAs with names like Treo™ and the BlackBerry® . . . whose addictive qualities . . . (make us refer to them) as ‘crack’ berries! We carry them with us into restaurants, Broadway shows, buses and even bathrooms.”

Wow, déjà vu all over again (with respect to Yogi Berra). Can you make it through the day without your BlackBerry or your Smartphone (we didn’t call them that in 2005)? What’s the first device you look at in the morning? What about before going to bed? Now I can even access Legal Bytes with a scan using my mobile. Wow!!

I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from George Santayana, Spanish American philosopher (perhaps most remembered for his remark, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”). My personal favorite quote of his is, “We must welcome the future, remembering that soon it will be the past; and we must respect the past, remembering that once it was all that was humanly possible.” (The Philosophy of George Santayana, Northwestern University Press, 1940, p. 560). Oh, and if you actually like The Who, you can listen to Going Mobile:

 

https://youtube.com/watch?v=tQ5pi3UR5dY

 

Indeed. Déjà vu all over again!

Advertising on the Go – Mobile Marketing or Mobile Mayhem

February 9, 2011—one day before the Association of National Advertisers held its TV & Everything Video Forum—Joseph I. (“Joe”) Rosenbaum had the privilege of presenting a pre-conference legal educational seminar at the New York offices of Rimon. Joe’s presentation, in PDF format, is available for your personal viewing right here: “Mobile Advertising, or I Know Where You Will Be Next Summer & Other Mobile Marketing Myths”.

You won’t be able to see the embedded videos – if you want to see those or any other presentations Joe and the Advertising Technology & Media practice has presented over the years, or if you want to arrange a customized presentation on any or all things ATM-related, contact Joe at joseph.rosenbaum@rimonlaw.com.