As we reported previously, Facebook announced the availability of a personalized Facebook URLs, raising serious issues — yet another example of technology colliding with traditional intellectual property laws. In this case, laws intended to protect trademarks and brand names. If you followed the news, the promotional momentum created by Facebook’s offer has made every astute brand owner ponder the implications! While you, of course, should look at my previous Legal Bytes post on Personalized URLs, if you missed the informative one-hour seminar on the subject presented by Douglas J. Wood and myself, Co-Chairs of the Rimon Advertising Technology & Media Law Group, you can find it here: “Facebook Personalized URLs: Titanic Brand Opportunity or Tip of an Iceberg?”
Legal Bytes has traditionally focused on convergence—notably, the convergence of advertising, media and entertainment, health care, financial services, and social interaction, with technology. In each case, technology is changing the way we interact with each other and the world around us, and our job is to pick out the legal implications and enlighten you or stimulate your thinking, or—we hope—both.
This month we would like to stimulate your thinking with an interesting legal question related to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (“GLBA”) and a “secret” not many know. Most consumers in the United States and abroad think of GLBA as a privacy protection statute—Title V of GLBA requires financial institutions to give individuals notice and the ability to control certain kinds of information-sharing. Did you know Title V might not have made it into GLBA were it not for Victoria’s Secret? So tell us what you know about the connection and we’ll reward you with a prize.
Remember—please DON’T send your answers to the Legal Bytes blog; send them directly to me at email@example.com. Good luck.
Last month we asked a follow-up question about Charles Darwin. Specifically, what did he and Abraham Lincoln have in common. While there were plenty of “common” themes—both were considered radical or revolutionary, both had mothers who died relatively young and within a year of each other, and both considered slavery immoral—the one single indisputable thing they shared, despite being born on two different continents, was the same birthday—Feb. 12, 1809. The first person with the right answer was our avid reader and long-time fan, Matthew Krigbaum, Assistant General Counsel at Transamerica Capital Management. Thanks Matt; a prize is on the way!
Last week, Facebook announced the availability of a personalized Facebook URLs. This latest offering from Facebook raises serious issues—issues that are typically encountered when technology collides with traditional intellectual property laws intended to protect trademarks and brand names. Much like the confusion and abuse that proliferated when cybersquatting became rampant over the ownership and administration of domain names, we now have social networks and service providers allowing users to generate content and offering customized URLs within their domains in a digital and borderless world. Significantly, the promotional momentum created by Facebook’s offer has caused every astute brand and trademark owner to ponder whether they should be in a rush to register their personalized URL on Facebook, or let it ride and deal with potential infringements when—and if—they occur! You need practical guidance and insightful approaches to these problems.
The Media & Entertainment Industry Team and the Advertising Technology & Media Law Group at Rimon have put together an informative one-hour teleseminar entitled “Facebook Personalized URLs: Titanic Brand Opportunity or Tip of an Iceberg?” airing on Tuesday, June 23 at 12 p.m. EDT with partners Doug Wood and Joe Rosenbaum, to help you understand the issues, formulate an approach and make informed decisions and you are invited to participate. Participation is free, although long-distance telephone charges apply outside of the United States, the UK, France, and Germany, where 800 numbers are used. Don’t miss this call!
Call-in ports are limited, so please click here to register or contact Anna Kazachkov at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than Monday, June 22, to receive a dial-in number and a passcode. If you require additional information, you can contact Anna by telephone directly at +1.212.702.1399.
On Tuesday, June 9, the popular social networking website, Facebook, announced that on Saturday, June 13 at 12:01 a.m. U.S. EDT, it will allow its registered users, subject to certain criteria and qualifications, to create personalized URLs for profiles and pages on Facebook (e.g., http://www.Facebook.com/insertyournamehere. Currently, a user’s Facebook URL consists of the Facebook.com URL followed by numbers (e.g., http://www.facebook.com/profiles.Php?349485).
Allowing users to register personalized names on the web raises, among other things, infringement issues under federal and state trademark and related intellectual property laws, particularly for owners of well-known brands. Any registration process creates fears of cyber squatting and other attempts to hijack trademarks and brand names. Sometimes these fears are well founded; other times they are not. You may have already received bulletins from law firms and bloggers eager to alert you to the fact that Facebook has also announced it has created an online submission form that allows owners of registered trademarks to notify them of their IP rights. Ostensibly, Facebook intends to use the information submitted to preclude others from attempting to use registered marks in personalizing their URLs on Facebook.
While we applaud advising clients and friends of this development, we believe the matter is considerably more complicated than previous briefs and hasty reports may indicate. As is so often the case, the devil is in the detail, and the information below will give you a deeper look at the issues before racing to submit notifications of your IP rights to Facebook.
We previously reported its progress in Legal Bytes and last week, President Obama signed into law the Credit Card Act of 2009. Although the bulk of the Act (and the bulk of the publicity surrounding its enactment and passage) deals with credit cards, it also amends the Electronic Funds Transfer Act and implements federal regulation of general use pre-paid cards, gift certificates and store (retail) gift cards. The new law is scheduled to take effect Aug. 21, 2010, and substantively deals with dormancy fees (so-called “inactivity” or service fees) and expiration dates.
In the area of dormancy or inactivity fees, the new law prohibits them unless there has been no activity for 12 months. In addition, in order to impose any such fees, certain disclosures must be made to the consumer prior to purchase. The new law also prohibits expiration dates of less than five years, and requires clear and conspicuous disclosure of the expiration date, if any. In addition, gift certificates issued as part of an award, loyalty or promotional program (i.e., no money or other consideration is given) are, as is the case with many state laws, excluded. And speaking of state laws, the Act specifically does not pre-empt state laws that provide greater consumer protection.
What else should you know. First, plastic cards and payment code devices used solely for telephone services or that are reloadable, are not marketed or labeled as gift cards or certificates, not marketed to the general public, and issued in paper form only (including those that apply to tickets and events), are not covered by the requirements of the new Act. Second, the law authorizes the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, in consultation with the FTC, to develop requirements concerning the amount of dormancy fees that can be charged (only once each month), and to more carefully seek to define which provisions of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act and Regulation E apply in this context.
So, for states that have had no, or lesser, consumer protections, the Act clearly establishes a minimum federal threshold for the imposition of dormancy fees and the prohibition of expiration dates earlier than five years. For states that already have or may yet impose more stringent requirements, those requirements are specifically permitted under the Act, so you will still have to keep track of state requirements in this area.