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.

2012 Season’s Greetings & Happy New Year 2013

This is the time of year when season’s greetings, holiday and new year’s wishes, regardless of religion, culture, ethnic background or heritage, fill the air. A period when we spend lots of time and attention on cards, gifts, attending or hosting parties, dinners and otherwise gaining the 10 pounds we resolve to lose in the new year. I don’t want to ruin those traditions, so among the flurry of well-wishers, holiday revelers, frosty noses and smiling faces, let me join with others and wish you an enchanting and joyous holiday season, and a healthy, happy new year filled with wonder, challenge and excitement.

As many of you know, in years past I use to agonize over gifts to clients, colleagues, family and friends. A number of years ago, rather than sending people trinkets they never want or need; rather than feeling guilty I’ve forgotten someone or perhaps given the same thing I gave last year or, worse – gave you the gift you gave me!!! – I started my own tradition of sending a personalized note and making a contribution to a charitable organization of my choice in honor of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, and in memory of those we have lost. In that spirit, as I have done for some, I have made a donation to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and this year it seems somehow to be even more meaningful. Perhaps it is my way – my attempt – to find ways to let our children know there is more good than evil in the world. That good people don’t give up; won’t give up. That the battle may never end, but we will never resign ourselves to the way it is; never stop believing it can and will be better. At a time when so many of us might feel helpless to comfort each other.

To help, we need to find ways to make a difference – one step at a time. I know we can’t all change the world. But we might just be able to change a life or two or three. Yes, it’s corny. So what? We are already cool and so hip. We speak to each other in "tweets" and text messages, in language that accommodates the limitations of the technology – OMG that is sew kewl! So for the record, I’m OK with being traditional. Perhaps a little old-fashioned. We talk about random acts of kindness as if it were only a bumper sticker. Why be kind? Why help others? Why give? Not just this time of year, but as a part of who we are. Part of who we should be. Part of who we need to be to change the world.

Sure, maybe the homeless man will spend it on a beer – but maybe not. Yes, it’s true that someone may be embezzling money from the battered women’s shelter – but maybe they are not. What if – yes what if, each of us shows a little faith and kindness to others less fortunate – those who have so little. What if taking a moment to care pays more dividends than we care to believe; more than we know. The real inconvenient truth is that we often use failure as an excuse not to give or to help others who have less. Think about every person we honor because of their selfless dedication to helping others. We admire them not because they gave; we honor them because they never gave up. They don’t seek rewards or even recognition. They keep going, even when it seems impossible to make a difference. Our heroes often have little themselves, yet they give unselfishly to others. Adversity. Challenge. Humiliation. Their belief in helping others is steadfast. Beat them down, they get up and go on.

This year, we have been confronted by unspeakable images of horror – man’s inhumanity to man. I feel helpless to comprehend the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Helpless against unimaginable sorrow. But we have also seen people caring for each other. As a community. The prayer vigils and outpouring of love and support in the hearts and minds of so many across the nation and the globe continues unabated. Don’t stop. When the cameras leave and the news coverage moves on – there are people who will still need your help, your love and support. We have seen or heard about natural disasters with unparalleled fury. But we have also seen the firefighters, ambulance personnel, emergency medical services, and so many others routinely risk their lives, no matter what the conditions, to rescue and save the lives of others – far too often at the risk of their own. And then there are the small acts of kindness, caught on camera unbeknownst to the good Samaritan – the image of a New York City police officer, giving shoes to a homeless man, shoes bought with his own hard-earned money.

Each of us should make a little more of an effort to help others. To give to those who are less fortunate, the thoughtfulness and help we would hope someone might give us if we needed it. Yes, even if we are not sure they will use it wisely or turn their lives around. Yes, even if we are disappointed or skeptical. Even if we are sure they won’t appreciate it. Have a little faith – this isn’t about religion. It is about tolerance and understanding and a willingness to accept that we may not know why some people are what they are, but we can help nonetheless. I don’t pretend to be a paradigm of virtue. I have walked past my share of homeless people, huddled in corrugated cardboard boxes, pretending to look the other way – avoiding their eyes so I’m not shamed into giving them a few dollars. But as I realized last year and each year that goes by, I spend more on a newspaper subscription or Starbucks or the new smart phone, than I am willing to give someone who is hungry or cold or alone . . . . . and I feel terrible. So now I’ve started to go back to those homeless, often helpless people – maybe not often enough, but when I do I feel better. It feels right. I like that feeling. Stupid me, I still don’t do it often enough. My father did, rest his soul. I should have learned from him. Hopefully it’s not too late. So I’m starting to pay more attention to what he never said, but always did. I’ve gotten better – but only a little. In this age of digital miracles, when communicating across the globe is as simple as the push of a few buttons, let’s not forget the miracles that happen face to face, person to person. The gift of kindness and compassion; of charity and community; of helping the needy and giving hope to the hopeless. This coming year, I will try again to be better. I will keep trying. I will also try to keep in touch in a more meaningful way and take the time that you need. Time is a precious gift. Something I value when it is given to me.

I also value the diversity of wonderful people I’ve come to know and care about over the years and throughout the world – you know who you are, and if you aren’t among those I’ve met, just send a signal and say "hello" – please. There is so much I still have to learn from each of you and so much we have to share with each other. So to family and friends, colleagues and acquaintances, clients and adversaries, those who know me far too well and those who don’t have a clue how they got on this email list, let me close by wishing each of you health, peace, comfort and joy this holiday season and in the year ahead. May those who love you come closer and those who dislike you forget why. Most of all, I wish all of you the extraordinary feelings of inner warmth and goodness that come with helping another . . . maybe changing another person’s life for the better . . . a person to whom you owe nothing and who expects nothing from you. Think what the world would be like if we all did that.

Warm regards for the holidays and best wishes for the new year. Sincerely,

– Joe Rosenbaum

Gift Cards Deal With Discounts & Charity; Chart Updated

This post was written by Keri S. Bruce and Joseph I. Rosenbaum.

If you have been coming back to Legal Bytes to keep up with this and other developments in the law of Advertising Technology & Media ("ATM"), you know that we have been following the world of gift cards for many years (e.g., Gift Card Issuers Fight & Switch, Gift Cards in New Jersey: It’s Complicated!, Federal Reserve Board Has a Free Gift (Card) For You, Credit Card Act of 2009: Act I, Scene 1, Gift Cards in the Legal Limelight, Gift Cards: The Updated Chart is Still Free). If you are a regular Legal Bytes reader, you also probably know that we published and routinely update our U.S. Gift Card Statutory Chart – a reference tool you will certainly find helpful, although not a substitute for experienced legal counsel. In addition to the amendments noted below, we have updated our U.S. Gift Card Statutory Chart and you can read or download the updated chart right here (U.S. Gift Card Statutory Chart) [PDF].

You will also appreciate that we advise clients in this area all the time, assisted by an able team of financial services regulatory specialists, and so it will come as no surprise that we are telling you about some changes to the law in Vermont and Rhode Island that apply to gift cards. The term "gift certificate" is often used in the law, but separate definitions make it clear that the law applies to cards or any similar instrument, regardless of the material (e.g., paper, plastic, beads).

In addition to the Federal Credit Card Act of 2009, many states have their own regulations of gift cards and gift certificates. While many states have carve-outs in their gift certificate laws for loyalty and reward cards, Vermont has gone a step further and embraced group coupon/discount providers by separately defining these cards and providing separate disclosures to benefit consumers. In light of popular group coupon/discount providers, new marketing efforts involving gift cards and the continued prevalence of class actions, such as In re Groupon Marketing and Sales Practices Litigation, where Groupon reached a nationwide class action litigation settlement over allegations it had illegal expiration dates and other provisions on its vouchers, it is even more important to stay on top of these ever-changing laws.

Effective as of May 18, 2012, amendments to the Vermont statutes (Vt. Stat. § 2701 et seq.) seek to address issues arising from popular group coupon/discount providers. The new amendments introduce definitions for "a loyalty, award, or promotional gift certificate," "paid value" and "promotional value," extend the expiration dates for the paid value of a gift certificate, and remove the specific exemption for food product gift certificates.

Under the amended law, a "loyalty, award, or promotional gift certificate" is defined as a gift certificate issued on a prepaid basis primarily for personal, family, or household purposes to a consumer in connection with a loyalty, award or promotional program, and that is redeemable upon presentation to one or more merchants for goods or services, or is usable at automated teller machines.

These definitions are important because, if defined as loyalty, award or promotional gift certificates, they can be exempt from the statute’s requirements on expiration dates and fees and some other restrictions that would otherwise apply, provided that certain requirements are met.

To qualify, these instruments must disclose, on the front of the certificate, that the certificate is issued for loyalty, award or promotional purposes, and the date of expiration for both the paid value and promotional value (if any). (More on that distinction in a moment.) On or along with the instrument, the consumer must be informed as to the amount and conditions under which fees may be imposed, and if a fee is assessed and on the instrument, a toll-free telephone number and, if one is maintained, a website a consumer may use to obtain fee information (disclosed on the certificate).

The Vermont amendment distinguishes between "paid" and "promotional" value. Paid value is the value of any money or other consideration given in exchange for the gift certificate. Promotional value means any value shown on a gift certificate in excess of the paid value. Example, a loyalty program buys 1 billion $25 gift cards and pays $19.99 each. The $19.99 is the paid value and the $5.01 is the promotional value. The statute prohibits the paid value from expiring for five years (extended from the previous three-year requirement), while the promotional value is exempt from the restrictions on expiration dates and fees.

Meanwhile, in Rhode Island, amendments – effective as of June 19, 2012 – to gift certificate provisions of the state’s Unfair Sales Practices law (R.I. Gen. Laws § 6-13-12) allow gift cards donated for fundraising purposes to expire, but only if the card clearly states that the instrument has been donated for charity and a clearly defined expiration date of not less than one year after the issuance, is disclosed to the recipient.

If you need help from lawyers who know this area and can provide experienced, practical counsel, contact Joseph I. ("Joe") Rosenbaum or Keri Bruce or your favorite Rimon lawyer, all of whom will be happy to help.

Gift Card Issuers Fight & Switch

Back in August 2010, Legal Bytes reported that a New Jersey law applicable to abandoned property (escheat) would effectively alter the tenor and scope of the New Jersey gift card law (see, Gift Cards in New Jersey: It’s Complicated!).

Well today, in an Associated Press article published by ABC News Internet Ventures. Yahoo! – ABC News Network, it is being reported that American Express, which was already pursuing its legal rights and remedies in a law suit filed to overturn the law, has now opted to pull gift cards from retail sale in New Jersey.

The new law would require sellers in New Jersey to capture the ZIP code of everyone who buys a gift card. Monies left on those gift cards bought in New Jersey that lie dormant and unused after two years would then ostensibly be required to escheat to the state. After the law was passed about two years ago, American Express (joining forces with the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association and others), filed suit challenging the new law. Initially, a U.S. District Court issued an injunction against implementing it, but more recently the injunction was removed – perhaps the stimulus for the reported move by American Express.

If you have been coming back to Legal Bytes to keep up with this and other developments in the law of Advertising Technology & Media (“ATM”), you know that Keri Bruce in Rimon’s ATM practice group previously posted a report entitled Gift Cards Tag Along with Credit Card Legislation, noting that federal legislative and regulatory requirements will soon apply to gift cards. You will also see links to a U.S. Gift Card Statutory Chart (Updated), which those of you who work with gift cards and similar financial payment instruments may find helpful; and you already know we follow and advise clients in this area all the time, assisted by a team of financial services regulatory specialists as well.

So if you need help from lawyers who know this area and can provide experienced, practical counsel, contact Joseph I. (“Joe”) Rosenbaum or Keri Bruce, or your favorite Rimon lawyer, all of whom will be happy to help.

Gift Cards: The Updated Chart is Still Free

Just more than a year ago, a Legal Bytes post entitled “Gift Cards: The Chart is Free. It’s Our Experience You Pay For.” gave our readers and visitors a handy chart that listed and briefly summarized the key legal requirements applicable to Gift Cards – those payment instruments that are increasingly blurred with prepaid debit cards, stored value cards, smart or chip-cards, reward cards, discount certificates, and traditional credit, charge and debit cards. Now those of you with gift card programs – or who are thinking about gift card programs – already know there are various state laws and regulations that require certain disclosures, and impose certain restrictions on expiration dates and on the imposition of inactivity fees, not to mention the applicability of escheat and abandoned property laws that may apply on a state-by-state basis.

If you have been coming back to Legal Bytes to keep up with this and other developments in the law of Advertising Technology & Media (“ATM”), you also know that Keri Bruce in Rimon’s ATM practice group posted a report entitled Gift Cards Tag Along with Credit Card Legislation, noting that federal legislative and regulatory requirements will soon apply to gift cards.

Well, with one legislative delay granted by Congress with respect to certain requirements that apply to gift cards issued before April 1, 2010, the law and corresponding regulations have just now gone into effect.  Time to update the chart for you loyal readers and to entice new visitors to subscribe via email or RSS Feed to keep up-to-date. As before, the US Gift Card Statutory Chart (Updated) is provided at no cost or obligation. As we have said previously, it’s our experience and skill you pay for, not our ongoing research services in areas where we already remain current for a wide variety of clients.

First, the obligatory disclaimers. No chart can be comprehensive or substitute for actually knowing the statutes and regulations. It is a guide, not an authority, and you should not rely on it for anything other than as a roadmap to proper and thorough legal counsel based on the source material itself. That said, I do not wish to trivialize or minimize its value – it represents the distillation of years and hours of work and effort – a special thanks to Keri Bruce for helping to update it.

We point out, as we did previously, that the chart (with one new and notable exception – keep reading) doesn’t cover state escheat, abandoned or unclaimed property laws that may apply to the “breakage” remaining on unused gift cards. It also does not cover the various requirements and obligations applicable to money transmitters under state law. But it does cover disclosure requirements and expiration date restrictions, as well as various exclusions and exemptions; and, of course, it provides citations to the relevant laws in each jurisdiction. Now about that new and notable exception: the chart does make reference to a recent law enacted in New Jersey and applicable to abandoned property (escheat), which effectively alters the tenor and scope of the New Jersey gift card law. Because of the complexity, Legal Bytes has created a separate post that describes that law in greater detail (see, Gift Cards in New Jersey: It’s Complicated).

The chart provides a handy citation and reference tool for the various gift card and gift certificate laws in the 50 states in the United States and the District of Columbia, and now includes a description of the new federal U.S. requirements that have just gone into effect as a result of the Credit Card Act of 2009. In addition, if you have an interest in this area, you really should go back and read (or re-read) the prior Legal Bytes’ posting since it provides valuable context as online loyalty and promotional programs have proliferated, and as gift and payment instruments are increasingly being scrutinized by regulators and legislators and dealt with by the courts. As this update evidences, the law is dynamically changing, evolving and being re-configured to reflect our inter-connected, digital information age. Whether online or offline, this is a sophisticated regulated category of financial payment services and products; in a complex retail, promotional, loyalty-reward consumer environment; with a large number of possible variations; offered and used across multiple jurisdictions; governed by an even larger number of evolving state (and now federal) laws and regulations – and we haven’t even scratched the surface internationally.

So if you are wondering why we give the chart away for free – don’t wonder too long. If you are in this business and you need help from lawyers who know this area and can provide experienced, practical counsel, contact Joseph I. (“Joe”) Rosenbaum or Keri Bruce, or your favorite Rimon lawyer, all of whom will be happy to help.

Gift Cards in New Jersey: It’s Complicated!

As we mention in our post entitled Gift Cards: The Updated Chart is Still Free, a  New Jersey Bill (A3002), effective July 1, 2010, has now amended and expanded New Jersey’s Unclaimed Property Act (the "Act") to apply to stored value cards.  But don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. The Act, as amended, defines "stored value card" as any "record that evidences a promise, made for monetary or other consideration, by the issuer or seller of the record that the owner of the record will be provided, solely or a combination of, merchandise, services, or cash in the value shown in the record, which is pre-funded and the value of which is reduced upon each redemption.  The term ‘stored value card’ includes, but is not limited to the following items: paper gift certificates, records that contain a microprocessor chip, magnetic stripe or other means for the storage of information, gift cards, electronic gift cards, rebate cards, stored-value cards or certificates, store cards, and similar records or cards."

As it relates to unclaimed property and as amended, the Act includes a presumption of abandonment after two years of inactivity and a presumption that if the issuer does not have the address of the purchaser, the address is deemed to be New Jersey, if the card was purchased in New Jersey.  We leave to your assessment and future court battles whether this violates the Supreme Court’s decision in Texas v. New Jersey, 379 U.S. 674 (1965), which rejected a transactional priority rule for reporting unclaimed property.

What is curious about the amended Act is that, although it is an "unclaimed property" statute, it now contains significant stored value card (e.g., gift card) provisions.  The Act prohibits imposition of dormancy fees and, presented here in simplified summary form, exempts stored value cards issued: (i) under a promotional, loyalty or charitable program for which no monetary or other consideration has been tendered; (ii) by an issuer (or "family" of issuers) that sold stored value cards with an aggregate face value in the previous year of $250,000 or less; and (iii) any business or class of businesses that the State Treasurer decides to exempt (see section 5(f) of AB 3002).

But what is most perplexing about the amended Act is that it cross-references New Jersey’s current Gift Card Law (see New Jersey Attorney General – Gift Cards & Gift Certificates), and provides that only a stored value card that is exempt from the Unclaimed Property Act shall be considered a gift card or gift certificate for purposes of the Gift Card Law.  Now if you want the analysis of what the original Gift Card Act covers and how the "exemption" essentially neuters much of that definition, replacing it with the new "stored value" reference – well you are going to have to call Keri Bruce or me.  Bottom line, the amended Act effectively and significantly alters the definition of a gift card and gift certificate under New Jersey law.

More significantly, this inter-relationship between New Jersey’s amended Unclaimed Property Act and its Gift Card Law demonstrates the complexity of developing a legally compliant gift card and gift certificate program.  Now, in the United States at least, an issuer (and sometimes the seller) must comply with the U.S. Federal Credit Card Act of 2009; the gift card and gift certificate laws on the state level; the applicable escheat, abandoned or unclaimed property laws; and an increasingly complex and often perplexing overlap between one or more of these statutes, sometimes, as is the case in New Jersey, including complexities within the same state.

Need help?  Feel free to contact Keri Bruce or Joseph I. ("Joe") Rosenbaum, or the Rimon lawyer with whom you regularly work.  We are all happy to help.

Happy New Year Wishes for 2010

Wishing you health, happiness, prosperity and peace in 2010

In a tradition that started almost 4,000 years ago by the ancient Babylonians – although they celebrated the new year upon seeing the first new moon after the vernal equinox – please enjoy a very happy, safe and joyous new year celebration.  Those of you who look forward to Useless But Compelling Facts can read more about the history of new year celebrations, or how the new year’s festivities, now televised around the world, began in New York’s Times Square.

New Year's Greetings
This is the first year we have published in a blog format, and with your feedback – mostly positive and always constructive – and more than 17,000 visitors in slightly less than 11 months, I am grateful and appreciative for your support.  Thank you for reading Legal Bytes.

–  Joe Rosenbaum

Puerto Rico Revises Regulations: Good Odds for More Promotions

This post was contributed by John Feldman, edited by Joseph I. Rosenbaum.

Puerto Rico Sweepstakes Regulation Revised

Earlier this week, Luis G. Rivera Marín, Secretary of the Department of Consumer Affairs (DACO) of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, announced the enactment of the country’s revised Sweepstakes and Games of Chance Regulation, effective Nov. 27, 2009. The new rules remove legal barriers that previously forced advertisers and other promoters to void sales promotions in Puerto Rico and to limit participation in many product and service sweepstakes to only residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia. When it becomes effective, the regulation will provide the 3.9 million residents of Puerto Rico with an array of opportunities to participate in the “chance to win” promotional marketplace more generally available within the U.S. market.

“I am pleased to announce that the many practical complications U.S. advertisers previously experienced conducting sweepstakes in Puerto Rico, which routinely led to excluding our residents from participation in their promotions, are now behind us,” Mr. Rivera said. “For many years our laws made it impossible for companies to conduct national sweepstakes here, and consequently we have been excluded from the opportunity to take part in these potentially valuable promotions. We enter a new chapter now whereby our law adequately protects consumers without locking ourselves out of perfectly legitimate sweepstakes.”

Changes in Puerto Rico’s Sweepstakes and Games of Chance Regulation align the Commonwealth’s rules and definitions with regulations in the United States promulgated by the U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and individual states. Highlights of the new regulation include:

  • The definition of “consideration” contains some of the best language for SMS and other technology-based sweepstakes in the United States
  • The requirement that the rules be certified by a notary is GONE
  • The vague prior reference to having to deliver prizes within three months is GONE
  • An express provision defining “abbreviated rules” has been added and the regulation provides for the use of abbreviated rules in advertising, so long as they point to where the full rules are published
  • Although rules still need to be “published,” you can now satisfy that requirement by putting them on a website
  • The requirement that rules be published, disseminated and spread in Spanish is GONE. The new regulations allow you to publish them in the language of the advertisement.
  • Complicated “odds of winning” statements have been simplified
  • Complicated publication dates for different types of promotions are GONE
  • The requirement that the drawing procedures be certified by a notary is GONE
  • Notarized certification of game piece security codes is GONE
  • Tax liability, which was previously placed on the promoter, is now on the entrant
  • A requirement that full rules appear in print ad covering more than two-thirds of the page is GONE
  • Regulations concerning unavailability of prizes based on “foreseeability” of circumstances is GONE
  • Penalty for not awarding prizes if the circumstances were foreseeable is GONE
  • Although changes to rules still need to be approved by the Secretary, if no action is taken after 10 business days, the default is approval
  • The complex prize awarding regulations (e.g., within three months; quality advertised) has been simplified—now requiring that prizes be awarded as advertised
  • The requirement that alternate winners be chosen is tempered by the caveat that some prizes, because of their nature, cannot be awarded to an alternate winner
  • Any distinction between games originating inside or outside of Puerto Rico is GONE

“DACO is grateful for the assistance of John Feldman, a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Rimon LLP, an international law firm, and Gabe Karp, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of ePrize LLC, the worldwide leader in interactive promotions, who both provided the Department with a great deal of information and significant input and suggestions in redrafting the sweepstakes regulations,” Mr. Rivera said. “Without Mr. Feldman’s and Mr. Karp’s able consultation and guidance over the past several months, the opening of a vibrant Puerto Rican sweepstakes market for U.S. advertisers and our people would not have been possible.

“Both Rimon and ePrize are cutting edge in the area of promotions, particularly in the cross border aspects of this advertising specialty,” Mr. Rivera continued. “They provide aggressive and creative thinking, as John and Gabe did in helping us solve our longstanding issue with sweepstakes barriers.”

Legal Bytes congratulates John Feldman in our D.C. office, who is not only an authority in sweepstakes, contests and a wide variety of promotions, but is also well-regarded by peers and by regulators who, as in this case, call upon John for his insight and who respect his reasoned and experienced views. Nice work. You can download the text of the revised Sweepstakes and Games of Chance Regulation right here.

If you are a client, you can get the benefit of his experience by contacting John Feldman directly; or me or Douglas J. Wood any of our Advertising Technology & Media law team; or the Rimon attorney with whom you regularly work. If you aren’t a client and you advertise, engage in promotions or marketing – why aren’t you?

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!”

Gift Cards: The Chart is Free. It’s Our Experience You Pay For.

Last month, Legal Bytes posted Online Gaming Laws Survey – Free (Yes, You Read Correctly), which also included a link that would allow readers to download a copy of a chart summarizing the U.S. laws that apply to online gaming (Survey of U.S. Federal and State Gaming Laws & Regulations). In that posting, I asked “Why would a law firm be giving away such valuable research for free online, on the web, for everyone to see?” The answer, my friend, is . . . (you were expecting a Bob Dylan line, weren’t you) . . .

The answer is simple. We know that many lawyers and firms can do research! While it may come as a shock to some, it comes as no surprise to us that Rimon may not be the only, or even the first, law firm that has done 50-state surveys of various laws and regulations. However—and it’s a big HOWEVER—Legal Bytes may be among the few lawyer-driven blogs that actually gives research away to any visitor to our blog—for nothing. You don’t even have to be a client, but you may want to be. It’s free. Yours for the taking.

It’s free because in this age of information and social media, we believe it’s not the research that distinguishes lawyers or law firms. Oh, of course we must do research and, of course, we need to be good at it. We are. But clients want lawyers who can wisely and effectively apply and use the research; lawyers who know how to use years of hands-on experience gained from working with clients, and apply it to real-world, real-life and real-time situations. We give research away because our sustainable competitive advantage is based on relationships, and the depth and wealth of experience that enables us to bring value to clients when they call.

So, just as with online gaming, we turn today to gift cards and gift certificates, online and offline, and the wealth of experience our Advertising Technology & Media law group has developed and applies regularly for clients. The experience that lets us give valuable research away for free. So enough philosophy, show us the money.

In connection with the work we do for many clients, we have found it useful to develop and maintain a database, which we update periodically, relating to Gift Cards, payment instruments that are increasingly blurred with prepaid debit cards, stored value cards, smart or chip-cards, reward cards, discount certificates, and traditional credit, charge and debit cards. If you are in this market, you already know there are regulations that require certain disclosures, certain restrictions on expiration dates and on the imposition of inactivity fees, as well as escheat and abandoned property laws that may apply on a state-by-state basis. You also know that for the first time, the Credit Card Act of 2009 will impose federal legislative and regulatory requirements on gift cards.

So with pleasure to all of our current (and future) Legal Bytes readers and subscribers, here is a link to our publicly available chart covering Federal and State Gift Card Laws. The chart provides a handy citation and reference tool for the various gift card and gift certificate laws in the 50 United States and the District of Columbia, and includes a description of the newly enacted Credit Card Act of 2009, which provides certain consumer protections applicable to gift cards under U.S. federal law.

Now the disclaimers. First, no chart can be as comprehensive or as up-to-date or clear as actually reading and knowing the statutes and regulations themselves. It is a guide, not an authority, and you should not rely on it for anything other than as a roadmap to proper and thorough legal counsel based on the source material itself. That said, let’s not minimize its value either: it represents the distillation of years, and of hours of work and effort. A special thanks to Keri Bruce and Stacy Marcus for helping to consolidate and refine it so that it is ready for prime time.

Continue reading “Gift Cards: The Chart is Free. It’s Our Experience You Pay For.”