Advertising & Marketing

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals returned a favorable ruling for major record companies in a copyright infringement case on December 12, 2018.  The ruling came down in Capitol Records, LLC v. ReDigi Inc., a lawsuit involving an online platform (“ReDigi”) designed to enable the lawful resale of purchased digital music files.  The Second Circuit concluded that ReDigi infringed the record companies’ exclusive rights under Section 106 of the Copyright Act.

ReDigi is an online platform created to enable the lawful resale of lawfully purchased digital music under the first sale doctrine.  ReDigi hosts a space online that allows users, who lawfully purchased files from iTunes, to resale those same files online.  In order to resale the files, the user who owns the digital music must first download and install ReDigi’s Music Manager software program (“Music Manager”).  After installation, Music Manager analyzes the digital file intended for resale, verifies that the file was originally lawfully purchased from iTunes, and scans it for indications of tampering.  If the file was lawfully purchased, Music Manger considers it an eligible file that may be resold.  Once the file has been verified, the user transfers the eligible file to ReDigi’s server.  While the file is being transferred, ReDigi breaks the music into small blocks of data, creates a temporary copy of each block, and then sends a command to delete the block of data of the digital file from permanent storage on the initial user’s device.

ReDigi tries to guard against a user’s retention of duplicate digital music files after they are sold through ReDigi by continuing to search the user’s connected device for duplicate.  Major record companies pointed out that ReDigi’s protections do not prevent the retention of duplicates after resale through ReDigi.  According to the record companies, prior to resale, a user could retain duplicates of the digital music file on devices not linked to the computer that hosts Music Manager, and access those duplicates post-resale.  ReDigi’s efforts were not sufficient to prevent the user from retaining sold files.

The US District for the Southern District of New York concluded that ReDigi’s online platform infringed the record companies’ copyrights by unauthorized reproduction and distribution of copyrighted works.  In June 2016, the district court entered a stipulated judgment awarding damages to the record companies for $3.5 million and permanently enjoining ReDigi from operating their online platform.  ReDigi appealed the judgment, but the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision.

In its decision, the Second Circuit found that ReDigi’s temporary copy of the digital file created a new phonorecord which was an unauthorized reproduction.  The Court also found that the making of the reproduction was not a fair use under Section 107 of the Copyright Act where the creators made no change to the copyrighted sound recordings, the system made identical copies of the whole of the recordings, and the reproductions were made for the purpose of resale in competition with the record companies.  The Court made no decision whether ReDigi also infringed the record companies’ exclusive rights under Section 106(3) to distribute their works.

Chances are you have seen rumblings of creative, even (dare I say) funny cease-and-desist letters, particularly those aimed towards trademark or copyright infringement, popping up in the news. You know the ones: an actor playing a town crier pops in on a local brewery to read a cease-and-desist letter in ‘ye olde English; or a popular fast food joint sends a pun-filled letter to a local brewery demanding they cease from using the restaurant’s trademarked image. These kinds of cease-and-desist letters, especially in the copyright and trademark context, are becoming all the more prevalent.

But is this the best way to demand an entity stop infringing on your trademark? As anything goes, such a strategy can have very real pros, and very real cons.

First, a little background into what exactly cease-and-desist letters are, and the purposes they serve. Generally, a cease-and-desist letter is a notice to the entity receiving it that the activity they are participating in may be illegal, or more particularly in the case of copyright and trademark infringement, that their activity infringes. Although a cease-and-desist letter has no immediate legal effect, the entity receiving the letter may not use the excuse that it did not know the sending party believed its behavior was illegal, as the letter put it on notice of its potentially illegal activity. Notably for the sake of copyright and trademark infringement, if the entity persists in its illegal behavior after receiving the letter, such notice may aid in proving intent, willfulness, and bad faith.

Although cease-and-desist letters are often thought of as sternly worded letters from stuffy attorneys, creative and humorous cease-and-desist letters can have real benefits for a company. As alluded to above, creative cease-and-desist letters have received especially beneficial PR as of late. As companies become more and more of an open book in this age of social media and online news, crafting creative ways to assert a company’s legal rights helps show that the company is amiable, fair, and all in all fun. Not to mention, such exposure can turn in to free and hopefully beneficial press.

However, creative cease-and-desist letters must be drafted the right way, as they also carry credible risk. For one, if the creativeness is taken over the top, the recipient of the letter may not take it seriously. Ultimately, cease-and-desist letters are meant to be taken seriously and cause the recipient to stop its infringing action—if the recipient thinks the letter is simply a joke, it may continue on engaging in its infringing behavior. In that same vein, if the humor placed in the letter misses the mark, or muddles the issue, the recipient may have an argument that it was in fact not on notice of its allegedly infringing behavior. Finally, straightforward cease-and-desist letters are often quiet and discrete. By issuing a humorous letter, a company is taking a risk and opening itself up to potential public scrutiny. However, if a company is able to strike that perfect balance between informative and humorous, it is potentially a worthwhile risk to take.

All in all, creative and humorous cease-and-desist letters, if done right, are largely beneficial in the copyright and trademark infringement context. If you decide to send such a letter, make sure to do it right, and of course try to have the wittiest attorney you know write the letter for you (although some say witty attorneys are few and far between).

Earlier this month, the European Court of Justice ruled that the taste of a food product is not eligible for protection under EU copyright laws.

The ruling by European Union’s highest legal authority, which is binding on all EU member states, came in a lawsuit brought by the Dutch manufacturer of a popular spreadable cheese dip in which the manufacturer accused a rival company of copyright infringement after it began producing a similar product.

The Court explained that to be eligible for copyright protection, the subject matter must be expressed “in a manner which makes it identifiable with sufficient precision and objectivity.”  Unlike works of literature, art, or music, which offer “a precise and objective expression,” a food’s taste “is identified primarily on the basis of subjective sensations and experiences which depend on factors particular to the subject person, such as age, food preferences and consumption habits, as well as on the environment or context in which the food is consumed.”

The Court also noted a lack of any technical means for precisely and objectively identifying the taste of a food product which enables it to be distinguished from other tastes.

This post is authored by Fox Rothschild associate Rashanda Bruce.

The National Advertising Division (NAD) announced revisions to its procedures governing advertising industry self-regulation during its Annual Conference on September 24-25. The revisions are in response to recommendations by the ABA Antitrust Section’s Working Group.

NAD is a branch of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) responsible for monitoring the truthfulness and accuracy of all media advertising. NAD works to increase and maintain the public’s confidence in advertising by independently examining advertising claims that breach these standards. In addition to its independent review, NAD accepts consumer complaints about misleading advertisements and provides a forum for competitors to resolve advertising disputes.

The most recent revisions relate to NAD’s handling of competitors’ advertising claims that were previously recommended for modification or discontinuation. In the past, when NAD found that an advertising claim was unsubstantiated, it issued a decision recommending discontinuation or modification of the claim. NAD refused to reopen a case if an advertiser later proved its claims and wanted to resume advertisement. Under the new revisions, advertisers who believe they have developed new substantiation for their original advertising claims may now either resume use of the disallowed claim and request that NAD consider the new evidence, or the advertiser may seek NAD’s review of the new evidence prior to resuming the claims.

NAD made additional revisions to its procedures including: (1) identifying who should be contacted about a pending or closed case; (2) increasing the filing fee for challengers who have been National Partners of the Council of Better Business Bureaus for less than one year; (3) amending the construction of the Advertiser’s Statement to remove the option for advertisers to state that they will not comply with NAD’s recommendations; and (4) adding language to the section governing compliance decisions.

Laura Brett, the National Advertising Division Director, said NAD believes “the change balances allowing advertisers to make truthful, substantiated claims with the need for speed and finality in the self-regulatory process for competitive challenges.” Read the full text of revisions here.

This post is authored by Fox Rothschild associate Paul Fling:

Met with widespread support, the Music Modernization Act was signed into law on October 11, 2018. The Music Modernization Act (“MMA”) largely came about as a reaction to music streaming services’ domination of the music consumer market. In fact, streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora have more than doubled in revenue since 2015. As a result, a new system for distributing royalties was sorely needed.

So what does the MMA do? Generally, the MMA will set up a new, and (hopefully) more efficient way of paying mechanical royalties to songwriters when a musical composition is reproduced. Prior to the MMA, no central database or organization existed to facilitate music services filing for and obtaining a mechanical license to use a particular song. Because the growth of streaming services has led to a drastic increase in entities seeking mechanical licenses, the pre-MMA system no longer met the needs of songwriters/owners and streaming services alike. Essentially, services claim it is too difficult to find and pay the correct author for every song, while song owners claim services use such an excuse to avoid paying royalties.

To address these issues the MMA will set up a centralized entity to collect royalties and distribute them to the proper songwriter or owner. This group, for the time being, is called the Mechanical Licensing Collective. To participate in this system, digital services will pay the MLC and receive a blanket license allowing them to use any song without threat of infringement. In turn, the MLC will then seek to find the proper owner of songs that are played and pay those owners in accordance with the volume services have used the owner’s song.

Ultimately, musicians and music consumer services are hoping the MMA succeeds in creating an efficient and fair way of providing mechanical licenses and distributing royalties to the proper owners.

You can read the act in its entirety here.

The Food & Drug Administration (“FDA”) has published a Consumer Update with a reminder regarding the implementation of the new Nutrition Facts label.  According to the FDA’s Update, at least 10% of food packaging already carries the new label and therefore consumers are, and will be, seeing two different versions of the Nutrition Facts label on the shelf.  As I previously blogged about, the FDA announced in 2016 that there would be changes to the label required for packaged foods starting in 2018.  However, the FDA has extended the deadline to comply until 2020 for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales and 2021 for manufactures with less than $10 million in annual food sales.

In a nutshell, the FDA’s Update describes the new Nutrition Facts label as reflecting “updated scientific information, including our greater understanding of the links between diet and chronic disease” (e.g. obesity and heart disease) and as being “more realistic about how people eat today.”  The changes that the FDA has highlighted in its Update are provided verbatim below:

1. The new label makes it easier if you or a member of your family is counting calories by putting the calories, the number of servings, and the serving size in larger, bolder type. We thought it was important to better highlight these numbers because nearly 40 percent of American adults are obese, and obesity is associated with heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, and diabetes.

2. FDA is required to base serving sizes on what people actually eat and drink, so serving size requirements have been adjusted to reflect more recent consumption data.  This way, the nutrition information provided for each serving is more realistic. For certain packages that contain more than one serving, you will see nutrition information per serving as well as per package. That means for a pint of ice cream, calories and nutrients are listed for one serving and the whole container.

3. Added sugars are now listed to help you know how much you are consuming. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends you consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars. That is because it is difficult to get the nutrients you need for good health while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugar.

4. Good nutrition means that you are getting the right amount of nutrients for your body to function correctly and to fight chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, certain cancers, and type II diabetes. The FDA has updated the list of nutrients required on the label to include Vitamin D and Potassium because Americans today do not always get the recommended amounts of these nutrients. Conversely, Vitamins A and C are no longer required, because deficiencies in these vitamins are rare today, but they can be listed by manufacturers voluntarily.

5. The old label lists calories from fats, but the new label does not. The FDA made this change because research shows the type of fat consumed is more important than total fats. For example, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in most vegetable oils and nuts, can reduce the risk of developing heart disease when eaten in place of saturated and trans fat.

6. Daily values for nutrients like sodium, dietary fiber, and Vitamin D have been updated and are used to calculate the % Daily Value (DV) that you see on the label. The % DV helps you understand the nutrition information in the context of a daily diet. The footnote at the bottom of the label has changed to better explain the meaning of the % DV.

See FDA Consumer Update, available at https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm620013.htm?utm_campaign=Nutrition%20Facts%20Label%20Reboot%3A%20A%20Tale%20of%20Two%20Labels&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Eloqua.

What does “natural” mean in the context of product advertising?  Consumers see phrases like “natural,” “all natural,” and “100% natural” over and over again in modern marketing.  The trouble is that “natural” may not mean what consumers expect it to mean, thereby opening companies up to claims of false or misleading advertising.

Two recent lawsuits against Pret A Manger, the sandwich company, provide a cogent illustration.  One complaint was filed by two consumers as a class action.  The other was filed by three non-profit organizations (including the Organic Consumers Association) on behalf of their members and the general public.  Both complaints assert that Pret A Manger has deceptively labeled, marketed, and sold certain bread and other baked goods as “Natural Food” when the products contain trace amounts of a chemical biocide.  According to the non-profit plaintiffs, consumers are willing to pay more for “natural” products and consumers expect such products to be free of pesticides.

This isn’t the first time the Organic Consumers Association, the Federal Trade Commission, or others have gone after companies advertising their products as “natural.”  Companies should be mindful when marketing their products using that term, and should be prepared to defend the claim with substantiation if necessary.

 

Earlier this year, I authored a blog post about the so-called “Monkey Selfies” after the Ninth Circuit ruled that animals cannot sue for copyright infringement because, as nonhumans, they lack the required standing under the Copyright Act.  Recently, following a single judge’s request for a vote, the Ninth Circuit did not vote in favor of an en banc hearing (a full panel rehearing of the case).

Therefore, the Ninth Circuit’s earlier ruling against the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc., on behalf of a monkey named Naruto, stands.  At least for now.

The General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, took effect May 25, 2018. As predicted, the GDPR has complicated access to WHOIS information (commonly used to look up the contact information for website domains for, among other things, stopping others from infringing IP rights) and given ICANN (the corporation that manages WHOIS data) a headache.

ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) continues to struggle to identify a proposal that bridges the gap between the requirements of the GDPR and access to WHOIS information. On the day the GDPR took effect, ICANN passed a Temporary Specification, which attempted to facilitate GDPR compliance while also preserving parts of the WHOIS system of domain name registration data. This temporary guideline states the registrar and registry operator must provide reasonable access to personal registration data to third parties for: (1) legitimate interests, except where those interests are overridden by the interests or fundamental rights and freedoms of the registrants or (2) when the specified request is deemed lawful by the European Data Protection Board (EDPB), a court having jurisdiction, or applicable legislation or regulation.

First, these temporary specifications have not prevented the brand enforcement problems I previously discussed. For example, some European domain name service registrars have decided to no longer collect WHOIS information. Furthermore, Brian Winterfeldt has reported that a California-based registrar has declined a data access request related to a specific enforcement effort of intellectual property rights and that other registrars are responding to such requests on a “case-by-case basis with no transparent or predictable criteria.” More alarming is the report that at least one global company has estimated its ability to enforce trademark rights against infringing domains may drop 24%.

Second, the EDPB still has problems with ICANN’s proposal. On July 5, 2018, the EDPB urged ICANN to develop new legal justifications for why it asks for the data that makes up the WHOIS database and provided further guidance in developing a GDPR-compliant WHOIS model. ICANN appears to be taking the EDPB’s guidance to heart and is hopeful they can create a GDPR-compliant-model that satisfies their purpose of providing WHOIS data to those who need it.

Unfortunately, only time will tell if a GDPR-compliant WHOIS database will emerge. In the meantime, it has become more difficult to determine who is in charge of websites infringing on intellectual property rights making brand enforcement more challenging.

Soy milk. Almond milk. Coconut milk. With the increase in health-conscious shopping and non-dairy diets, these terms and others have become household names.

But the Food & Drug Administration (“FDA”) recently suggested these products don’t constitute milk at all, since they do not come from animals. According to multiple sources, during the Politico Pro Summit in July, the FDA Commissioner commented that the FDA is probably not currently enforcing its “standard of identify” for milk considering the FDA defines “milk” by referencing the milking of cows.

Manufacturers and sellers of non-dairy products currently advertised and labeled as “milk” should keep watch on whether the FDA issues guidance on this issue or decides to strictly enforce its current definition of “milk.” If it does, the marketing for these products may drastically change.