Social Media & the Law Update 09-18-13: Upcoming PNM Class, FB 'Like' Constitutionally Protected

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The following information is provided to be just general information, and therefore, should not be taken as specific legal advice that pertains to any particular situation.  The reader should not base any decisions on the information here to act or refrain from acting regarding a legal problem.  If you believe you have a legal problem please seek legal advice from a licensed attorney in the relevant jurisdiction. ——————————————————

Exciting news everyone!  My Pacific New Media (PNM) class on Social Media and the Law is next week!  So there is still plenty of time to sign-up.  Here is the general info:

Sep 25, 2013 • Wed • 7:00-9:00pm • 1 mtg • UHM Krauss 012 • $50 (SMCHI $45)

What will I be covering?  Well, as it is a general survey class, I will touching upon areas where the law has inserted itself in the social media sphere, such as today's more exciting news.

4th Circuit Court of Appeals Rules the "Liking" on Facebook is Constitutionally Protected

For instance, like how a Facebook 'Like" is protected by the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (i.e. it is a freedom of speech).  Today, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling in favor of a former deputy sheriff who had been fired from his job due to "liking" the Facebook page of the man running in opposition to his boss.  Basically, the court felt that by “Liking” a campaign page, it was the “Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.”  Further, the court, in its unanimous ruling, as to this Facebook issue, stated that, “On the most basic level, clicking on the ‘like’ button literally causes to be published the statement that the User ‘likes’ something, which is itself a substantive statement[.]"

To read the complete ruling, check it out here.

Other Topics at my Class

As stated in my post on Trademark Usage, I attended the ABA's Annual Conference, so I sat in on a seminar on "Social Media Terms of Use: Case Law Round Up".  Many of the issues discussed at that seminar are ones I will be focusing on for my PNM class, such as various social media platforms' terms of use, policies, etc . . . . I have a Slideshare that covers basics on the differences between Policies and Contracts.   What many users fail to realize that Terms of Use are generally binding and enforceable contracts, but that a Privacy Policy tends to be just a company's call toward a prescribed action.  This is something that social media marketers, consultants, small business owners, and those who use social media as one of their primary marketing tools should consider.  Finally, if you are a responsible decision maker for your organization/business, you really consider having internal dialogue on handling social media in general (whether it be employees, PR, marketing, etc . . .).

Anyway, that is just a sliver of one of the many topics to be covered in my class.  So if you are interested in signing up click here.

Mahalo!

-RKH

What's the Purpose of a Trademark? How is it Used?

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The following information is provided to be just general information, and therefore, should not be taken as specific legal advice that pertains to any particular situation.  The reader should not base any decisions on the information here to act or refrain from acting regarding a legal problem.  If you believe you have a legal problem please seek legal advice from a licensed attorney in the relevant jurisdiction. ------------------------------------------------------

So it’s amazing how time flies when you have a lot of work to do.  I have been very grateful for these past couple of months for the clients that have come through my door (or via electronic means), but more work means less time for blogging and sharing information to all you interested soon-to-be or current business owners.

Anyway, as some people know I was fortunate last month to attend the American Bar Association’s Annual Conference in San Francisco.  I attended many Intellectual Property, Business Law, and a couple of Employment Law seminars.  When I can, I will update my blog or provide one-sheet resources on the information I obtained from these seminars to share with all of you.

So today’s post is about the use of trade and service marks.  A prior Draw the Law post covered the difference between a trade name and trademark and I have a one-sheet on What is Trademark?.

Purpose of Marks

Before we get to the using of a trademarks, let’s first consider that the purpose of a trademark.  The point of a trademark is to distinguish one company’s set of goods and/or services from another company’s.  Basically, it is meant to avoid confusion to consumers, so they can readily ascertain from the mark which company the goods and/or services are originating from.

So How are Marks Used in Commerce?

A mark can be used on goods (products), which would make it technically a “trademark”.  Specifically, this would mean the mark is applied, engraved, embroidered directly on the goods, POS displays, the use of labels or tags affixed to the good, or shipping labels when sending the goods through commerce.  It is not just merely advertising, but must have a Point of Sale component.

In the case of a mark used in connection with services, clearly there is no tangible part to a service.  Therefore, service marks are found on websites, brochures, advertising (but not printer’s proofs), on or at locations associated with the services, such as vehicles used with the service, or on the uniforms of employees while they perform the service.

How do I Properly Use my Trademark?

You can use ℠ for service marks, ™ for trademarks, and registered trademark symbol (the 'R' that has a circle around it) ONLY for registered marks (it is a violation of the law to use the registered symbol when your mark is NOT registered).  Further, the mark should be distinguished from regular text, through the use of quotation marks, larger print, all capital letters, or through colorization of the wording.  Also your grammar lessons are important for trademark usage.  A noun should ALWAYS follow a mark.  The mark should NEVER be used as a verb.  For example, it is a XEROX copier and NOT xeroxing. Or perfect for the web as another example, it is NOT you googled the answer, but it is rather you ran a GOOGLE search.  Finally, the correct spelling should be used and moreover, the mark should not be pluralized.

The point of all this proper usage is to avoid a loss in rights in the mark.  Many trademarks of famous brands have become generic, and generic terms are not entitled to trademark protection.  Consider that the word "escalator" used to be a registered trademark, but the Otis Elevator Company has lost that mark due to it becoming generic.  Therefore, you should be actively policing your trademark usage and avoid losing rights that you worked so hard to create with your brand.

That’s it for this time.  I hope to be back soon with more information to share.

Mahalo for stopping by!

-RKH

 

 

 

Pacific New Media Class: Social Media and the Law - March 6, 2013

Please join me at my class with Pacific New Media on Social Media and the Law next week Wednesday, March 6, from 7 - 9pm if you are interested in learning about the applicability of various laws with social media usage. I will be talking about whether you can be fired for using social media, legislative updates, and other various issues that have cropped up when the law tries to get a handle with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and other communicative platforms.

Click on this link for more details.

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Social Media and the Law: Legislative and NLRB Updates

The following information was presented by me to the Social Media Club of Hawaii's Social Media "Boot Camp" for Hawaii Recruiting, Staffing and Hawaii Human Resources Professionals on Friday, February 22, 2013.  You can find a downloadable pdf version on the "Resources" page of my website. Here was what was discussed: Legislative Updates

Summary: Generally, speaking states are moving to prohibit employers from asking for usernames, passwords, and access to an employee’s or potential employee’s personal social networking account.  The argument goes that they need access to the personal accounts as a way to protect proprietary information, trade secrets, to comply with federal or trade association regulations, or to prevent an employer of being exposed to legal liability (due diligence).  The countervailing argument is that the personal account has nothing to do with one’s application to a job or doing the job, and is an invasion of privacy.  Thus far, it seems privacy advocates are carrying the day as four states last year, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, and the latest California have adopted laws that prevent employers from accessing personal social media accounts of employees or potential employees. Hawaii’s 2013 legislative session has two bills fashioned after California’s.

Federal: Representative Eliot Engel of New York has recently introduced H.R. 537, the ‘Social Networking Online Protection Act’ (SNOPA).  The bill if enacted would prohibit employers from requiring/requesting that the employee or applicant provide the employer their user name, password, or other means for accessing the employee/applicant’s private email account on any social networking website; OR discharge, discipline, discriminate in employment or promotion, or take adverse action against them for refusing/declining to provide a user name, password, or access OR if the employee/applicant files a complaint under the Act (basically asserting their right to sue to protect themselves).  Finally, it gives the US Secretary of Labor to assess a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for violations and stopping the violating actions. Further, US district courts can give relief to the affected person through employment, reinstatement, promotion, and the payment of lost wages and benefits.

State: During this 2013 Hawaii Legislative session, two bills, HB713 and SB207, work for the most part, very similar to the Federal law, and the language is based mostly on California’s recently adopted law.  I will focus on HB713 as I have worked with this bill in particular.  The current incarnation of HB713, is an HD2 that was passed out of the House Judiciary Committee, yesterday (2/21) and basically uses broad language to prohibit an employer from asking an employee or potential employee their user name, password, or trying to get access to their personal social networking account.  Currently, the HD2 would have the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission investigate a claim, and would operate similarly to any other investigation that the Commission already does for other issues under its authority. Prior variations had DLIR handle the investigation.

Bottom line:  This issue is not going away, and it is clear that as time goes on it is more likely than not employers will be denied access to personal social media accounts.  However, this still does not prevent workplace investigations and other necessary steps when there may be a violation, and the social media account is involved. For example, situations where there is workers’ compensation fraud or the wrongful transmission of trade secrets.  The best situation for employers is still likely that workers use their personal devices and personal time to do their personal social networking, and not on company time, company devices, and company email accounts. As always check with attorney or HR specialist on policies and procedures.

 

NLRB Rulings

Summary:  The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) continues to apply the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to situations where the employer has taken adverse actions against employees due to postings on social media sites.  Further, it has frowned on overly broad social media policies by companies trying to regulate employees’ social media behaviors. However, a recent DC Court ruling has stated that President Obama’s recess appointments to the NLRB were invalid. However, this should not be taken as a sign that employers can ignore the recent rulings on social media policies and firings.

In Hispanics United Buffalo, the NLRB held that the termination of five employees due to their Facebook posts, where the company claimed harassment by the five on another employee, violated the NLRA. The posts and comments were deemed as a discussion of job performance, and dealt with the preparation of co-workers to defend against allegations of poor work.  The comments were prompted when one threatened to complain to the boss that others were not working hard enough, which in turn prompted these comments: “My fellow co-workers, how do you feel?” “Try doing my job. I have five programs,” “What the hell, we don’t have a life as is,” as well as other expletive-laden responses. The NLRB ruled this was “concerted activity” for “mutual aid.”

However, in The Arizona Star Daily situation, a reporter that had posted Twitter comments stating that “What?!?!?! No overnight homicide. ... You’re slacking, Tucson.” Another began, “You stay homicidal, Tucson.” was not protected as those comments were offensive, and not concerted activity, nor about working conditions.  Similarly, an Illinois bartender fired for posting on his Facebook that he was unhappy about not receiving a raise in five years and calling customers “rednecks” and that he hoped they chocked on glass as they drove home also did not meet protective-worthy status.

NLRB on Social Media Policies: Wal-Mart’s social media policy, after working with the NLRB, received praise, where it prohibits “inappropriate postings that may include discriminatory remarks, harassment and threats of violence or similar inappropriate or unlawful conduct.”  Contrast that with the finding that General Motor’s policy was unlawful for instructing that, “offensive, demeaning, abusive or inappropriate remarks are as out of place online as they are offline.”  The NLRB felt it proscribed a broad spectrum of communications that would included protected criticisms of the employer’s labor policies or treatment of employees. Similarly, Costco struck out on an overly broad blanket prohibition against employees’ posting things that “damage the company” or “any person’s reputation.”

While, it is hard to draw any clear distinctions, it does seem clear that employers should adopt social media policies that are specific rather than impose across-the-board prohibitions; the NLRB seems to take into account chilling effects on speech in concert by workers through social media platforms, especially where working conditions are touched upon. However, a worker’s general gripes and disparaging comments about customers or groups of people will less likely be protected under the NLRA.

 

Overall Reminders:  Recent court cases have indicated that a series of emails can be taken together as a contract.  Therefore, when engaging in employment activities, such as using LinkedIn, recruiters or HR persons should be careful not to make a written offer.

Also social networking is becoming a part of people’s everyday Internet interaction. By now it is clear that information is permanent when published on the web, as many people  can screen capture, take a picture with their mobile device, etc . . . so companies should take great care when using social media as delivery system for information.

While this is a concern for marketing and PR, HR should remember it has the responsibility of dealing with the pieces of terminating, disciplining, and investigating the marketer or executive who creates the firestorm on social media.  Therefore, all decision-makers in a company need to understand social media policy.

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LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The information provided here is meant to be general information, and should not be taken as specific legal advice that pertains to any particular situation.  The reader should not base any decisions on the information here to act or refrain from acting regarding a legal problem.  If you believe you have a legal problem please seek legal advice from a licensed attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.

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Ryan K. Hew, Attorney at Law, Moving into New Office Space!

As many of my clients and friends know I have been cofficing and using a home office, but due to the volume and the needs of my clients I decided to take the plunge and move into an office space.  My new office is located at:

535 Ward Avenue, Suite 206 | Honolulu, HI 96814

As an attorney that strives for creating accountability and transparency, and sharing thoughts and information via social media let me give you some of the key factors in my decision:

  • feasibility, as it is affordable office rent and it is shared with an estate planning attorney, therefore I need not increase my fees at this time;
  • location, as many know I strive to help the small businesses and startups, especially the ones located in Kaka'ako and now I am nearby in walking distance for many of them;
  • privacy, many of my clients, while they appreciate my efforts to meet them at their offices (which I will continue to do) they sometimes want to meet at mine, and now I am happy to say they can, not to mention there is free parking;
  • location, not only is the office near Kaka'ako it is a short drive from my friends and professional networks located in downtown Honolulu, Honolulu Hale, and the State Capitol;
  • delivery of new content and services, by moving out of my home office my intent is to create a professional space where I can develop podcasts, invite small parties over for meetings and presentations, host online seminars so that it is convenient for busy founders, owner-operators, and my fellow members of various organizations I am a part of, as well as have open office hours for new walk-ins; and
  • location, being on Ward Avenue puts me at the convenience of the Ward Centers, Ala Moana Shopping Center, the major Hawaii commercial banks, and for the wonderful shopping and eateries that exist in the area.

So I ask of you now readers, friends, former, current, and potentially new clients to watch out for my tweetup invite to my new office!

Mahalo.

-RKH

Law Talk: Trademarks and Internet Branding

Trademark issues are always abound whenever you try to start a company nowadays, is your domain name taken? Is your logo too similar to another? Do I have to pay licensing fees? An issue you don't have questions about is knowing that legal disputes are costly and expensive as well as having to re-tool your brand.  It may cost more than you wanted upfront, but there are steps you can take to try and safeguard your brand before you implement a marketing strategy. Join me and Tara Coomans of Akamai Marketing and Social Media Club of Hawaii's President for this special talk on what is a trademark and what this means for your branding.

Here is the informational flyer:

In addition, if you want to share the information, please use my calendar function by clicking here.

Honolulu Chinese Jaycees General Membership Meeting Featuring Rep. Karl Rhoads

What does leadership mean to you? What does political leadership mean to you? 

These are questions that the Honolulu Chinese Jaycees (HCJ) discussed and had a presentation with Representative Karl Rhoads at their General Membership Meeting held this past August.  Before, I touch upon some of the words that Representative Rhoads imparted with us let me disclose the following:

  1. I recently joined the Honolulu Chinese Jaycees;
  2. I was Representative Karl Rhoads Committee Clerk for the past two sessions;
  3. I am not registered with either major political party in America; and
  4. I like discussing leadership issues, as it plays into entrepreneurship, change management, and the like for business matters.

As to the evenings discussion, I just wanted to impart one of the more interesting things that Representative Rhoads spoke about. It was actually a response to my initial question, which was: we constantly hear that we want government to be more like business and that its leaders should operate as such, do you agree/disagree? 

Representative Rhoads responded thoughtfully, and said there are some things that political leaders could learn from business and they way it operates, but that the system that businesses operate under is different from the political side, in terms of the legislature.  He reminded us that as one representative out of many, while he may serve as a representative and type of leader to his constituency that there are also representatives (as well as senators) that all have a voice in the process.  However, he did return to this theme that I have seen in all my leadership classes is listen first.  Especially, in politics communication is key and learning from others helps you lead by example, execute your ideals, etc . . . I think this is something that business and political leaders can always do better. Listen.

I think one of the more insightful comments he made was that we all have a preconceived notion of what a leader looks like and what they do and that legislating does require a different skill set for effectiveness than those traditional notions. A legislator really does not order troops, set out five policy points, or set agendas, as I said they are one of many.  The interesting thing is that many of them rise to leadership postions in the executive branch. In addition, it's interesting to note that even on the judicial side judges sometimes start out as a head of an agency or a commission.

So what do you think about leadership and management? What should political leaders take from business? Should businesses try to formulate around a checks and balances approach, and would that turn into good governance for sustainable or social benefit corporations?

What do you think?

By the way if you are in Honolulu and are interested in networking, growth as a leader, and doing civic projects please consider joining the Honolulu Chinese Jaycees. It is a great organization and one of its signature events that it sponsors is coming up: the Meadow Gold Healthy Baby Contest.

NOTICE: RELAUNCHING OF WEBSITE - WWW.HAWAIIESQUIRE.COM

UPDATE: WEBSITE RELAUNCHED (9/4/2012)

So to all my clients, readers, and friends, thanks for bearing with me on the delay! I wanted to get this new site to you as soon as possible, but have been swamped with work! Very grateful to have new clients who are understanding and work with me on helping their business objectives become realities.  So a lot of new content and features on this site, as opposed to my old site.  Please look around and get a feel for the site, especially if you are a small business owner or entrepreneur I would like you to have this become a resource and tool for you as you consider the legal aspects that touch upon your trade or industry.

As always, I am appreciative of meeting new clients and remember the initial consultation is always free up to an hour, and I am happy to meet with you in-person, talk to you over the phone, or type up a thoughtful email.

Please enjoy my new website and its content.

Mahalo.

-RKH

P.S. Some functions and features are disabled at this point and will be rolled out later. Also pardon some of the graphical errors, as I am also my own graphic designer for a lot of the pictures you see on the site. Bear with me as I fix the kinks.

--END OF UPDATE--

-- PRIOR POST BEGINS--

(8/9/12)

Dear clients, readers, and friends I am letting you know that starting next week I will begin migrating content from www.hawaiiesquire.wordpress.com to www.hawaiiesquire.com. This represents a disruption in my posting schedule and you will not see new content from me on both sites (old and new) for 2 weeks.

While I realize that may seem simple, I assure you that my friends in the tech community have long advised that I do this and my awesome IT and web management crew are working hard to do it as soon as possible. Expect to see a better user experience, which means more resources and content to be useful for small business and startup owners.

In the meantime, please continue following me on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin, as I will be doing frequent updates through those social media avenues - I will be doing another speaking event soon, so please follow, as it will be a good one.

Finally, I would like to say that wordpress.com has been a great home to my website and blog for over a year. I highly recommend those of you starting a business to do a blog and a website if you are not savvy enough, and start here, as they make it easy and accessible. It has definitely made my practice better and gives me a unique voice in the crowded field of legal services.

So I will see you all soon again and please favorite, bookmark, subscribe, or just write a note to yourself to in the future go to www.hawaiiesquire.com.

Mahalo!

-RKH

--END OF POST--

IP Licensing Lesson: Don't Copy and Paste, Ask and Talk

So people who know me, know that I love video games. So I was excited when I saw Disney's movie trailer for Wreck-it Ralph, an animated story about a villain who gets tired of being a villain.  In the trailer, one of the signature scenes is the main character attends an AA-style meeting with fellow video games. The amazing thing about this is the sheer amount of characters from different video game companies that appear in this film. I know many of you reading this may be like, why is that a big deal? It is a big deal because generally the process to secure licensing rights to use copyrighted material or a trademark is expensive and can be extremely time-consuming. However, this article by IGN.com, a site that focuses on mostly video games and other entertainment, interviewed the creators of Wreck-it Ralph. Be aware that characters in video games, cartoons, comic books, etc . . . sometimes have been both registered trademarked and copyrighted, as a strategy to create multiple layers of intellectual property (IP) protection.

I think there is a valuable lesson for business owners who do advertising, graphic design and content creation, and social media marketing in this quote:

But as the film started taking shape, rights issues eventually became a factor. "We went out and met with people in person, which I think is the key," said Spencer. "When people came in for E3, we would actually meet with all of the companies and talk about the movie. From the very beginning we said, 'We want to be authentic to your character. What we would like to do is put in an approval process where you look at our animation and you say that we're being true to the character.'" As the creators noted, most companies were all for it.

Now, later in the article the creators do note there were some arduous processes, like double-checking with Nintendo if it's characters were being represented accurately, but the lesson is clear ASK and TALK to the IP owner about what you want to do. This is the art of the sale and business deal, and I think authenticity goes a long way.

I have noticed recently many people are flocking to Slideshare to put up their presentations. I wonder, as I look through these well put together presentations, whether or not the people got the IP owner's permission to use their images, logos, etc . . . . Did you talk to them? I realize it is easier to COPY and PASTE, but I will let you in on a little secret it is also easy to COPY and PASTE a CEASE and DESIST letter with a demand for damages.