Posts In "Food and Drink"




Warning to Good Wife Fans: Fake Product Reviews Are Less Legal Than They Appear

Hello, Law Law Land readers!  I took a blogging hiatus during the latter part of my pregnancy and early months of new parenthood, but I’m back.  While certain things in my life have changed, at least one thing remains the same:  my dedication to my favorite TV shows.  But having a 3-month-old means I’m always struggling to stay caught up with those shows, which is why this post discusses an episode of The Good Wife that aired in mid-February.  (If you are also a couple of episodes behind, spoiler alert!  And if you don’t actually watch this show and have no clue who any of these characters actually are, well, sorry.)

In this episode, called “Red Team/Blue Team,” Will and Diane attempt to persuade their stubborn client, purveyor of “Thief” energy drink, to settle a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of a teenage girl.  (Obviously, you can assume that the manufacturers of any product called “Thief” are only the most right-thinking, trustworthy clients you can find.)  In order to persuade the client of the weaknesses of the case, they conduct a mock trial, with Alicia and Cary serving as plaintiff’s counsel.  Research revealed that a freelancer engaged by the defendant company had acted as a cyber-shill, and had posted glowing reviews about the drink and its ability to help people lose weight on various websites, without disclosing any affiliation to the company.  (If you want to know what one of these posts look like, just check the comment thread on any unmoderated blog or news website for some unsolicited glowing reviews of various black market pharmaceutical websites.  V1agra, L0se W3ight, W0rk fr0M H0me, fR33 iP0ds!)  When Alicia cross-examines the company’s marketing executive about this practice, he protests, “That’s not illegal!”  Alicia agrees, but argues the company is still liable for a different reason (and of course, she’s our heroine, so it is).

But not so fast on that fake ads issue, my friends.  Maybe television writers don’t have time to research the latest FTC before turning in a script, but lawyers certainly do.  And, pursuant to the endorsement guidelines promulgated by the Federal Trade Commission, an online reviewer of a product must reveal any relationship with the seller, especially a financial connection.  And lest you think that, “surely the FTC doesn’t really monitor these things,” wrong again.  In the past two-and-a-half years, the FTC has become increasingly vigilant about the use of cyber-shills and deceptive claims.  This is especially true when there are health implications to the claims, such as in the case of the energy drink featured on The Good Wife.

As an extreme example, the FTC recently succeeded in ceasing the operations of certain online marketers that allegedly used fake news sites to increase sales of their products.  But the FTC also targets companies whose bloggers post reviews without announcing any affiliation, and significant fines can result (not to mention bad publicity and potential tarnishment of the brand).

As always, businesses should make sure they are being guided by the FTC guidelines and experienced legal counsel, not by TV lawyers.  And writers and producers of The Good Wife, if you ever need a legal consultant for your show, feel free to give me a holler.




Who’s Got the White Lightning?

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to travel through the great southern states of America, you will learn two things.  First, southern hospitality is real — no, the nice man asking “how is your day, miss?” is not going to ask for money or steal your purse.  And second, people really do make moonshine in their backyards.  If you had any doubt about that, then you haven’t seen Discovery Channel’s Moonshiners, a can’t-make-this-stuff-up series in its second season that “tells the story of those who brew their shine — often in the woods near their homes using camouflaged equipment — and the local authorities who try to keep them honest.”  There’s a ton more to learn about the South, but as I learned as a first-year law student in Nashville, Tennessee, nothing is as romantic as the tradition of moonshining (except, perhaps, the barbecue — maybe another post).

While an old classmate and I were reconnecting recently — reminiscing about the potency of the good ol’ Tennessee and whisky and wondering exactly what “keeping a moonshiner honest” actually entails — it hit us:  why not sell legal moonshine from Tennessee over the internet?  Just imagine the market boom, as trendy Angelino hipster homebrewers would throw mixology parties showcasing the wonder brew.  But how easy would it be to legally sell moonshine to Yankees and Angelinos?  Well, as I soon discovered, aside from the fact that making unauthorized moonshine in your backyard is highly illegal and dangerous (and in no way endorsed by the author), there is a serious patchwork of state and federal laws that any moonshiner who wants to go straight must contend with. Continue reading the full story . . . »




As the Ice Cream (and Stomach) Churns

Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream has always been a company with a sense of humor.  As Ben & Jerry’s spokesman Sean Greenwood says, “We just do fun.”  With flavors like “Chubby Hubby,” “Cherry Garcia,” “Phish Food,” and “Imagine Whirled Peace,” who could disagree?  At times, the company has even been accused of having a little too much fun.  Some of its racier-named flavors include “Karamel Sutra,” and, of course, the controversial “Schweddy Balls.”  The latter flavor was inspired by an Alec Baldwin SNL skit and opposed by groups like One Million Moms, which said, “[t]he vulgar new flavor has turned something as innocent as ice cream into something repulsive.”

Perhaps attracted to the scent of something innocent and pure being defiled, a North Hollywood pornographer called “Caballero Video,” recently released some stomach-churning titles under the moniker, “Ben & Cherry’s.”  The pornographer’s lascivious exploits include:  Harry Garcia (Cherry Garcia); Boston Cream Thigh (Boston Cream Pie); Chocolate Fudge Babes (Chocolate Fudge Brownie); New York Super Fat & Chunky (New York Super Fudge Chunk); and Peanut Butter D-Cups (Peanut Butter Cup).  The complete list of saucy titles (including those too racy for even this blog to reprint) is available in this court order.  And of course, pictures of the films’ bawdy packaging that couples the traditional pastoral Ben & Jerry’s theme with NSFW pictures are available for those who “have learned to work the Google on the Internet machine.” (Note:  That link points to the IMDB page for Blades of Glory, not pornography.  What kind of blog do you think this is?)

Now, Ben & Jerry’s has filed suit in New York federal court against Caballero Video, alleging federal trademark dilution, federal trade dress dilution, federal trademark infringement, federal trade dress infringement, federal unfair competition, common law unfair competition, dilution and injury to business reputation, and deceptive trade practices.  The Court has already issued a temporary restraining order, ordering Caballero Video to stop offering the 10 allegedly infringing titles, remove all online mention of the X-rated films, and stop using the trademarked Ben & Jerry’s packaging — at least until a final decision is rendered in the case.

But did the Court err in issuing the temporary restraining order?

Continue reading the full story . . . »




A Major Brew-haha on Tap

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., last Monday my husband and I found ourselves with three glorious hours to kill midday, while our daughter visited a friend.  We could have cleaned out the garage, but instead we went to lunch at a new-ish bar and grill which prides itself on serving over 100 beers on tap.  As I perused the vast beer menu, I was struck by the creativity (and in some cases absurdity) of the names these breweries had invented for their ambers and ales.  There were a few that were a bit embarrassing (“Flying Dog Doggie Style Pale Ale?”  Seriously, I don’t think I can’t ask for that without blushing, so it better be good).  Some made me laugh out loud (I thought “Unibroue Ephemere Cassis” was hysterically punny, until I learned that “Unibroue” is the actual name of the Quebec-based brewery).  Few names were conventional and many were downright clever.

I knew vaguely about the ancient and globe-spanning trademark dispute between American brewer Anheuser-Busch and the Czech beer producer Budejovicky Budvar over the right to use the trademarked name “Budweiser” — a battle which has been brewing since 1870.  But with so many beers and so many creative names and logos, I wondered, as even slightly tipsy lawyers tend to do, how often breweries found themselves in a legal kerfuffle over their beloved (and lucrative) alcoholic beverages.  Aren’t these guys supposed to be mellow and laid back (well, except, perhaps, for the guys who make Arrogant Bastard Ale)?  They make beer, for Pete’s sake.

Well, it turns out that brewers stir up litigation more often than you might think. Continue reading the full story . . . »




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