This Valentine’s Day, Ask Yourself: What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and…Popcorn?

Whether you are a hopeless romantic or a cynical sort (read: single person) who feels that Valentine’s Day is just an excuse for card companies to sell more paper products (how environmentally unsound!), you simply can’t escape Cupid’s arrow this month — assuming you define “Cupid’s arrow” as incessant advertising about Valentine’s Day. John Paul Young called it way back in 1978: everywhere you look around, there are red roses, and pajamas with hearts on them, and canoodling couples tearfully opening diamond engagement rings together, and candy and just about any other foodstuffs that can somehow be branded with a “love” theme.

You may find Valentine’s Day cheesy, or perhaps even annoying. I get it (believe me, I get it — I spent an hour last night cutting 20 valentines out of red cardstock for my daughter’s second grade class project, and have the numbing, carpal-tunnel like pain in my right index finger to prove it…). But can you truly take issue with something that attempts to foster peace, and love, and harmony? I never thought I’d turn to NASCAR for pearls of wisdom, but really, who doesn’t love love?

Well, at least one small business owner in Texas thinks that the Valentine’s Day experts at 1-800-FLOWERS actually hate love. And peace. Probably puppies too. And possibly America and freedom, as well, but let’s not get carried away. Continue reading the full story . . . »

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Q&A: What Are the Rules for Making a Remake Based on a Classic Film That Has Fallen Into the Public Domain?

Q: What are the rules for making a remake based on a classic film that has fallen into the public domain? Do the elements of the script fall into the public domain automatically? The film is based on a novel, which is also in the public domain. Does this mean anyone is free to go and remake the film as he wishes or do you still have to get the approval from the heirs of the author (author of novel), director, etc…?

A: Finally, a simple Yes or No question. From now on, I will only answer Yes or No and Knock, Knock, Who’s There questions. After doing this blog for so long, I’m now officially out of jokes and answers — so I’ll start recycling jokes and answers from my old blogs. The jokes may seem a bit stale and out of date and the answers may seem non-responsive, but I’m told I’ll get a good deal of carbon offsets for recycling them. Continue reading the full story . . . »

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Step-By-Step…Through the Legal (Non-)Consequences of Publicly Outing a Celebrity

Supermarket tabloids compete with each other in a lot of ways. Who can attract the most readers/eyeballs? Who can come up with the most misleading headline? Who can stretch the definition of “news” to the most absurd degree? But one of the strangest and most downright disturbing areas of competition among tabloids has to be, who can be first to out a celebrity?

In many instances, well-known entertainers have been driven into public revelations about deeply private aspects of their lives after relentless speculation and intrusion from aggressive tabloids and their dubious “sources.” In 2006, ‘N Sync alum Lance Bass finally came out of the closet after years spent hiding his sexuality to appease his female fans and strategic handlers (and the world was duly shocked). Clay Aiken, who rose to fame after placing second on that little show called American Idol, waited until becoming a father to publicly disclose his sexual orientation in 2008. And last year, Latin heartthrob Ricky Martin ended years of public scrutiny and speculation by announcing to the world that he is “a fortunate homosexual man,” forcing an immediate public reevaluation of the lyrics to such modern classics as “Shake Your Bon-Bon” and “She Bangs.”

Lance, Ricky, and Clay decided to come out on their own terms (notwithstanding the slight nudge [read: “very, very forceful shove”] from the Hollywood gossipmongers). But as Law Law Land superfan/mother to our very own Rachel Wilkes recently asked us, what would happen if someone in the know publicly outed a celebrity before that celebrity was ready to do so themselves? Could the furor over that celebrity’s sexual preferences move from the gossip rags to the courthouse docket? Let’s take a look at a recent example. Continue reading the full story . . . »

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No, It’s Not 1984, but, Amazingly, Everyone Is Again Asking: Where’s the Beef?

You’ve probably heard about the recent class action lawsuit filed against Taco Bell, alleging that their tacos don’t really contain beef (or, rather, contain only 33% beef, plus a variety of “extenders” and “non-meat substances” ranging from “autolyzed yeast extract” to silicon dioxide, a.k.a. sand). (Presumably, this will be an easier plaintiff class to recruit than the potential plaintiffs in the YouPorn/“History Sniffing” lawsuit we reported on last month. But maybe I’m overestimating people’s willingness to admit eating Taco Bell.) According to the lawsuit, Taco Bell is misleading the public by saying its products contain “real beef” when, in fact, the products only contain the appetizingly-named “taco meat filling.” Although I find it hard to believe that anyone might have actually decided to go to Taco Bell thinking their taco was going to be 100% beef (it’s fast food, people!), these types of lawsuits are quite common, and the legal foundation of the claim is fairly straightforward.

Boiled down to its essence, Taco Bell is accused of trying to mislead the public about the quality of its product. Legally, Taco Bell’s statements about its meat are considered “commercial speech” — Taco Bell is trying to get people to buy tacos (well…“tacos,” anyway). The First Amendment provides limited protection for commercial speech, and rule #1 is: you have to tell the truth. So, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission can pass laws restricting what fast food chains can and cannot say about their food. The same is true for other products, like vitamins, weight loss supplements and the like (hence the lawsuits against the makers of Men’s One-A-Day and Airborne, as well as trainer/TV personality Jillian Michaels, endorser of Calorie Control). So the question for Taco Bell is simple: did it comply with applicable regulations when touting its tacos as having “real beef” in them?

Taco Bell’s response, on the other hand, was fascinating. Taco Bell took out full-page “Thank You For Suing Us” ads in major newspapers across the country denying the allegations in the complaint. That’s not too surprising. But, Taco Bell did more than just offer facetious thanks and deny the allegations. Continue reading the full story . . . »

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This Is Our Super Bowl Blog Post. Now Come and Get Us, NFL!

Unless you live here, I’m assuming you’re aware of a little football game taking place this weekend between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

I’m as excited as anyone for the game, which is why, this Sunday, I might try to find a local bar hosting a Super Bowl party. But I’ll probably be out of luck, unless I’m willing to go to a “Big Game” party instead. And if I’m feeling spendthrift — the always-confusing word that sounds like “thrifty” but actually means “profligate” — I might try to pick up a new flat-screen TV at a Super Bowl sale. But unless I’m willing to settle for one of those ubiquitous “Big Game” sales, I’ll probably be forced to stick with what I’ve got.

Every year, while every sports yak in America is obsessing over Super Bowl scouting reports, every business in America is trying to capitalize on the game. But most of them aren’t using the words “Super Bowl” to do so, and the reason is fairly obvious: the phrase “Super Bowl” is trademarked by the NFL, which is famously protective of its intellectual property. Moreover, the privilege of using the phrase “Super Bowl” in advertising is one of the valuable rights bestowed by the NFL upon its advertisers and promotional partners — which gives the NFL extra incentive to keep freeloaders from poaching the phrase (thereby diminishing its value to potential paying promotional partners).

But what if the NFL is wrong? What if I really could check out the Super Bowl party at my favorite watering hole without them being subjected to the threat of legal doom?

Guess what, kiddies: I can. Continue reading the full story . . . »

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Q&A: It Seems Like Every Contract Has an “Indemnity” Provision Attached to It…What Does That Mean?

Q: I see an “indemnity” provision in every single one of my agreements and have never really understood what it means… what does it mean?

A: I’ve seen Mulholland Drive six times and have never really understood what it means. That doesn’t stop me from watching it every time I see it on the movie channels, just as I’m sure that indemnity provision doesn’t stop you from signing your agreements. While you’re never going to get rid of it, you may as well understand the provision so you can at least get it changed a little if you need to. Continue reading the full story . . . »

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