Legislation

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.
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Ever drooled over something you couldn’t afford at Neiman Marcus, then walked into another cheaper store (cough, Forever 21, cough) and saw basically the exact same thing (except, perhaps, made out of highly flammable material) at a fraction of the price? I know I have (and maybe squealed for joy at my discovery). While the fashionista in me was doing a little dance, the lawyer in me was thinking, “This looks like some blatant copyright infringement to me!”

Forever 21 is at the top of the fast fashion game — not least when it comes to “borrowing” from high-end brands. As a result, it is constantly being sued for copyright infringement (herehereherehere, and, oh yeah, here). In total, over 50 designers have sued Forever 21. However, it has never been found liable for copyright infringement (leading to a wee bit of bitterness). Why is that?
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In a recent episode of CBS’ The Good Wife (which this blogger will go ahead and admit she loves, particularly for its disciplined realism — because obviously, all fresh-out-of-law-school first year associates get to try murder cases by themselves), Zachary Florrick (the teenage son of the title character) was pressured by ne’er-do-well vixen Becca into setting up a fake Facebook page in the name of a classmate. (Another reason I love this show: gives me an excuse to use the phrase “ne’er-do-well”.) Not coincidentally, this classmate was the teenage son of Zach’s dad’s opponent in the race for State’s Attorney, Glenn Childs. Zach also created a video mocking the third candidate in the State’s Attorney race, while making it look like the video came from Childs.

In the show, hapless Zach’s actions resulted in harm to his father’s campaign: what he thought was a harmless prank was taken by the Childs campaign as a declaration of war from the Florrick campaign. But thanks to a new law on the books in California, the real-life ramifications of such actions may now be even more serious — to the tune of monetary fines and prison time.

Effective January 1, 2011, California Penal Code section 528.5 makes it a crime to impersonate another person online. Specifically, “any person who knowingly and without consent credibly impersonates another actual person through or on an Internet Web site or by other electronic means for purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening, or defrauding another person is guilty of a public offense.” Violation can result in a prison sentence of up to one year and a fine of up to $1,000 — plus a civil lawsuit from the aggrieved party. Of course, because our readers are all fine, responsible, upstanding citizens, I’m confident that none of you need to fear this new law. But let’s say you, too, were a dastardly ne’er-do-well (twice in one post!) embarking on a campaign of Internet impersonation. What would you need to know?
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What do you do if you discovered that your favorite website, YouPorn, is secretly gathering information about your Internet use? If you were California residents David Pitner and Jared Reagan, it seems you would sue the website in federal court and accuse it of violating your privacy, thereby announcing to the world that you are an avid porn watcher. (Privacy FAIL! Pitner and Reagan are not alone in their interests — according to the lawsuit, YouPorn ranks #61 in website popularity [other sources place it in the mid-70s…so now we’re no longer impressed] — but they are alone in having announced it to the world…until more individuals join the potential class action, that is.)

Let’s rewind. What exactly did YouPorn do and how did the plaintiffs figure it out? According to a recent study conducted by the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of California, San Diego, YouPorn is one of 46 major websites that is engaged in “history sniffing” — a technical term that sounds just about as salacious as “YouPorn” itself, which is probably why some people prefer “history hijacking.” As you may have noticed when surfing the Web, links corresponding to URLs that you’ve visited before render differently than URLs you’ve never visited. According to UCSD’s study, history hijacking attacks occur when a site inserts invisible links into its web page and has Java Script inspect the links’ properties to determine whether the user has visited that URL — they will appear purple if the site has been visited and blue if they haven’t. Out of the Alexa global top 50,000 websites, the study discovered at least 46 (and possibly as many as 63) occurrences of history sniffing, on websites covering a wide range of topics from sports to finance to news to…whatever YouPorn is about.
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With weeks of double-page “For your consideration…” ads in Varietyand The Hollywood Reporter finally culminating in yesterday’s Golden Globes nominations announcement — about which I have nothing to say other than “at least 3, if not 4, of the nominees for Best Comedy or Musical are neither comedies nor musicals…I mean, seriously, The Tourist?” — Hollywood’s awards season has officially kicked into high gear. As a fan of TV, movies, pop culture, and pointy-headed overanalyzation in general, I’ve always enjoyed awards season (minus the extra traffic congestion that comes from living down the street from Grauman’s Chinese and the Kodak Theater).

Sure, maybe us entertainment lawyers seldom make it into the acceptance speeches (damn agents get all the credit). And certainly no one has ever memorably crowed “you like me! you really like me!” to a studio director of business and legal affairs. (If Spielberg would have won for Jaws in ’76, maybe he’d have thanked his lawyer, Bruce Ramer — after whom Spielberg supposedly named “Bruce,” the mechanical shark featured in the film — but unfortunately for the entertainment legal community, Spielberg never made it to the podium. I guess Spielberg himself might have been a little bummed about it as well.) As it turns out, though, the apparently legally-cursed Globes represent the one awards show whose recent history has provided several opportunities for us entertainment lawyers to get in on the awards season fun.

(Given the economy, I suspect lawyer voodooists trying to drum up business. J’accuse.)
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Driving to work on Friday morning, I happened to be tuned to KROQ and heard a story about a video of Miley Cyrus going to town on her favorite piece of smoking paraphernalia. Although Kevin, Bean, Ralph and company were reveling in what seems to be the rapid downward spiral of another teenage superstar, it occurred to me that, ever since Seth Rogen and James Franco’s daring “did-they-or-didn’t-they” promotion for stoner action-comedy Pineapple Express during the 2008 MTV Movie Awards, celebrities have become increasingly open about their use of a certain medicinal/recreational herb.

First, Olympic hero Michael Phelps was photographically compelled to admit to “engag[ing] in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment” (but which made for greatjokes about Phelps’ Olympian lung capacity and munchie-induced 12,000-calorie-a-day diet). Then Zach Galifianakis memorably — and hilariously — illustrated the subject matter of the California Proposition 19 debate on Real Time With Bill Maher. Now Miley and her “tobacco water pipe” — full of what her reps say was merely the California-legal hallucinogen salvia(and our eyes roll now) — has prompted one blogger to agonize over whether she or Phelps is “the bigger idiot” (spoiler alert: Miley wins).

Perhaps neither Miley nor Zach realize that Proposition 19 failed, but marijuana use remains illegal in California. In fact, depending on the quantity of cannabis in a person’s possession, it can still be prosecuted as a felony. So the obvious legal question is: could a celebrity caught smoking dope on camera be prosecuted? The short answer is, theoretically, yes…but don’t bet on it actually happening.
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I was in GameStop last week buying my daughter Hawx 2, a T-rated simulated aerial combat video game. As I was standing in line (with all the dads buying M-rated Call of Duty: Black Ops for their under-17 year old sons, while pretending to buy it for themselves), I was drawn to the display of the Microsoft Kinect, the new hands-free controller that is designed to allow the ultra-interactivity of the Nintendo Wii, but without any controller at all. You (and, apparently, one million of your likeminded early adopter friends) stand in front of a 3D camera system, which translates your movements in real life into the movement of your avatar on the screen. No longer is the pushing of a button or the swinging of a controller rendered as the action of your avatar; rather, your actual fingers, hands, arms, face and body are re-rendered as the action of your avatar exactly as you performed them. Ladies and gentlemen, at long last, the future is here (minus the flying cars, hoverboards, food hydrators, and everything else we were promised in Back to the Future, Part II).

I immediately thought of it as acting in a play. The real you is performing the movements from the gallery, while the virtual you is acting them out, in costume and on set, on the stage of your TV. It is like playing cops-and-robbers in the playground, except no one else need be present and no playground is required.

Of course, since I am a lawyer and never turn my lawyer brain off, I immediately recalled the most interesting question that was asked during November 2’s Supreme Court oral arguments in Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the decision in which is expected to come down sometime in Spring 2011.
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[Ed. Note: Last Monday, we brought you Part 1 of 2 of this month’s Facebook series, in which Dan Nabel walked us through some of the ethical pitfalls for lawyers litigating in a socially-networked world. Today, Rachel Wilkes wraps up our mini-series by giving you non-lawyers your due, explaining just how “private” your “private information” is once you move from the Facebook Wall to the courthouse steps. Preview: looks like everyone has yet another reason (besides the obvious) to move to California.]

A day in the life of an avid Facebooker might look something like the following. (This is what I hear, anyway. Not speaking from personal experience. At all. Ahem.): Get up. Eat breakfast. Post to Facebook about your breakfast. Drive to work. Post to Facebook about the horrible traffic in L.A. Do some work. Do some work on your farm on FarmVille.* Go to happy hour with co-workers. Post happy hour photos on Facebook… You get the idea.

All of a sudden, your 500 closest friends (or people you haven’t seen since elementary school) know every gory detail about your life. But that’s OK, because you adjusted your privacy settings so only your “friends” can see your profile details, and you don’t mind sharing those details with all of them. So it’s all still considered “private” vis-à-vis the rest of the world….right?

The answer to that may depend on which court is deciding.
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Last week, Bloomberg’s Lee Pacchia interviewed Law Law Land’s Steve Smith about the Supreme Court case of Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association, which will decide whether a California law barring the sale of violent video games to minors violates the First Amendment. Steve’s views on the subject, of course, are no secret. But we think his podcast makes
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There’s been a new development in the Troubling Tale of the Two-Steppin’ Toddler — or, as it is more commonly known in legal circles, the Lenz v .Universal case. Our regular readers are familiar with the facts: back in 2007, loving mom Stephanie Lenz posted a 29-second YouTube clip of her adorable tot dancing, with Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” blaring in the background (I actually think he’s just running around the kitchen pushing a Fisher Price walker, but I’m no Carrie Ann Inaba). A few months later, Universal Music had the video removed, claiming copyright infringement. Lenz fought back (Hell hath no fury like a mother scorned), claiming fair use of the copyright, and filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California for misrepresentation of a DMCA claim. Since then, Mega-Mom has scored several victories, surviving a motion to dismiss in 2008 and knocking out certain of Universal’s affirmative defenses earlier this year.
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