Manufacturers, Suppliers and Resellers Must Plan for California’s New Cruelty Free Cosmetics Act

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Almost no one favors animal testing for cosmetics.  The beauty market trend has been strongly away from animal testing, as demonstrated by the recent announcement of Coty, Inc.’s CoverGirl brand being certified cruelty free.  That’s why the personal care products industry supported California’s new Cruelty Free Cosmetics Act, SB 1249, which was unanimously passed by the California State Assembly and signed into law by Governor Brown on September 28, 2018.  The new Act does not take effect until January 1, 2020, but compliance will require cosmetics businesses to plan ahead.  The new Act may present some thorny and perhaps unexpected issues and risks for importers, manufacturers, distributors and resellers of beauty products and ingredients in California.

The new Act is found at Section 1834.9.5 of the California Civil Code, immediately following the existing animal testing law that has been in effect since 2000.   That existing law, Section 1834.9, continues to prohibit manufacturers and testing facilities from using animal testing when alternative methods have been scientifically validated and recommended by responsible agencies.  But the existing law has limited application, and the new Act significantly expands on the prohibitions of animal testing for cosmetics and their ingredients.

Generally, the Act prohibits a manufacturer from importing, offering or selling in California any cosmetic that “was developed or manufactured using an animal test that was conducted or contracted by the manufacturer, or any supplier of the manufacturer, on or after January 1, 2020,” with specified exceptions.  The first observation must be that the new Act will not apply to any manufacturer’s cosmetic or ingredient that was previously subject to animal tests.  The natural effect is that the Act generally does not apply to a manufacturer’s existing cosmetic ingredients and product formulations, even if the cosmetic or ingredient is manufactured after January 1, 2020.

However, manufacturers and importers need to note that the Act certainly can affect development of new cosmetic formulations, and so it will have a strong impact on use of innovative cosmetic ingredients in new or reformulated products.  This can impede participants in the personal care products industry who strive to develop new ingredients to improve and differentiate their products.  Scientifically-reliable alternative non-animal test methods can be slow to develop and receive approval by regulatory agencies, so the inability to conduct animal testing could inhibit the introduction of new cosmetic ingredients, particularly potentially complex ingredients such as new surfactants or polymers.

There are some exceptions to application of the new Act, but they may defy easy workaround solutions.  The first major exception is a multi-step assessment that exempts application of the Act if the manufacturer can establish all of these elements:

  1. An animal test is required by a U.S. federal or state regulatory authority, and no non-animal alternative testing method is acceptable;
  2. The ingredient tested is in wide use and cannot be replaced by another ingredient with similar function; and
  3. The need to conduct animal tests is justified to address a specific substantiated human health problem and supported with a detailed research protocol.

The multiple elements required for this exception are so demanding that its practical utility is doubtful.  But there are two additional exceptions that on first blush appear deceptively simple to apply:  First, if animal testing is required by a foreign regulatory authority for export to that country, the animal-tested product does not for that reason violate the new Act.  This was an important exception favored by the industry, because without it cosmetic products could not be readily exported to foreign markets, like China, that require animal testing.  The second exception applies if animal tests were required to be performed on an ingredient for non-cosmetic purposes.  In other words, if some animal testing was done on the ingredient for non-cosmetic purposes, or was required for exporting the product, that animal testing in itself will not preclude use of that ingredient in a cosmetic product.

On their face, these last two exceptions seem like they create large loopholes in the Act.  But looks can be deceptive.  Both of these exceptions are narrowed by an additional term that prohibits the manufacturer from relying on evidence of the animal testing to substantiate the safety of cosmetics sold in California.  California and the FDA require that “Each ingredient used in a cosmetic product and each finished cosmetic product shall be adequately substantiated for safety prior to marketing.”  (21 CFR 740.10(a))  There are few meaningful guidelines about what “adequate substantiation” of safety means, or exactly what records are required to be maintained to show such substantiation, but it is clear such substantiation must exist “prior to marketing.”

So the effect of the new Act is to prohibit manufacturers offering products in California from relying on animal testing as part of their “adequate substantiation of safety” before selling their products, even though the animal testing itself did not violate the Act due to the noted exceptions.  This limitation effectively requires manufacturers to somehow show separate, non-animal testing to have adequate substantiation of the safety of their ingredients and products prior to marketing.  That in turn renders the animal testing that was permitted under the exceptions useless to support the safety of cosmetic sales in the California market.

The safety substantiation requirement has yet another twist that may present a significant risk to manufacturers selling cosmetics in California after the new Act becomes effective:  Although no federal or California state law specifies how or what documentation of safety must be maintained, the new Act both permits and motivates district attorneys and city attorneys, upon their determination of “a reasonable likelihood of a violation,” to “review the testing data upon which a cosmetic manufacturer has relied in the development or manufacturing” of the product sold in California.  Given that violators can be fined $5,000 initially plus $1,000 per each day that a violation continues, which fines are payable directly to the city or county attorney’s office, district attorneys and city attorneys have powerful motivation to aggressively pursue possible violations.

It seems the legislature was sufficiently concerned about this “adequate substantiation” issue that it was felt necessary to specify in the Act that a manufacturer “is not prohibited from reviewing, assessing or retaining evidence from an animal test conducted” for non-cosmetic purposes (though, oddly, the Act says nothing about that for the separate “foreign regulatory” exception).  So just having an animal test in the manufacturer’s file may not violate the Act, but the manufacturer still cannot rely on those tests when a DA or city attorney comes calling.  Manufacturers must determine how they will maintain records to show adequate substantiation of the safety of all of their ingredients and product formulations, prior to marketing, without running afoul of the Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act.

The new Act does not itself create a new private legal claim, which means that (unlike some other California consumer protection statutes like Proposition 65) bounty-hunter plaintiff lawyers will not have direct motivation to pursue claims under the Act.  However, that has not stopped creative plaintiffs’ attorneys from bootstrapping other consumer product regulatory violations as bases for civil lawsuits, such as “Unfair Business Practices” claims under Business & Professions Code Section 17200 et seq., and even class actions under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA), California Civil Code Section 1750.  It is also not difficult to imagine competitors making claims of unfair competition based on allegations that a competing cosmetics brand violated California’s animal testing laws, perhaps including false advertising claims for good measure.

Cosmetics manufacturers and their suppliers have a little over a year to ensure that their cosmetics and ingredients made, imported or sold in California will be compliant with the Cruelty Free Cosmetics Act.  More challenging still, manufacturers, importers and ingredient suppliers will have to plan for development of new cosmetics and ingredients, with adequate substantiation of their safety that does not depend on animal testing results. Conkle Kremer & Engel attorneys stay up to date on important regulatory developments affecting their clients in the manufacturing and resale industries, and are ready to help clients navigate California’s fast-changing regulatory landscape.  If you have questions in this or other consumer product regulatory areas, contact CK&E at [email protected] or 310 998-9100.

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New Law Requires Professional Cosmetics Labels to List Ingredients

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Professional cosmetics sold in California must have full ingredient labeling in the same manner as consumer cosmetics, if the products are manufactured after July 1, 2020.  The California legislature unanimously approved AB 2775, introduced by Assembly Member Ash Kalra.  The bill was signed into law by Governor Brown on September 14, 2018 and enacted as new Section 110371 to the Health and Safety Code.

There are over 312,000 professional cosmetologists who are licensed to provide nail and hair services, most often in salons.  The legislature found that “[i]nformation on the ingredients in professional salon products is essential to ensuring that workers and owners can make safer product choices and take steps to protect themselves and their customers against harmful exposures.”

The new law will establish that professional cosmetics must have a label affixed on the container that satisfies all of the labeling requirements for any other cosmetic pursuant to the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. Sec. 301, et seq.), and the federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (15 U.S.C. Sec. 1451, et seq.).  In other words, professional cosmetics must have the same ingredient labeling as consumer cosmetics.

The law already defines the term “cosmetic” as “any article, or its components, intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to, the human body, or any part of the human body, for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance.”  (Health and Safety Code Section 109900)  The newly-enacted law introduces a new definition of “professional cosmetic,” meaning a cosmetic “that is intended or marketed to be used only by a professional on account of a specific ingredient, increased concentration of an ingredient, or other quality that requires safe handling, or is otherwise used by a professional.”  In turn, “professional” is defined for this purpose as “a person that has been granted a license by the State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology to practice in the field of cosmetology, nail care, barbering, or esthetics.”

There is arguably some ambiguity in that the new statute could be read to define a “professional cosmetic” in a circular manner as including a cosmetic that “is … used by a professional.”  Such an ambiguity is not likely a concern in this particular Act.  This is because the effect of this new law is just to require the same type of ingredient labeling for both consumer and professional cosmetics, so it should not matter whether a licensed professional uses a resalable consumer or professional cosmetic for purposes of compliance with this law.  However, if in the future the same definition of “professional” is incorporated into other enactments (much like “the definition of cosmetics” was incorporated here from a different statute), the circular definition may become more problematic.

The new law was enacted with widespread industry support, including the Personal Care Products Council, the Professional Beauty Association, California Chamber of Commerce, and Unilever.  Many manufacturers have already listed product ingredients on their professional cosmetic lines in a manner consistent with that required for retail cosmetics, and so may already be in compliance.  But manufacturers should review their professional cosmetic product labeling well ahead of the July 1, 2020 effective date in order to determine whether they comply.  Further, manufacturers should be aware that there is no specific “professional cosmetic” exception to other warning label requirements, such as Proposition 65, which requires warnings if use of a product on a consumer in California would result in significant exposure to identified chemicals that are known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.

Manufacturers are well-advised to seek qualified counsel to review their circumstances before committing to potentially costly label changes, to be sure they comply with all legal requirements.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys stay up to date on important regulatory developments affecting their clients in the professional salon products industry, and are ready to help clients apply navigate the changing regulatory landscape in California and elsewhere.

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Consumers are Exposed to Extreme Risks from Counterfeit Products

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Some consumers may view offers of brand name goods from sellers not within the manufacturer’s regular distribution chain as just a way to “get a good deal.”  But those offers can result in purchasers receiving counterfeit products, which are no bargain and can expose unknowing consumers to some of the worst risks imaginable.

At the very least, counterfeit products are frauds – they are not from the manufacturer whose trademark appears on the product, so the consumer is cheated out of the quality that the brand represents.  But in reality, the consumer has absolutely no idea what the contents and construction of a counterfeit product may be – it is a product of unknown origin, regardless of whether the consumer purchased from a known reseller.  Because virtually any product a consumer can purchase can be counterfeited, consumers can be placed in great danger from unknowingly purchasing substandard products.  A couple of recent events in the news highlight the extreme risks of counterfeit products.

In April 2018, the Los Angeles Police Department announced that it had raided sellers of supposedly discount brand name cosmetics, and seized $700,000 of counterfeits.  Consumers had complained to the brand manufacturers that makeup products they purchased were causing rashes and bumps on their skin.  The products were determined to be counterfeits that tested positive for high levels of bacteria and animal waste.  This is undoubtedly because the counterfeits are not manufactured with any quality controls or regulatory oversight – they are the result of a black market, pirate operation.  LAPD Detective Rick Ishitani was quoted in the press as saying, “Those feces will just basically somehow get mixed into the product they’re manufacturing in their garage or in their bathroom — wherever they’re manufacturing this stuff.”  One of the brands asserted to be counterfeit was Kylie Cosmetics. Kylie Jenner’s sister, Kim Kardashian West, tweeted:  “Counterfeit Kylie lip kits seized in LAPD raid test positive for feces. SO GROSS! Never buy counterfeit products!”

The risks to consumers of counterfeits unfortunately do not stop even there.  An even more extreme case of product counterfeiting hit the press a few days later.  Tragically, famed rock artist Prince died in April 2016.  It was soon determined that he had died from an overdose of fentanyl, an extremely powerful and dangerous synthetic opioid.  But in April 2018, local prosecutors announced that Prince had consumed the fentanyl by taking tainted counterfeit Vicodin, a brand name medication of AbbVie, Inc.  There was no determination as to how Prince obtained the counterfeit Vicodin pharmaceuticals.  “In all likelihood, Prince had no idea he was taking a counterfeit pill that could kill him.  Others around Prince also likely did not know that the pills were counterfeit containing fentanyl,”  Carver County, Minnesota Attorney Mark Metz was quoted as saying at a news conference.

Some believe that counterfeits can be identified by the price alone, and warn against buying brand name products at steep discounts.  While an inexplicably low price is certainly a red flag of a potential counterfeit, in fact counterfeit products are often sold to consumers at prices very close to those of the brand name product.  This is often because many intermediaries have handled the product, taking a profit with each transaction, in the course of a murky gray market distribution process.

The popularity of online sales make the risks even worse for consumers, as it is nearly impossible for the consumer to inspect the product before purchase and delivery, and it is often very difficult for consumers to determine who is actually selling the product online.  For example, many popular online sellers act as marketplaces for innumerable third party sellers, and a purchaser cannot always determine which seller will actually deliver the product purchased.

If you are a consumer, you really need to exercise great caution when considering purchases of brand name products from sellers who are not in that manufacturer’s authorized distribution channels.  It generally matters little whether the seller is known to the consumer – it only matters where the seller obtained the product.

If you are a brand name manufacturer or trademark holder who suspects that unauthorized parallel market sellers may be offering counterfeit products, you are well advised to promptly contact counsel well-versed in the issues and methods of enforcement of your intellectual property rights.

 

 

 

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No Fooling! On April 1, Almost All Employers are Subject to New Employment Regulations in California

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Effective April 1, 2016, new regulations of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) impose stringent new anti-discrimination and anti-harassment requirements on almost all employers having any employees in California.  Unlike in the past, the new amendments to regulations under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) apply to any employer having five or more “employees,” any of whom are located in California.  The word “employees” is important, because the new FEHA regulations count toward the minimum of five “employees” unpaid interns, volunteers and persons out on leave from active employment.  Further, it appears that this new FEHA regulation is intended to apply even to employers with headquarters outside of California if any of their employees are located in California.

The FEHA regulatory amendments require all affected employers to have written policies prohibiting workplace discrimination and harassment.  The policies must apply to prohibit discrimination and harassment by co-workers, who are made individually liable for their own violations, and by third parties such as vendors in the workplace.  The regulations demand that the written policy list all currently-protected categories protected under FEHA:  Race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, and military or veteran status.  Prohibited “sex discrimination” includes discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and related medical conditions.  Interestingly, the regulations also prohibit discrimination against employment applicants holding a special California driver’s license issued to persons without proof of legal presence in the United States.  It is not yet clear how this will work in conjunction with the employer’s existing Federal obligation to confirm eligibility for employment.

The employer’s written policy must specify a confidential complaint process that satisfies a number of criteria.  Workplace retaliation for making good faith complaints of perceived discrimination or harassment is prohibited.  The written policy must be publicized to all employees, with tracking of its receipt by employees.  If 10% of the employer’s work force speaks a language other than English, the written policy must be translated to that language.

Further, the new regulations attempt to resolve a number of uncertainties about who is protected, specifying that both males and females are protected from gender discrimination, and requiring that transgender persons be treated and provided facilities consistent with their gender identity.  There are many other changes, such as a new entitlement to four months for pregnancy leave that is not required to be taken continuously.  If an employer has more than 50 employees, there are additional requirements, such as periodic sexual harassment prevention training for supervisors.

Employers operating in California are well advised to review their policies and practices, and to consult with qualified counsel regarding changes that may be required.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys help clients remain compliant with laws, regulations and case developments affecting employers in California.

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Labels Matter: Consumer Class Actions are Available for Organic Labeling Violations

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The California Supreme Court has affirmed that “labels matter” to both buyers and sellers of consumer products. “They serve as markers for a host of tangible and intangible qualities consumers may come to associate with a particular source or method of production.” California protects consumers from mislabeling through a number of laws, including possible class action lawsuits under the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (Civil Code §§ 1750 et seq.), unfair competition laws (Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17200 et seq.) and false advertising laws (Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17500 et seq.)

Aside from California’s general false labeling laws, there are specific laws and regulations regarding organic product labeling. The California Organic Products Act (COPA), generally requires that multi-ingredient cosmetics labeled or sold as organic contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients. But COPA is designed to work in concert with Federal regulations that direct baseline standards for production, labeling and sale of organic products. The California Supreme Court recently addressed whether the Federal regulations of organic products in some manner preempt or supersede California’s consumer protection laws, so that only the very limited Federal remedies can be pursued when there are alleged violations of organic labeling laws.

In Quesada v. Herb Thyme Farms, Inc., the California Supreme Court determined that California’s general laws prohibiting labeling misrepresentation do not conflict with the Federal laws concerning organic production, labeling and sale, but rather complement those Federal laws by allowing additional remedies to be pursued when those laws are broken by fraudulent organic product labeling. The Supreme Court observed that “permitting state consumer fraud actions would advance, not impair” the goals of providing “a level playing field” to manufacturers of organic products and “enhance consumer confidence in meaningful labels and reduce the distribution network’s reluctance to carry organic products.” From this perspective, where products are fraudulently mislabeled as organic, “the prosecution of such fraud, whether by public prosecutors where resources and state laws permit, or through civil suits by individuals or groups of consumers, can only serve to deter mislabeling and enhance consumer confidence.”

The result for manufacturers, distributors and resellers is that organic product labeling can create concerns at multiple levels, including federal and state regulatory liability, and class actions under strong state consumer protection laws. All those involved in the chain of manufacturing and distribution of products labeled as organic should consult with experienced counsel to protect themselves from potential adverse outcomes that can come from several directions. Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys are well versed in helping their clients proactively avoid and resolve such problems.

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What Businesses Can Learn from Motorcycle Gangs

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December 11, 2018 Update:

The front page of the Los Angeles Times today features a new article on this long-lived lawsuit by the U.S. government against a motorcycle gang called the Mongols, which lawsuit has the stated goal of seizing for the U.S. government the Mongols’ storied trademark.  The lawsuit has been up and down the appellate process, and is awaiting a jury verdict after trial.  Some aspects of the case make it a real head-scratcher to trademark lawyers, but it has some lessons that can help more conventional business owners.

There is little doubt that the Mongols’ trademark is valuable, but the question that business owners should relate to is, of what value is the trademark if it is owned by someone other than its originator?  In this particular instance, it seems that transferring this trademark to the U.S. government would be of little or no value even toward accomplishing the prosecutors’ laudable goal to preclude the use of the Mongols’ trademark to continue to operate their gang.

Assuming the government wins and is allowed to seize ownership of the Mongols’ design or word trademark, the first problem is that new ownership of the mark does not prevent people who have lawfully received items using the mark to continue to use genuine products that bear the mark.  The “first sale doctrine” means that as long as the products bearing the Mongols’ trademark (such as patches, posters, shirts and vests) are genuine and unaltered U.S. goods, they can continue to be lawfully used and displayed by their owners.  So the existing Mongols members can continue to wear their Mongols’ apparel, or transfer them lawfully, even if the Mongols’ association cannot issue new products with the trademarks that it no longer owns.

Next, trademarks only have substantial value if they are actually used to promote products or services.  Since the government is not a rival motorcycle gang, what exactly is the government going to do with the Mongols’ trademarks other than retire them?  When trademarks are not used for a legally sufficient amount of time, they are subject to a determination that they have been abandoned and they become available to anyone – including their former owner – to again start using them.  So unless the government also manages to get a permanent injunction against the Mongols’ association ever again using their trademark (which seems unlikely, due to serious first amendment issues), once the trademarks are deemed abandoned the Mongols’ association may well be free to take back the trademarks as a full owner.

The ultimate lesson is that any prospective trademark owner must give thorough strategic consideration to who will own each trademark and what will be done with it, before expending substantial resources to create or acquire the trademark.

May 31, 2015 Blog Post:

The Mongols motorcycle gang has a distinctive registered trademark, which the U.S. government very badly wants to own.  Claiming use that dates back to 1969, the Mongols’ design trademark is an image of a man with sunglasses, mustache, and queue, wearing a black vest, holding a sword, and riding a chopper motorcycle, and includes the words “MONGOLS M.C.”  (USPTO Registration No. 4730806)  The MONGOLS design mark is used extensively by the group, including on jackets and motorcycle accessories, to signify affiliation with the association.  The MONGOLS design mark is owned by the corporation formed by the group, Mongols Nation Motorcycle Club, and it is classed as a Collective Membership Mark “indicating membership in an association dedicated to motorcycle riding appreciation.”

Since 2008, the U.S. has been prosecuting individual members of the Mongols for a wide variety of criminal acts, including extortion, drug dealing and assault.  The government’s stated purpose is to “break the back” of the gang and put it out of business.  What better way to achieve that goal than to seize ownership and control of the MONGOLS design trademark that signifies membership in the gang?  The government’s view is that the trademark is an asset – arguably the single biggest asset – of the motorcycle gang and it can be seized when its members are found guilty of crimes requiring penalties and restitution to be paid to the government.  In focusing on the trademark, the U.S. government recognizes that the organization would become essentially non-functional if its members were stripped of the ability to readily identify themselves as being members of the association.

The first attack by the government in 2008 was an attempt to seize the MONGOLS word mark (USPTO Registration No. 2916965).  The government obtained a preliminary injunction restraining the transfer of the mark during the pendency of the action.  But the action stalled when the U.S. District Court found that the government was trying to seize the trademark from the wrong person.  In 2008, the government was prosecuting individual members of the gang for alleged criminal acts, but was trying to seize a trademark owned by the corporate entity that constitutes the Mongols association itself.  This governmental drive skidded off the road because it violated one of the basic tenets of trademark law:  The trademark is controlled by its owner, not by those who have non-exclusive licenses to use the mark such as members who are allowed to wear the mark on their jackets.

Not to be stymied, the U.S. Attorney returned to court beginning in 2013, this time with an indictment against the Mongols organization itself as an unincorporated association that is alleged to be racketeering enterprise.  With this new approach, the registered owner of both the MONGOLS word and design marks is considered part of the indictment and the government seeks forfeiture of its assets, including its trademarks, which can be seized if the court allows that remedy.

One thing more conventional businesses can learn from the Mongols is to pay close attention to who owns the business’ marks, which are often its most valuable assets and usually vital to its survival and growth.  Should the marks be owned by the business entity itself?  By a sister entity that licenses it under strictures?  Or perhaps by the individual founder, who can license the mark to the entity and create a revenue stream for herself?

Even for businesses that are not motorcycle gangs, all structures for trademark ownership options have advantages and disadvantages, and business owners would do well to consult counsel familiar with the issues involved.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys advise clients about the most suitable trademark ownership and licensing structures for their circumstances and business plans.

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Manuel Noriega and Lindsay Lohan have No Doubt about their Right of Publicity

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What do Manuel Noriega, Lindsay Lohan and the rock group No Doubt have in common? All of them have sued videogame makers for infringement of their rights of publicity. On July 15, 2014, Manuel Noriega sued videogame maker Activision Blizzard in Los Angeles Superior Court when his name and animated likeness were included in the videogame Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Less than two weeks earlier, Lindsay Lohan filed a Complaint alleging that her likeness was used, under a pseudonym of “Lacey Jonas,” in the Rockstar Games videogame Grand Theft Auto V. No Doubt alleged that Activision exceeded the consent it gave for use of band members’ likenesses as avatars in the videogame Band Hero.

These claims seem to be emblematic of a recent upswing in claims of violations of the “right of publicity”.  One prominent example is Davis v. Electronic Arts, a case on behalf of some 6,000 retired pro football players who are suing Electronic Arts over use of their identities in the Madden NFL video game series.  In arguments pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, Electronic Arts claims First Amendment protection for claimed “transformative use” of the players’ images.  Even if that argument were successful, it will not likely be of much help to others who simply use a photograph or other unadorned likeness of an individual.

California and most other states recognize that a person has a right to protect his or her name, likeness, signature, voice and other identifying aspects of personae from commercial exploitation without consent. The right of publicity protects not just photographs but all forms of likenesses, including animated versions of people in videogames. The right of publicity is a type of intellectual property – in some ways analogous to (but not the same as) a trademark. An important point to understand is that the right of publicity is not ordinarily precluded simply by ownership or license of the copyright in the image – even if you took a photo of Lindsay Lohan yourself and you own the copyright in that photograph, that in itself generally does not mean you can use it in an advertisement to sell a product without Lindsay Lohan’s consent.

The right of publicity is distinct from rights protecting against slander or defamation – there is no requirement that a person’s reputation has been harmed in any way, or that he or she ever had a positive reputation. Manuel Noriega is probably best known as a former leader of Panama who was deposed, tried and convicted of drug trafficking, racketeering and money laundering. Nonetheless, Manuel Noriega has the same right to prevent others from commercially exploiting his name and likeness as anyone.

An important and often overlooked aspect of the right of publicity is that it is a right held by everyone – not just celebrities. While celebrities presumably may command more money for the commercial use of their identities, everyone has the same right to protect his or her name from commercial exploitation without consent, regardless of previous anonymity.

This is a particularly important lesson for businesses that might be inclined to scour the Internet, copy a photograph of some unknown model and use it in advertising or packaging. In addition to the risk that unauthorized copying and use might violate a copyright in the photo, such unauthorized use for commercial promotion runs a strong risk of violating the model’s right of publicity and giving rise to a claim for damages. Even a business that has ordered a photo of a professional model specifically for use in advertising or packaging would do well to check whether the model signed a release that covers the particular use, because model releases can differ in scope, duration and effect.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel has been involved on both sides of the right of publicity – defending actions by models against companies who thought they had sufficient releases of the models’ rights of publicity, and asserting models’ rights to be compensated for the commercial value of their likenesses. CK&E attorneys stay current on the developing law of the right of publicity, which is a quickly expanding area of law affecting everyone from manufacturers and marketers to models, celebrities and ordinary people.

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You Shook Hands – But Do You Have a Deal?

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Courts have held that, in business negotiations, “Handshakes are significant. When people shake hands, it means something.”  Unfortunately, they have also held that when people shake hands, “several meanings are possible.”

In Rennick v. O.P.T.I.O.N. Care, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal considered a party’s contention that a deal was struck when, after months of discussion and a 4-hour negotiating session, the parties “got up and circulated around the room and shook hands with each other on having made the deal.”  The Rennick case observed that a jury could reasonably find that “the handshake was confirmation of a contract, or that it was an expression of friendship and the absence of ill will after a day of hard bargaining.”  So, given the uncertainty of its meaning, should we stop shaking hands when discussing business?  Of course not.  Indeed, the Court noted that, “By custom, it is a rude insult to reject an outstretched hand in most circumstances, and to do so at the end of a long business meeting would likely prevent a future deal.”

The issue of the parties’ intent upon shaking hands is not a small one.  In August 2014, Charles Wang, the owner of the New York Islanders was sued by a hedge fund manager who claimed that the parties had shaken hands on a deal to buy the NHA hockey team for $420 million, and that Wang had breached their agreement by demanding more money.  The frustrated purchaser sued to either enforce an apparently unsigned 70-page agreement to conclude the sale of the team, or recover a $10 million break up fee that he claims was among the terms agreed upon with a handshake.

Courts struggle with this kind of issue, with or without handshakes.  In contract disputes, courts try to enforce the parties’ expressed intentions. For example, where the parties clearly express that they do not intend to be bound until they sign a formal written contract, courts will try to honor that intention by finding that no contract exists unless a written agreement was fully signed.  Indeed, negotiating parties usually can express almost any manner of requirement before an agreement becomes enforceable.  Quentin Tarantino’s civil war era film Django Unchained featured a climactic scene in which the odious character Calvin Candie extorted Dr. King Schultz into signing an outrageous contract, and then insisted that the signed contract was meaningless unless Dr. Schultz also shook his hand.  As a general point of law that was a doubtful proposition even in Mississippi in 1858, but if the parties had been careful to express that intention in their written agreement it probably would have been an enforceable prerequisite to the validity of the contract.

In reality, too often there is no such clear delineation.  If the parties do not eliminate such possibilities by an express statement of their intentions, oral expressions or an exchange of emails or text messages might create an enforceable agreement.  That is because, when the parties aren’t careful about expressing their intentions, courts are left to divine whether the parties intended an agreement with or without signatures on paper.  Courts consider testimony about what was said and evidence of what was written and the activities that took place before, during and after the time of the purported agreement to draw conclusions about what the parties’ intentions really were. Often, the parties’ contemporaneous correspondence is the most important evidence of whether the parties intended to have a binding agreement immediately, or whether the parties intended only to express their good will or intention to negotiate further.

To avoid unnecessary disputes, a cautious businessperson should make a point to express clearly his or her intentions.  The best approach is to plan ahead and be as clear as possible in a written expression as to when the deal is considered enforceable.  The Conkle law firm counsels and represents businesses in negotiations to achieve those ends, or in disputes that can arise when the businesses handled negotiations themselves and come to Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys only after things did not turn out as intended.

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The Conkle Firm Helps MANA Evict Domain Name Cybersquatter

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What do you do when someone else has taken your trademark and used it in an Internet domain name?  Just accept it, even if they’re offering competing products and services?  Do you have to go to court and file a trademark infringement lawsuit?  Fortunately, these questions all have the same answer: No.   You don’t have to accept it, and there are faster and less expensive ways to force the cybersquatter to give up the infringing domain name.

CK&E recently demonstrated this by helping its client, the Manufacturers’ Agents National Association (commonly known as MANA) defeat a cybersquatter and force the squatter to transfer the “manaonline.com” domain name to MANA.

All domains ending in a generic Top Level Domain (gTLD) – such as .com, .org or .net – are automatically subject to ICANN’s Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, an streamlined arbitration process referred to as UDRP.  UDRP provides an efficient method for a trademark owner to resolve its rights to a domain name that uses a substantial part of the trademark or is otherwise confusingly similar to the trademark.  Instead of going to court to sue for trademark infringement, the business owner can file a complaint online with one of several authorized arbitration providers, such as the National Arbitration Forum (NAF) or the Arbitration and Mediation Center of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).  Through a process that is conducted entirely online, these arbitration providers are empowered to force a domain name registrar to transfer a domain to its rightful owner.  This is especially useful if the cybersquatter is in some remote offshore location and cannot be reached by regular legal process, because the domain name registrars are always available and can be directed to transfer the domain name.

To force the transfer of a domain through UDRP, the business owner must show:  (1) the domain name is confusingly similar to a trademark owned by the business;  (2) the current registrant has no rights or legitimate interests in the domain name; and  (3) the domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.

In the case in which CK&E helped MANA, another company called “Dvlpmnt Marketing” based out of Saint Kitts and Nevis, in the Caribbean, had registered the “manaonline.com” domain name – which was essentially identical to MANA’s “manaonline.org”   Dvlpmnt had used the domain name to park a webpage featuring “pay-per-click” links to other websites offering services competing with those offered by MANA.  Dvlpmnt owns tens of thousands of domains, and has been the subject of several NAF and WIPO proceedings in the past.

CK&E attorney Zachary Page initiated a Complaint with NAF on behalf of MANA, charging Dvlpmnt with cybersquatting by registering and maintaining in bad faith, and with no legitimate rights, the manaonline.com domain name that was confusingly similar to MANA, whose genuine website is found at manaonline.org.  The different gTLD extensions, .com and .org, are legally insignificant in the UDRP process – effectively, the domain names were regarded as identical.  After the UDRP hearing, the NAF Panel held:

“Considering the totality of the circumstances present here—including the similarity between the disputed domain name and Complainant’s domain name, and the content of the website to which the disputed domain name resolves—the Panel infers that Respondent was aware of Complainant when it registered the domain name and that Respondent is using the domain name in a manner intended to exploit confusion with Complainant’s website and service mark.  These inferences are indicative of bad faith.”

Manufacturers’ Agents National Association v. Domain Administrator / DVLPMNT MARKETING, INC., National Arbitration Forum Claim Number FA1404001553434

A successful UDRP claimant generally has a choice to have the domain registration cancelled or to have the domain name transferred to the claimant.  It is almost always better to have the domain name transferred, so that it cannot be taken by another cybersquatter in the future.  CK&E is proud to have helped its client, MANA, successfully force the cybersquatter to transfer the manaonline.com domain name to MANA.

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Can Containers be Copyrighted?

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There are some containers that have achieved trademark status. Among the most famous are the Coca-Cola bottle and the OPI nail lacquer bottle. Ownership of a trademark in container design requires a solid showing of secondary meaning, which generally takes considerable time, sales volume, and promotional efforts. Ownership of a copyright in a new creative work, on the other hand, is automatic. Copyright registration is usually quick and inexpensive.

So why not protect a container design through copyright? Because a container design that is functional is not copyrightable.

According to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in its recent decision of Inhale, Inc. v. Starbuzz Tobacco, Inc., a case about a copyright claim on a hookah water pipe, copyright protection is not available for functional features of a useful article like a bottle or a chair. As a “useful article,” the shape of a container (including a hookah pipe) is copyrightable “only if, and only to the extent that, [it] incorporates . . . sculptural features that can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the container.” 17 U.S.C. § 101.

Courts have said that the non-functional, sculptural features must be “conceptually” or “physically” separable from the container in order to be protected by copyright. “Physically separable” is an easy concept – a printed label or a fancy emblem that is applied to the container can usually be protected by copyright, because it can exist separately from the container. “Conceptually separate” is more esoteric. The Ninth Circuit held that “the shape of a container is not independent of the container’s utilitarian function – to hold the contents within its shape – because the shape accomplishes the function.” In other words, as long as the shape of the container merely holds the container’s contents, the shape is not subject to copyright.

The Ninth Circuit left unanswered whether a “ring shape” that is molded into the bottle but does not conform to the interior container might be copyrightable as “conceptually separate” from the functional container. In any event, the Court’s lesson seems to be that, for copyright protection for a container, the copyrighted feature should serve no purpose in holding the contents. Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys regularly work with clients to most effectively secure and protect their valuable intellectual property, regardless of whether it’s a traditional trademark, artwork, a fragrance or a container.

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