Thursday, June 21, 2018

Descriptive fair use and "use in a trademark way"

Sazerac Brands, LLC v. Peristyle, LLC, --- F.3d ---- , 2018 WL 2975995, Nos. 17-5933 & 17-5997 (6th Cir. Jun. 14, 2018)

Filed 7 days after argument, which is interesting given that the panel creates a bit of a mess—essentially disagreeing with circuit precedent on use as a mark, but not going en banc on it.  This is going to be a pain for district courts; I take it that the best response for them will be to apply un-overruled precedent and leave it to the court of appeals to go en banc if they’re so unhappy with current precedent.

Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr., “the most remarkable man to enter the whiskey industry during the post-Civil War years,” built the Old Taylor Distillery in 1887. Once the “most magnificent plant of its kind in Kentucky,” the distillery fell into disrepair after the Colonel’s death, and production ceased there in 1972. In 2014, Peristyle bought the property, renovated it, and eventually resumed bourbon production there. Peristyle regularly referred to its location at “the Former Old Taylor Distillery” or “Old Taylor” during the renovation period, though the property has since been renamed “Castle & Key.” Sazerac, however, acquired the trademark rights to “Old Taylor” and “Colonel E.H. Taylor” for bourbon in 2009. The court of appeals affirmed the finding of descriptive fair use.

Descriptive fair use “tolerate[s] some degree of confusion.” Here, Peristyle used the Old Taylor name in a descriptive and geographic manner: “to pinpoint the historic location where Peristyle planned to make a new bourbon, not to brand that bourbon.” In four years, when that bourbon hits the shelves, Peristyle didn’t plan to put “Old Taylor” on the bottle.  Its uses included a flyer titled “The Historic Site of The Old Taylor Distillery,” whicht notes that “We are busy making history and restoring this bourbon ICON, the Historic Site of The Old Taylor Distillery.” A social media post invited followers to the “VIP Mailing List for the Former Old Taylor Distillery.” Another promotes barrel storage services at “the distillery formerly known as: Old Taylor.” These were uses of Old Taylor descriptively to identify a geographic location, the Old Taylor Distillery. As the district court correctly ruled, “Peristyle is not attempting to trade off the goodwill of Sazerac. Instead, Peristyle is enjoying the goodwill already ingrained in the property it purchased and is advertising itself for what it is: a distillery first built by Colonel Taylor, subsequently abandoned, but once again purchased, renovated, and restored to life as Castle & Key.”

Peristyle also acted in good faith: “One reason why Peristyle referred to the distillery by name so often was that it had yet to settle on a brand name for itself. That process was extensive, lasting over a year, in part because ‘the reverence for [Old Taylor] is tremendous ... and to find a name that would justify the spirit and architecture and history of this place was a really tall order.’” Once it decided on a name, Peristyle’s fliers featured that name.  Even though it didn’t always use “former” or “historic” to precede Old Taylor, but context still indicated references to the physical distillery in a descriptive manner, e.g., “We’re saving a seat for you at ... Old Taylor Distillery.”

Sazerac objected to a four-hundred foot “Old Taylor Distillery” sign on the distillery’s barrel storage warehouse and a twenty-foot “The Old Taylor Distillery Company” sign above the entrance to its main building. “But both signs adorned the building before Peristyle purchased it confirming that the company did not put them there or otherwise use them in bad faith.” Peristyle used the signs only to identify the location of a site that’s on the National Register of Historic Places as the “Old Taylor Distillery.”

Peristyle plans to put up a Castle & Key sign next to the historic signs; “[t]rademark law demands no more.” Peristyle’s commercial activities at the distillery, including hosting events and renting barrel-aging warehouse space to third parties, didn’t constitute use of Old Taylor as a trademark; they were use of Old Taylor as a place. “One way to make sure that people get to an event is to describe the location accurately.”

Sazerac spent a lot of time challenging the Sixth Circuit’s threshold “trademark use” test, requiring the plaintiff to show that the defendant is using a mark “in a ‘[ ]trademark’ way” that “identifies the source of their goods” before any confusion (or descriptive fair use) inquiry takes place. This panel seemed to agree with the critics.  But those critics exaggerated the consequences of the test, since trademark use “resembles in nearly every particular the fair use defense that we just applied.”  There might nonetheless be fact patterns where it would make a difference because of burden-shifting or because of an absence of inquiry into whether the non-trademark use was made “fairly and in good faith.”  However, the court of appeals decided just to affirm the district court not on its trademark use holding (which the panel specifically noted was faithful to circuit precedent) but by finding that Peristyle made descriptive fair use, which was supported by the record.

[Query whether this maneuvering is consistent with saying that the trademark use test doesn’t consider good faith—of course, if you don’t really have a distinct idea of what good faith is other than non-trademark, descriptive use, then this result becomes a lot simpler. Also, to the extent that the Sixth Circuit requirement also deals with nominative fair use, this characterization doesn't work; part of the temptation to talk about "use as a mark for one's own goods/services" is that you don't have to spend time parsing that kind of distinction.]

Monster imagery implies danger; no survey required to get preliminary injunction against it

Eli Lilly & Co. v. Arla Foods, Inc., No. 17-2252, 2018 WL 2998510, -- F.3d – (7th Cir. Jun. 15, 2018)

Arla launched a $30 million advertising campaign aimed at expanding its cheese sales in the US, using the theme “Live Unprocessed.”  The ads promise that Arla cheese contains no “weird stuff” or “ingredients that you can’t pronounce”—in particular, no milk from cows treated with recombinant bovine somato-tropin (rbST), an artificial growth hormone. “The flagship ad in the campaign features a vivid rhetorical flourish implying that milk from rbST-treated cows is unwholesome.” The ad opens with a caption: “Arla Cheese Asked Kids: What is r[b]ST?” A cartoon of a six-eyed monster and a fisherman appears and a seven-year-old girl named Leah narrates: “RbST has razor sharp horns. It’s so tall that it could eat clouds. You may want to pet it but the fur is electric.” The commercial then cuts to Leah enjoying a cheese sandwich, and an adult woman narrates: “Actually, rbST is an artificial growth hormone given to some cows, but not the cows that make Arla cheese. No added hormones. No weird stuff. Arla, live unprocessed.” A small written disclaimer appears for a few seconds toward the end of the commercial: “Made with milk from cows not treated with r[b]ST. No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from r[b]ST-treated and non r[b]ST-treated cows.”
the rBST monster has electric fur

And razor teeth

Arla defined “weird stuff” on its website:
No artificial additives. No ingredients that you can’t pronounce. No ingredients that sound confusing or in any way like a made-up word. No ingredients with names that sound like they may be aliens with nine arms, beasts with electric fur, gigantic robots[,] or bears in dis-guise. No artificial growth hormones like r[b]ST.* ... Nor anything else artificial[ ] because our cheese has always been made with simple ingredients and never anything weird.
The asterisk directs readers to another part of the website containing the same disclaimer that appears in small print in the television commercial.

Eli Lilly makes the only FDA-approved rbST supplement; it sued for false advertising, and won a preliminary injunction. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that “[c]onsumer surveys or other ‘hard’ evidence of actual consumer confusion are unnecessary at the preliminary-injunction stage.”  Its evidence of harm included confidential evidence that a major cheese producer chose to terminate its use of rbST partially in response to Arla’s ads. 

The trial judge found that milk from rbST-treated cows is equally safe and healthy for human consumption as other milk, something that Arla conceded for purposes of the appeal.  In a footnote, the court of appeals said that Arla would have trouble fighting on safety and health for humans anyway, since the FDA twice confirmed the safety of rbST-derived dairy products. A joint panel of the United Nations and World Health Organization also found “no evidence to suggest that the use of rbSTs would result in a higher risk to human health.” [But see International Dairy Foods Assoc. v. Boggs, finding that a ban on no-rbST claims violated the First Amendment and that there was evidence that milk from treated cows was compositionally inferior to milk from untreated cows.]

“A literally false statement will necessarily deceive consumers, so extrinsic evidence of actual consumer confusion is not required.” However, Arla’s ads didn’t make explicitly false claims about the composition or dangers of milk from rbST-treated cows. “Indeed, the explicit statements about rbST are factually accurate: RbST is an artificial growth hormone given to some cows, and Arla does not use milk from those cows.” Nonetheless, proof of actual deception isn’t required at the preliminary injunction stage.  “It’s not feasible to require a Lanham Act plaintiff to conduct full-blown consumer surveys in the truncated timeframe between filing suit and seeking a preliminary injunction.”  Eli Lilly’s evidence from the ads themselves, evidence about the quality of milk from treated cows, and evidence of decreased demand were enough to show likely success on the merits without a consumer survey.

“[T]he ad campaign centers on disparaging dairy products made from milk supplied by rbST-treated cows.…The use of monster imagery, ‘weird stuff’ language, and child actors combine to colorfully communicate the message that responsible consumers should be concerned about rbST-derived dairy products.” [Put that way, it sounds like another court could have found puffery.  I understand the impulse to protect against vague disparagement, but it is worth noting that the court doesn’t ask very much about what factual message exactly consumers will take away.]  It was reasonable to find these ads likely to mislead. 

The court of appeals also took comfort from FDA guidance warning that ads about rbST-free milk products “may be misleading if not placed ‘in proper context,’” including the disclaimer: “No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-treated and non-rbST-treated cows.” Arla’s ads put that disclaimer only in tiny print in the tv ad and in an “obscure location” on the webpage. “Neither disclaimer dispels the central message of these advertisements: that cheese made from milk supplied by rbST-treated cows is unwholesome.”

Evidence of decreased demand from a major cheese producer didn’t show actual confusion, but “given the cheese producer’s economic incentive to accurately predict consumer demand, its concern about the ad campaign’s impact on consumers supports the judge’s conclusion.”  This also made causation an easy question, since any false or misleading advertising regarding rbST that decreases demand for the supplement would necessarily harm Eli Lilly, the sole US supplier.

The court of appeals also approved of a modified injunction preventing Arla from disseminating any ad substantially similar to the accused ones that “claims, either directly or by implication,” that rbST is anything other than an artificial hormone that prolongs the lactation of dairy cows. That was specific enough, in the context of the rest of the order. The injunction also barred any ad that claims, “either directly or by implication,” that “consumers should not feel ‘good about eating’ or ‘serving to [their] friends and family’ dairy products made from milk of cows supplemented with rbST. That still allowed Arla to make claims about its own products; “[t]he prohibited negative inference can arise only if an Arla advertisement specifically mentions rbST … in a disparaging way.” [Nice to know that the Seventh Circuit is still really, really confident in its consumer-predicting prowess.]

Judge Rovner concurred, agreeing that no proof of confusion was required at this stage but declining to address the other merits of the Lanham Act claim.

Federal Circuit casts doubt on "association" question in survey

Royal Crown Company, Inc. v. Coca-Cola Co., No. 2016-2375 (Fed. Cir. Jun. 20, 2018)

The Federal Circuit remanded on the issue of whether COKE ZERO and similar marks could be registered without a disclaimer, instructing the TTAB to try again on the standard for genericity (which can include things that are integral to a subset of the relevant goods/services).  But I want to talk about an interesting bit in the court’s discussion of Coca-Cola’s survey, which it found to be not very probative of non-genericity.  The survey was old, but it also asked about the “associat[ion]” between ZERO and one or more companies, not about source or sponsorship. “[T]his question is not sufficient to demonstrate the public’s perception of the term ZERO; association does not imply that a consumer would be confused by seeing a ZERO-branded product under a different label, nor does it address what meaning consumers attach to the term ZERO.” Nice language to cite against the more overreaching surveys, although I recognize that the survey was trying to address secondary meaning rather than resulting confusion.  

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Three little words make a fair use

Oyewole v. Ora, 291 F.Supp.3d 422 (S.D.N.Y. 2018)

This case grants a motion to dismiss on fair use grounds, though it should have been on lack of substantial similarity in protected expression.

Oyewole is a founding member of the spoken-word group The Last Poets who created the song “When the Revolution Comes” in 1968. The song warns of a coming revolution when “guns and rifles will be taking the place of poems and essays,” with a back track of a drum beat and chants. Also: “When the revolution comes/ Transit cops will be crushed by the trains after losing their guns and blood will run through the streets of Harlem drowning anything without substance.” At the end of the song, the performers chant, “When the revolution comes (3x)/But until then you know and I know n*****s will party and bullshit and party and bullshit and party and bullshit and party and bullshit and party... Some might even die before the revolution comes” (ellipsis in original). Oyewole indicated that the “sole purpose” of the lyrics is to “challenge[ ] and encourage[ ] people to NOT waste time with ‘party and bullshit,’ but to move towards success.”

In 1993, The Notorious B.I.G. released the song “Party and Bullshit” celebrating his “hip hop lifestyle.” It begins: “I was a terror since the public school era / Bathroom passes, cuttin’ classes, squeezing asses / …” The chorus is: “Dumbing out, just me and my crew / Cause all we want to do is... / Party... and bullshit, and... (9x)” (ellipses in original). In 2012, Rita Ora released the pop song “How We Do (Party),” which begins, “And party and bullshit / And party and bullshit / And party and bullshit / And party, and party.” Further lyrics include “I get that drunk sex feeling/Yeah, when I’m with you/So put your arms around me, baby/We’re tearing up the town/‘Cause that’s just how we do.”  The opening lines recur several times throughout the song.  Oyewole alleged that the uses here “contrravened” the original purpose of the phrase as used in “When the Revolution Comes,” which was to discourage people from partaking in “party and bullshit.”

Understandably, the defendants maintained that “party and bullshit” was not protectable, but, following a pattern I find somewhat depressing, the court assumed otherwise and instead resolved the infringement issue as a matter of fair use.  Both songs transformed the purpose of the phrase “party and bullshit” “from one of condemnation to one of glorification,” … “in neither secondary work does it evince criticism or foreboding.” The Poets suggest that, as a result of the partying and bullshit, “[s]ome might even die before the revolution comes.” The phrase is “an expression of disgust and disappointment in those who are not readying themselves for the revolution.”  Not so for the accused songs, which embrace and exalt “party and bullshit” culture. Even the complaint recognized this by accusing the songs of contradicting Oyewole’s original purpose, which was to “encourage[e] people to NOT waste time with ‘party and bullshit.’ ”

Nature of the work: creative, which weighs against fair use, also published, which favors fair use.

Amount and substantiality of the portion used: one phrase. As for substantiality, “although the background track’s cutting out when the Last Poets chant ‘party and bullshit’ adds a level of gravity and importance to the phrase, the expression is not critically important to the song’s message. Instead, the song focuses on the upcoming revolution.”  [This seems like a pretty good reading, by the way; I just think it’s detrimental to the robust analysis of copyrightability/substantial similarity to do this as a matter of fair use.]

Market effect: transformativeness made market effect unlikely. Given the character and purpose from the original work, the target audiences were unlikely to be the same, and even if they were, the songs wouldn’t substitute for the original. [Note no explicit consideration of derivative markets, implicitly encompassed in the transformativeness discussion.]

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Second Circuit rejects falsity by necessary implication claim for UL certification

Board-Tech Electronic Co. v. Eaton Corporation, Cooper Wiring Devices, Inc., --- Fed.Appx. ----, 2018 WL 2901336, No. 17-3829-cv (2d Cir. Jun. 11, 2018)

Board-Tech and Eaton compete in the market for decorative light switches. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is an independent entity that tests, verifies, and endorses the safety of various electronic products; its imprimatur is commercially necessary for light switches in the US.  UL licenses the “UL 20” certification mark to products that meet its safety standards. Manufacturers must submit “representative samples” of their product to UL; if the samples pass the tests, UL authorizes the manufacturer to advertise and label its products as “UL 20” compliant.

Eaton markets its light switches as UL 20 compliant. Board-Tech alleged that its in-house engineers independently tested UL 20 compliance of eight sets of six light switches and that each of the 48 light switch units failed. Thus, it alleged false advertising, despite Eaton’s authorization from UL to use “UL 20.” Board-Tech didn’t send its test results to UL, and UL has taken no relevant action.

Board-Tech’s allegations couldn’t establish literal falsity, because they didn’t negate the fact that the product was indeed certified by UL.  Board-Tech argued falsity by necessary implication: UL 20 certification necessarily implies that the product purchased will hold up to the UL 20 standard.  But UL certification represents that a sampling of products complied with UL standards when UL tested the products, not that every single unit will perform the same way when tested by different entities. “To satisfy literal falsity under a theory of necessary implication, Board-Tech needs to allege sufficient facts to show that Underwriters Laboratories considers Eaton’s products non-compliant—not just that someone else does…. Board-Tech’s testing, absent additional indicia of non-compliance, does not render Eaton’s use of the UL 20 mark literally false.”  This contrasted to a previous case where the competitor’s product was altered and found on retesting by UL to be non-compliant.  In that case, “[h]olding [a product] out to be UL approved” after materially changing it “constituted a false representation.” “Without any indication that UL decertified the defendant’s product—or (perhaps) that the defendant’s product had materially changed since certification—there would be no plausible allegation of a false statement.” This has a Twiqbal twist: “To merit discovery into its competitor’s product lines and tradecraft, Board-Tech must ‘raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence’ tending to show UL would find Eaton’s products non-compliant.”

[Query: would Volkswagen’s defeat devices for emissions tests satisfy the court’s qualifications?  I can see it argued either way.  The problem is what it would mean for UL to “consider[]” (present tense) products non-compliant.  Is it literally false once you allege facts that, if true, would establish that no reasonable entity could consider its standards satisfied? That seems to be one reading of the “additional indicia” line. Or do you have to allege that the entity has come to a decision on the matter? I think the court wants to preserve space for the Volkswagen situation to be literally false by necessary implication, but it’s a bit tricky to do! Certainly the VW product didn’t materially change since certification; it just acquired that certification through falsehood.]

What about misleadingness? That requires extrinsic evidence, and the complaint didn’t offer other than conclusory allegations that consumers had been misled or confused.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Industry magazine publisher can be sued under Lanham Act due to allegations of financial interest in competing businesses

NY Machinery Inc. v. Korean Cleaners Monthly, No. 17-cv-12269, 2018 WL 2455926 (D.N.J. May 31, 2018)

Plaintiff Lee is the President of NY Machinery (NYM), which sells washing machines and dry-cleaning products, and also owns Kleaners LLC, a magazine publication for the Korean dry-cleaning industry. Defendant Chung owns defendant TKCM, a monthly trade publication that also targets the Korean dry-cleaning industry.

NYM previously advertised in TKCM, but stopped and formed Kleaners to advertise NYM’s products in his own industry magazine. TKCM, in retaliation, allegedly began a “malicious defamatory campaign” against NYM to damage their businesses and simultaneously boost their competitors’ businesses, some of which Defendant Chung allegedly has an ownership interest in. In an August 2017 issue of TKCM, NYM was allegedly referred to as “crooks” and a “fraud” in an article, and on the magazine’s cover.  This allegedly hurt plaintiffs’ goodwill, leading customers to cancel orders of NYM products or refuse to deal with NYM, and harming Kleaners’ subscription and ad sales. 

TKCM argued that its statements weren’t commercial advertising or promotion for Lanham Act purposes. The court used the Lexmark-modified Gordon & Breach test, noting that plaintiffs pled commercial competition by alleging that Chung has an ownership interest in some of NYM’s competitors, and that TKCM is a competitor of Kleaners. Although it doesn’t appear that the challenged speech was in a conventional ad, alleging that defendants falsely criticized plaintiffs’ goods and services in order to promote NYM’s competitors for defendants’ benefit was enough to allege commercial speech made in commercial advertising or promotion. New Jersey statutory unfair competition claims likewise survived, as did tortious interference and defamation per se claims.

The actual malice standard did not apply; protection for “matters of public concern” applies “to businesses that are of such inherent public concern[,]” and not to “businesses like ... the cleaning of clothes, and numerous other local businesses that involve everyday products or services.” TKCM’s articles concerning plaintiffs’ dry-cleaning and magazine publishing businesses didn’t involve matters of public concern. Anyway, plaintiffs sufficiently pled malice by alleging knowing dissemination of falsehood. This also adequately pled a false light claim.  Trade libel claims were dismissed for failure to plead special damages with the requisite particularity. Plaintiffs said they were willing to provide specific names under a confidentiality agreement, but they’d have to amend the complaint to do so.

Right of publicity: Legislative initiatives

Legislative Initiatives:  What matters
Moderator:   Daniel Kummer, NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Panelists:     Vans Stevenson, Motion Picture Association of American, Inc.
Uniform Law Comm’n has a project this year to create a uniform draft law for all 50 states. We, among others, have opposed that program. We don’t want to have to lobby in all 50 states at once.  NY: pending bill; Louisiana also, w/bill sponsored by IP lawyer who’s looking at NY for what happens. Trying to solve an issue for a locally famous French Quarter musician.  Last 20 years, 14 states have worked on ROP litigation MPAA engaged w/directly. Cal. 1999: Fred Astaire’s widow went crazy on a ruling on an instructional video clip of Astaire protected by 1A. Could have dealt w/digital avatars back then but then didn’t.

Kummer: postmortem extension is the biggest issue—why is that?

Stevenson: biopics; dealing w/the heirs of famous people esp those who aren’t actors.

Gena Feist, Take Two Interactive Software, Inc.: We didn’t see a digital avatar problem; don’t fix something that doesn’t exist.  Lohan/Gravano: ruled that the current statute applied and that we didn’t violate it.  Pending legislation rewrites 2 sentences into 4 pages, adds postmortem element, and adds digital recreations of actors. There’s been over 100 years of litigation over 2 sentences; don’t change if there’s not a current problem. If there is a problem, it’s that there is no fee-shifting or motion to strike procedure to get rid of these cases quickly.  [anti-SLAPP law!]  There’s extortion from people who say “that looks like me!” and T2 can afford litigation but small game makers, of which there are many, can’t.  The games people are unclear about expressiveness are simulation sport games, not games like Grand Theft Auto where there are 100 hours of storyline.  The Lohan/Gravano argument focused on “disguised advertising”—can you put something in the game and then use it for advertising/mugs?  Going forward, that’s an interesting issue. Another issue resolved in the opinion: though sufficient similarity may be an issue for a factfinder, there is a threshold issue of whether there’s enough to get to a factfinder that a court can and should resolve on a motion to dismiss.

Edward Rosenthal, Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC: NY has generally gotten it right; dangers to NY industries if there’s a big change. [Solution in search of a problem.] If you really want a postmortem right, that’s a 1 sentence fix to the statute, not a total rewrite.

Feist: a postmortem right doesn’t necessarily protect creators. Perhaps a nontransferable right for families would go a long way—avoid ROP trolls as there are patent troll groups, copyright troll groups.

Kummer: worry is that young performers will be forced to sign away rights early in their careers.  Are exemptions counterproductive by suggesting that everything else is subject to ROP?

Stevenson: exemptions for expressive works are designed to increase certainty. We don’t want the cases brought in the first place against motion pictures, magazines, etc.

Feist: if it encompasses all 1A rights, there’s no argument against it. But she can’t imagine a bill that expands the right and then carves out 1A protected rights that increases certainty unless it is incredibly clear and incredibly strong and includes fee-shifting/motions to strike—people are suing [T2] now based on a law that’s already really clear.

Stevenson: generally works well for us. [yes, b/c you are representing legacy media, and Feist isn’t.]

Kummer: countering emotional appeal of actors/players claiming rights over their digital avatars?

Stevenson: Paul Newman: if you are a producer (as he is) how are you going to do certain kinds of stories w/o a real exemption? Much high-level talent also works as producers, writers, and you explain that.

Kummer: deepfakes?

Feist: it’s a solution looking for a problem. Actors say they don’t want to be cast against their will, that’s very sympathetic but it’s not happening outside of porn—deal w/specific and narrow problem, not all movies/video games. Also, the problem w/that industry is that it is unlikely to respect any laws NY might write against it.

Rosenthal: identity theft doesn’t need to be addressed through the ROP at all. Likewise revenge porn. So too with “deepfakes.”

Stevenson: Legislators often want to make a name; don’t care about whether an existing law or another law would work [SESTA/FOSTA!].  Also they don’t care about the 1A: they say let the courts figure it out; they’ll get the credit for the law regardless.

Kate Klonick: wants to push back on ROP as inappropriate for deepfakes—there absolutely is going to be a big deal in which people want to watch Harry Potter & Hermione Granger as played by the movie actors having sex.  There are dignitary and expressive harms that occur.

Feist: but then you can’t have an expressive works exemption (for regular movies, video games, etc.) as opposed to having a special targeted statute.

Stevenson: political advertising is exempt, but deepfakes for politics are going to be a big problem.

Q: digital avatars: Tom Cruise doesn’t need to be in Mission Impossible 8. That’s sympathetic.

Stevenson: we drafted language with SAG-AFTRA that could cover that, but in reality it’s covered by union agreements/contracts.

Q: similar to sports games: you’re having them do what they do for a living and not paying them.

Feist: for living actors, that makes some sense, but for dead ones it doesn’t. You’re not taking the dead one’s salary. A dead actor’s “right” to earn for their families is different from a family interest in not seeing a dead parent endorsing products 30 days after their death.

Stevenson: great advice: if you don’t understand it, kill the bill!

Rosenthal: a couple of other things about last year’s NY bill. It abandoned domicile and allowed anyone to bring claims in NY. Extended statute of limitations from one to three years, and adopted a discovery rule. We know from © how difficult this can be.

Right of Publicity, Litigating the Claims

Litigating the Claims

Rick Kurnit: told the story of litigating the White case, in which the author of the panel opinion didn’t know what a letter-turner was. Had to go to trial with a jury, all of which regularly watched Wheel of Fortune.  Jury found that robot was Vanna White, and that she was endorsing the TV being advertised.  Awarded more on the Lanham Act claim than on the ROP claim.  What about parody?  Spent no time on that, parody wouldn’t help b/c parody just means they’re the same [parity].

Nathan Siegel, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP: Cultural trend favoring celebrities, and willingness to view a celebrity’s “story” as quasi-property of the celebrity. This has become pervasive, so more judges go into cases w/ a presumption, almost incredible to 1A advocates, that people have a right to control the marketing of their story. Cardtoons case: additional inducement for achievement from ROP often inconsequential, b/c most personalities are adequately compensated. Even w/o ROP, the rate of return in entertainment & sports is high enough.  I agree, but that’s not a shared sentiment today. People don’t seem bothered by a billionaire like Michael Jordan winning $10 million for a congratulations taken out in Sports Illustrated.  Opposing speech interests are discounted more often than 20 years ago.

Cultural backlash against the media. In this genre we’re seeing a particular tendency to view sports/entertainment as fluffy and avaricious.  Exploitative in some fundamental sense. Not really worthy of deference in the same way as news & political speech. Judges issuing the worst decisions in this area, such as trial court in de Havilland, Porco, NCAA—relatively liberal judges. Feels like, in an era where people feel the need to attest to their anti media bona fides, that’s one way it happens on the liberal side.

Things to think about: temptation is to argue w/intellectual abstractions, such as transformative use. Need to frame in appealing, common sense way. Why does the breadth of the right not make sense?  Pitch it as a matter of control before the fact. The cases always come up after the speech, so it looks like we’re arguing over “why didn’t they get paid?” But the right is a right of personal control before the fact, and that looks a lot different. Everyone shown in a clip could control the right to broadcast the clip ever again. [This was an important point in the FanDuel amicus that Mark McKenna & I recently wrote.] Rarely just about the P; usually there’s a significant group of people involved who could theoretically bring the same claims. How could every single person have an individual right of control? [aka anti-commons property] If everyone had a right to control how their image was going to be depicted in advance, that’s a veto for everyone.  De Havilland isn’t just about de Havilland. If you have two people feuding, should each one be able to say “you can depict the feud as long as I win it”? Seems to be a notion among some judges that docudramas are icky—neither fish nor fowl, taking documentaries one step too far by quasi-fictionalizing them.  Just a modern TV version of historical fiction, a genre that’s been around for 100 years. 

We should think of the 1A as the last resort, not the first resort.  It’s an extremely defensive way to frame the case. The 1A only comes into play if there is a right under state law. So we are conceding that the states are saying that celebrities do have that right, and we’re asking for special protection. That’s generally unnecessary b/c most state cts w/common law or state laws didn’t intend to call docudramas and sports programming into question, whether or not they put a specific exemption in. Think first about pushing back on scope.  Copyright preemption is another potentially successful argument.

Push back on the notion that this is an IP right.  Take all the Nobel prize winners for science & ask what the value of their ROP and match that against the ROP of Al Capone’s estate—the latter is more valuable, though he didn’t contribute anything creative or useful. ROP doesn’t award effort, just fame.

In the long run, need to push that Zacchini wasn’t a ROP case. Confusion in the case itself and subsequently.  It’s a common-law © case: broadcast rights of event producers.  Not in the short run, that’s the best chance to cut the legs out of this area.

David Schulz, Ballard Spahr LLP: what judges lack is clarity about a structure for the theory: what is protected and why. Most judges think they’re working w/in the law and want to do justice. Start to be very clear about the structure we’re building and the societal interests at stake. Should frame things in Rogers/Gugliemi terms: how we describe what’s being challenged here. Is it something that can be fairly called public discourse, news, entertainment—things intended to convey information—or is it an effort to sell/advertise a product. Whichever world you’re in, 1A principles differ but also state law principles differ.

Spahn: case in which P alleged that a book about him was fiction despite being advertised as fact; similar to Eastwood case in California.  Can justify a claim under this as a kind of “sham petition” claim—not really nonfiction as advertised.  Subsequent case law (Arrington) about using pictures to illustrate articles: Is there a reasonable relationship b/t the picture and the content?  If so, no claim.  Messenger case: girl sued for use of her picture in an article about a letter writer who’d gotten drunk & had sex w/men. Court agrees, but the P argued that it was more like Spahn—Court of Appeals doesn’t want to say Spahn got it wrong so it adds bad language to distinguish them; Spahn holds that ROP applies to totally invented biography, as if that was a special category, and was only trading on the persona, but then adds loose language: Sec. 50 applies when an article purporting to be newsworthy is so embellished/fictionalized that it can’t be said to fulfill the purpose of newsworthiness.  Porco: movie about a young man who killed his father/tried to kill his mother—sued b/c they used his real name and argued that he had a claim b/c it was substantially fictionalized.  Appellate court allowed that to proceed to discovery. Would be better to start w/asking if something was for purposes of public discourse, not purposes of trade; if so, no NY right. We know total fiction is protected, as is total truth; there’s no sense and no predictability in saying that somewhere in the middle there is a claim.

Annie Pell, NFL
Dryer case: building a record on newsworthiness. Experts opining that NFL Films weren’t ads.  Survey of consumers showing that more than 90% saw these programs as sports/entertainment and not as ads/infomercials. Marketing prof opined they weren’t ads—longer, no explicit sales message, not paid spots, listed in TV Guides, won Emmys for TV and not awards for ads. Branding and advertising are two very different things—enhancing the value/brand was no different than the way in which a celebrity bio enhances value of brand. Like pre-game and post-game shows, always treated like that by networks. Sports marketing agent for ROP licensing who said they weren’t recognized w/in the industry as ads or endorsements and that players don’t expect compensation for these types of appearances.

How to deal w/handful of internal NFL docs produced in discovery that Ps argued showed that the NFL’s intent was to build brand?  Value derived was as great as a big ad budget.  Sports Illustrated described NFL Films as a really effective propaganda arm.  But they were so not b/c they proposed a commercial transaction but b/c they were really good content.

Finally, distinguishing Facenda, which 3d Cir found to be commercial speech: separate product references, countdown to release of the game described in the “infomercial.”

Spiegel: Fictionalization doesn’t fit within Section 50/51, but it’s hard to go before a court & say we have a right to fictionalize (where a state, like NY, lacks a false light claim).  Easier to focus on disclaimers: show that it’s based on a true story. As w/ Messenger, where defamation claim failed b/c the letter was signed “Anonymous” and reasonable readers would not think that the depicted model was the author of the letter; no reason to override that conclusion w/a ROP claim.

Right of Publicity panel, Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression

From Yale Law School’s Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression
Commercial Speech and the First Amendment: Does the Right of Publicity Transcend Commercial Speech?

Jennifer Rothman: Right of Publicity? Right of Privacy?
Rothman gave a keynote summarizing highlights of her excellent book on the right of publicity. The key shift, she argues, is not from privacy to property (she says it was understood as property by many from the beginning) but from personal right to transferable right and thus to “IP” right.  1A scrutiny has been limited by IP analogy; deeming works to be less original/expressive because they use another’s image, even though that doesn’t make sense.

Big 1A challenges: The video game cases’ emphasis on realism as a reason that there’s no 1A protection for depictions.  Sarver v. Chartier, which looks like a win for movies but which she doesn’t like because its emphasis was on the lack of commercial value in the plaintiff’s identity—the very public figures we most need to talk about will have commercial value, and those are the ones that the 9th Cir. said had the strongest IP right that could overwhelm 1A rights. Thus Olivia de Havilland’s claim in Feud was no surprise—it combined realism + celebrity value. The trial court accepted de Havilland’s realism claim, though the court of appeals didn’t. Now seeking review by Cal. SCt; she expects affirmance of court of appeals but the grounds could be better or worse.

Panel discussion:

Moderator:   Jeremy Feigelson, Debevoise & Plimpton
Panelists:     Robert C. Post, Sterling Professor of Law, Yale Law School: different interests need to be broken out and analyzed. Protection for performance: Zacchini.  Dignity: a violation of dignity to take someone’s image. Right to control one’s image: the right to be forgotten, the GDPR—right to control information about you.  Essence is control as an interest in itself.  Trademark: the right to preserve the mark against disparagement, dilution.  Trademark: false endorsement/roughly akin to false light. Each interest would define damages differently; assignability would vary across these interests.  Different interest would get different shape tort, but we don’t, which is an indicator of how confused things are and which makes 1A analysis difficult. 

1A: many complicated tests; more like the IRS code. But when you get down to it, your job as lawyers is to say what’s moving the court.  Transformativeness test makes so little sense on its own terms it can’t possibly be moving the court; what are the actual social dimensions of what speech gets protected?  Different kinds of speech acts & the 1A value the court sees.  (1) Public speech acts. The SCt protects speech because of your right to form public opinion, which makes the government responsive—highest form of protection.  (2) Commercial speech: not about forming public opinion but about selling goods—a normative distinction w/gigantic consequences, though the court is beginning to lose track of those consequences.  You couldn’t regulate misleading editorials, but the FTC regulates misleading ads. Compelled speech is allowed in commercial speech, as are prior restraints. Fundamental, pervasive doctrinal distinctions controlled by this on/off switch.  Matal v. Tam (makes very little sense in this context).  (3) Comedy III: one question is whether this is art? Or is it a T-shirt/merchandise w/an image on it?  [That’s the same thing said two ways, in my opinion.]  If that same artist had put it in a frame, court would have seen it as art/public discourse; transformativeness was beside the point.

Early Prosser tort of appropriation: in many forms, seen as an autonomy right the way the Europeans write about personal information.  Right to control information in public discourse is contrary to the basic premise of the First Amendment.  To protect the ROP for that reason is ruled out from the get-go.  That’s why the RTBF/GDPR doesn’t have a 1A prayer in the US. That’s distinct from falsity/disclosure of private facts; that’s not control, but the dignitary harm of disgrace. That’s a protectable interest, albeit a narrow one. Right to control info in commercial speech: an almanac of baseball players & their statistics—I do it around gum. The court says it’s protecting commercial speech to protect dissemination of information. Insofar as the court says that, commercial speech is protected for listeners to receive accurate information. Is there a true interest in preventing listeners from receiving accurate information?  Why would using the image instead of the stats change anything? Atavistic feeling that the image is more of a dignitary harm. Need to clearly articulate the interest that the 1A is protecting as well as the ROP.

Rebecca Tushnet, Frank Stanton Professor of the First Amendment, Harvard Law School    
Comedy III involved lithographs: I have owned two copies of the Three Stooges lithograph.      
Some things that courts have accepted, at least at the pleading stage, as ROP violations: a lawyer listing his clients on his website; references to a company that is named for its founder and allegedly inherently associated with its founder; Wikipedia edits about the history of a product; and a whole range of expressive works with de Havilland only the most prominent recent example.  One caution: as long as you can call anything “confusing” under TM law, the idea of false endorsement won’t produce much of a limit. Solved in TM by fiat—declaring certain things nonconfusing. 

Rothman: all the tests are trying to get at the same thing—balancing interests—but we need to be more clear about what we’re interested in.  Years later, as we have different “tests,” we’ve lost sight of what they were about to begin with.  If transformativeness means you can’t depict de Havilland realistically, then transformativeness doesn’t work; the court of appeals dropped a footnote indicating potential agreement w/that.

Feigelson: all the types of works we’re talking about get vetted; lawyer wants to know whether a motion to dismiss will succeed. Do any tests give clarity?

Post: as a practical matter, you can always sue and draw a judge who won’t do the right thing. Ultimately, are you going to win?  It’s extremely important to know movie v. ad v. merchandise. If it’s a disparagement case it might be more determinative.  But courts are uncertain about how to treat many media, including video games.

RT: Justice Stevens’ old test for commercial speech regulation: is the regulation designed to protect consumer in transaction?  In that case, we should give it more relaxed scrutiny.  If the regulation is trying to do something else, it has to meet more stringent standards. That may be better than trying to say whether a particular speech act is “commercial speech.”  And in practice the SCt has been working its way towards that result at least w/r/t nonmisleading commercial speech. 

Rothman: remember that courts use commercial in different ways: sometimes they use it to mean “for profit” and sometimes “advertising.” Courts do treat merchandise differently even though merchandise is not commercial speech.  She thinks merchandise can be very expressive—MLK Jr. bust.  Rosa Parks plaque sold by Target.  Expressive merchandise. But commercial advertising is also very expressive.  Patagonia fighting Trump on environmental regulations, etc. There’s a lot of convergence b/t politics, cultural identity expressed by product choice, etc.  In terms of predictions: Traditional content/media: you should not worry too much about ROP.  If you’re selling merchandise: worry. Nontraditional media: less safe. Commercial advertising: even less safe. Not sure it should be that way. Eventually the simplicity of the commercial/noncommercial divide will break down.

Thinks that putting an image on a mug will violate ROP but a little bit of commentary will be enough to take it out of the merchandise box—even TRUMP SUCKS would be enough. Potential substitutionary effect for potential market for the plaintiff is also relevant. With Reese Witherspoon, she might want to sell her own mugs/jewelry.  More akin to performance—undercutting of professional opportunities. Merchandise cases are substitution cases. [But see Moore v. UA where the court concludes that the work is transformative, but that still doesn’t it allow it to be put on a mug or calendar.]

Post: coverage and protection—Court sees mugs as not covered [though note that if a public employee were fired for having a “Hillary Clinton” mug that would be treated as a speech issue; Post indicates that the mug would be evidence of the impermissible motive and not the thing itself (but the reason that the ROP would regulate the mug itself is also because of the reason for the regulation)].

Does not see how a simple name or image on a mug impairs dignity, though there is a false endorsement question under modern circumstances. 

Rothman: less troubled by limits on the use of private figures—they are often substitutable—in fictional depictions (though thinks that the Hurt Locker case clearly comes out the right way).

Feigelson informed us of the existence of a Lego recreation of the Zacchini case, including Hugo Z telling the Lego reporter not to film.

Rothman: hard to imagine that Zacchini would sue in 2018 because of brand promotion issues; still thinks the case was wrongly decided. 

Some discussion of the case filed by Muhammad Ali’s estate against Fox for its pre-Superbowl ad/mini-documentary linking Ali’s greatness with that of the NFL.  I thought it was commercial speech [is that off-brand or on for me?]

isn't it good? mahogany wood isn't always mahogany

Golden v. Home Depot, U.S.A, Inc., 2018 WL 2441580, No. 18-cv-00033-LJO-JLT (E.D. Cal. May 31, 2018)

According to the complaint, authentic mahogany is prized for its beauty, durability, color, and ease of use in woodworking. It has a reddish-brown color, darkens over time, and displays a reddish sheen when polished, and is the wood of several species of trees in the Meliaceae family. Home Depot advertises, markets, and sells as mahogany some species of eucalyptus from the Myrtaceae family, commonly known as “Swamp mahogany.” Swamp mahogany is denser and more difficult to work with than authentic mahogany. Home Depot also markets Ecualyptus resinifera wood as “Red mahogany” and wood of the Myroxylon balsamum, a tree in the Fabaceae family, as “Santos mahogany,” and this is heavier than authentic mahogany and more difficult to work with.

Home Depot discloses the species of some types of wood that it sells online, but not the species of its mahogany products. “Knowing the species is important in determining the quality of the wood, and influences factors including workability, durability, and resistance to rot.” Home Depot instead advertises that the mahogany board it sells online and in stores is “premium” and “finest grade.”

Golden bought wood sold as mahogany board. Unnamed employees of Home Depot told him that he was purchasing “authentic, genuine mahogany,” but they were in fact made of less valuable Swamp mahogany. He brought the usual California claims.

The court declined to take judicial notice of definitions used in various websites submitted by Home Depot.  Although the complaint quoted Woodworkers Source, a website primarily selling mahogany and other hardwoods and also hosting FAQs, a blog, and other informational resources for lumber buyers, citing one page of that site didn’t open the door to treating unrelated portions of the website as subject to judicial notice.  “The meaning of a disputed term in trade or common usage is precisely the factual question that is at the heart of this matter, that is, whether Defendant’s lumber labeling practices were false or misleading to consumers.”  At the motion to dismiss stage, the court declined to look to dictionaries or trade and industry usage to determine the meaning of words.

The court found that the complaint satisfied Rule 9(b) with sufficiently detailed allegations about the characteristics of wood from different trees to conclude that genuine mahogany was a different product in important ways from Swamp, Santos, and Red mahogany; thus, labeling such species as “mahogany” was false.  The allegations of oral representations were also specific enough; a plaintiff alleging fraud “need not name the specific employee who made the misleading representation when it would be unrealistic to expect a customer to recall that detail,” and he alleged the approximate time and place of the transaction, as well as the nature of the misrepresentation.  He also alleged reliance on written representations in stores and online.  He was not required to allege justifiable reliance, which is an element of common law fraud but not consumer protection claims, defeating Home Depot’s argument that the wood was too cheap for him to have believed he was buying real mahogany.

Home Depot argued no law or regulation required it to label its wood otheriwse, that its use of the word conformed with common usage, and that the lumber industry commonly labels and sells a variety of woods as mahogany. And its descriptions of its lumber as “premium” and “finest grade” were, it argued, mere puffery.

But the alleged differences between genuine mahogany and Swamp, Santos, and Red mahogany were extensive, and it was plausible that a reasonable consumer could be deceived.  As for “premium” and “finest grade,” they might be puffery in some contexts, but Golden wasn’t claiming deception based only on the use of those adjectives. His argument was that, in this context, the words “premium” and “finest grade” supported consumers’ impressions that they were purchasing a more valuable or useful type of wood than they actually did, which could have misled a reasonable consumer.

Likewise, Golden pled an actionable omission under the CLRA because of the related affirmative representation that the products were mahogany, without disclosing the actual species. However, negligent misrepresentation claims failed because those require more than economic loss, which was all that Golden pled.

The court also rejected Home Depot’s argument that Golden lacked standing as to unpurchased products made of other species but also labeled mahogany. The court applied a “substantially similar” standard, as the majority of 9th Circuit courts do.  “Even though Swamp, Santos, and Red mahoganies are alleged to come from different trees, and the purchased and unpurchased products are therefore not identical in composition, the type of misrepresentation alleged is common to all three products. The types of harm are also the same for all of the named products.” Thus, Golden had standing.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Amended 9th Cir. opinion reaffirms deceived consumer's standing to seek injunctive relief

Davidson v. Kimberly–Clark Corp., 889 F.3d 956 (9th Cir. 2018) (amended)

Previous discussion.  Previously misled consumers may properly allege a threat of imminent or actual harm sufficient to confer Article III standing to seek injunctive relief. “A consumer’s inability to rely on a representation made on a package, even if the consumer knows or believes the same representation was false in the past, is an ongoing injury that may justify an order barring the false advertising.” Here, Davidson paid extra for wipes labeled as “flushable” because she believed that flushable wipes would be better for the environment, and more sanitary, than non-flushable wipes. Davidson alleged that she “continues to desire to purchase wipes that are suitable for disposal in a household toilet,” and “would purchase truly flushable wipes manufactured by [Kimberly–Clark] if it were possible to determine prior to purchase if the wipes were suitable to be flushed.”

First, the court of appeals reversed the dismissal of the complaint under Rule 9(b). The district court had concluded that Davidson failed to adequately allege “why” the representation that the wipes were flushable was false. But Davidson didn’t have to allege that she experienced problems with her home plumbing or the relevant water treatment plant.  Her theory was simple: flushable means “suitable for being flushed,” which requires an item to be capable of dispersing within a short amount of time. This definition was supported by multiple allegations in the complaint, including dictionary definitions and Kimberly–Clark’s own statement on its website.

Davidson alleged that the actual wipes she purchased failed to “disperse and disintegrate within seconds or minutes.” For example, Davidson alleged that after using the wipes, she “noticed that each individual wipe felt very sturdy and thick, unlike toilet paper” and that “[s]he also noticed that the wipes did not break up in the toilet bowl like toilet paper but rather remained in one piece.” Her personal experience was supported by additional allegations, including Kimberly–Clark’s own testing.  This was enough.

Similarly, the district court’s conclusion that the complaint failed because Davidson didn’t allege damages to her plumbing, pipes, or septic system was wrong.  “Under California law, the economic injury of paying a premium for a falsely advertised product is sufficient harm to maintain a cause of action.”  Additionally, to the extent that the district court believed that it was important that “plaintiff has not alleged facts showing how she came to believe that the [Scott Wipes] were not flushable,” this was error; Rule 9(b) doesn’t require a plaintiff bringing a consumer fraud claim to allege how she “came to believe” that the product was misrepresented.

As for Article III standing for injunctive relief,

[k]nowledge that the advertisement or label was false in the past does not equate to knowledge that it will remain false in the future. In some cases, the threat of future harm may be the consumer’s plausible allegations that she will be unable to rely on the product’s advertising or labeling in the future, and so will not purchase the product although she would like to. In other cases, the threat of future harm may be the consumer’s plausible allegations that she might purchase the product in the future, despite the fact it was once marred by false advertising or labeling, as she may reasonably, but incorrectly, assume the product was improved.

Although the amended opinion made clear that practical considerations for enforcing state law weren’t vital to its analysis, this holding also preserved the federal-state balance, given that the primary form of relief available under the UCL for unfair business practices is an injunction, and federal courts shouldn’t be used to prevent relief under state law. 

Judge Berzon wrote a thoughtful concurrence, arguing that Lyons v. LA should not be read to impose separate Article III tests for each form of relief sought by a plaintiff. “[D]uplicating the standing analysis in this way does not give effect to the “case or controversy” requirement of Article III. Instead, it appears to be an artifact of the discredited practice of conflating the prerequisites for injunctive relief with the Article III prerequisites for entry into federal court.”  As Judge Berzon pointed out,

Davidson seeks restitution for the premium she paid for a falsely labeled product, and no one doubts that she has standing in federal court to do so. Under California law, if Davidson prevails on her false advertising claim and is entitled to restitution, she is equally entitled to an injunction. No further showing, equitable or otherwise, is needed to trigger her right to injunctive relief. It follows that we have a single dispute—a single case, a single controversy—giving rise to multiple forms of relief.

While conflating entitlement to relief with Article III standing didn’t matter much where the availability of injunctive relief was governed by federal common law, it “adds new elements to the entitlement to state-law relief” and was thus inconsistent with Erie and other federal-state principles. “[A] defendant should not be able to strip a plaintiff of remedies dictated by state law by removing to federal court a case over which there surely is Article III jurisdiction over the liability issues.”

Not close, no cigar: larger warnings on cigar packages and ads ok, court rules

Cigar Ass’n of Am. v. U.S. Food & Drug Admin., 2018 WL 2223653, -- F. Supp. 3d ---, No. 16–cv–01460 (APM) (D.D.C. May 15, 2018)

Cigar makers sued to invalidate a forthcoming warning requirement for cigars (which the FDA is currently seeking more information on; the court thought it was “grossly unfair” that the FDA didn’t agree to freeze this expensive regulation if it’s considering not imposing it at all, but concluded that it had no authority to direct the FDA to do otherwise). The new warnings, replacing warnings done pursuant to a consent agreement with the FTC, would take up 30 percent of the principal panels of a cigar product package and 20 percent of a cigar product ad.

The challenged disclosures were purely factual and there was no dispute about their accuracy. A disclosure is “controversial” when it is “subject to misinterpretation by consumers,” or “inflammatory.” The textual warnings here, unlike the visual warnings previously invalidated by the DC Circuit, were unambiguous and unlikely to be misinterpreted by consumers.  However, the cigar makers argued that the large size of the warnings made Zauderer inapplicable, arguing that the warnings crossed a line where “the compulsion to speak becomes more like a speech restriction than a disclosure” because the warnings “assault ... customers’ senses” with “blaring government pronouncements” on advertisements, and impose on the historically “distinctive, artistic, aesthetically pleasing” cigar packaging the “jarring juxtaposition” of the warning statements in black, bold font on a white background.

Nope.  The new warnings were “large[r] and stark[er]” than those required under FTC consent orders, and the FDA’s regime compelled use of a larger percentage of ads, but sellers retained sufficient space in which to communicate their messaging: 70% of cigar packages and 80% of ads. Being compelled to provide warnings in larger text on a greater surface area “than they might otherwise be inclined to present” was not enough to constitute suppression of speech.  

And under Zauderer, this was an easy case. A “purely factual” and “uncontroversial” disclosure requirement satisfies the First Amendment so long as it is (1) “reasonably related” to the government’s interest and (2) not “unjustified or unduly burdensome.”

Plaintiffs argued that the government didn’t identify a “substantial” government interest, which I find jawdropping but the DC Circuit has previously invited by expressing uncertainty whether decreasing demand for a lawful product can be a substantial interest.  I note that Central Hudson itself is about decreasing demand for a lawful product (energy consumption) and that the Supreme Court easily found that to be a substantial government interest, and the Court did likewise in Rubin v. Coors (alcohol content).  Here, the court accepted that the government had substantial interests in “‘help[ing] consumers better understand and appreciate the risks and characteristics of tobacco products’ ” and “help[ing] correct current misperceptions” about cigars—there was evidence that youth and adult cigar smokers mistakenly believe that cigars are less addictive, more natural, and less harmful than cigarettes. Likewise, as in AMI, health warning requirements for tobacco have a long history, and there’s a real health concern given that “tobacco products are dangerous to health when used in the manner prescribed.” Thus, the court rejected plaintiffs’ claim that the only legitimate interest relates to decreasing underage tobacco consumption.

Plaintiffs further argued that the goal of improving “information” and “consumer understanding” was not substantial.  In previous cases, when FDA argued that it had a substantial interest in “effectively communicating health information regarding the negative effects of cigarettes,” the DC Circuit said that was “merely a description of the means by which it plans to accomplish its goal of reducing smoking rates, and not an independent interest.”  But here, the FDA’s stated interest was in “actually” communicating health risks, not “effectively” communicating them, and the former was “decidedly” objective. [Um, ok.]  The risk that the DC Circuit saw, which was that an indeterminate interest in “effective communication” would allow the government to define its goal however it saw fit, wasn’t present here.  Also, the FDA wasn’t arguing that the particular formatting specifications it selected here constituted, in and of themselves, a substantial government interest, but rather argued that they were a means by which to “accomplish its goal” of providing accurate health information to the public.  And here, the interest in disclosure was based on far more than mere consumer curiosity; the information to be disclosed “bears on a reasonable concern for human health or safety.”

The warning requirements were also reasonably related to the government’s substantial interest. While the government would have to provide evidence of a measure’s effectiveness to satisfy Central Hudson, “such evidentiary parsing is hardly necessary” under Zauderer. Thus, plaintiffs’ argument that the FDA didn’t examine whether the existing FTC warning scheme was insufficient to communicate health risks of cigars before promulgating the new rules was irrelevant.  As the Sixth Circuit has written, “constitutionality under [Zauderer ] does not hinge upon some quantum of proof that a disclosure will realize the underlying purpose. A common-sense analysis will do. And the disclosure has to advance the purpose only slightly.” Here, the record evidence included academic studies and international consensus “all supporting the commonsense notion that ‘[u]sers are more likely to recall warnings that are a larger size and that appear on the front/major surfaces of the tobacco product package.’” Thus, the size, format, and other design features of the warning statements were reasonably related to the government’s goal of providing accurate information about, and curing misperceptions regarding, the health consequences of cigar use.

Finally, the warnings weren’t so unduly burdensome as to chill protected speech. The disclosures weren’t so lengthy or cumbersome as to effectively rule out speech or “nullify” the message meant to be communicated. Cigar sellers could still “effectively communicate their desired message—whether that be the sense of the product’s ‘luxury and distinction’ through its ‘designs, symbols, and trademarks’ or information about the product’s ‘country of origin, seed varietal, [or] process of manufacture’” on the remaining 70% of cigar packaging and 80% of ads.

Attorney may violate right of publicity by naming client on website

Yeager v. Holt, 232 Cal. Rptr. 3d 693 (Ct. App. 2018)

Peter Holt and his law firm briefly represented Charles E. and Victoria Yeager and successfully sued Victoria Yeager to obtain his fees in an action known as Holt v. Yeager. Yeager then sued Holt, alleging professional negligence, misappropriation of name, and other claims. The court of appeals affirmed the rejection of Holt’s anti-SLAPP special motion to strike.

Yeager’s complaint alleged, among other things, that Holt failed to communicate about the costs and risks of further litigation, concealed facts and acted negligently in discharging professional obligations, such as by refusing to sign a declaration supporting a motion for attorney fees in Yeager v. AT&T Mobility, although Holt claimed in Holt v. Yeager that he was owed those same fees.  Yeager also alleged that Holt represented that the firm would work on a pro bono basis, but did not do so. The misappropriation claim alleged that Holt used Chuck Yeager’s name on the firm’s website without permission.  [The idea that the First Amendment allows the suppression of truthful statements about who was a client of a law firm, absent some agreement for confidentiality, is amazing to me, but apparently not to the California courts.]  The court in Holt v. Yeager rejected the claim that Holt had agreed to work pro bono.  The court here noted that this prior ruling might give Holt some pretty serious defenses, but not an anti-SLAPP victory.

Because the complaint referenced actions in the collection case, Holt argued that it was based on his protected right to petition, i.e., to sue for his fees. The trial court and the court of appeals disagreed.  The anti-SLAPP law only applies when the underlying action implicates protected speech or conduct. While suing someone is an aspect of the right to petition the government and is therefore a protected activity, “a claim is not subject to a motion to strike simply because it contests an action or decision that was arrived at following speech or petitioning activity, or that was thereafter communicated by means of speech or petitioning activity. Rather, a claim may be struck only if the speech or petitioning activity itself is the wrong complained of, and not just evidence of liability or a step leading to some different act for which liability is asserted.”

Holt argued that his refusal to sign a fee declaration for use in federal court was protected activity, but whether that decision was or was not malpractice wasn’t resolvable in an anti-SLAPP case. Nor did this case chill expressive conduct.  “[W]e find it difficult to see how suing an attorney for malpractice, breach of contract, and using a client’s name or likeness for commercial purposes, attacks expressive activity for anti-SLAPP purposes…. [A] typical attorney malpractice suit is not subject to the anti-SLAPP procedures.”  Worse from my perspective, the court reasoned that “the fact that General Yeager is famous does not mean his claim of misappropriation of his name or likeness is itself a matter of public interest.” It’s not clear to me that this holding precludes future defenses to the underlying claim; the logic of the anti-SLAPP statute suggests otherwise, but with the right of publicity, who knows?

“Although there may be sound reasons why this case will not succeed, … filing an anti-SLAPP motion was not an effective way to litigate it.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

height and weight claims for car seats are factual representations, not mere possibilities

Henryhand v. Dorel Juvenile Group, Inc., No. CV 17-00180 SJO (AGRx), 2017 WL 7806591 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 4, 2017)

Dorel allegedly falsely advertises its car seats for use by children whose weight is between 5-40 pounds and height is between 19-43 inches, when in fact the car seats become painful and even injurious to children substantially below those heights/weights due to the inadequate length and placement of the harness and buckle apparatus.  Plaintiffs brought the usual California claims and some nationwide claims.  They alleged that, before they bought their car seats, Dorel knew that its stated specifications were wrong through sources not available to consumers, including a NHTSA “Ease of Use” review for one model which concluded that the “[h]arness slots in the pad and in the shell are misaligned or small,”  pre-release testing data, early consumer complaints, and other internal sources. Because the height and weight limitations cannot be detected until a child reaches the maximum specifications, they alleged that they weren’t reasonably able to discover the problem until after purchase, and that any applicable statute of limitations has been tolled by Dorel’s knowledge and active concealment of the relevant facts.

The court refused to dismiss the claims.  Dorel argued that the height and weight specifications were “limits” or “maximums”, and not guarantees of subjective comfort. The court held that a “reasonable consumer” would believe that his or her child would fit in a car seat if the child’s height and weight was within the ranges represented by Dorel.  Plaintiffs also sufficiently alleged Dorel’s awareness of the defect at the time of sale through sources not available to consumers. This was sufficient to plead fraud and fraudulent omission with particularity.

Lexmark allows claims against direct competitor, but not against competitor's customers, absent special circumstances

Frompovicz v. Niagara Bottling, LLC, 2018 WL 2363475, No. 18-54 (E.D. Pa. May 24, 2018)

Frompovicz extracts spring water, and alleged that the defendants, who extract, bottle, label, and sell their water as “spring water,” thereby violated the Lanham Act and Pennsylvania’s unfair competition law by mislabeling their water as “spring water.” One of the Defendants extracts water and three of them bottle.

Spring water allegedly typically sells at a premium compared to other bottled water, such as well water or tap water, but spring water sites require substantially more resources to locate, develop, and maintain than other sources.  Defendants’ source comes from a facility whose DEP permit allegedly identifies the site as a “well water” site, and not a “spring water” site; the raw water extracted from the facility allegedly does not satisfy the FDA definition of “spring water”; the equipment or techniques used are allegedly inconsistent with a “spring water” classification; and water from the facility has allegedly tested as containing more particulates or trace elements than are otherwise permissible or recommended under industry standards for spring water.

The court rejected a challenge to the plaintiff’s Article III standing.  Injury in fact is pretty generous at the motion to dismiss stage, and the allegations that defendants’ marketing damaged his reputation and goodwill and hindered his sales sufficed.  DEP suspended plaintiff’s license to extract water in 2015, but the statute of limitations is 6 years, so he adequately alleged an injury within the relevant period.  However, the court dismissed his claim for injunctive relief because he wasn’t currently in business.

Traceability to the challenged conduct: ditto.  “Since consumers prefer spring water, it is reasonable to infer under the analytical rubric of a motion to dismiss that Defendant Land’s sales siphoned sales away from Plaintiff.”

But did he have a right to sue under the Lanham Act? Consumers of falsely advertised products don’t. Alleging that his spring water sales were depressed as a result of defendants’ misleading labels came within Lanham Act’s “zone of interests.” And he alleged proximate cause as to the defendant facility: he was a direct competitor of the defendant facility. There was no “intervening causal agent” between the defendant facility’s conduct – the “deceptive” sale to bottlers – and his diminished sales to bottlers; both were selling what they call “spring water” to bottlers.  [Actually, and relevant to the discussion below, there is an intervening cause—the reactions of bottlers who believe, or believe their consumers will believe, the “spring water” representation—it’s just not a legally relevant cause for Lanham Act purposes, as the Court said in Lexmark.]

As for the bottler defendants, they weren’t in direct competition.  While suits against non-competitors aren’t completely precluded, “in cases alleging liability based on indirect injuries, more particularized allegations are required” and such a claim is only viable in “relatively unique circumstances” such as those in Lexmark.  Plaintiff’s injury from the bottlers was indirect because, as in Lexmark, he was one step removed in the distribution chain. There was an intervening causal agent between the bottler defendants’ actions and plaintiff’s lost sales: consumers’ purchases of the allegedly mislabeled water. But the plaintiff didn’t sell to consumers; he sold to bottlers.  To allege additional facts as necessary here, he’d need something like a one-to-one correspondence between loss to direct competitors and loss to the plaintiff, or like direct disparagement. Those allegations weren’t present, so the claim against the bottlers was dismissed with leave to amend.

The remaining defendant also argued FDCA preclusion, which Pom Wonderful made unfruitful.  The court’s summary of defendant’s argument makes it look like one of the worst attempted distinctions I’ve ever seen: “Defendants assert that POM Wonderful is distinguishable because it dealt with the definition of juice mixtures and the present case involves the definition of spring water.”  However,  a Lanham Act claim might be precluded if it conflicted with “an agency judgment.” There was no allegation of such an affirmative judgment about the facility’s water.

Claims to assist in filing for TM registrations are puffery, not claims about practicing law

LegalForce RAPC Worldwide, P.C. v. Trademark Information Int’l LLC, 2018 WL 2387637, No. 17-cv-07354-MMC (N.D. Cal. May 25, 2018)

LegalForce alleged that defendant TM411,, offers trademark filing services and engages in false advertising.  Two challenged statements, “Why Pay More?” and “America’s #1 Trademark System,” were puffery. LegalForce argued that the statements implied that TM411 provides its customers with legal advice, but didn’t plead facts supporting the claim that this inference reasonably would be drawn by consumers, particularly given its acknowledgement that TM411 “represents on its website that it does not practice law.”

As for that no-practice-of-law statement, LegalForce argued that it was false because TM411 has “list[ed] its email address as a trademark correspondent on at least 7,247 trademark applications, but failed to allege facts indicating that the use of “correspondent” is a representation that the user is an attorney or that consumers would think so.

LegalForce also challenged “[w]e guarantee your trademark gets filed, or your money-back [sic]” as allegedly misleading consumers that TM411 could file “any and all trademarks including ones that the customer does not own and fraudulent trademark applications.” This wasn’t literal falsity, but LegalForce failed to allege facts indicating that consumers had been deceived into believing that TM411 would submit fraudulent applications to the PTO.

Finally, LegalForce alleged that the statement that “your information is protected” was misleading because it “misleads consumers to believe that communications with [TM411] are protected by the attorney client privilege or attorney work product privilege.” Again, LegalForce failed to allege facts indicating consumer deception.

That took care of the Lanham Act claims; to the extent that state law claims were based on other conduct, as TM411’s having bought LegalForce’s “Trademarkia” as a Google AdWord; submitting “fraudulent specimens” to the USPTO; failing to maintain an IOLTA account for customers; and failing to regulate its non-practitioner assistants’ conduct, the court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction.