Best Practices for Avoiding Misleading Browsewrap and Clickwrap Agreements in Cyberspace

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger



Visiting a website and merely viewing its contents can bind you to an internet “Terms and Conditions” or “Terms of Use” (“browsewrap” or “clickwrap”) contract.

Website owners, as technology providers, have a dilemma as they wish to facilitate business in the most efficient way. Maintaining the integrity of their software by controlling the scope of the limited software license they are offering is essential to protecting their copyrighted technology.

Given website owners are offering their services to the world, a pressing concern is a disgruntled website user who sues via a class action in the user’s home state. The issue for the courts is how many dispute resolution pre-existing legal rights a website owner can remove through its browsewrap contract, often called “Terms and Conditions,” if the website user receives little to no notice of its existence or has no knowledge that such a notice refers to a binding contract.

If you look carefully at a website you frequently use, you are likely to see various notices in capital letters in highlighted colors referencing that your use of the website is an automatic agreement to the website policies of privacy and terms and conditions. You may not know that this means you are binding yourself to a contract. If you do click on that bothersome notice link, you will most likely notice a nonnegotiable contract that contains a choice of law, agreement to arbitrate, and/or class action waiver. Given the limited attention span of a website user, most users will not click on the link. This is especially true if the website owner has buried the notice at the very end of the page, made it as inconspicuous as possible, and does not require any action to proceed with using the website. Continue reading »

Investment Crowdfunding Will Be Legal But Will It Be an Improvement?

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan



In the JOBS Act adopted in April 2012, Congress required the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) to adopt rules legalizing (i.e., exempting from the requirement to register with the SEC) the offer and sale of securities by small business issuers (which cannot afford registered public offerings) using mass media, to-wit: the Internet, social media, etc. Historically, both state and federal exemptions required “privateness” and forbade “general solicitation.”

On October 30, 2015, the SEC, in a 686 page release, finally adopted rules (see pages 547-686) to allow investment crowdfunding (the use of mass media to make offers and sales to non-accredited investors, i.e., persons with less than $1 million net worth and incomes under $200,000 annually). The rules will become effective in April 2016.

Supporters argue that these rules simply bring the offering and sales of securities into the modern age of mass media and allow persons of limited means to participate in the great boom of entrepreneurship. Critics, on the other hand, point out that those are the very persons who are the least investment sophisticated and the most vulnerable to financial fraud.

What Was Available Before Investment Crowdfunding?

Continue reading »

Regulation Crowdfunding: Is It Right for You?

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan



To much ballyhoo, on October 30, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) finally adopted rules to allow investment crowdfunding (which the SEC calls “Regulation Crowdfunding”). That is, it allows the use of mass media (Internet, etc.) (called “general solicitation”) to make offers and sales to non-accredited investors. Those are persons with less than $1 million net worth and annual incomes under $200,000. (Under present rules, general solicitation may be used only to solicit purchases from “accredited” investors.) The new rules will not become effective before April 2016.

“Regulation Crowdfunding”: A Method for True Investment Crowdfunding

Conceptually, allowance of general solicitation to solicit non-accredited investors is a sea change, in direct conflict with the basic investor protection philosophy of the SEC and state regulators since adoption of the Securities Act of 1933. The actual benefit of the new rules, however, is in some doubt. Continue reading »

Effect of 2015 SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage Decision on Employment Practices

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger



The U.S. Supreme Court held in Obergefell v. Hodges that there is a constitutional right to marry and that the 14th Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses require states to allow same-sex marriages and to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed in other states.

The Obergefell decision is not an employment decision. However, the Equal Protection language in the opinion will require companies to make some changes to their employment practices, training, manuals, forms, beneficiary designations, and other personnel policies going forward.

Obergefell followed the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor which held that the federal government’s interpretation of “marriage” and “spouse” must apply to both opposite sex and same-sex unions. Windsor made employee benefits like the Family Medical and Leave Act (“FMLA”), COBRA, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) available to all same-sex spouses of federal employees.

What Does Obergefell Mean To Employers? Continue reading »

Exempt Employees, Overtime, and the Proposed DOL Rule for 2016

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger



The labor landscape has changed and it will continue to change. The average worker has become increasingly responsible for the more traditional aspects of the employment relationship including health insurance, pension, and job security. There also has been a substantial increase in the numbers of part-time workers, workers/employees classified as exempt from overtime premium pay, and workers misclassified as independent contractors. Commentary and theory abounds as to the reason for the loss of full-time jobs, much less middle class jobs, including outsourcing, computers/software, Affordable Care Act, robots, automation, high taxes, globalization, etc.

Suffice it to say, a legal backlash is building against this new terrain. Proposed restrictive legislation, administrative rule-making, and recent court cases show evidence of a concerted attempt to re-create or retrieve the job security and wages and benefits of days gone by.

Most recently, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”), in a long-awaited announcement on June 30, 2015, proposed a new rule that will decrease the ability of companies to classify their employees as exempt from premium overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).

Backdrop – Increase in Part-time Workers

This legal backlash is due, in part, to other recent and dramatic changes in the number of part-time workers:

  • Since 2007, the number of “involuntary” part-time workers has doubled.
  • Employers are increasingly using software tools such as the use of just-in-time scheduling software. Estimates are that 17 percent of the work force is now employed by companies that use just-in-time scheduling software. Employees accordingly work fluctuating work weeks with uncertain schedules.
  • Another contributing factor is business practices, such as the use of “call in shifts” where the employer does not confirm need for services until two hours before start time.

In response, a host of bills are being introduced in many states and municipalities to legislate predictable scheduling.

Backdrop – Misclassification

Likewise, misclassification of workers has also increased. Companies are attempting to shift work from employees to independent contractors, especially in the construction, transportation, and cab industries using a variety of strategies. Continue reading »

Protecting Your Intellectual Property in a Wild World

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger



Your company is an “A” player and it has done everything right in the U.S. in protecting its intellectual property (“IP”). You have not just relied upon a “smile.” You’ve invented a unique product called Superstar® widget and it is not yet offered by your competitors. Vast amount of resources have been poured into the development of the Superstar widget. Prior to introducing the Superstar widget, you used due diligence and used the IP Awareness Assessment Tool on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website to identify what IP you have, if it has value, and if it can be protected under U.S. law.

Upon identifying your IP, the company retained capable attorneys who were successful in obtaining U.S. trademark registrations on the corporate name, non-functional design, and logo so customers could more easily identify the Superstar widget and its association with the company. Superstar widget packaging correctly evidences all registered trademarks.

You made a wise expenditure on patents and the company has received patents on the Superstar widget process. Further, copyright registrations with the U.S. Copyright Office have been obtained on your website, web video, and associated software and you are giving notice to the world of your ownership by using the appropriate symbol of “©2012 Company.” Continue reading »

SEC Finally Proposes Rules to Allow Crowdfunding

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan



Not quite ten months late, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on October 23, 2013 proposed rules to allow entrepreneurs and other small businesses to advertise investments in their companies on the Internet and in other general venues, and to allow persons other than wealthy investors to purchase those investments. Congress, in the JOBS Act signed by President Obama on April 5, 2013, had told the SEC to propose such rules by December 31, 2012. (In fairness, the SEC was faced with great pressures from numerous quarters, including the legislators themselves, concerning the content of the rules, which made that deadline impossible to meet.)

This type of investing, called “investment crowdfunding,” was illegal, and will remain illegal until the process of review, amendment and adoption of final rules is complete. The SEC has asked the public for comment on the proposed rules within 90 days. At least a few months of further processing after that 90 day period will be required before the rules are final. Continue reading »

U.S. Supreme Court Backs Resellers in Physical Goods Copyright Case

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger



Co-authored by Ruth Binger and Jeffrey L. Michelman

Suppose you plan to buy a large supply of Disney books from an overstocked Barnes & Noble retailer in Taiwan, and then offer your employees the opportunity to purchase the books at a deep discount as gifts for Christmas.  You reason that if the employees don’t buy up all of the books, you can always sell the remainder to a discount book chain or on the Internet.

You are approached by the human resources department manager and advised that Disney is very litigious about protecting its copyrights. Because your company is not an authorized seller for Disney products, the manager fears losing an infringement lawsuit.

Fortunately, your legal counsel is familiar with this issue. Upon learning that you intend to make the initial purchase from an authorized Disney retailer in Taiwan, counsel advises that your company is protected by the “First Sale” Doctrine of the Copyright Act.

And the U.S. Supreme Court agrees. In Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, the Court held that a legally obtained copyrighted work can be imported into the U.S. and resold without permission from the copyright owner even if it was manufactured and sold overseas. The ruling applies to sale of physical, tangible works and not digital works that are licensed and not easily resold because of license agreements. The Court explained that in a complex and interconnected world, buyers, sellers, and retailers should be able to import and sell products without having to search out the copyright owner to determine if the U.S. copyright owner approves of the sale.

The facts are simple.  Kirtsaeng, a Thailand citizen, moved to the U.S. to study mathematics at Cornell University, and entered a Ph.D. program in mathematics at the University of Southern California. Continue reading »

Common Sense Road Map to Employee Discipline and Termination

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger



Owners and managers frequently face the difficult process of terminating an employee for a reason other than lack of work. The reasons are many and varied, ranging from being placed in the “wrong seat on the bus” to poor cultural fit to “good cause” reasons, such as performance or behavior. Although employment at will is the rule of law, laws exist that undercut the employer’s absolute power to terminate for any reason whatsoever. Many of these laws are just plain common sense and can be compared to administering discipline with your own children.

Decisions made in haste or poorly executed have a very long damage tail including lawsuits, reduced morale, and loss of business momentum. By looking through the lens of both human nature and law, managers and owners can learn to make and execute decisions that are generally defensible both inside and outside the company culture. Knowing what could be coming and where it’s coming from will create a wiser decision process, a more legally defensible position, and buy-in from your watchful employees.

Practicing the following 10 rules will put you on a road map of common sense when dealing with issues related to employee discipline or termination:

  1. Investigate. Investigating the facts protects the integrity of the process and lessens the ability of an employee to establish an unlawful motive. Poking in the weeds also provides feedback to you on what is working, what is not working, and what should be changed. Look for facts – not hearsay and speculation. Determining credibility is your job. Companies are human collaborative efforts containing many actors with varying motives and agendas that can be constructive, bad, opportunistic or even crooked. Consider plausibility, demeanor, motive to lie, corroboration, and past record when making judgment calls.
  2. Interview witnesses and the employee in question. Ask the employee in question to explain what happened in front of two management witnesses. Write down exactly what the employee states and ask him/her to sign it.  Ask the employee for objective facts or witnesses to support his/her position. Your aim is to pin down the employee to “one recollection.” Interview complainants and witnesses by asking who, what, where, when and how questions. Let them know that you will try to keep the investigation as confidential as possible under the circumstances and in compliance with the law. This arduous process prevents tears at the fabric of your culture. Continue reading »

New Family and Medical Leave Act Guidance for Families of Adult Children with Disabilities

Misty A. Watson

By Misty A. Watson



Families now have clarification on when parents may use leave to care for an adult child with a mental or physical disability.

On January 14, 2013, the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor issued additional guidance to help employers determine eligibility of employees to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) when the employee has an adult child with a mental or physical disability incapable of self-care due to a serious health condition.

Generally,  entitlement to FMLA leave ends when a child is 18 years old. “Incapable of self-care” means that the individual requires active assistance or supervision to provide daily self-care in three or more of the “activities of daily living” or “instrumental activities of daily living.” Continue reading »