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2 Apr

Sheheryar Sardar and Benish Shah were recently on a panel regarding Equity Crowdfunding in the wake of the Jobs Act.  As Title III of the Jobs Act is what directly affects most equity crowdfunding platforms and startups looking to use them, we thought it would be helpful to summarize some of the main points:

1.  Deals will now allow investments from non-accredited investors.  The term “non-accredited investor” is thrown around a lot, but most people don’t know what it means.  Non-accredited investors are those that are below a certain threshold of income that prevents them from qualifying as accredited.  In simple terms – it’s the SEC trying to protect people from losing all their money in a bad investment.  To do that under Title III, there are camps on how much non-accredited investors are allowed to invest in a given year:

  • For income below $100,000, invest a max of $2,000 or 5% of income or net worth
  • For income over $100,000, invest a max of 10% of income or net worth
  • Investments made in a Title III crowdfunding transaction can’t be resold for a period of one year

2.  Restrictions on how much you can raise.  Companies are restricted to raising $1 million in a 12-month period.  For acceleration purposes, this limit may have larger consequences for companies.

3.  High costs associated with raising under Title III.  Higher compliance and reporting costs that in many instances require an audit.  Let’s break this down in real world terms:  your company is trying to raise $300,000.  You will end up shelling out approximately $20K before you can get approved to raise, and then around $80K+ if you raise.  For a startup looking to raise a seed round, almost half of it may end up going to fees.

4.  Disclosures. Disclosures. Disclosures.  Companies raising under Title III of the Jobs Act must disclose financial statements of the company that, depending on the amount offered and sold during a 12-month period, would have to be accompanied by a copy of the company’s tax returns or reviewed or audited by an independent public accountant or auditor.  Disclose officers and directors information, and owners of 20 percent or more of the company.  They must also disclose: use of proceeds, price to the public of the securities being offered, target offering amount, deadline to reach offering amount, and whether excess investments will be accepted.

 

Questions about equity crowdfunding Email Sheheryar Sardar at sardar@sardarlawfirm.com.

Follow Sardar Law Firm on Twitter @CorpCounselNYC

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The Twitter War: they stole our name

13 Nov

trademarks and twitter

Recently one of our clients launched their revamped site only to find out that someone else had snapped up the company’s name as a Twitter handle.  As they had not registered the Trademark for their name, they were told by fellow startups that nothing could be done and Twitter wouldn’t release it.

Then they came to us.

The Trademark Question for Twitter

Twitter’s policy says:

What is a Trademark Policy Violation on Twitter?

Using a company or business name, logo, or other trademark-protected materials in a manner that may mislead or confuse others with regard to its brand or business affiliation may be considered a trademark policy violation.

But the question comes down to, can you claim a trademark if you have not registered it officially with the USPTO.  The language Twitter uses is “we receive reports of trademark policy violations from holders of federal or international trademark registrations, we review the account.”  However, you can prove that you hold a trademark without having registered it.   As we noted in a previous article on trademarks:

Any distinctive name, symbol, or word can be designated as trademarked by using the symbol “TM” – it notifies others that the company owns the product’s name and design. However, by simply using the “TM” symbol you are not protected from another company that produces a similar product or uses a similar name without having to prove that you were the first to use the name or design.

What it comes down to is this:  can you convince Twitter that you owned the Trademark first?  As in, you’re company created, published, and owned the name being used in an unauthorized manner by another individual trying to impersonate your brand.  The first in time portion will be greatly necessary; you will need proof (screen shots, emails, etc.) that you do in fact own the trademark at issue.

Simply because another user has snapped up your company’s name on Twitter does not mean you can never get it back.  Review Twitter’s rules thoroughly, have your lawyer review them as well, and put together a solid case for why the user is infringing on a trademark you own.  It can be done.  We know.  We’ve done it.

Have more questions?  Email Sheheryar Sardar of Sardar Law Firm LLC.

Trademarks Simplified

28 Aug

trademarks simplified

Trademark infringements are one of the most talked about issues faced by young companies – both because they unknowingly infringed on another’s trademark and because someone else is using their trademark without permission.  So we decided to help clarify some frequently asked trademark questions:

1. What is a trademark?

A trademark is a word, symbol, or phrase, used to identify a particular company’s products and distinguish them from the products of another.  Example:  Nike & the Nike “swoosh” are both used to identify the products made by Nike.  They give the consumer the ability to distinguish a Nike product from products made by another company (Walmart brand, Reebok, etc.).

If the company is a service-oriented one that does not create products, their marks are called “service marks” and are generally treated just the same as trademarks.  (Ex: law firms, accounting firms, etc.)

2.  What is the difference between a trademark and a registered trademark?

Any distinctive name, symbol, or word can be designated as trademarked by using the symbol “TM” – it notifies others that the company owns the product’s name and design. However, by simply using the “TM” symbol you are not protected from another company that produces a similar product or uses a similar name without having to prove that you were the first to use the name or design.  Further, you may still not have a legal defense without registration.

A registered trademark can be identified by the symbol “®” being used.   This symbol can be used once the trademark is registered with the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) and is considered a “Federally Registered Trademark.”  Once registered, a trademark is protected against another company’s use of the name or image.  Any future companies wishing to register its own design/name/image has to check to be sure that it is not like any registered trademarks.

3.  Why should I spend the money and register a trademark?

Registration of a trademark constitutes nationwide constructive notice to others that the trademark is owned by the registering party.  It confers a lot of additional benefits, such as:  (1) enables a party to bring an infringement suit in federal court;  (2)  allows a party to potentially recover treble damages, attorneys fees, and other remedies; and (3)  registered trademarks can, after five years, become “incontestable,” at which point the exclusive right to use the mark is conclusively established.

4.  What can be seen as trademark infringement?

To bring a suit for trademark infringement that standard is called “likelihood of confusion.”  What this means is, generally, by using a mark that is too similar to yours in the sale of goods you are likely confusing the customer as to who created the goods in the first place.  (Example:  using a “swoosh” symbol but not using the word Nike on a pair of shoes may confuse people into thinking they are buying a Nike product.)

In deciding whether consumers are likely to be confused, the courts will typically look to a number of factors, including: (1) the strength of the mark; (2) the proximity of the goods; (3) the similarity of the marks; (4) evidence of actual confusion; (5) the similarity of marketing channels used; (6) the degree of caution exercised by the typical purchaser; (7) the defendant’s intent.  Polaroid Corp. v. Polarad Elect. Corp., 287 F.2d 492 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 368 U.S. 820 (1961).

5.  What is trademark dilution?

Owners of a trademark can also bring suit for “trademark dilution” under either federal or state law.  Under federal law, the standard is that the mark must be “famous” – and to determine whether it’s  famous or not, the court will look at the following factors:  (1) the degree of inherent or acquired distinctiveness; (2) the duration and extent of use; (3) the amount of advertising and publicity; (4) the geographic extent of the market; (5) the channels of trade; (6) the degree of recognition in trading areas; (7) any use of similar marks by third parties; (8) whether the mark is registered.

Under (most) state laws, a mark does not need to be “famous” for a dilution claim.  Instead, the standard is that:  (1) the mark has “selling power” or, in other words, a distinctive quality; and (2) the two marks are substantially similar. 

Have more questions?  Email Sheheryar Sardar of Sardar Law Firm LLC.

Top Six Legal Issues Facing Today’s Online Media Companies

18 Apr

legal issues being faced by online media companies

Social and digital media has grown exponentially in the last decade, with enterprising companies creating uncontested market space in the online and digital industries. Whether your company is engaged in a new search engine, an analytics platform, or ecommerce; social media as a tool has become a necessary component of both the customer acquisition process and marketing from within the company.  Without viral capabilities and digital readiness, companies are unable to harness quick user engagement with their platforms and services. Further, now many individuals within a company serve as brand ambassadors through social media, often listing where they work on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Quora, among others.

 

Due to the fast-paced nature of social media, companies often overlook the legal issues inherent in social media that serve as silos of protection.  While staying ahead of the competition is paramount, creating and maintaining well-drafted legal content will reduce the chances of getting mired in disputes that deviate attention from the core focus of growth.

 

Here is a brief list of legal issues to consider:

 

1) Terms of Service.  If you have a website or ecommerce platform, you will need to publish terms of service or use on your website, to put customers and users on notice as to the various limitations and conditions to which they are consenting by using your site. This document will serve to govern the relationship between your company and the audience that interacts with your site. Each Terms of Service is unique to the industry and nature of your company. For example, terms for a fashion ecommerce site will differ greatly from a software development business.

2) Privacy Policy.  A sound privacy policy is important for purposes of maintaining certain state, federal and even international regulatory compliance. Privacy has become a politically charged topic within the digital and electronic landscape, with Congress and international bodies penalizing companies that violate certain privacy laws.  For example, if you collect customer information such as addresses, emails or demographic data, you may need to clearly identify the purpose of such an activity.  In the absence of a well-constructed privacy policy (and thereby user consent), your company may be subject to liability or run afoul of the law.

3) Non-Compete and Non-Solicitation.  Consider protecting your company by prohibiting your partners and employees from competing directly with your company immediately upon their departure. A Non-Compete provision would be framed within a specific time period and limited to a geographic area, but these clauses are very important because these key individuals may possess inside knowledge of your competitive advantage.  A Non-Solicitation provision would prevent ex-partners or employees from soliciting high value colleagues and/or customers away from your company.

4)   Moonlighting and Loyalty:  Moonlighting and Loyalty addresses employee activities outside of the normal course of business. This clause may or may not be necessary, depending on the nature of your business. A lawyer can assess your contract’s needs once you discuss your commercial goals together.

5)  Ownership of Intellectual Property:  You may want to protect any processes, templates, systems, or methods created by an employee, by retaining any IP rights over these items. A contract at the outset will provide necessary protections so that any work products created under your business do not ultimately go to a competitor.

6)  Use, Licensing, Technology Transfer:  Companies often look to outsource their products or services through digital or online channels, often with third party agencies and partners providing additional marketing, acquisition or branding services. Partnerships are often created to facilitate such business development. In this context, contracts protect the use and licensing of your work product so that it isn’t leaked or misappropriated.  A strong vendor/services contract will make your transition to the next stage of development that much more efficient while protecting the proprietary nature of your company’s work product.  Similarly, if you are interested in commercially exploiting your methods, processes or inventions (Technology Transfer), you will need contracts to protect your financial interests.

Spending a little time developing your legal architecture is a strategic investment in your company. Failing to do so may result in a costly dispute that takes valuable resources, including your time and attention, away from the company.  Not implementing a sound legal platform is a risk far too great for any company to take, as the landscape of digital and social media continues to evolve.


by, 

Sheheryar T. Sardar, Esq.
Sardar Law Firm LLC
New York, New York
Core Practice Areas:  Technology, Corporate & General Counsel, Startup Law, Project Finance, VC/PE, Arbitration/Mediation, Entertainment, and Human Capital
 

Disclaimer: The contents of this article shall not to be considered legal advice or to create any lawyer-client relationship. The article may contain attorney advertising.

Instagram’s New Policy: Yes, it does mean what you think.

19 Dec

You do have the rights to your Instagram photos, but you share the rights to your photos.  That means when someone pays Instagram to use your photos, you can’t do anything about it (like litigate.)

There’s been a lot of talk on the web about two issues related to Instagram’s newest policy updates:

The fact is, both are pretty correct.

instaface-facebook-instagram

Yes, the terms are not that different. But what does that mean exactly?

It means that from the get go, Instagram reserved the right to use your photos in the public space.  Those Instagram users that are not private are aware that almost anyone can access their photos, either through the app or the web version.  That’s the idea behind the “open-web” theme propagating by companies like Instagram and Facebook.  Their concern is not user privacy, and to their credit they never pretend that it was their number one priority.  They are focused on bringing you an open platform to be social and create new social ties; if you are concerned about your privacy on social media sites, you can do one of two things: (1) get off the interwebs; or (2) memorize those privacy settings so you know what to do and not do to keep your data safe.   (Yes, we said all of the interwebs, because even Google tracks your searches in order to give you a better user experience).

While Instagram has always reserved the right to use your personal photos in their own advertising campaigns, what’s got everyone in a tizzy is that the new language seems to indicate that Instagram can now sell your photos to third parties.  That’s where it gets interesting.

Instagram, technically, does have a right to “sell” your photos.

We read this great article yesterday in The Verge that said, No Instagram does not have the right to sell your photos – except that it does.  The article pointed out that companies can’t take a picture of you and slap their logo on it because that goes beyond “displaying” the photo into the world of modifying the photo.

But what advertisers can do is pay Instagram to take user photos and display them on their own site or advertising real estate.  This means, if you take a photo of your baby wearing Baby Gap, then Baby Gap can pay Instagram to use your photo and display it on their site.  They can say something like, “Look at the cute babies wearing Baby Gap!”  There are deeper rules as to whether they can modify that photo (which they can’t), but that’s not enough to make parents feel safe about using Instagram to take pictures of their families.

Here’s the biggest issue: people don’t want their personal photos displayed on a company’s site/ad real estate because, well, people don’t like to be used without getting paid and without consent. In addition, many users post pictures of their families to Instagram –  they don’t quite fancy having their 12-year-old’s picture on a company’s advertising.  This isn’t the generation that sees their picture somewhere and thinks, “Oh my God that’s awesome!”  This is the generation that says, “That’s not okay.”  We’ve had clients file complaints with multinationals based on these scenarios.  It’s not good for anyone, really.

So why the outrage?

The most interesting argument we’ve heard is, “Well you are consenting because you signed up for Instagram.”  Yes, that’s true.  Absolutely.  But people are angry because they either have to agree, or they can’t use the service.  That’s because it’s not a free market contract; you cannot call up Instagram and negotiate your own contract terms with them.  It’s boilerplate and that’s that.

And when you take away a real choice, people get upset.  It happens more often than not with web startups – because it’s a tension between how to make money and how to keep users.

What now?

Instagram has come out and try to do damage control.  They are saying that they will not be selling user photos; but until they release an actual policy stating this, it’s still up in the air and the terms stand where they are.

For us – ours is an office divided.  I, as a litigation attorney, am pretty positive I’ll be deleting my Instagram account.  As for our corporate partner that knows all things tech-startup, he says he will be keeping his account.

By:  
 
Benish Shah
Sardar Law Firm LLC
New York, New York
Core Practice Areas:  Fashion/Retail, E-commerce, Commercial Litigation, Art Law, Startup Law, Social Media, Mergers & Acquisitions, and Corporate & General Counsel
 
Sheheryar T. Sardar, Esq.
Sardar Law Firm LLC
New York, New York
Core Practice Areas:  Technology, Corporate & General Counsel, Startup Law, Project Finance, VC/PE, Arbitration/Mediation, Entertainment, and Human Capital

3 Critical Points for Your Social Media Training

6 Aug

By:  Benish Shah
Sardar Law Firm LLC
New York, New York
Core Practice Areas:  Fashion/Retail, E-commerce, Commercial Litigation, Art Law, Startup Law, Social Media, Mergers & Acquisitions, and Corporate & General Counsel
 

Social media is about interaction, and for growing companies that interaction is critical.  However, both companies and employees make mistakes, whether it be on social media platforms or in some other aspect of their job.  Instead of reacting to that mistake, sometimes (most of the time) it is better to preempt that mistake with a comprehensive social media policy training.  Yes, that’s right – if social media is about interaction, then the policy must have an interactive component too.  Otherwise, how many people do you think really read that 20-30 page, expertly crafted policy book?

Just as we train incoming professionals on how to use the company’s intranet system, it’s time to start training them on social media policies as well.  Here are 3 key things to include in that training:

(1) Pertinent Laws.

It is not enough to say that “employees must abide by all laws and regulations.”  Most individuals entering a new industry have no idea what industry-specific laws may apply to them.  Spend some time hashing out which laws are imperative and directly relate to your industry, and have your social media lawyer lead an interactive training on it.

(2) Personal Social Media Accounts of Employees.

Too often, employees mistakenly make comments on their personal, non-company accounts that can get them fired.  From their personal blog on Islamofacism to their anti equal marriage rant on Twitter.  Many internal human resources departments have felt that these comments on social media platforms can create a “hostile work environment” for co-workers.  This can lead to getting fired.  Because there is a fine line here between freedom of speech and creating a hostile work environment, the training should lay out very clearly what can and cannot get you fired.

(3) Heavily Regulated Industries.

For industries such as finance, law, and medicine, there are a host of laws and regulations that everyone is supposed to know.  Consequently, there are a host of laws and regulations that can be inadvertently violated.  Have your social media lawyer review social media related violations in your industry to lead a social media training with industry-specific examples.  It will help drive the point home faster than that 30 page handbook will.

Interested in setting up a social media training for your company?  Contact: Benish Shah or Sheheryar Sardar at  Sardar Law Firm – sardar@sardarlawfirm.com.

For more information on social media law:

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Follow Social Media Legal Twitter @socialmedia_law 

Are Twitter Followers a “Client List” – and Who Owns the Account?

16 Jul

By:  Sheheryar T. Sardar, Esq.
Sardar Law Firm LLC
New York, New York
Core Practice Areas:  Technology, Corporate & General Counsel, Startup Law, Project Finance, VC/PE, Arbitration/Mediation, Entertainment, and Human Capital
 

When you start tweeting as part of your corporate position, the lines between what is a personal Twitter account and one made for business purposes is blurred – especially in the world of startups, new ventures, and media companies.  What happens when you leave the company?  Who has ownership rights over the Twitter account – the company, or the employee?

Recently, PhoneDog Media LLC sued former employee Noah Kravitz over exactly this.  Noah Kravitz, while employed by PhoneDog, tweeted under the name “Phonedog_Noah” and upon his departure from the company, Kravitz was allegedly given the rights to keep the Twitter account in exchange for occasional tweets about PhoneDog.  However, Kravitz switched his Twitter handle from “PhoneDog_Noah” to “NoahKravitz” while keep the followers and the good will from the initial Twitter handle.

Under the new Twitter handle, Kravitz increased his Twitter followers from 17,000 to 20,000.  Eight months later, PhoneDog sued Kravitz claiming that those Twitter followers were in fact a proprietary client list, claiming damages of $2.50 per month, per follower – totaling to about $340,000.00 USD.

The question, of course, is whether Twitter followers are in fact proprietary or if they can be considered company property.  This leads to the question: who owns a Twitter account?

Many businesses utilize social media to increase brand awareness, and many employees – especially rainmakers – utilize their personal Twitter accounts to help generate business for their employer.  Since Twitter is not a paid service, the lines are blurred as to who owns the account, especially when the Tweets are related to building business in some manner.

Regardless of the outcome of this case, companies should take steps to develop a written Twitter use policy, establishing the use of Twitter handles for company use.

A few questions employers should pose internally regarding Twitter use:

(1)  If an employee tweets during the work day as part of his/her job description, is that Twitter handle now owned by the company?

(2) Was the Twitter handle created by the employee before joining the company, or after joining the company, and for what purpose?

(3) Were any company resources spent/utilized in the creation and/or use of the Twitter handle?

(4) Can employers restrict/monitor what the employee Tweets about?

(5) Was this a personal Twitter handle that the employee was using for business purposes at the request of the company – and if so, how much of that really “belongs” to the company as opposed to the employee?

(6) Is this something that should discussed and incorporated into an agreement at the outset, or upon the separation of the employee from the company?

For employees, the question comes down to this: how to ensure that their Twitter handle is separate from their employment.  Many journalists face this problem, as they do list in their Twitter accounts where they work, and they also post articles they have written.  While their accounts are personal, there is a clear business crossover.  For some, they put a clear disclaimer in their profile that this is not a company account and is personal; for others, the lines are blurred.  It remains to be seen how and if a disclaimer would be valid in these situations.

The main thing to try and avoid is a “he-said-she-said” battle in the court systems; from both the employer and employee sides.

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