Archive | US RSS for this section

A Study in Trademarked Characters

By Marie-Andrée Weiss

The characters created by Disney, Marvel, and LucasFilms are valuable intellectual property and are protected both by copyright and by trademark. However, a recently decided case in the Southern District of New York (SDNY), Disney Inc. v. Sarelli, 322 F.Supp.3d 413 (2018), demonstrates that preventing the unauthorized use of such characters may not be as easy as expected.

In this case, Plaintiffs are Disney Enterprises, Marvel Characters and LucasFilm, all of which own copyrights and trademarks in many of the most famous characters in the world, such as Mickey Mouse, Hulk, and Chewbacca. These characters were first featured in movies like Frozen, The Avengers or Star Wars, and are now licensed or featured in derivative products such as comic books, video games, or theme parks. Their exploitation is highly lucrative.

When visiting Plaintiffs’ theme parks, one has a chance to meet the characters “in person.” This experience is also offered by Characters for Hire, a New York company offering, as the name implies, character hiring services. The company’s principal owner is Nick Sarelli (Defendant). Characters for Hire offers a service wherein actors dressed in costumes entertain guests during birthday parties or corporate events. For example, actors have allegedly dressed as Mickey, Elsa and Anna from Frozen, Captain America and Hulk from The Avengers, and Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader from Star Wars.

The contracts Defendants provided to their clients contained disclaimer language, stating, for example, that Defendants do not use trademarked and licensed characters. The contracts also warned clients that the costumes may differ from those seen in movies “for copyright reasons,” adding that “[a]ny resemblance to nationally known copyright character is strictly coincidental.”

These disclaimers did not appease Plaintiffs, who sent several cease and desist letters to Defendants before filing a federal copyright and trademark infringement suit and a New York trademark dilution suit.

While Judge Daniels from the SDNY granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment and dismissed Plaintiffs’ claim for trademark infringement on August 9, 2018, he denied the motion to dismiss the copyright infringement claim and the trademark dilution claim.

 

The descriptive fair use defense failed

Plaintiffs claimed that the use of their trademarked characters to advertise and promote Defendants’ business, along with their portrayal by costumed actors, was likely to confuse consumers as to the origin of the services.

Defendants argued that their use of Plaintiffs’ characters was descriptive and nominative fair use, and that there was no likelyhood of confusion.

Descriptive fair use is an affirmative defense to a trademark infringement suit, as Section 33(b)(4) of the Trademark Act allows “use… of a term or device which is descriptive of and used fairly and in good faith [but] only to describe the goods or services of such party, or their geographic origin.” In other words, a defendant can use plaintiffs’ trademarks in a descriptive sense, or to describe an aspect of his own good or service.

For such a defense to succeed in the Second Circuit, a defendant must prove that the use was made (1) other than as a mark, (2) in a descriptive sense, and (3) in good faith (Kelly-Brown v. Winfrey at 308). This defense failed in the present case, as Defendants had not made a descriptive use of Plaintiffs’ marks. Instead, Judge Daniels found that their ads “were specifically designed to evoke [Plaintiff’s marks] in consumers’ minds…”

 

The nominative fair use defense also failed

Defendants also claimed that they used Plaintiffs’ marks to describe their own products. Such nominative fair use is a defense to a trademark infringement suit if such use “does not imply a false affiliation or endorsement by the plaintiff of the defendant” (Tiffany v. eBay at 102-103). But this nominative fair use defense also failed, as Defendants used Plaintiffs’ marks to identify their own service, which is hiring out characters for parties, rather than Plaintiffs’ trademarked characters.

 

Defendants’ use of characters was not trademark infringement

Judge Daniels used the eight-factor Polaroid test used by the Second Circuit in trademark infringement cases to determine whether Defendants’ use of Plaintiffs’ marks were likely to confuse consumers.

While Plaintiffs’ marks are undoubtedly strong (first factor), the similarity of the marks (second factor), weighed only slightly in Plaintiffs’ favor because Defendants used different names for their characters than Plaintiffs’ trademarked character names, e.g., “Big Green Guy,” “Indian Princess,” and “The Dark Lord” instead of Hulk, Pocahontas and Darth Vader.

The third and fourth Polaroid factors, the proximity of the goods and services, and the possibility that the senior user will enter the market of the junior user, were found to weigh in Defendants’ favor. There was no evidence that Plaintiff has plans to expand into the private entertainment service industry.

The fifth Polaroid factor, evidence of actual confusion, also weighed in Defendants’ favor, as there was no evidence that Defendants’ customers used the names of Plaintiffs’ trademarked characters when referring to Defendants’ services in online reviews or otherwise. Plaintiffs could not provide a survey proving customers’ confusion either.

Judge Daniels found the sixth factor, Defendants’ intent and evidence of bad faith, to also be in Defendants’ favor, since Defendants had put customers on notice that their services were not sponsored by or affiliated with Plaintiffs by using altered versions of Plaintiffs’ characters’ names and by removing Plaintiffs’ characters’ names in their online reviews.

The seventh Polaroid factor, the quality of Defendants’ products, was also in Defendants’ favor, as Defendants’ services, being of a lesser quality than Plaintiffs’, makes it likely that consumers will not be confused as to the source of the services.

The eighth Polaroid factor, consumer sophistication, also was in favor of Defendants, as Plaintiffs did not prove the sophistication level of Defendants’ relevant consumers.

Balancing these eight factors, the SDNY found no likelihood of consumer confusion and denied Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment on their trademark infringement claim.

 

Trademark dilution

Plaintiffs chose to claim trademark dilution under New York trademark dilution law, Section 360-1 of New York Business Law, and not under the Federal Trademark Dilution Act. This choice may have been made because the New York law does not require a mark to be famous to be protected, and a plaintiff only needs to prove the mark’s distinctiveness or secondary meaning.

Judge Daniels found that there was a genuine issue of fact as to whether Defendants’ use of Plaintiffs’ marks is likely to dilute Plaintiffs’ marks by tarnishment. A court will have to determine if Defendants provide services of poor quality.

 

Copyright

Plaintiffs argued that Defendants had “copied and used the images, likenesses, personas, and names of Plaintiffs’ characters…to promote and advertise its services online.” Defendants argued in response that the characters in which Plaintiffs own copyrights are based on prior works that are part of the public domain.

Both parties will have more chances to pursue their arguments as Judge Daniels denied the motion for summary judgment on copyright infringement. He found that Plaintiffs had presented as evidence screenshots from Defendants’ website and videos allegedly published by Defendants which had not been properly authenticated. More specifically, they had not been authenticated by someone “with personal knowledge of reliability of the archive service from which the screenshots were retrieved,” citing Specht v. Google, a 2014 Seventh Circuit case.

It is likely that the parties will settle out of court.

Advertisements

There is Such Thing as Bad (Right of) Publicity

By Marie-Andrée Weiss

Last June, the New York legislature failed, once again, to amend the state’s right of publicity law. A similar bill, Assembly Bill A08155, had the same fate last year. New York Assembly Bill 8155-B had passed the assembly on June 18, 2018, but the Senate did not bring the bill to a vote before the legislature adjourned. This is fortunate, as the bill had several flaws.

 

The current New York right of publicity law

New York statutory right of privacy, Civil Rights Laws §§ 50 and 51, is a narrowly drafted law. The New York Court of Appeals recently described the legislative intent at passing this law as “slender” (Lohan v. Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc.). Indeed, the law does not provide an extensive right of publicity, but merely makes it a misdemeanor to use a living person’s likeness, that is, her name, portrait or picture, “for advertising or trade purposes” without prior written consent. New York does not recognize any other privacy rights, not even at common law.

 

Identity as personal property

The bill clearly differentiated the “right of privacy” from the “right of publicity.” During a person’s lifetime, a person would have had a right to privacy and a right to publicity. Both rights would have prevented the unauthorized use of likenesses and names, but only the right of publicity would have provided the right to sell one’s persona.

The “right of privacy” was defined as a “personal right, which protects against the unauthorized use of a living individual’s name, portrait or picture, voice, or signature for advertising purposes or purposes of trade without written consent.” This is essentially the right that is currently protected in New York. The bill would have also protected a person’s signature, which is not currently protected. Moreover, under the bill, this right of privacy would have expired upon death, just as it does now.

The bill would have also created a “right of publicity,” defined as “an independent property right, derived from and independent of the right of privacy, which protects the unauthorized use of a living or deceased individual’s name, portrait or picture, voice, or signature for advertising purposes or purposes of trade without written consent.”

The bill would have made an individual’s persona his or her personal property, “freely transferable or descendible, in whole or in part by contract or by means of any trust or testamentary instrument.” The bill would, therefore, have made it possible to transfer one’s persona, by selling it or licensing it, for a limited or unlimited time, and these contracts would have been able to survive death.

 

The dangers of making identity a transferable personal property

SAG-AFTRA, a performers’ union, supported the bill. Its New York President urged its New York members to let their representatives know that they were in favor of passing the bill. However, the bill, as written, could have placed actors in danger of losing the right to use and profit financially from their personality.

The Fantine character, created by Victor Hugo in Les Misérables, sold her hair so she could send money to her daughter Cosette. One can imagine an actress, who once played Fantine in a Les Mis production, but who has since fallen on hard times, selling her entire persona in order to make ends meet. Hair can grow again, but under the bill, a persona could have been sold off for a long time, even forever. One could even imagine a persona becoming a commodity under the new law, with producers buying personas straight out of a ‘central-casting’ database. Representative Morelle noted during the debate that “[i]f someone looks like another person, that’s not covered under this. You could go find someone who looks like Robert De Niro, or you could find someone that looks like another actor.”

The bill would have thankfully forbidden parents or guardians from assigning the right of publicity of a minor and would have rendered such assignments unenforceable. Under this bill. Fantine could have sold her own persona, but not Cosette’s.

 

A descendible right of publicity

Unlike other states, such as California, New York does not have a post-mortem right of publicity. The bill would have provided such a right for forty years after a person’s death, whether she was famous or not. At the expiration of the forty-year period, the image of an individual would have been freely usable.

This right would have been descendible, either by testament or by intestate succession. Either way, the right would have been enforced by a person or persons possessing at least a fifty-one percent interest of the individual’s right of publicity.

Persons claiming to be successors in the right of publicity of a deceased individual, or licensees of such rights, would have had to register their claim with the New York Secretary of State and pay a $100 fee. Thereafter, their claim would have been posted on a public web site specifically designed for that purpose. Parties interested in licensing or buying a particular right of publicity could have used this registry to find out who owns a particular right. Failure of a licensee or successor to register a persona would have been a defense for unauthorized use of the deceased’s persona. The sponsor of the bill, Representative Joseph Morelle, specified during the debate that the law would apply to anyone seeking damages in New York, provided that the interest had been registered in the New York registry.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation argued in a memorandum sent to the New York legislature that the law would pressure heirs to benefit commercially from the image of their deceased relatives, noting that in “a large estate, an inheritable and transferable right of publicity may add to the tax burden and thus lead heirs with no choice but to pursue advertising deals or some other commercial venture.” Indeed, deceased artists such as Glenn Gould or Franck Zappa are back on the road performing as holograms.

 

Fake News, Deepfakes and the right to publicity

The bill addressed the issue of “digital replica,” which it defined as a “computer-generated or electronic reproduction” of the likeness or voice of a person, whether alive or dead. Representative Morelle explained that the bill aimed at codifying the recent Lohan v. Take-Two Interactive Software decision, where the court found that New York right of privacy law, which protects unauthorized use of a “portrait,” encompasses the “graphical representation of a person in a video game or like media.”

Use of such digital replicas would have been forbidden, without prior authorization, in expressive works such as a live performance, a dramatic work, or a musical performance “in a manner that is intended to create, and that does create, the clear impression that the individual represented by the digital replica is performing, the activity for which he or she is known.” Athletes’ digital replicas could not have been used in audiovisual works either, if doing so created “the clear impression that the athlete represented by the digital replica is engaging in an athletic activity for which he or she is known.” This was probably aimed at protecting athletes against the unauthorized use of their likenesses in video games.

The dystopian movie The Congress featured actress Robyn Wright selling the right to her digital image to a studio, under an agreement which forbade her to ever act again. Even more sinister is the prospect of selling one’s digital image for making pornographic movies. Indeed, Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology allows creation of “deepfakes” video where a person is depicted as performing sexual acts. Such technology can be used to seek revenge (so-called revenge porn) or simply to create porn movies featuring celebrities. The bill specifically addressed the issue of unauthorized use of digital replicas in a pornographic work and would have forbidden the use of digital replicas in a manner intended to create, or which did create “the impression that the individual represented by the digital replica is performing [in such pornographic work]”.

Representative Morelle also mentioned during the debate that digital replicas can be used to create fake news, for instance, by making political figures look and sound as if they are saying something they did not actually say, which brings us to the First Amendment issues this bill raised.

 

First Amendment Issues

New York courts found that the use of a person’s likeness with respect to “newsworthy events or matters of public interest” is non-commercial and therefore not actionable under New York’s right of publicity law (Stephano v. News Group Publs.).

Use of digital replicas would have been authorized for parody, satire, commentary or criticism purposes, or “in a work of political, public interest, or newsworthy value,” or if the use was de minimis or incidental.

The bill would have explicitly provided a First Amendment defense to the use of a persona without prior consent, including use in a book, play or movie. This is in line with the recent California case, Olivia de Havilland v. Fox Networks, which had pitted the centenarian actress against the producer of Feud: Bette and Joan, an eight-part television show about the Joan Crawford/Bette Davis rivalry. Catherine Zeta-Jones portrayed Olivia de Havilland, and was shown in the movie giving an interview wherein she referred to her sister Joan Fontaine as a ‘bitch’, among a few more unsavory comments. Olivia de Havilland sued for infringement of her California right to publicity but lost because the use of her name and likeness in the movie was protected by the First Amendment. The case shows how public figures cannot always rely on their right of publicity to censor speech about themselves which they deem unsavory.

It has been reported that Olivia de Havilland plans to ask the Supreme Court to review the case, and the New York legislature is likely to introduce a new version of its right of publicity bill in the coming months. Right of publicity is developing, warts, holograms, and all.

What’s New in the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA)

As readers know, NAFTA has been turned into the United States – Mexico – Canada Agreement (USMCA). Along with changes to minimize barriers in the automobile and dairy sectors, intellectual property rights, data protection, and dispute settlement have undergone considerable alterations. These changes are addressed here.

 

IP Protection Extended

As for intellectual property rights, the negotiations have resulted in enhanced protections, an outcome mainly desired by the US (and with considerable similarities with the 2015 TPP text).

In regard to copyrights, Art.20.H.7 of the USMCA stipulates that, following the author’s death, his or her intellectual property rights shall be protected for 70 years onwards (thereby extending protection from the 50-year standard, by which Canada currently abides). In cases where no person’s life is used as a basis for the copyright term, the minimum is now set to 75 years from the date of the first authorized publication. In NAFTA, the minimum was 50 years.

Biologics are a field which NAFTA did not specifically regulate. Under the USMCA Art.20.F.14, however, patent protection for new pharmaceutical products that are (or contain) biologics will last 10 years from the date of first marketing approval of that product in the Party concerned. Note that biologics protection in Canada is currently only 8 years. It is also important to highlight that the USMCA provides for a patent-term restoration system, enacted after request, in cases where the applicant’s patent issuance has been ‘unreasonably’ delayed (Art.20.F.9).

 

IP Enforcement

Of utmost importance are the advanced enforcement provisions of IP rights protection. Under NAFTA, the competent authorities could act only after the filing of an application by the right holder (Art.1718). The USMCA provides for the ex officio authority of border officials to initiate border measures against suspected counterfeit trademark goods or pirated copyright goods which are imported, destined for export, in transit, or entering/exiting a free trade zone or a bonded warehouse; this is intended to combat the phenomenon of weak counterfeiting (Art.20.J.6). Further, the USMCA provides for the establishment of a new IP Committee, with the task of holding consultations on several cooperation issues (Art.20.B.3).

 

Digital Trade Chapter

When the original NAFTA came into force in 1994, digital trade was not considered in the agreement. USMCA, however, dedicates a whole chapter to it (Chapter 19). Two key points in Chapter 19 should be emphasized. First, the rules on data localization restrict policies that require companies to store personal information within the local jurisdiction, which seems to conflict with what is provided for in the relevant EU regulations. The cross-border transfer, storage and processing of data is facilitated under the USMCA through, inter alia, the prohibition of custom duties on the transfer of digital products and the requirement that Parties do not (unnecessarily) restrict the cross-border transfer of personal information.  Second, Art.20.J.11 introduces a safe-harbor provision for Internet Service Providers by requiring that parties limit the Providers’ liability for monetary relief in instances of infringements where they merely maintain, transmit, or store unauthorized information, but do not control, initiate or direct the infringement.

 

Limitation of Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Reformation of the dispute settlement mechanism is another field of practical and legal interest. Chapter 11 of NAFTA provided for investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) for protected investments. The foreign investor had recourse to an arbitral tribunal to challenge host State measures. Canada has now entirely withdrawn from the ISDS system. Thus, investor-state disputes are only permitted between the US and Mexico, and only under certain conditions. First, they are only available for alleged violations of the standards of national treatment and ‘most-favored nation’, as well as direct expropriation disputes. Furthermore, ISDS is only available after local remedies have been exhausted or after a time lapse of 30 months. As far as minimum standards of treatment (fair and equitable treatment) and indirect expropriation are concerned, the investors can only pursue a claim before domestic courts.

Notably, specific categories of US investors are permitted to initiate proceedings relating to oil, gas, transportation, infrastructure, and power generation concession contracts concluded between them and the Mexican government (USMCA Annex 14-E). Yet, the state-to-state dispute settlement mechanism of NAFTA’s Chapter 19 has not undergone modification and remains in place.

 

Conclusion

The parties have chosen to maintain many of the original NAFTA principles, such as that bilateral and trilateral elements can coexist. The USMCA agreement, therefore, represents a compromise, bringing changes in some areas while leaving others untouched.

Olivia de Havilland Asks Supreme Court to Review Docudrama Right of Publicity Case

By Marie-Andrée Weiss

Actress Olivia de Havilland, DBE, is petitioning the Supreme Court of the United States for writ of certiorari for the following question:

“Are reckless or knowing false statements about a living public figure, published in docudrama format, entitled to absolute First Amendment protection from claims based on the victim’s statutory and common law causes of action for defamation and right of publicity, so as to justify dismissal at the pleading stage?”

It all started with the television ‘docudrama’ series Feud: Bette and Joan, about the Bette Davis and Joan Crawford rivalry. In the docudrama, Catherine Zeta-Jones portrayed Olivia de Havilland calling her sister Joan Fontaine a ‘bitch’, implying that Frank Sinatra is an alcoholic, and generally enjoying good juicy gossip, even at the expense of her close friend Bette Davis.

This did not sit well with Miss de Havilland, who prides herself on having achieved success “without sacrificing her strong moral and personal commitment to truth… and plain old fashioned good manners.” She found her portrayal in Feud to be  false and damaging to her reputation, and filed a right of publicity and false light invasion of privacy suit against the producers of the show in June 2017.

Defendants filed a motion to strike the complaint under the California Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (anti-SLAPP) statute, which provides defendants the right to dismiss cases which chill expression because Plaintiff engages in a costly and time-consuming litigation.

The Los Angeles Superior Court denied the motion, finding that Feud was not “transformative” under the Comedy III Productions ‘transformative use’ test and thus not protected by the First Amendment. In Comedy III, the California Supreme Court had found that an unauthorized use of likeness is protected by the First Amendment if it is transformative.

Defendants appealed. The California Court of Appeal reversed on March 26, 2018, finding that the way Plaintiff had been portrayed in Feud was not “highly offensive to a reasonable person” and that the First Amendment protected the portrayal of Plaintiff without her permission. Plaintiff then petitioned the California Supreme Court to review the case. The court declined to do so on July 11, 2018, and Miss de Havilland is now petitioning the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari.

Is docudrama a knowing or recklessly false publication?

The scope of the question Petitioner is asking the Supreme Court is rather narrow and focuses of the issues of so-called docudramas, which mixes real life elements and dramatization. She argues that the court should review the case as it is “the right vehicle for [the court] to… clarify whether the First Amendment creates a special immunity for knowingly false statements published in a docudrama at a time when this genre is at an all-time high point” (emphasis my own).

Petitioner also argues, somewhat more broadly, that knowing or recklessly false statements in any form are not protected by the First Amendment and that “false factual statements possess no intrinsic First Amendment value,” citing United States v. Alvarez.

False statements are not generally protected by the First Amendment. A docudrama is a fiction and fiction is, by essence, false. But concluding that fiction, because it is false, is not protected by the First Amendment would be a sophism.

The California right of publicity statute has an exception for matters of public interest if the use of the likeness of an individual has been made “in connection with any news, public affairs, or sports broadcast or account, or any political campaign.” Miss de Havilland argues that this public interest exception does not protect knowing or reckless publication, and that if a fiction about a real person is knowing and recklessly false, the person thus portrayed should have the right to sue for defamation and unauthorized use of her likeness without being prevented to do so by the First Amendment.

It would be surprising if the Supreme Court accepts review of the case because the issue at stake – whether creators have the right to portray real persons in works of fiction without their permission – is well settled. The decision of the Los Angeles Superior Court appears to be only a fluke, and was reversed by the California Court of Appeal, which held that a person portrayed in a book, play, film or television show does not have the right to control “the creator’s portrayal of actual people.”

This dismissal of Miss de Havilland’s claims was consistent with California case law. The Ninth Circuit held in the 2006 Sarver v. Chartier case that the right of publicity suit filed by an Army Sergeant allegedly portrayed in the Hurt Locker movie had been properly barred by the California anti-SLAPP statute. The film was based on an article published in Playboy magazine about Plaintiff’s experience while he worked as an explosive technician in Iraq.

However, it can be argued that the Sarver case actually supports Miss de Havilland’s argument. In Sarver, the Ninth Circuit did not use the Comedy III transformative test to reach the conclusion that the movie did not violate Plaintiff’s right of publicity because it is transformative enough. Instead, it extensively quoted the only Supreme Court right of publicity decision, Zacchini v. Scripps-Howard Broadcasting, where the Supreme Court concluded that the Ohio right of publicity statute could prevent broadcasting the entire performance of a “human cannonball” without violating the First Amendment, because petitioner had made significant economic investments in energy, talent and expense to prepare for his act.

The Ninth Circuit noted in Sarver that it interprets Zacchini as upholding a right of publicity “where the defendant appropriates the economic value that the plaintiff has built in an identity or performance” without considering whether defendant’s use is transformative or not. This interpretation may lead a case such as this one to be decided in favor of the plaintiff, especially if one considers that the practice of securing a ‘life rights agreement’ before portraying a particular person in a movie or television show is prevalent in the business and is thus another way to profit from the economic value of one’s identity.

U.S. and EU file WTO Complaint against China

By Pratyush Nath Upreti

On 23 March 2018, the United States launched a WTO complaint against China’s discriminatory licence practices. The request for consultations filed by the United States highlights the grounds for complaint as:

“China denies foreign patent holders the ability to enforce their patent rights against a Chinese joint-venture party after a technology transfer contract ends. China also imposes mandatory adverse contract terms that discriminate against and are less favorable or imported foreign technology. Therefore, China deprives foreign intellectual property rights holders of the ability to protect their intellectual property rights in China as well as freely negotiate market-based terms in licensing and other technology-related contracts.”[1]

Later in April 2018, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), and the European Union (EU), formally requested to join the consultations requested by the US, citing a substantial interest in the matters related to the protection of intellectual property rights by WTO members, interpretation of TRIPS Agreement and trade interest.[2]

On 1 June 2018, the European Union filed its own WTO complaint against China’s rules, which are applicable to technology transfer. According to the request for consultations, the European Union has accused China of using its domestic legislation to impose a different set of rules on the import of technology, including intellectual property rights, than the rules which are applicable to technology transfers occurring between Chinese companies.[3] Further, in the consultations request, the EU argues;

“The Chinese measures at issue appear to (i) discriminate against foreign holders of intellectual property rights, and (ii) restrict the foreign right holders’ ability to protect certain intellectual property rights in China, contrary to China’s WTO obligations.”[4]

 

What Next?

The WTO consultations give the parties an opportunity to discuss the issues and to find a satisfactory solution without resorting to litigation.[5] In case of failure to produce a satisfactory solution within 60 days, the complainant may request for adjudication by a panel.

 

Conclusion

In recent years, there have been few IP disputes brought to the WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU).[6] From 1995-2016, the TRIPS Agreement has been invoked only 33 times in WTO complaints- (20 cases in 1995-99: 5 cases in 2000-04; 1 case in 2005-09; 7 cases in 2010-14; 0 cases in 2015-16).[7] In the past, the US and the EU had a history of IP related tension at WTO with China.[8] However, the recent request for consultations by two key global actors has come at a time when the rise of bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements is at its peak. Thus, these requests for consultations depict their faith in the multilateral system.

[1] China-Certain Measures Concerning the Protection of Intellectual Property Rights- Request for Consultations by the United States  (WT/DS542/1, 26 March 2018)

<https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news18_e/ds542rfc_26mar18_e.htm&gt; accessed 22 July 2018.

[2] See communication from the  Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), and the European Union (EU) to join consultations requested by the United States.

<https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/FE_Search/FE_S_S006.aspx?Query=(@Symbol=%20wt/ds542/*)&Language=ENGLISH&Context=FomerScriptedSearch&languageUIChanged=true#>  accessed 22 July 2018.

[3] China-Certain Measures on the Transfer of Technology – Request for Consultations by the European Union ( WT/DS549/1, 6 June 2018)

[4] Ibid.

[5] For more information on WTO Dispute Settlement

< https://www.wto.org/english/tatop_e/dispu_e/disp_settlement_cbt_e/c6s2p1_e.htm> accessed 22 July 2018.

[6] Kara Leitner and Simon Lester, ‘WTO Dispute Settlement 1995-2016- A Statistical Analysis’ (2017) 20(1) Journal of International Economic Law 176. (Based on the statistical data, authors argue that with regards to intellectual property, the number of complaints has been limited and has been a decline in recent years.)

[7] Ibid.

[8] See China- Measures Affecting the Protection and Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights (WT/DS362) < https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/dispu_e/cases_e/ds362_e.htm> accessed 22 July 2018/

U.S. Qualcomm Case Update: Privilege Assertions

By Nicole Daniel

On 22 March 2018, in a court hearing in the Qualcomm case, Judge Koh expressed her concern over possible abuses in asserting legal privilege over certain documents.

In January 2017, the U.S. FTC sued Qualcomm, alleging that the company consistently refused to license its essential patents to competitors, thereby violating its pledge to standards organizations that it would license them on FRAND terms (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory). Allegedly, Qualcomm also engaged in a policy of withholding processors unless its customers agreed to patent licensing terms favorable to Qualcomm. A trial is set for January 2019.

Furthermore, a class action alleged that Qualcomm’s behavior raised the prices of devices operating with its chips.

At the hearing, judge Koh said she is “deeply disturbed” by the very high percentage of privilege assertions by Qualcomm. However, Qualcomm continues to produce documents after reviewing them again and removing earlier assertions of privilege. Judge Koh expressed her concerns at the court hearing several times and said that she will allow witnesses to be redeposed, as often as necessary, until all documents are available before testimony.

This issue centers around documents from Apple and other customers which were gathered under an EU investigation into the baseband chipsets market. Even though the plaintiffs have already obtained a redacted version of the Commission’s January 2017 decision fining Qualcomm EUR 997 million, they ask for an unredacted version. In this decision, Qualcomm was fined for paying Apple to refrain from buying rival manufacturers’ chips.

The U.S. plaintiffs argue that Qualcomm should have simply asked for third parties’ permission to share the information given to the EU investigators. Qualcomm in turn argued that it cannot circumvent EU law by making the disclosures asked for and referred to the version of the decision to be published by the Commission. In the public version, the Commission makes its own redactions. The U.S. plaintiffs further argued that they contacted Apple, as well as its contracted manufacturers, and those parties do not object to disclosure. Qualcomm replied that they could simply ask them directly for the information. In sum, the U.S. plaintiffs called Qualcomm’s behavior unfair, as it prevents them from fully understanding the EU decision.

Until early May 2018, no public version of the Commission was available. The Commission and the companies involved are still in the process of deciding on a version of the decision that does not contain any business secrets or other confidential information.

Facebook’s Data Sharing Practices under Unfair Competition Law

By Catalina Goanta

2018 has so far not been easy on the tech world. The first months of the year brought a lot of bad news: two accidents with self-driving cars (Tesla and Uber) and the first human casualty,[1] another Initial Coin Offering (ICO) scam costing investors $660 million,[2] and Donald Trump promising to go after Amazon.[3] But the scandal that made the most waves had to do with Facebook data being used by Cambridge Analytica.[4]

 

Data brokers and social media

In a nutshell, Cambridge Analytica was a UK-based company that claimed to use data to change audience behavior either in political or commercial contexts.[5] Without going too much into detail regarding the identity of the company, its ties, or political affiliations, one of the key points in the Cambridge Analytica whistleblowing conundrum is the fact that it shed light on Facebook data sharing practices which, unsurprisingly, have been around for a while. To create psychometric models which could influence voting behavior, Cambridge Analytica used the data of around 87 million users, obtained through Facebook’s Graph Application Programming Interface (API), a developer interface providing industrial-level access to personal information.[6]

The Facebook Graph API

The first version of the API (v1.0), which was launched in 2010 and was up until 2015, could be used to not only gather public information about a given pool of users, but also about their friends, in addition to granting access to private messages sent on the platform (see Table 1 below). The amount of information belonging to user friends that Facebook allowed third parties to tap into is astonishing. The extended profile properties permission facilitated the extraction of information about: activities, birthdays, check-ins, education history, events, games activity, groups, interests, likes, location, notes, online presence, photo and video tags, photos, questions, relationships and relationships details, religion and politics, status, subscriptions, website and work history. Extended permissions changed in 2014, with the second version of the Graph API (v2.0), which suffered many other changes since (see Table 2). However, one interesting thing that stands out when comparing versions 1.0 and 2.0 is that less information is gathered from targeted users than from their friends, even if v2.0 withdrew the extended profile properties (but not the extended permissions relating to reading private messages).

Table 1 – Facebook application permissions and availability to API v1 (x) and v2 (y)[7]

Cambridge Analytica obtained Facebook data with help from another company, Global Science Research, set up by Cambridge University-affiliated faculty Alexandr Kogan and Joseph Chancellor. Kogan had previously collaborated with Facebook for his work at the Cambridge Prosociality & Well-Being Lab. For his research, Kogan collected data from Facebook as a developer, using the Lab’s account registered on Facebook via his own personal account, and he was also in contact with Facebook employees who directly sent him anonymized aggregate datasets.[8]

Table 2 – The History of the Facebook Graph API

The Facebook employees who sent him the data were working for Facebook’s Protect and Care Team, but were themselves doing research on user experience as PhD students.[9] Kogan states that the data he gathered with the Global Science Research quiz is separate from the initial data he used in his research, and it was kept on different servers.[10] Kogan’s testimony before the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee does clarify which streams of data were used by which actors, but none of the Members of Parliament attending the hearing asked any questions about the very process through which Kogan was able to tap into Facebook user data. He acknowledged that for harvesting information for the Strategic Communication Laboratories – Cambridge Analytica’s affiliated company – he used a market research recruitment strategy: for around $34 per person, he aimed at recruiting up to 20,000 individuals who would take an online survey.[11] The survey would be accessible through an access token, which required participants to login using their Facebook credentials.

Access Tokens

On the user end, Facebook Login is an access token which allows users to log in across platforms. The benefits of using access tokens are undeniable: having the possibility to operate multiple accounts using one login system allows for efficient account management. The dangers are equally clear. On the one hand, one login point (with one username and one password) for multiple accounts can be a security vulnerability. On the other hand, even if Facebook claims that the user is in control of the data shared with third parties, some apps using Facebook Login – for instance wifi access in café’s, or online voting for TV shows – do not allow users to change the information requested by the app, creating a ‘take it or leave it’ situation for users.

Figure 1 – Facebook Login interface

On the developer end, access tokens allow apps operating on Facebook to access the Graph API. The access tokens perform two functions:

  • They allow developer apps to access user information without asking for the user’s password; and
  • They allow Facebook to identify developer apps, users engaging with this app, and the type of data permitted by the user to be accessed by the app.[12]

Understanding how Facebook Login works is essential in clarifying what information users are exposed to right before agreeing to hand their Facebook data over to other parties.

 

Data sharing and consent

As Figure 1 shows, and as it can be seen when browsing through Facebook’s Terms of Service, consent seems to be at the core of Facebook’s interaction with its users. This being said, it is impossible to determine, on the basis of these terms, what Facebook really does with the information it collects. For instance, in the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities dating from 30 January 2015, there is an entire section on sharing content and information:

  1. You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacyand application settings. In addition: 
  1. For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it. 
  2. When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).
  3. When you use an application, the application may ask for your permission to access your content and information as well as content and information that others have shared with you.  We require applications to respect your privacy, and your agreement with that application will control how the application can use, store, and transfer that content and information.  (To learn more about Platform, including how you can control what information other people may share with applications, read our Data Policy and Platform Page.)
  4. When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).
  5. We always appreciate your feedback or other suggestions about Facebook, but you understand that we may use your feedback or suggestions without any obligation to compensate you for them (just as you have no obligation to offer them).

This section appears to establish Facebook as a user-centric platform that wants to give as much ownership to its customers. However, the section says nothing about the fact that app developers used to be able to tap not only into the information generated by users, but also that of their friends, to an even more extensive degree. There are many other clauses in the Facebook policies that could be relevant for this discussion, but let us dwell on this section.

Taking a step back, from a legal perspective, when a user gets an account with Facebook, a service contract is concluded. If users reside outside of the U.S. or Canada, clause 18.1 of the 2015 Statement of Rights and Responsibilities mentions the service contract to be an agreement between the user and Facebook Ireland Ltd. For U.S. and Canadian residents, the agreement is concluded with Facebook Inc.[13] Moreover, according to clause 15, the applicable law to the agreement is the law of the state of California.[14] This clause does not pose any issues for agreements with U.S. or Canadian users, but it does raise serious problems for users based in the European Union. In consumer contracts, European law curtails party autonomy in choosing applicable law, given that some consumer law provisions in European legislation are mandatory, and cannot be derogated from.[15] Taking the example of imposing the much lesser protections of U.S. law on European consumers, such clauses would not be valid under EU law. As a result, in 2017 the Italian Competition and Market Authority gave WhatsApp a €3 million fine on the ground that such contractual clauses are unfair.[16]

Apart from problems with contractual fairness, additional concerns arise with respect to unfair competition. Set between competition law and private law, unfair competition is a field of law that takes into account both bilateral transactions, as well as the broader effect they can have on a market. The rationale behind unfair competition is that deceitful/unfair trading practices which give businesses advantages they might otherwise not enjoy should be limited by law.[17] As far as terminology goes, in Europe, Directive 2005/29/EC, the main instrument regulating unfair competition, uses the terms ‘unfair commercial practices’, whereas in the United States, the Federal Trade Commission refers to ‘unfair or deceptive commercial practices’.[18] The basic differences between the approaches taken in the two federal/supranational legal systems can be consulted in Figure 2 below:

Figure 2 – U.S. & EU unfair competition law (van Eijk, Hoofnagle & Kannekens, 2017)[19]

 

Facebook’s potentially unfair/deceptive commercial practices

In what follows, I will briefly refer to the 3 comparative criteria identified by van Eijk et al.[20]

The fact that a business must do something (representation, omission, practice, etc.) which deceives or is likely to deceive or mislead the consumer is a shared criterion in both legal systems. There are two main problems with Facebook’s 2015 terms of service to this end. First, Facebook does not specify how exactly the company shares user data and with whom. Second, this version of the terms makes no reference whatsoever to the sharing of friends’ data, as could be done through the extended permissions. These omissions, as well as the very limited amount of information offered to consumers, through which they are supposed to understand Facebook’s links to other companies as far as their own data is concerned, are misleading.

The second criterion, that of the reasonable/average consumer, is not so straight forward: the information literacy of Facebook users fluctuates, as it depends on demographic preferences. With the emergence of new social media platforms such as Snapchat and Musical.ly, Facebook might not be the socializing service of choice for younger generations. However, official statistics are based on data that includes a lot of noise. It seems that fake accounts make up around 3% of the total number of Facebook accounts, and duplicate accounts make up around 10% of the same total.[21] This poses serious questions regarding the European standard of the average consumer, because there is no way to currently estimate how exactly this 13% proportion would change the features of the entire pool of users. There are many reasons why fake accounts exist, but let me mention two of them. First, the minimum age for joining Facebook is 13; however, the enforcement of this policy is not easy, and a lot of minors can join the social media platform by simply lying about their age. Second, fake online profiles allow for the creation of dissociate lives: individuals may display very different behavior under the veil of anonymity, and an example in this respect is online bullying.

Figure 3 – Distribution of Facebook users worldwide as of April 2018, by age and gender (Statista, 2018)

These aspects can make it difficult for a judge to determine the profile of the reasonable/average consumer as far as social media is concerned: would the benchmark include fake and duplicate accounts? Would the reasonable/average consumer standard have to be based on the real or the legal audience? What level of information literacy would this benchmark use? These aspects remain unclear.

The third criterion is even more complex, as it deals with the likelihood of consumers taking a different decision, had they had more symmetrical information. Two main points can be made here. On the one hand, applying this criterion leads to a scenario where we would have to assume that Facebook would better disclose information to consumers. This would normally take the form of specific clauses in the general terms and conditions. For consumers to be aware of this information, they would have to read these terms with orthodoxy, and make rational decisions, both of which are known not to be the case: consumers simply do not have time and do not care about general terms and conditions, and make impulsive decisions. If that is the case for the majority of the online consumer population, it is also the case for the reasonable/average consumer. On the other hand, perhaps consumers might feel more affected if they knew beforehand the particularities of data sharing practices as they occurred in the Cambridge Analytica situation: that Facebook was not properly informing them about allowing companies to broker their data to manipulate political campaigns. This, however, is not something Facebook would inform its users about directly, as Cambridge Analytica is not the only company using Facebook data, and such notifications (if even desirable from a customer communication perspective), would not be feasible, or would lead to information overload and consumer fatigue. If this too translates into a reality where consumers do not really care about such information, the third leg of the test seems not to be fulfilled. In any case, this too is a criterion which will very likely raise many more questions that it aims to address.

In sum, two out of the three criteria would be tough to fulfill. Assuming, however, that they would indeed be fulfilled, and even though there are considerable differences in the enforcement of the prohibition against unfair/deceptive commercial practices, the FTC, as well as European national authorities can take a case against Facebook to court to order injunctions, in addition to other administrative or civil acts. A full analysis of European and Dutch law in this respect will soon be available in a publication authored together with Stephan Mulders.

 

Harmonization and its discontents

The Italian Competition and Market Authority (the same entity that fined WhatsApp) launched an investigation into Facebook on April 6, on the ground that its data sharing practices are misleading and aggressive.[22] The Authority will have to go through the same test as applied above, and in addition, will very likely also consult the black-listed practices annexed to the Directive. Should this public institution from a Member State find that these practices are unfair, and should the relevant courts agree with this assessment, a door for a European Union-wide discussion on this matter will be opened. Directive 2005/29/EC is a so-called maximum harmonization instrument, meaning that the European legislator aims for it to level the playing field on unfair competition across all Member States. If Italy’s example is to be followed, and more consumer authorities restrict Facebook practices, this could mark the most effective performance of a harmonizing instrument in consumer protection. If the opposite happens, and Italy ends up being the only Member State outlawing such practices, this could be a worrying sign of how little impact maximum harmonization has in practice.

 

New issues, same laws

Nonetheless, in spite of the difficulties in enforcing unfair competition, this discussion prompts one main take-away: data-related practices do fall under the protections offered by regulation on unfair/deceptive commercial practices.[23] This type of regulation already exists in the U.S. just as much as it exists in the EU, and is able to handle new legal issues arising out of the use of disruptive technologies. The only areas where current legal practices are in need of an upgrade deal with interpretation and proof: given the complexity of social media platforms and the many ways in which they are used, perhaps judges and academics should also make use of data science to better understand the behavior of these audiences, as long as this behavior is central for legal assessments.

[1] Will Knight, ‘A Self-driving Uber Has Killed a Pedestrian in Arizona’, MIT Technology Review, The Download, March 19, 2018; Alan Ohnsman, Fatal Tesla Crash Exposes Gap In Automaker’s Use Of Car Data, Forbes, April 16, 2018.

[2] John Biggs, ‘Exit Scammers Run Off with $660 Million in ICO Earnings’, TechCrunch, April 13, 2018.

[3] Joe Harpaz, ‘What Trump’s Attack On Amazon Really Means For Internet Retailers’, Forbes, April 16, 2018.

[4] Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison, ‘Revealed: 50 Million Facebook Profiles Harvested for Cambridge Analytica in Major Data Breach’, The Guardian, March 17, 2018.

[5] The Cambridge Analytica website reads: ‘Data drives all we do. Cambridge Analytica uses data to change audience behavior. Visit our political or commercial divisions to see how we can help you.’, last visited on April 27, 2018. It is noteworthy that the company started insolvency procedures on 2 May, in an attempt to rebrand itself as Emerdata, see see Shona Ghosh and Jake Kanter, ‘The Cambridge Analytica power players set up a mysterious new data firm — and they could use it for a ‘Blackwater-style’ rebrand’, Business Insider, May 3, 2018.

[6] For a more in-depth description of the Graph API, as well as its Instagram equivalent, see Jonathan Albright, The Graph API: Key Points in the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica Debacle, Medium, March 21, 2018.

[7] Iraklis Symeonidis, Pagona Tsormpatzoudi & Bart Preneel, ‘Collateral Damage of Facebook Apps: An Enhanced Privacy Scoring Model’, IACR Cryptology ePrint Archive, 2015, p. 5.

[8] UK Parliament Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, ‘Dr Aleksandr Kogan questioned by Committee’, April 24, 2018; see also the research output based on the 57 billion friendships dataset: Maurice H. Yearwood, Amy Cuddy, Nishtha Lamba, Wu Youyoua, Ilmo van der Lowe, Paul K. Piff, Charles Gronind, Pete Fleming, Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Dacher Keltner, Aleksandr Spectre, ‘On Wealth and the Diversity of Friendships: High Social Class People around the World Have Fewer International Friends’, 87 Personality and Individual Differences 224-229 (2015).

[9] UK Parliament Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing, supra note 8.

[10] Ibid.

[11] This number mentioned by Kogan in his witness testimony conflicts with media reports which indicate a much higher participation rate in the study, see Julia Carrie Wong and Paul Lewis, ‘Facebook Gave Data about 57bn Friendships to Academic’, The Guardian, March 22, 2018.

[12] For an overview of Facebook Login, see Facebook Login for Apps – Overview, last visited on April 27, 2018.

[13] Clause 18.1 (2015) reads: If you are a resident of or have your principal place of business in the US or Canada, this Statement is an agreement between you and Facebook, Inc.  Otherwise, this Statement is an agreement between you and Facebook Ireland Limited.

[14] Clause 15.1 (2015) reads: The laws of the State of California will govern this Statement, as well as any claim that might arise between you and us, without regard to conflict of law provisions.

[15] Giesela Ruhl, ‘Consumer Protection in Choice of Law’, 44(3) Cornell International Law Journal 569-601 (2011), p. 590.

[16] Italian Competition and Market Authority, ‘WhatsApp fined for 3 million euro for having forced its users to share their personal data with Facebook’, Press Release, May 12, 2018.

[17] Rogier de Vrey, Towards a European Unfair Competition Law: A Clash Between Legal Families : a Comparative Study of English, German and Dutch Law in Light of Existing European and International Legal Instruments (Brill, 2006), p. 3.

[18] Nico van Eijk, Chris Jay Hoofnagle & Emilie Kannekens, ‘Unfair Commercial Practices: A Complementary Approach to Privacy Protection’, 3 European Data Protection Law Review 1-12 (2017), p. 2.

[19] Ibid., p. 11.

[20] The tests in Figure 2 have been simplified by in order to compare their essential features; however, upon a closer look, these tests include other details as well, such as the requirement of a practice being against ‘professional diligence’ (Art. 4(1) UCPD).

[21] Patrick Kulp, ‘Facebook Quietly Admits to as Many as 270 Million Fake or Clone Accounts’, Mashable, November 3, 2017.

[22] Italian Competition and Market Authority, ‘Misleading information for collection and use of data, investigation launched against Facebook’, Press Release, April 6, 2018.

[23] This discussion is of course much broader, and it starts from the question of whether a data-based service falls within the material scope of, for instance, Directive 2005/29/EC. According to Art. 2(c) corroborated with Art. 3(1) of this Directive, it does. See also Case C‑357/16, UAB ‘Gelvora’ v Valstybinė vartotojų teisių apsaugos tarnyba, ECLI:EU:C:2017:573, para. 32.