August 10, 2012
Nightmare scenario involving contract
I try to avoid reading the Yahoo stories with the headlines that try so hard to pique your interest, but this one was sent to me by someone who knew I'd be interested in the contracts-related issues. Maryann Sahoury is suing a production company, Meredith Corp., after she particpated in an instructional breast feeding video that was used by a third party to create pornography. Sahoury participated in the video to help other moms who might have trouble breastfeeding their children. She was told by the producer that only her first name would be used in the video. After the filming and while juggling her baby, she was asked to sign a "piece of paper" which she did without reading it.
When she later conducted a search of her name, she found numerous links to pornographic sites and found one that showed her breastfeeding video spliced with another pornographic one containing a woman with similar features. Even a search of her baby's name turned up links to pornographic sites and videos. Her lawsuit is not claiming that the production company is responsible for creating the pornographic spliced video; rather her lawsuit states that the production company posted the breastfeeding video on YouTube and used her full name, when it represented it would only post it on Parents TV and cable television and use her first name.
The production company, Meredith, said that Sahoury had signed a release that allowed the company to use her "image, voice and name."
I find the company's response infuriating. Any dummy knows that posting a video anywhere on the internet can be misused - especially when the video contains a woman's breast. It doesn't sound like Sahoury is trying to make money from this - the article states that she is seeking only an order prohibiting the defendants from using the video featuring her and her daughter for any purpose (and attorney fees).
This situation raises a host of legal and policy related issues, but I'm going to try to focus on the contract ones. The first issue that comes to mind is whether the release is even enforceable. Was there consideration for the release given that it was signed after filming ended. (She wasn't paid for her participation in the filming). I also wonder whether there might be an interpretation issue that could work in her favor - "image, voice and name," - does that mean first name or first and last name? If nothing more is stated in the release, the verbal assurance that only her first name would be used should be highly relevant to interpret the meaning of the word "name". Furthermore, did the release state in what medium or outlet the video could be used? If it wasn't worded sufficiently broadly, the verbal assurance that it would only be posted on Youtube should limit the scope of the license she granted. In addition, was there an integration clause in the event to allow oral statements (and get around the parol evidence rule). Along the same lines, was the assurance that it would be posted only on Parents TV and cable television given before or after she signed the release?
I know I'm missing other issues so please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.
August 9, 2012
Contract Dispute at Thomas M. Cooley Law School
On August 6, 2012, the Sixth Circuit decided Branham v. Thomas M. Cooley Law School, a case involving the termination of a tenured law professor, Lynn Branham. Professor Branham, currently visiting at the St. Louis University School of Law, is an expert in criminal law and had been teaching at Cooley Law School since 1983. For some reason, the Cooley Law School asked her to teach constitutional law and torts in Spring 2006. She complained but complied and then went on leave for a semester. When she returned, she was again asked to teach constitutional law. When she refused, she was terminated.
A District Court found that Professor Branham had not been properly terminated, because the dismissal process had not been in accord with those provided for in her employment contract. Cooley then followed the proper procedures -- Cooley's faculty voted to dismiss Branham and the Cooley's Board of Directors upheld that decision. The District Court was thereby satisfied, and it entered judgment for Cooley.
The Sixth Circuit affirmed the District Court's ruling on the breach of contract issue. Professor Barnham had entered into a one-year contract with Cooley, and the fact that she had tenure did not create rights beyond those provided in the employment agreement. She was entitled to a faculty vote and then the vote of the Board of Directors. Both of those occurred, and the Sixth Circuit was not overly concerned with the fact that they occurred tardily.
Under Michigan law, an employer's process must comply with five elements of "elementary fairness": notice, opportunity to be heard, formulation of issues and fact, a rule of finality and other procedural elements appropriate to the nature of the proceeding. The Sixth Circuit was satisfied that the elements of elementary fairness were met in this case.
One might think that Professor Barnham should be entitled, at the very least, to damages for breach of contract for the period during which she had been dismissed without appropriate procedures, but the Sixth Circuit found that because Cooley eventually followed the appropriate procedures, Professor Barnham had no claim for damages. She was only entitled to equitable relief, which she apparently recieved when Cooley complied with the District Court's order to give her appropriate process.
The Sixth Circuit opinion focuses on the contractual issues and on the question of whether Cooley followed the appropriate procedures for the termination of a faculty member. The Court defers to the faculty members who determined that Cooley had "good cause " for termination of Professor Barnham. We can only hope that, at some point, some body with authority to make such a determination de novo will recognize that a tenured faculty member's refusal to teach courses removed from her area of expertise does not constitute "good cause" for her termination.
August 8, 2012
New in Print
Matthew Edward Cavanaugh, Contract + Tort = Property: The Trade Secret llustration, 16 Marq. Intell. Prop. L. Rev. 427 (2012)
August 7, 2012
Weekly Top Tens from the Social Science Research Network
August 6, 2012
Covenants Not to Compete, for a (Hefty) Price
Sometimes, as this article froom Bloomberg Businessweek points out, it pays not to work. John Krenicki, a former executive of GE, will be paid $89,000 a month until 2022 to keep him from working for a competitor for three years. That doesn't mean,(as my misleading first sentence indicates), that he can't work for anyone, In fact, according to a WSJ article (that I won't link to because you hit a subscriber paywall), Mr. Krenicki is going to take a job as a partner at a private equity firm. As the Bloomberg article notes, the three year non-compete is three times as long as the average because Krenicki is, apparently, worth it.