Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Over at Balkinization, University of Maryland Law Prof Frank Pasquale (pictured) has a post about a recent article by Alana Samuels in the L.A. Times. Samuels' article begins with the now-familiar story of a janitor owed back wages who was forced into an arbitral forum that favored employers. His arbitration agreement, which was among the papers he signed without reading (and likely without being given the opportunity to read) on the first day of work, also included a class action waiver. Employers are also emboldened by the pro-business climate engendered by recent SCOTUS decisions to throw in attorneys' fees provisions, thus increasing the risks to employees who seek redress.
The story then proceeds to detail the plight of relatively low-wage workers, such as limo drivers and hair stylists, whose employers force them to sign non-compete clauses, even if they are part-time, meaning that they cannot find work with other businesses, even if they are not getting enough hours from their current employers. Pasquale reports that non-competes are now starting to kick in at the job application stage. He reports that at some job fairs, employers will not look at your application unless you sign a "letter of intent," which prevents the applicant from applying elsewhere whie the current application is pending.
It is not clear to me that such a letter would be or could be enforceable. What is the company's remedy if a potential employee violates the letter of intent? Presumably, the only remedy would be to refuse to hire, but if the employer is otherwise inclined to hire someone, would that person's failure to abide by the company's b.s. letter of intent really deter the company from hiring? And if the company does not decide to hire the person, there is obviously no harm to the company and so no way to enfore the letter of intent. The issue could arise, perhaps, if the company hired someone and then learned that the employee had violated the letter of intent. But since the employment is almost certainly at-will, what difference does the letter of intent issue make? The employer still is free to fire or not fire.
Monday, July 8, 2013
My colleague, David Herzig, called my attention to this weekend's New York Times Magazine, which featured an article about Jason Everman, who was briefly a member of two very successful bands, Nirvana (pictured) and Soundgarden. According to the article, Everman was too introverted to make it on tour, and he was fired from both bands for being moody. He bounced around with other bands for a while and eventually enlisted with the armed forces. He is now a decorated war hero and veteran of the Special Forces, where, according to the article, moodiness is not a big problem.
The part that piqued David's interest was early on, when Everman first joined Nirvana. According to the Times, Nirvana had just recorded its first album, Bleach, but they owed their producer money. Everman paid $606.17 to cover the debt, and the record eventually sold over 2 million copies. Kurt Cobain bragged that the band never even reimbursed Everman his $600. David thought maybe there would be some contractual angle that would lead to a recovery for Everman. The article suggests that Everman has moved on, and that's probably the right move both for the sake peace of mind and from the legal perspective, at least based on the facts as reported in the Times.
There is no suggestion in the article of a contract. It seems like Everman was just being a good guy and giving his friends some money. At best, he might have expected to be paid back, so a legal case would entitle him to $606.17 plus interest. Or he might have just been helping his bandmates in the expectation that the record's success would enable them to tour and to profit from being Nirvana, a privilege that Everman enjoyed for a while, before his bandmates discovered that he wasn't the person with whom they wanted to be stuck in a tour van.
Thursday, July 4, 2013
There have been a few articles over the past few days about Bobby Bonilla's contract with the New York Mets. Bonilla played for the Mets until he retired in 2001. At that point, he still had $5.9 million outstanding on his contract. Rather than giving Bonilla a lump sum payment, the Mets opted to pay him start paying him in 2011. The Mets are to pay Bonilla a total of $29.8 million over 25 years.
Cork Gaines of the Business Insider explains that this was a good deal for the Mets in terms of their bottom line on the Bonilla contract. Assuming an 8% rate of return, the long-term payout deal is worth $10 million less over time to Bonilla than would a one-time payout. And, because the Mets had the use for teny years of the $5.9 million that they owed Bonilla until the payouts began in 2011, they were able to invest that money, and the come out at the other end looking pretty good, assuming an 8% annual return on investment and ignoring all other issues, like the tax consequences of the transaction.
In the New York Times, Jeff Z. Klein and Mary Pilon are decidedly less positive about the Bonilla contract, but they dutifully report that all parties involved stil believe they acted in their own best interest. The Times provides some details missing from the Buinsss Insider report. The Mets needed to get Bonilla off their books and out of their clubhouse so that they could free up space under the MLB salary cap and free themselves from an underperforming player who had become a distraction.
We have expressed our view before that multi-million dollar, multi-year deals for veteran ballplayers are irrational. With baseball mania for statistics, it ought to be possible to fine-tune baseball contracts with incentives so that players actually get paid for performance (you know, like CEOs) rather than getting paid for hitting .250 when they are 35 because they hit .320 when they were 29.
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Erwin Chemerinsky has an op-ed in today's New York Times about three pro-business decisions from the recently-concluded Supreme Court term. He devotes a couple of paragraphs to Concepcion and then talks a little bit at the end about Italian Colors.
The article draws on these three opinions as examples of the pro-business bent of the current Supreme Court. The cases are in the areas of employment discrimination, product liability and arbitration. In all three areas, the Court made it harder this term for plaintiffs who are trying to sue commercial enterprises to get past a motion to dismiss.
Chemerinsky picks up on Justice Ginsburg's call for a legislative solution, but very few people believe our elected representatives are capable of (or interested in) addressing these issues.
Monday, June 17, 2013
I don't know if this recent case will help Hall's Mentho-Lyptus with the Triple-Colling Action Presents Jay the Intern, but it might help some of our law students.
As The Atlantic reports here, Federal District Judge William H. Pauley III ruled on June 11th in favor of two interns who sued Fox Searchlight studios for breaching New York and federal minumum wage laws in failing to pay them for their work on the studio's academy award winning film, "Black Swan." The Atlantic helpfully links to this page from the U.S. Department of Labor that establishes a six-part test for when interns can go unpaid. Here are the six criteria:The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
- The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
- The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
- The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
- The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
- The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
- The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
Considering the totality of the circumstances, Judge Pauley concluded that the plaintiffs were employees and that Fox Searchlight had violated the Fair Labor Standards Act as well as New York law by not paying them minimum wage. The court also allowed certification of a class of unpaid interns who worked for various Fox affiliates between 2005 and 2010.
Fox Searchlight plans to appeal to the Second Circuit.
Judge Pauley's 36-page opinion can be found here.
Friday, June 14, 2013
I just finished reading contracts prof Amy J. Schmitz's article, Sex Matters: Considering Gender in Consumer Contracting, 19 CARDOZO J. LAW & GENDER 437 (2013) which I thought was particularly timely given all the interest in consumer contracts. As Schmitz points out, too often discussions about "context" are left out of discussions about consumer contracts, especially from efficiency theorists who "mistakenly assume that market competition and antidiscrimination legislation address any improper biases in contracting." Schmitz's article is a thoughtful and comprehensive work that canvasses and synthesizes existing research, including behavioral economics and consumer legislation, in this area. She does a great job of highlighting ways in which existing legislation falls short of protecting against gender discrimination and incorporates a great deal of empirical and cognitive research regarding how gender affects both parties in consumer contracting scenarios. She notes that the available data suggests that women receive "less financially attractive sales and loan contracts, which may lead to higher debt loads for women." (at 447) Schmitz also conducted her own survey and shares the results which indicated gender disparities in areas such as confidence in ability to negotiate terms and ability to get companies to change terms. She argues in this article (as she has elsewhere) that context and "contracting culture" matters, and argues that gender be considered among the factors contributing to a contracting culture. For those who think that the free market is a fair market, Schmitz's paper should provide food for thought (as should this article that discrimination in housing persists against non-whites).
*Yes, I knew that putting "sex" in the title would increase traffic.
Friday, June 7, 2013
Ajit Pai, a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission,wrote an interesting op-ed in yesterday's NYT. He argues that consumers should be allowed to unlock their phone when they permissibly (i.e. not in breach of any contract) switch carriers. Some of you might be wondering - Huh? Is that even illegal? Don't I own my phone? You're probably not alone. As Pai notes, the Library of Congress decided that unlocking your phone violates the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998. (They basically removed an exception to the Act that permitted unlocking, as this article in the San Francisco Chronicle explains). But, you might wonder, what does copyright have to do with what you can do with your cell phone? A lot of people are wondering the same thing, but basically, software locks the cellphone to a specific network and the cell phone owner is a licensee of that software (and software is copyrightable). Okay, now you understand what this has to do with copyright but what does this post have to do with contract? Glad you asked. Pai's op-ed argues, "Let's go back to the free market. Let's allow contract law - not copyright or criminal law - to govern the relationship between consumers and wireless carriers." It's interesting given that this blog has spent the last couple of weeks discussing the need for government intervention due to boilerplate - and yet, here's an example of government intervention into boilerplate that is not actually helpful to consumers. Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying government intervention into boilerplate isn't a good thing sometimes (depends on what it is and how and why) - I just find it interesting that this example of government intervention is on an issue that protects businesses and hurts consumers. Of course it shouldn't be surprising since lobbyists for carriers are way better organized and have more money and influence than consumer advocacy groups. And that gets to the heart of what's the matter with using contracts as the solution since the same dynamic is at play in the world of private ordering (see symposium on Boilerplate and the book itself, for more details). Who knows what carriers might come up with in their contracts. Would they try to "license" instead of sell their phones? In a perfect world, the free market might function, well, perfectly and private ordering would be the order of the day. But we don't live in that world so an absolutist "no government intervention v. more government intervention" position doesn't work.
Friday, May 24, 2013
A (presumably U.S.) buyer (identified on the web only as "b-thumper") ordered a BMW M3 in "Atlantis Blue with Blue deviated stitching and the Individual Piano trim" and paid for European delivery. "European delivery" allows the buyer to pick up the car at the BMW Museum in Germany and take it for a lap around the Nürburgring.
As recounted over at Jalopnik, the Internets displayed divided sympathy for b-thumper, who, upon arriving in Germany, discovered that the car BMW delivered was Atlantic blue and not Atlantis blue. Seller offered to repaint but buyer wanted a substitute car in Atlantis blue with the customized interior.
Sorry b-thumper, but these are the type of fun facts contracts profs dream about! Assuming we are applying the UCC, does the Atlantis shade of blue substantially impair the value of the BMW? My colleague Jack Graves reminds me that the CISG doesn't apply unless the buyer was purchasing the car for a business purpose. What remedy would German law provide the buyer?
[Meredith R. Miller h/t Shawn Crincoli]
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
We interrrupt the highbrow discussion of boilerplate and SCOTUS cases to bring you this breaking news from news.com.au that falls right within the utterly sweet spot of contracts and pop culture:
YOU party at Justin Bieber's house? You tell no one - or it'll cost you $5 million.
After a string of bad press in recent months, the 19-year-old has taken the extreme measure of asking guests to sign a confidentiality agreement before they enter his property.
TMZ claims to have obtained a document that everyone must sign before entering his property for one of the infamous get-togethers.
Entitled a Liability Waiver and Release, the website says the paper states that guests must not make comments or post anything on social media about what happened inside the house.
This reportedly includes the "physical health, or the philosophical, spiritual or other views or characteristics" of Justin and other partygoers.
Anyone in breach of the waiver can be sued for an enormous amount of money.
You blog? $5 million. You tweet? $5 million. You Instagram? $5 million.
While no one knows exactly what goes on inside these parties, the document also warns the get-togethers may include activities that are "potentially hazardous and you should not participate unless you are medically able and properly trained".
The risks involved apparently include "minor injuries to catastrophic injuries, including death".
Justin may be eager to change public perception after hitting headlines for a number of controversial reasons lately.
As well as turning up late for a UK gig and being accused of assaulting a neighbour, the star has now come under fire for "abandoning" his pet monkey.
Here's a copy of the document that TMZ claims is the NDA.
Where exactly was this news story when I needed an exam question? And is this liquidated damages clause a penalty?
[Meredith R. Miller]
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Duke Ellington’s grandson brought a breach of contract action against a group of music publishers; he sought to recover royalties allegedly due under a 1961 contract. Under that contract, Ellington and his heirs are described as the “First Party” and several music publishers, including EMI Mills, are referred to as the “Second Party.” On appeal from the dismissal of the case, Ellington’s grandson pointed to paragraph 3(a) of the contract which required the Second Party to pay Ellington "a sum equal to fifty (50 percent) percent of the net revenue actually received by the Second Party from…foreign publication" of Ellington's compositions. Ellington’s grandson argued that the music publishers had since acquired ownership of the foreign subpublishers, thereby skimming net revenue actually received in the form of fees and, in turn, payment due to Ellington’s heirs.
The appellate court explained the contract and the grandson’s argument:
This is known in the music publishing industry as a "net receipts" arrangement by which a composer, such as Ellington, would collect royalties based on income received by a publisher after the deduction of fees charged by foreign subpublishers. As stated in plaintiff's brief, "net receipts" arrangements were standard when the agreement was executed in 1961. Plaintiff also notes that at that time foreign subpublishers were typically unaffiliated with domestic publishers such as Mills Music. Over time, however, EMI Mills, like other publishers, acquired ownership of the foreign subpublishers through which revenues derived from foreign subpublications were generated. Accordingly, in this case, fees that previously had been charged by independent foreign subpublishers under the instant net receipts agreement are now being charged by subpublishers owned by EMI Mills. Plaintiff asserts that EMI Mills has enabled itself to skim his claimed share of royalties from the Duke Ellington compositions by paying commissions to its affiliated foreign subpublishers before remitting the bargained-for royalty payments to Duke Ellington's heirs.
Ellington’s grandson asserted on appeal that the agreement is ambiguous as to whether "net revenue actually received by the Second Party" entails revenue received from EMI Mills's foreign subpublisher affiliates. The appellate court found no ambiguity in the agreement; the court stated that the agreement “by its terms, requires EMI Mills to pay Ellington’s heirs 50 percent of the net revenue actually received from foreign publication of Ellington’s compositions.” It reasoned:
"Foreign publication" has one unmistakable meaning regardless of whether it is performed by independent or affiliated subpublishers. Given the plain meaning of the agreement's language, plaintiff's argument that foreign subpublishers were generally unaffiliated in 1961, when the agreement was executed, is immaterial.
The court continued by stating that “the complaint sets forth no basis for plaintiff's apparent premise that subpublishers owned by EMI Mills should render their services for free although independent subpublishers were presumably compensated for rendering identical services.” Thus, dismissal of the suit was affirmed.
Ellington v. EMI Music, 651558/10, NYLJ 1202598616249, at *1 (App. Div., 1st, Decided May 2, 2013).
[Meredith R. Miller]
For many lawyers, To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM) is at the top of their list of "favorite books/movies about a lawyer." TKAM is about more than lawyering, of course. It's about racism, family, class and much more. This week, TKAM also is about "fraudulent inducement," "consideration" (a lack thereof) and "fiduciary duty." All of those subjects are in the complaint filed by TKAM author, (Nelle) Harper Lee, against her purported literary agent.
In the suit, Lee alleges that Samuel L. Pinkus (and a few other defendants) fraudulently induced her to sign her TKAM rights over to one of Pinkus's companies in 2007 and again in 2011. According to Lee, Pinkus, the son-in-law of Lee's longtime agent, Eugene Winick, transferred many of Winick's clients to himself when Winick fell ill in 2006. Pinkus then allegedly misappropriated royalties and failed to promote Lee's copyright in the U.S. and abroad.
For Contracts professors, the Lee v. Pinkus suit provides some interesting hypos to discuss when teaching fraud, consideration, and assignments of rights. Regarding fraud, Lee alleges that Pinkus lied to her about what she was signing at a time when she was particularly vulnerable due to a recent stroke and declining eyesight. Consideration is in play because there allegedly was no consideration from Pinkus to Lee in exchange for Lee's transfer of rights to Pinkus. Assignment issues arose because the many companies who owed Lee royalties reportedly struggled to figure out which company or companies they should pay given Pinkus's many shell companies. Overall, it's a sad story for Ms. Lee but one that students may find particularly engaging.
[Heidi R. Anderson]
p.s. Although there are many quote-worthy passages in TKAM, a favorite of mine (useful when advising students about their writing) is: “Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I'd have the facts.” Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Lil Wayne Loses Endorsement Over Emmett Till Lyrics, But Don't Worry, Celebrating Violence Against Women Is Still Fine
As reported here in Rolling Stone, Mountain Dew has terminated its endorsement deal with Lil Wayne because of offensive lyrics in an unauthorized leak of a remix of Future's "Karate Chop." The offensive lyrics can be found here, except that the online version omits the reference to Emmett Till, a fourteen year old African-American boy who was tortured and killed in Mississippi in 1955, after allegedly having whistled at a white woman. Lil Wayne's lyrics brag that he will do to a woman's vagina what was done to Emmett Till.
Emmett Till's family was outraged by the reference. As noted in the New York Times, although Rolling Stone and others have characterized Lil Wayne's response as an apology, the family recognized that it was not an apology. Lil Wayne "acknolwedged" the family's hurt and pledged not to reference Emmett Till in his lyrics in the future.
What is really striking is the utter lack of comment on the rest of the lyrics. The reference to Emmett Till imay only be the most offensive thing about the song, but all of the lyrics in Lil Wayne's verse are absolutely vile. The Times reports that Al Sharpton has been called in to take advantage of this "teaching moment" to help young artists like Lil Wayne understand more about the civil rights movement.
Violence against women is also a civil rights issue.
Monday, May 6, 2013
Interesting story here on the Wall Street Journal's Market Watch blog. Interesting because it seems like the case will be very difficult for plaintiff to prove and its damages will be a challenge to calculate with requisite specificity.
The facts, as also reported here on Food Navigator-USA are as follows:
In 2012, Tula Foods introduced its Better Whey of Life premium Greek yogurt line, which is now sold in over 400 stores. Tula contracted with the Kroger Co., which in addition to its retail stores owns and operate 37 manufacturing plants at which it produced, among other things, Tula's Better Whey of Life yogurts. According to the complaint, as summarized on the Market Watch blog, becasue Kroger did not produce the yogurt according to Tula's specification (and it allegedly did so knowlingly). Tula also brings claims against Weber Flavors, which Tula claims failed to properly "treat and process the vanilla bean base" in Tula's yogurt. As a result, Kroger released "poor-quality unappetizing yogurt on the market." If that isn't not specific enough for you, the complaint specifies that, as a result of the improperly processed vanilla bean base, Tula found mold growing in its finished yogurt, resulting in a recall.
Just an aside here, for fans of Slings and Arrows, doesn't that slogan (something like, "Tula provides only poor-quality unappetizing yogurt laced with mold") strike you as precisely the sort of ad campaign that Froghammer would have come up with if they were hired to market Better Whey of Life yogurts?
There is also a misappropriation claim, since Kroger allegedly used Tula's trade secrets to make a competing store brank of Greek yogurt -- but was it of equally poor quality and equally unappetizing? Surely a jury question there.
The theory of contract damages will be a challenge, because Tula will have to show that its product would have taken off were it not for the devastating effects on its reputation caused by the alleged breaches and resulting product recalls. Demonstrating defendants' failure (perhaps intentional failure) to adhere to Tula's specifications will also be a lot of work. But those allegations will also be very difficult to dismiss without a lot of discovery and perhaps a trial, so the settlement price should be high if the complaint adequately states a cause of action. Moreover, as Tula is also bringing claims for breach of express and implied warranties, a record of moldy yogurt ought to do the trick.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
We previously blogged about high-profile reward offers by Donald Trump, Bill Maher, a laptop-seeking music producer, and a Hong Kong businessman. Only one of those (the producer) led to an actual lawsuit. The latest reward offer in the news involves murder.
In February of this year, the City of Los Angeles and other entities collectively offered a $1 million reward for information regarding Chris Dorner. Dorner was the former policeman and Navy officer who (allegedly) killed four people, including two policemen. The manhunt for Dorner, labeled the "Cop Killer," reportedly was one of the largest in LA County's history.
One of the people claiming the reward, Rick Heltebrake, has filed a breach of contract suit in LA Superior Court (the complaint can be obtained here but only for a fee). Heltebrake is suing the City of Los Angeles, and supporting entities for $1 million and is suing three cities that offered separate $100,000 rewards related to Dorner. Heltebrake was a carjacking victim of Dorner's. After he escaped, Heltebrake called the police and told them where they could find Dorner. Because Dorner was found at the location Heltebrake identified, he is seeking the rewards.
The contract controversy is one of interpretation. The rewards reportedly were available for "information leading to the apprehension and capture of" Dorner, for the "identification and apprehension" of Dorner, for the "capture and conviction" of Dorner, and for "information leading to the arrest and conviction of" Dorner (I do not have the complaint so these excerpts are cobbled together from TMZ, Courthouse News Service, ABC and other sources). Police charged Dorner on February 11, 2013. Heltebrake called police on February 12. On February 25, after a shootout with police and structure fire, Dorner was found dead from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Given the above facts, some of the intepretations questions are: (i) whether the authorities' shootout and recovery of Dorner's body qualifies as "apprehension" or "arrest," (ii) whether the "and" between "identification and arrest" or between "capture and conviction" means that both are required in order to collect, and many, many more. A complicating factor is that the $1 million reward was merely announced on TV; no written record was made. At least one reward offeror, the City of Riverside, has stated that the lack of a "conviction" means that it won't pay. Although this is a tragic story, I may mention it the next time I teach the Carbolic Smoke Ball case.
If anyone is able to find the complaint for free, please post a link in the comments.
[Heidi R. Anderson]
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
We are grateful to the website Lexology.com and to Ellen D. Marcus of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP for this informative and interesting post about this complaint filed in the Northern District of Illinois by Merry Gentlemen, LLC against actor and director, Michael Keaton. According to the complaint, Keaton breached his contract to act in and direct a film called Merry Gentlemen by failing to deliver it on time and by marketing his own version of the film to the Sundance Film Festival. The film cratered, grossing only $350,000 at the box office. Moreover, the producers allege that Keaton's various breaches caused "substantial delays and increased expenses in the completion and release of the movie," thus causing the producers to suffer "substantial financial loss."
Ms. Marcus's post picks it up there, citing Restatement 2d's Section 347 on the elements of expectation damages and illustrating what sort of sums the producers might be looking to recover. Ms. Marcus has to speculate, as the producers cite no figures beyond those required to meet the amount-in-controversy requirement to get their diversity claim into a federal court.
Whether or not the allegations of the complaint are true, they paint a nice picture of the behind-the-scenes machinanations invovled in getting a film out to the viewing public. According to the complaint, Keaton produced a "first cut" that all agreed was unsatisfactory. There then followed both a "Chicago cut," edited by the producers and by Ron Lazzeretti, the screenwriter and the producers' original choice for director, as well as Keaton's second director's cut.
The producers then shopped the Chicago cut to the Sundance Film Festival, where they were awarded a prime venue. Keaton then allegedly threatened not to appear at Sundance unless his cut was screened. That was a dealbreaker for Sundance, so despite already having sunk $4 million in to the film, the producers claim they had no choice but to agree to screen Keaton's second cut at the festival. They did so through a Settlement and Release (attached to the complaint, but not to the online version) entered into with Keaton, which they now claim was without consideration, despite the recital of consideration in the agreement, and entered into under duress.
Despite all of this, the complaint alleges that the Sundance screening was a success, since the USA Today identified "Merry Gentlemen" as one of ten stand-out films screened that year. But the producers were unable to capitalize on this success, since Keaton's alleged continuing dereliction of his directorial duties resulted in dealys of the release of the film from October of November 2008 to May 2009. The producers allege that the film was a Christmas movie (or at least was set around Christmas time), so Keaton's delays caused the movie to premiere during the wrong season.
The producers allege that Keaton continued to refuse to cooperate with them after Sundance. Somehow, the movie nonetheless was released to some positive reviews:
The movie, as released (based upon Keaton’s second cut and numerous changes made by plaintiff), received substantial critical praise. Roger Ebert called the film “original, absorbing and curiously moving in ways that are far from expected.” The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis called it “[a]n austere, nearly perfect character study of two mismatched yet ideally matched souls.” David Letterman said on his Late Night talk show, “What a tremendous film . . . . I loved it.”
Note to the producers' attorneys: if you've got Roger Ebert and Manohla Dargis in your corner, you don't need Letterman (or The USA Today for that matter).
Nonetheless, the film did not succeed, grossing only $350,000, allegedly because of Keaton's failure to promote it. Indeed, some of the complaints allegations relating to Keaton's promotion efforts suggest some real issues. Upon being asked by an interviewer if she had accurately summarized the film's plot, Keaton allegedly responded that he had not seen it for a while.
We note also that Ms. Marcus's post is cross-posted on Suits by Suits, a legal blog about disputes between companies and their executives, a site to which we may occasionally return for more blog fodder.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
The Sacramento Bee reports that a California legislative committee (if you really want to know, it’s called the Assembly Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media committee) “gutted” a bill that would have illegalized “paperless” tickets. Paperless tickets are more (or is it less?) than what they sound like – they are a way for companies like Ticketmaster to sell seats without permitting purchasers to resell those seats. Purchasers must show their ID and a credit card to attend the show. The bill pitted two companies, Live Nation (owner of Ticketmaster) and StubHub, against each other.
This bill and the related issues should be of interest to contracts profs because it highlights the same license v. sale issues that have cropped up in other market sectors where digital technologies have transformed the business landscape. Like software vendors and book publishers, Ticketmaster is concerned about the effect of technology and the secondary marketplace on its business. Vendors, using automated software (“bots”), can quickly purchase large numbers of tickets and then turn around and sell these tickets in the secondary marketplace (i.e. at StubHub) at much higher prices. Both companies argue that the other is hurting consumers. Ticketmaster argues that scalpers hurt fans, who are unable to buy tickets at the original price and must buy them at inflated prices. Stub Hub, on the other hand, argues that paperless tickets hurt consumers because they are unable to resell or transfer their tickets.
The underlying question seems to be whether a ticket is a license to enter a venue or is it more akin to a property right that can be transferred. Or rather, should a ticket be permitted to be only a license or only a property right that can be transferred? The proposed pre-gutted legislation would have taken that decision out of the hands of the parties (the seller and the purchaser) and mandated that it be a property right that could be transferred. In other words, it would have made a ticket something that could not be a contract. Of course, given the adhesive nature of these types of sales, a ticket as contract would end up being like any other mass consumer contract – meaning the terms would be unilaterally imposed by the seller. In this case, that would mean the ticket would be a license and not a sale of a property right.
It’s not just the media giants who are feeling the disruptive effect of technology - we contracts profs feel it, too.
[NB: My original post confused StubHub with the vendors who use the site. StubHub is the secondary marketplace where tickets can be resold. Thanks to Eric Goldman for pointing that out].
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
The entertainment mogul Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter has added another hat, er, baseball cap, to his rather extensive collection. The NYT reports that his company, Roc Nation Sports, just signed up to represent Robinson Cano, the New York Yankees second baseman. I’ve long been interested in Jay-Z’s business acumen and his ability to gauge where unpredictable markets are headed (and made a brief mention of it in this short essay). More than that, he seems to be making the most of these changes rather than resisting them. When he signed with LiveNation in 2008, Jay-Z was one of the first musicians to work with, rather than fight or deny, the changes in the music business (Madonna, another savvy business person, did too). He took that money and started Roc Nation (of which Roc Nation Sports is a part). Now he’s realizing the potential to be found in the blurring of sports and entertainment (and the public's perception of athletes and entertainers) . An athlete typically has a relatively short shelf life in the field, so why not make that short shelf life as lucrative as possible? Furthermore, an athlete may have a longer shelf life as a brand. Gven the coalescence of sports and entertainment, and the way social media makes celebrities so accessible, there's a lot of revenue generating opportunities there. So why should this be interesting to readers of this blog, many of whom may have no interest in baseball? Sure, Jay-Z is probably a great negotiator and the contract – if we ever get to see it – will be interesting. But more than that, we should be like Jay-Z and recognize how quickly the landscape and technology changes – and consider what impact those changes might have on our contracts. For example, there are outstanding recording/distribution contracts which predate digital distribution formats. Are digital recordings included under such contracts? ( The Eminem case touches upon a related issue having to do with a failure to anticipate digital tunes). The book publishing industry is another sector that is undergoing much disruption. While no lawyer is expected to be an oracle, it may help your client – or help your students to help their future clients) to think about future marketplace and technological changes during contract negotiations, especially where the contract is a long term one.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
A student recently sent me this story as an example of a liquidated damages clause gone awry, at least for the contractor. The contractor, Crystal Corp., was supposed to remodel a building to be the new location for a restaurant, Kuroshio, by September 30th. The work was not completed until late December. The contractor does not appear to be contesting whether there was a breach. However, he is contesting the damages.
The contract apparently contained a liquidated damages clause that specified a per-day penalty for any delays. It also required Crystal to notify Kuroshio, in writing, of any delays, and the reason(s) for those delays. Crystal did not supply the required notice. And, because of the length of the delay, the contractor now reportedly owes more money to Kuroshio than he is owed for completing the work. Further, because the contractor has not been paid by the restaurant, he reportedly has not paid his own employees. Thus, the contractor and/or his employees have taken to the street in front of the restaurant. According to AnnArbor.com, they protested in front of the restaurant every evening for over a week (there's no obvious update since late March). A protester's photo is available here.
I thought this case was a good one to mention in class because it's not every day that a contract dispute leads to public protest. More specifically, I hope to use this dispute to illustrate how liquidated damages clauses may not be enforceable (the cases in the text I use, Kvassay and O'Brian, are great but a present day example always seems to work better for cementing the material into students' minds).
I also hope to use this dispute as an example of another theme I stress in class. I tell my studentes that, as a deal lawyer, they'll often have to be the most negative person in the room. They have to ask many "what if" questions of their clients before suggesting they sign contracts. For example, "What if...you get inside and find out that the HVAC system is in terrible disrepair? Are you going to want to pay the per-day penalty in that situation? If not, then we need to revise the contract because, as written, you're going to be on the hook for the daily penalty no matter what." I'm not sure how much of this they'll remember but I'm hopeful that at least some of it will stick with them.
[Heidi R. Anderson, h/t to student Michael DeRosa]
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Elvis Kool Dumervil, the star defensive end for the Denver Broncos, has been in the news recently based on an alleged mix-up involving a contract renegotiation with the team. I have read multiple reports and still cannot figure out exactly what happened from a contractual formation standpoint. But here's my current understanding and analysis...
Dumervil's contract with the Broncos, like most NFL player contracts, had an "opt out" of sorts for the Broncos. Under the contract, the Broncos could either pay Dumervil $12 million to play next season--and have that entire amount count against the team's salary cap--or cut him ("cut" being the sports term for "fire") and only have a portion of his salary count against the team's cap. Without getting into too much detail, each team has a maximum amount of money it is allowed to pay in player salaries per year, subject to various adjustments. If the Broncos were able to reduce how much Dumervil's salary would count against their team's cap, they conceivably would have been able to spend more money to sign other players and improve their team; hence their interest in keeping the cap number down.
To avoid a bad salary cap consequence and still keep Dumervil, the Broncos sought to renegotiate a middle ground. They offered to keep versus cut Dumervil but for a reduced salary amount of $8 million. According to various reports, that offer was only open until 1pm MDT on Friday, March 15th. The Broncos set that deadline because they faced a deadline of their own set by the NFL. Specifically, the only way the Broncos could avoid the full salary cap hit of $12 million under NFL rules was to cut Dumervil by 2pm MDT (or show that they had re-signed him to a different deal). If they cut him prior to 2pm MDT, they'd only take a $5 million hit; if they cut him anytime after 2pm MDT, they'd take a $12 million hit.
In the early afternoon of March 15th, Dumervil reportedly rejected the Broncos' $8 million offer over the phone (thereby terminating the Broncos' offer, most likely). However, Dumervil later told the Broncos that he had changed his mind. The Broncos then renewed their $8 million offer but specified that Dumervil could accept only by faxing his acceptance to them prior to the NFL's 2pm deadline. When the Broncos did not receive a fax from Dumervil by that time, they cut him. Dumervil's agent has said that the fax was sent to the Broncos at 2:06pm due to some delay in getting a fax from Dumervil.
When the story first broke, some media outlets were reporting that a fax machine malfunction was to blame. Thus, many commentators initially expressed frustration that a bungled or late transmission via fax, a now-outdated device, could have such a significant impact. When I heard those reports, it seemed that the media outlets, like some first-year law students, were overemphasizing the need for a writing and deemphasizing the parties' actual intent. As we teach our students, a signed writing often is not required; contracts are formed all the time without that formality. Subject to the statute of frauds and other exceptions, a contract can be formed without a writing, faxed or otherwise. And, unless the offeror limits the form of acceptance to a signed and faxed writing, the acceptance may be communicated in any reasonable manner. In sum, it is intent of the parties that controls. Thus, if the Broncos really wanted to sign Dumervil to a new $8 million deal (that could be completed within 1 year of its making) based on his verbal agreement, no rule of contract law would have prevented it. In other words, if Dumervil truly had communicated his acceptance to the Broncos, the absence of a faxed signature from Dumervil would not prevent contractual formation unless: (i) the Broncos had stated that acceptance could only be via fax or similar writing; or (ii) the contract was one that could not be performed within a year or otherwise subject to the statute of frauds. We would need more facts to analyze both of those issues.
Of course, another possibility outside of traditional contract law (and the proverbial elephant in the locker room) is that the NFL likely has its own rules regarding contractual formation under its collective bargaining agreement or through some other mechanism. That's the part of the mystery about which I have no information at this point. Some reports seem to indicate that the NFL's rules somehow prevented contractual formation and that the Broncos are seeking a change of heart from the NFL. Perhaps someone more familiar with the NFL's rules can comment on that. In the meantime, I think Bronco fans can stop blaming general contract law and continue blaming the Broncos and the NFL. At least for now.
[Heidi R. Anderson]