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‘Tis the Season…for Con Artists and Scams

Image  It seems that in light of the rough economic circumstances, more and more con artists and scammers are finding ways to take what little people have with get rich quick schemes.  No one is immune – just this week I was subjected to the famous South African bank account email.  Apparently I could receive 25% of $37,000,000 that sits unclaimed in South Africa if I’d kindly send my pertinent information to a generic email address.

Now, reading that, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Of course that’s a scam. You’d have to be stupid to fall for it.”  Well, not all scams are that blatant.  My brother, just graduated from college, was job searching and found a job as a production assistant for a film that was about to shoot in LA. They offered a flat salary for one week’s work, gas & mileage, and per diem.  They would even pay him up front and sent him a check for $3,000.00 when the pay was only $1,500.00.  Here’s the catch: my brother was told the director didn’t have a bank account and as the PA, could he deposit the check into his account, withdraw the cash, keep his share, and send a money order to the address enclosed.

Lucky for him, he was smart enough to ask big (attorney) sister if that was kosher.  Taking one look at the obviously fake check, I called the bank to verify the funds and was told there was no such account.  We turned over the fraudulent check and sent over the correspondence too in hopes that these scam artists would get caught.  Had he not asked, he would have cashed the check and sent $1,500.00 out, but when the check got returned, would be on the hook for $3,000.00!!

Young, old, college grads or not, all people are susceptible to fall victim to scams because, for the most part, we don’t want to be jaded, cynical, and distrustful.  We all want to believe people are good and aren’t always looking for an angle.

But here’s a few tips, especially during the holidays when heartstrings are easily pulled:

1.  Verify the source.  If someone is asking for donations, ask for the tax ID number of the non-profit they’re collecting for or call the main office; this not only protects you, but it ensures that legitimate charities are not tarred with the same brush as the shysters.

2.  If someone asks you to sign documents, take them to an attorney.  It isn’t very expensive to have documents reviewed and spending a little now will eliminate having to spend a lot later.  If you do get caught up in a scam, report it to the local police right away and, if possible consult with an attorney – you may have some legal recourse.

3.  Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Happy Holidays!

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Are You Giving Away Your Intellectual Propery Rights on Twitter?

The Twitter phenomenon has permeated our world-wide society.  It is where many of us get our news, keep up with far-flung friends, and even make new friends, sight unseen.  We share our goals, accomplishments, day to day happenings and many times we do so with pictures.

But do any of us know what happens to our pictures once they’re posted via the various twitter picture/album services like twitpic, yfrog, or plixi?  Apparently plixi’s terms and conditions allow them to sell and make money off of pictures posted through it’s service.  Who knew, right?  Well, it took a celebrity tweet to bring it to our attention (See @katewalsh: SO BAD…ILLEGAL? RT @lalatas: @katewalsh @ipicarazzi Here is the link about Plixi images on selling twitter pics to agencies. UNCOOL! http://j.mp/gAYDfT”).  Short answer Ms. Walsh – not illegal because by using the service you’ve agreed to license those pictures to them FOR FREE.

A quick overview of the terms & conditions shows that indeed, users are granting a worldwide, royalty free license to use, duplicate, and sub-license (ie: sell) the pictures posted using their service to other people and/or companies.  What does this mean?  Well for you and me (ie: non-celebrities) it means that the picture of your dog or kid can be sold to a company for use in an ad, packaging, or anything else.  Not that big a deal, right?  If you are a celebrity, it means that the picture you posted of yourself and friends at a local restaurant can now be sold – without your knowledge – to that restaurant for use as an advertisement that you endorse that establishment.

Why should non-celebs care?  It’s the principle of the matter.  Knowing that most users do not read the terms & conditions, plixi has essentially taken your property from you – in essence they’ve stolen from your all the while rationalizing by saying, “It’s in the T&C’s if people don’t want their pictures sold, they should use a different service.”  The problem is that it now avoids the purpose and protection that each person that snaps a picture has under the Copyright Act.  That picture is YOURS… yours to sell, yours to post, to duplicate, sell, or give away.  But you should have a choice as to what happens to those pictures.

So what to do now?  It all depends on whether you feel strongly about this or not.  As for me, I transferred my pictures to a service that doesn’t sell them and deleted my account with plixi.  If you want to read the terms & conditions, there is a link below to the plixi site.

http://plixi.zendesk.com/entries/343628-terms-of-service

New Year Resolution: Meet with Attorney

It’s the start of a new year.  Resolutions are fresh, commitment high, and hope springs eternal.  Among the vows to get healthy, quit smoking, or take up yoga, there should be an entry that reads: “Meeting with attorney.”

The start of the year is a great time to meet with your attorney and review those documents that people generally toss into the safe: Wills, Trusts, Corporate documents. If you do not have an attorney that you work with regularly, you should consider consulting with a few to find someone you would like to retain on a regular basis.

Making it a standing appointment at the beginning of the year gets it out of the way and ensures that all the important documents are updated and reflect your wishes.  If you would like to consult with one of our attorneys, please contact our office at (818) 986-9100.

Protecting Your Work – What Copyright Registration Can Do For You

I have represented writers for a very long time in different capacities – at an agency, as a manager, and most recently, as a lawyer.  The one thing that always comes up is whether they should copyright their work and my answer is always, “Absolutely!”

There are 2 kinds of copyright protection – common law and statutory copyright.  Common law states that any work created is immediately protected by copyright laws and the creator is the sole owner.  Thus, if the work is infringed upon, the creator can demand that the infringer cease and desist their infringing use.  Damages may be awarded, but only the creator’s actual damages.

Now, many writers ask me about the “poor man’s copyright:” basically mailing yourself your screenplay, manuscript, or artwork to get a postmark date on it and keeping it in the sealed envelope.  This is a good idea, but it will only prove that your work existed as of the date postmarked.  The above common law copyright will still apply.

Another thing that I get asked is whether registering your screenplay with the Writer’s Guild affords any protection.  The answer is yes and no.  Registration with the WGA does not provide you with any legal protection per se – it is not a law.  It can, however, provide you with confirmation of the date the work was created and if you are submitting your work, it may make producers more comfortable in taking a submission.

The statutory copyright is much more effective in that the Copyright Act provides for certain statutory damages.  It also provides elements which help prove infringement (or protects against it, depending on what side of the infringement you are on).

A statutory copyright registration is fairly inexpensive in relation to the protection it provides and I suggest that clients register their works as soon as possible.  But, if you cannot afford it, or did not file the registration and your work is being infringed upon, you may still have a viable case for copyright infringement.

Also bear in mind that registering your script with the WGA provides a 5 year registration and you must renew it every 5 years.  A copyright is good for the life of the author plus 75 years.  Additionally, while this post focused on scripts and written works, all kinds of works can be protected from statutes to computer code, drawings to jewelry or fabric designs.

If you have a work that you would like to protect, please contact our office at (818) 986-9100 and our intellectual property associates can assist you in order to register your work or evaluate your infringement case.

Get it in Writing

A lot of people go into business with family and/or friends.  A majority of people enter into these business relationships with a shake of the hand, maybe a couple emails back and forth, and an oral agreement.  People think it’s uncouth to request that everyone sign a contract; the excuse I hear most often is that it shows that you don’t trust the other person.  And really, who can you trust if you can’t trust family or a life-long friend, right?

Well, business and money and debt do strange things to people.  Business decisions that were once easy to make become points of contention and reasons for arguments.  One party may have invested more money that the other, but is expected to share in the proceeds equally.  We have seen brothers sue each other over small sums of money, marriages fall apart, and 20 year friendships go by the wayside.  Whatever the issue, you can be sure that at least one argument will come up that could have been avoided if there was some kind of agreement in place.

I tell people who are hesitant in asking their business partners to sign agreements and concerned with the cost that it is better to spend some money now to ensure that the original terms of the agreement are documented in order to protect both parties.  This will avoid the problems, headaches, heartaches, and costs later because you will have a document, which spells out the original intentions of the parties, to refer back to if there is a problem or dispute.

If you would like more information, or would like to discuss your business transaction needs, please contact our office at (818) 986-9100.

Travelling with a Record

In today’s celebrity-ridden news, it seems that Paris Hilton may be denied entry into Japan due to her plea in the Las Vegas cocaine case.  She’s apparently holed up in an airport area hotel waiting on the decision of Japanese immigration officials.  (Ed. Note: As of September 22 Japanese immigration has denied Paris entry and she’s had to post-pone her trip)

This is not anything new.  Many countries deny entry to people with criminal records regardless of how minor the charges or whether it is a conviction resulting for a plea agreement or a trial.  For example Canada will not allow someone in if they have a DUI or drug possession conviction on their records.

You should check the visa requirements of the country you are planning to visit – if you have enough time, consult an attorney in order to expunge your record (if possible) in order to try to have the conviction removed and looking into the requirements of the country your are going to visit in order to ascertain whether they require the filing of any documents, clearances, or additional immigration procedures that need to be address in order to allow for your travels.  Case in point, Canada has been extremely stringent in the application of their immigration requirements as of late – people have been turned away at the border for blemishes on their record which are over 10 years old (some convictions as old as from the 60s!).

Obviously there is no guarantee that a judge will expunge your record in time for your trip, if at all, or that the foreign country will process any filings or requests to be allowed to visit, but is worth the effort to try as the alternative is spending part of your vacation at the airport hotel and then going home.

A Look Back on Summer Internships – A Primer for Law Students

It’s hard to believe that summer is almost over – didn’t it just begin?!   But with the end of summer comes the start of the school year and the end of our summer internship program.  As the head of the internship program at our office, I thought it to be a good idea to give law students some insight as to what we’re looking for in an intern…just in time for the fall internships to begin.

1.  Be on time and dress appropriately! This goes without saying, but if you agree that your hours are 9-5, don’t start coming in at 10 and leaving at 4:45.  Also, even if the attorneys dress casually, you should dress professionally and in line with the office dress code.  You never know when you will have to greet a client if the receptionist is out, have a chance to sit in on a client meeting, or accompany an attorney to a hearing – you can’t do that in jeans, no matter how expensive.

2.  Take the initiative. Attorneys are busy people.  In smaller firms like ours, we are busy lawyering and, at times, handling administrative matters.  Do not just sit around checking your emails or Facebook waiting to be given an assignment.  Check in with the attorneys, the office manager, the receptionist, the secretaries.  We may not realize you have nothing to do or sometimes even forget you are in that day.  Pitch in on even the most nominal task and it will be noticed.  No job should be too small.

3.  Read the file. When given an assignment, it is likely you’ll get an overview of the case and what the assignment is – if you need more information, read the file.  Make notes and ask intelligent questions all at once.  Assume that each attorney has no more than 5 minutes to discuss the case further and use that time wisely.

4.  Proofread your work. I cannot tell you how many times I given an intern a contract to type up or asked for a pleading to be written and when I get it back the first line has 4 typos…including my name and the firm’s name.  Check your work!  Get your fellow interns to proof read for you and then read it again.  Read it out loud if you must (that helps me).  Remember, if I have to go in and re-read the document for typos, I might as well have done it myself.

5.  Be resourceful.  No one likes to do research, but someone has to and that someone will be you – the intern.  When you are asked to do research on a topic, be resourceful.  Use everything available to you: lexis, westlaw, google, bing, forums, blogs, court websites…the list goes on.  Do NOT tell the attorney who gave you the assignment that you couldn’t find anything after 30 minutes.  I had this happen to me and I found what I was looking for in 5 minutes…this, of course took away from the agreement I had to finish on a deadline and made it harder on me.  Not the reason I hire interns!

6.  Go the extra mile. If you are asked to do research, write a memo; do not just send via email a list of cites and cut and past some text from a case or statute.  Read the case, brief it so that the attorney can make sure it applies to their case or what they are writing.  We can’t tell if the case you lifted a cite from applies to our case or is the complete opposite.

Remember, you are trying to impress your future employer and/or the source of a referral or reference.  Make your summer or semester with the firm count.  I have gone out of my way to not only write letters of recommendation for past interns, but also called the person hiring them to sing their praises – because they deserved it.  My recommendation reflects on me and, by extension my firm, thus I give it sparingly.