The internet has unquestionably provided unparalleled access to information to the public, both consumers and businesses, not seen since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. One such benefit of the access the internet has provided is in real estate. Several websites now allow users to get estimates on almost every property imaginable. Zillow is one of these websites which provides “Zestimates.” Although this knowledge can be useful to potential purchasers, some owners may take issue with these valuations. This exact situation occurred in Patel v. Zillow, Inc.
In Patel v. Zillow, Inc., the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reviewed the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by homeowners who took issue with Zillow’s “Zestimate” of their property that they were trying to sell. Before the lawsuit was filed, they learned that Zillow’s “Zestimate” of their property was below their asking price. Zillow’s “Zestimate” listed the property at approximately $160,000 less than Plaintiffs’ listing. Plaintiffs contended that the “Zestimate” scared away potential buyers. Plaintiffs asked Zillow to increase the “Zestimate” or to remove them from the database. Zillow declined. Plaintiffs filed their lawsuit.
Plaintiffs brought suit under the Illinois Real Estate Appraiser Licensing Act contending that Zillow was appraising real estate without a license. Plaintiff also filed claims under the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act and under the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. Plaintiffs argued that Zillow’s “Zestimate” was unfair and misleading. The District Court (the trial court) dismissed all of Plaintiffs’ claims.
The Seventh Circuit upheld the trial court’s decision. The Seventh Circuit noted that the Illinois Real Estate Appraiser Licensing Act did not create a cause of action for a private citizen. More importantly, as to Plaintiffs’ claims under the Deceptive Trade Practices and Consumer Fraud Acts, the Court stated that these acts deal with statements of fact and that Zestimates are opinions, not fact. Accordingly, where a valuation is explicitly labeled as an estimate, there is no deception.
If your business has current litigation, including claims under the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act or Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, or your business would like a complimentary business “check-up” to help spot any potential liability under those acts, please contact Roenan Patt. (312) 368-010; email@example.com or any of our business attorneys.
February 17, 2018 is fast approaching. Anyone who is anyone in the toy industry will be at Javits Convention Center showcasing the latest and greatest in toy innovation. All businesses in the toy industry are putting the final touches on their displays and their presentations. Is a meeting with the company’s lawyer on the pre-show checklist? If not, why not?
Consulting with the Company’s lawyer may save a company tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars. The following is a short discussion of some of the items that should be on every toy company’s “To-Do” list prior to attending Day One of the New York Toy Fair.
- Intellectual Property.
At the very least, the company should consider applying for a trademark registration for the name of the company and its products. Unfortunately, the number one thing most companies forget or ignore until there is a legal battle ensuing is to properly protect the Company’s intellectual property, such as its name and the names of its products. Trademarks for product names are fairly inexpensive to search and protect, and yet, may cost a company dearly if those names were to become the subject of a cease and desist letter and resulting federal court infringement litigation. We defended a toy manufacturer in a trademark infringement lawsuit that allegedly infringed a competitor’s trademark. After two years and in excess of $50,000 in legal fees (pretty inexpensive in trademark dispute litigation) the matter was resolved. Consulting with counsel and filing the appropriate trademark applications could have avoided the huge waste of time and expense.
Another form of legal protection often overlooked is copyright for the toy’s design. If the design meets the requirements of a sculptural work, such as a plush toy design, then copyright can be a powerful tool in locking out your competition from the use of designs that are “substantially similar”. Prior to any trade show, toy companies must identify and protect its intellectual property, or risk the very goodwill of the company. Intellectual property can give a company significant value.
- Privacy and Security.
Toy companies, like all companies, must take steps to protect the data of the company, minimize the risk of a breach, and put in place technological and legal measures designed to decrease liability in the event a breach does occur. A comprehensive privacy program including but not limited to updated privacy notices, terms and conditions, internal policies, incident response plans and insurance coverage all geared toward reducing risk of legal liability is imperative if the company is to survive. If the toys being showcased are “smart” or “connected” toys, privacy and security issues involving the Internet of Things will be at the forefront of manufacturers’, retailers’, and consumers’ minds. Retailers seeking to avoid liability undoubtedly will have questions as to how the software works, what, if any, personally identifiable data is collected, how is it being stored, retained and destroyed. Additionally, if a third party vendor will be used to provide software for a smart or connected toy, the company must seek counsel knowledgeable in privacy and security in order to reduce legal risk to the company that may result from the use of such software.
- Labeling / Advertising.
Federal law requires product packaging and certain advertisements for toys and games intended for use by children 12 years of age and under to display cautionary statements regarding choking and other hazards. Safety related labeling and advertising for toys generally depends upon the category of toy and the age of the child for which the toy is intended. It is imperative that toy companies be familiar with these laws and engage counsel who is familiar.
For more information, please contact:
(312) 368-0100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
An Employer Can Be Liable for Accessing an Employee’s Personal Email Even if the Employee Engaged in Misconduct
Over the last several years, communication via email and text has become commonplace in the workplace. Oftentimes, employees use one device for both personal and work-related communication regardless of whether that device is employee-owned or employer-provided. There is no doubt that employers may have legitimate business reasons for monitoring employee communications. For example, an employee may leave the company and the employer is concerned that she has taken confidential information or illegally solicited clients. Employers feel entitled to review data stored on employer-provided, particularly where employees are instructed that the company owns the devices and has the right to monitor the data. As a general rule, the law supports employers here. An employer’s zeal to snoop, however, may subject it to both civil and criminal penalties under both federal and state statutes.
The Electronic Communication Privacy Act (ECPA) and the Stored Communications Act (SCA) both govern an employer’s ability to review electronic communications. The ECPA prohibits the interception of electronic communications, and the term “interception” as used in the ECPA has been interpreted narrowly. The SCA makes it illegal to “access without authorization a facility through which electronic communication service is provided,” making it illegal to obtain access to certain communications in electronic storage. With regard to an employer’s review of employee emails sent through web-based email accounts like Gmail or Hotmail, the most frequent scenario is where the former employer is able to access the former employee’s web-based email account because the employee saved his username and password on a device provided by the employer. In these cases, courts have typically sided with the former employee and have been reluctant to punish the former employee for failing to take appropriate steps to secure their own personal information and allegedly private communications. The former employee’s own negligence in securing personal data is not a defense for the employer.
Bottom line – an employer should seek advice before accessing an employee’s personal email account without authorization even though it has the ability to do so.
For more information on this topic please contact:
Howard Teplinsky at:
312-368-0100 or email@example.com.