LegalZoom Blog

Legal news and small business tips.

Tweeting For His Generation

no comments yet



According to a report by Pew Research, Millennials are “confident, connected and open to change.” They were “born after 1980” and are the “first generation to come of age in the new millennium.”

This past February, a high school senior may have taken it upon himself to show us just what this new generation is about. A Boston Magazine article explained how a tweet by Nick Barbieri, a student at North Attleboro High School in Massachusetts almost resulted in his being suspended.

After a snow storm, the school’s official Twitter account tweeted, “No school tomorrow – see you in June!” Barbieri’s  Twitter response to the prospect of having to make-up school days in June included the F-bomb with “#seniors #nomakeup.”

He was home when he sent out the tweet. It was late at night and he was using his personal Twitter account. Soon after his tweet, school officials called his home and asked him to delete it. Barbieri complied. When he went back to school, he was told that he might be suspended and could face detention as well. Further, he was pulled out of his classes numerous times over the incident and asked to delete additional tweets.

Concerned that his First Amendment rights were being violated, Barbieri tweeted to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to take up his cause. They did. At the time of the Boston Magazine article, he had more than 30,000 followers. Now, he has over 100,000 followers.

The ACLU of Massachusetts sent an email to North Attleboro High School siding with Barbieri, stating that the law was on his side and asking for an apology. Below is an excerpt from the email.

“While school officials have a right to control the conduct of students in class and at other school activities, they cannot possibly punish teenagers for their personal conversations and comments about the school, especially outside of school. It is quite simply mindboggling to contemplate schools imposing discipline for every use of a swear word in relation to the school that a young person posts on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. Simply because social media may make these comments more widely available does not change the basic rules protecting the freedom of speech of students outside of school.”

The school decided not to discipline Barbieri and he succeeded in giving a proper civics lesson to us all.

Written by Lisa C. Johnson, Esq.

April 16th, 2014 at 7:56 am

Posted in Legal News

Tagged with

Burning Man Receives Nonprofit Status

no comments yet


Shutterstock/ Watchtheworld

Burning Man is on fire.

The annual desert destination in the middle of Nevada has been ignited into something much bigger since achieving nonprofit status, sparking what could be a much more global reach.

But what is Burning Man?

It isn’t easy to explain this experimental community experience. Even Carly Schwartz of the Huffington Post had trouble putting her Burning past into words.

“It’s like being on Mars, except I’ve never been to Mars,” she wrote on the site.

Essentially, Burning Man pops up each year in a remote location in Nevada’s desert land to foster a new world full of artistic expression built from scratch. It is bizarre – and when it’s all over, it gets burned to the ground.

The whole event might sound strange at first, but it has grown over 24 years into a nearly 70,000-attendee, $20 million endeavor, The Huffington Post reported. And now, it might essentially sprout up anywhere it wants to.

Black Rock City, LLC, has spearheaded the festival since the late ‘90s and was granted nonprofit status in March after the Burning Man Project took full ownership of the company. It was an important move for fans of the festival because it paved the way for other similar projects and a more year-round kind of community that supports civic engagement, education and the arts.

“After 24 years of tending our garden in the desert, we now have the means to cultivate its culture worldwide,” founder Larry Harvey said in a statement on the Burning Man blog. “Sometimes things just pop, and this is one of those moments.”

The nonprofit title will bring together Black Rock City, LLC and the Burning Man Project and create what the Huffington Post reported as a “hub for projects seeded at Burning Man and/or based on its principles to live and thrive year-round.” The event’s blog reported the Burning Man Project’s approach as maintaining the festival’s vibe and fostering it through other projects by “scaling to meet the growing demand for tools and resources to reproduce the Burning Man experience outside of Black Rock City.

“We’ll be taking the momentum people were getting from their experience at Burning Man and working to manifest it in our own communities,” Marian Goodell, who will oversee the new nonprofit, said in a report from The Huffington Post. “There are opportunities for people to do what they’ve learned at Burning Man outside Burning Man. We’ll help them tap into each other.”

The shift in status has left Burning Man fans gasping for a hint of where the festival might go next, but those in charge of the event have kept mum for now. They did, however, promise to deliver some big news in the coming weeks as they map out the year-round and worldwide approach now made possible through the nonprofit status.

“We are deeply focused on keeping the Black Rock City event a thriving entity and beautiful experience that feeds into the possibilities beyond Nevada out here on the Grand Playa of human society,” the Burning Man blog post read. “In the coming months we hope to share our progress in technology, communications, fundraising, community relations, network development, and of course, the building of the philosophical center.”

The nonprofit already has several projects under its belt, including one with Zappos founder Tony Hsieh that helps “inject arts and innovation into the growing technology hub in downtown Las Vegas,” the Huffington Post reported.


Written by Phil Corso

April 15th, 2014 at 8:19 am

Don’t Say It, If You Don’t Mean It

no comments yet

Since the recent news that Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin were splitting up, many of us may wish that we could “un-hear” the phrase “conscious uncoupling.” But wishing doesn’t make it so.

Shutterstock/Matthew Benoit<br />

Shutterstock/Matthew Benoit

As wedding season approaches, there will be couples deciding to prevent future divorce proceedings and cancel the upcoming nuptials. According to SkyBride, over 250,000 couples call off their weddings each year.

Other engaged couples may not even make it to the wedding planning stage, but the break-up can be just as brutal. Sometimes still winding up in court.

Back in December, ABC News reported on a Georgia couple, Melissa Cooper and Christopher Ned Kelley. The two had lived together since at least 2000 and had a child together. In 2004, on the day before Christmas Eve, he asked her to marry him and gave her a ring worth approximately $10,000.00. Cooper accepted and they continued living together.

Sometime after the proposal, she learned that her fiancée had been in long term relationship with another woman. However, they worked things out after he promised to marry her and that he would stop seeing the other woman.

In 2011, Cooper confronted Kelley about his involvement with a different woman. This time she was told that he wanted to be with the other woman and that she and her children needed to move out of their home.

Cooper sued Kelley in Coweta County Superior Court and won $50,000.00 in a bench trial for her claims of breach of promise to marry, fraud and attorney fees. Kelly appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals and the decision was affirmed.

In the end, Kelley did not pursue any further appeals and the $50,000.00 was paid to Cooper, according to her attorney, Jason Smith of Southern Piedmont Law in Newnan. “Now this is a precedent,” Smith said.

Case closed.

Written by Lisa C. Johnson, Esq.

April 8th, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Lawsuits,Legal News

Tagged with

“Dallas Buyers Club” Pirates Sued in New Copyright Suit

no comments yet

Shutterstock/Helga Esteb<br />

Shutterstock/Helga Esteb

“Dallas Buyer’s Club” received a lot of attention this past year for its compelling subject matter and actor portrayals. However, the producers are now pursuing a legal battle with pirates who illegally downloaded and shared the Oscar winning film.

According to Variety, back in February, Dallas Buyers Club LLC, which posses the copyright to the film, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Texas. Voltage Pictures, which acted as a co-producer, is now going after 31 individual torrent users for settlements. Its law firm created a system to target users after “The Hurt Locker,” another one of its projects, was being illegally shared as well. The offenders could settle in a short time by paying thousands of dollars to the company.

Though piracy of movies runs rampant, it’s difficult to catch perpetrators who may hide IP addresses or live in many different parts of the country. Oftentimes, it’s complicated and plaintiffs are required to file lawsuits wherever each torrent user resides. Variety’s Ted Johnson writes, “The plaintiffs in this suit indicated that they would attempt to identify each user by attempting to obtain the names behind IP addresses from Internet providers, something that cable and telecom companies have often resisted.”

The lawsuit stated that geolocation technology helped the plaintiffs figure out IP addresses and then deduct where the users were living. They are being monitored for any illegal activity, too.

The movie business has been trying to deal with torrent users for a long time. Despite the challenges it presents, Voltage Picture’s principal Nick Chartier is dedicated to the cause, and has been vocal about the consequences of piracy on smaller budget movies and independent filmmaking.

Written by Kylie Jane Wakefield

April 7th, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Mississippi’s Extended New Small Business Rate Incentives Provide Savings in Startup Utility Costs

no comments yet


Small business owners face a host of challenges and costs in starting and running their own companies, from startup fees to insurance to taxes. Mississippi is trying to ease the burden of utility costs for entrepreneurs who keep their businesses—and those valuable jobs—within the Hospitality State.

A program called the Small Business Rate Incentive, which was established in 2011 and was recently extended through 2014, provides utility rate incentives to small businesses in Mississippi. The state government has joined forces with its major utility companies to offer business owners savings of anywhere from 15-25% on their utility bills.

“We have helped over 1,100 new small businesses save over $400,000 in start up costs and have helped contribute to creating over 650 new jobs in Mississippi,” stated Brandon Presley, Northern District Public Service Commissioner, who originally authored the bill.

Qualifications for the utility incentives change depending on the time the business has been in existence, the number of full-time employees and the building in which the business is housed. For example, one of the state’s utility companies offers a reduction in fees if the shop is located in a building that has been vacant for at least six months.

“This incentive is solid encouragement to Mississippi entrepreneurs that their utilities and their state stand behind them in the desire to bring their goods and services to the Mississippi marketplace,” Presley added.

Perhaps neighboring states will consider similar programs and incentives as smaller cities across the country continue to recover from the recession, helping in their struggle to retain jobs and valuable talent within their communities.

For more information: Mississippi Public Service Commission’s Small Business Help Center

Written by Bilal Kaiser

March 31st, 2014 at 3:26 pm

New York and California Poised to Ban Microbeads

no comments yet


Personal care products like toothpaste, shampoo and soap might be great at scrubbing away dirt, but their ingredients can do the exact opposite for the environment.

The culprits are microbeads, tiny particles made from polyethylene and polypropylene. Commonly used as exfoliants in more than a hundred consumer products, microbeads are added to personal care products to enhance their cleaning abilities. Unfortunately, microbeads can have a serious impact on the environment.

Non-biodegradable and too small for filtration systems to catch, microbeads can travel intact through sewage systems and become diverted into local bodies of water. Their buoyancy keeps them floating on the water’s surface, where they pollute the food chain for birds and other aquatic life.

The 5 Gyres Institute (, a Santa Monica-based environmental group, completed a 2012 study of the effects of microbeads on the wildlife in Lake Erie, finding more than 600,000 per square kilometer.

“Microbeads may seem insignificant, but their small size is what’s the problem,” said 5 Gyres policy director Stiv Wilson. “The beads act as a sponge for toxic pollutants, which fish and other aquatic life can mistake for food.”

Senior scientist David Andrews from the Environmental Working Group, said, “It is really quite concerning that a number of the major cosmetics manufacturers had designed products that released into the environment materials that do not degrade and could accumulate.”

Fortunately, lawmakers in New York and California recently introduced proposed legislation that would outlaw use of microbeads.

On February 11, 2014, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman introduced the Microbead-Free Waters Act, which would prohibit the production, manufacture, distribution and sale of products containing plastic particles less than five millimeters in size. A few days later, on February 13, assemblyman Richard Bloom introduced a similar bill in California.

The chairman of the Assembly’s environmental conservation committee, Robert K. Sweeney, said, “When people learn more about this issue, they will be unwilling to sacrifice water quality just to continue to use products with plastic microbeads.”

Companies like Burt’s Bees already use powdered pecan shells and other alternative non-plastic abrasives. Larger companies, like Colgate-Palmolive, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble, say they have plans to phase out the use of microbeads.

P&G spokesperson Mandy Wagner said, “We are discontinuing our limited use of micro-plastic beads as scrub materials in personal care products as soon as alternatives are qualified. In addition, we have decided not to introduce micro plastic beads into any new product category.”

If New York and California pass this legislation, it could serve as a good example for the rest of the country, says 5 Gyres. “We’re not looking at a one-state strategy,” Stiv said. “This is the alpha, not the omega.”

Written by Tamar Love Grande

March 31st, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Posted in Legal News,Legislation

Tagged with

What’s the Difference Between Custody and Adoption?

no comments yet

Joe Escalante
Hi Joe,

What’s the difference between custody and adoption?

– Antonio Alvarado Rodriguez


Barely Legal Radio w/ Joe Escalante

Custody can take different forms. There’s the ever-changing, court-approved custody arrangement between separated or divorced parents. Then there’s temporary custody awarded to guardians for one reason or another; perhaps a mother has a reason for granting custody of her child to another family while the child lives with the family going to school near them, or trains for the Olympics, etc.

Sometimes a guardian has custody of an adult who has been deemed incapacitated by order of a family court proceeding.

These are all temporary and limited arrangements. They can be revoked or changed by petitioning the court. They are usually limited in scope. A child custody arrangement may not include the ability of the custodial parent to make major medical decisions without approval of the actual parents, but it would include authority to send the kid on field trips with the school, etc. Or an adult guardianship might include medical decisions, but not access to financial assets of the ward.

Adoption is permanent and involves a termination of the prior guardian’s rights. It generally cannot be revoked. After adoption, the adoptive parent has all the rights of the prior, or biological, parents. There are no limitations or strings attached like with custodial arrangements.

Attorney Joe Escalante answers your legal questions for free on our Facebook page every Tuesday and Friday at 10 a.m. PT.


The advice Joe gives is general; it is solely his opinion and not that of LegalZoom. He is a licensed California Attorney with years of experience; users from other states should take care to review the laws in their own states. LegalZoom is not a law firm. This free service is intended to get you headed in the right direction, not to replace an attorney. This is a public forum. No attorney-client relationship is formed with Joe, or LegalZoom, and the attorney-client privilege does not apply. LegalZoom does not verify, validate, or confirm the advice given by Joe. LegalZoom cannot guarantee the quality, or reliability of any legal advice provide by Joe.

Written by Johanna

March 28th, 2014 at 11:06 am

Posted in Legal News

I Created a Mobile App—Should I Market It or Try to Sell It to a Big Company?

no comments yet

Joe Escalante
Hi Joe,

I created and published a mobile application that is published on iTunes and GooglePlay. HEIRLOOM is a mobile will creator that evokes the camera to capture images and allows the user to auto-populate the items into the specific bequests. I have a provisional patent filed.

Question: Should I market and pursue this business or pitch it to LegalZoom, Nolo Legal or another of the big boys in this industry? If so how do I get the info to the prospective buyer?

– Timothy Rizan


Barely Legal Radio w/ Joe Escalante

Hey Timothy.

That’s not so much of a legal question as much as a business strategy question. Should you invest money and keep all the rewards? Or let someone else invest their money and keep only a part, which might be bigger than 100% of what you get from doing it on your own?

It’s an age-old question. First thing I would do is to talk to an experienced patent lawyer to see two things:

  1. How much is the patent process going to cost, and
  2. What is the marketplace like for something like this.

A good patent attorney should know a little about the marketplace so he’s not wasting people’s money.

Good luck.

Attorney Joe Escalante answers your legal questions for free on our Facebook page every Tuesday and Friday at 10 a.m. PT.


The advice Joe gives is general; it is solely his opinion and not that of LegalZoom. He is a licensed California Attorney with years of experience; users from other states should take care to review the laws in their own states. LegalZoom is not a law firm. This free service is intended to get you headed in the right direction, not to replace an attorney. This is a public forum. No attorney-client relationship is formed with Joe, or LegalZoom, and the attorney-client privilege does not apply. LegalZoom does not verify, validate, or confirm the advice given by Joe. LegalZoom cannot guarantee the quality, or reliability of any legal advice provide by Joe.

Written by Johanna

March 28th, 2014 at 10:57 am

Posted in Legal News

To Get the Most Liability and Asset Protection for My LLC, Should I Add a Partner?

with 2 comments

Joe Escalante

Hi Joe,

I’m running my LLC in Chicago, Illinois, as a sole proprietor. I’m not getting the liability and asset protection as a sole proprietor of my LLC. I’m considering getting a partner. What forms do I need to file?

– Gustavo Santana


Barely Legal Radio w/ Joe Escalante

1. Yes, in many states a single-member LLC would have less protection from personal creditors for its members than a multi-member LLC. However, Illinois, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t really settled on how they are going to treat single vs. multi-member LLCs in many respects. This is a relatively new area of the law.

2. True, to get the fullest limited liability protection from personal creditors in all states, an LLC should have at least two members. However, don’t add your simpleton cousin to the LLC as a sham. The second owner can be a spouse or even that simpleton cousin, provided they are treated as a legitimate co-owner of the LLC.

If the courts smell a sham, they will likely treat the LLC as a single-member LLC. To avoid this, the co-owner must pay fair market value for the interest acquired and otherwise be treated as a “real” LLC member, i.e., they must receive financial statements, participate in decision-making, and receive a share of the LLC profits equal to the membership percentage owned.

3. Even if you get the other member, you could have a court battle that doesn’t apply Illinois law if you were doing business or own property in a state that has laws less friendly to LLCs than your home state. Where you file is not the end of the story when it comes to personal liability and asset protection in connection with your LLC. Also, the protections state LLC laws provide to LLCs may be ignored by the federal bankruptcy courts.

I don’t practice in Illinois, but they seem to require this form LLC-5.25 when adding a partner.

Attorney Joe Escalante answers your legal questions for free on our Facebook page every Tuesday and Friday at 10 a.m. PT.


The advice Joe gives is general; it is solely his opinion and not that of LegalZoom. He is a licensed California Attorney with years of experience; users from other states should take care to review the laws in their own states. LegalZoom is not a law firm. This free service is intended to get you headed in the right direction, not to replace an attorney. This is a public forum. No attorney-client relationship is formed with Joe, or LegalZoom, and the attorney-client privilege does not apply. LegalZoom does not verify, validate, or confirm the advice given by Joe. LegalZoom cannot guarantee the quality, or reliability of any legal advice provide by Joe.

Written by Johanna

March 28th, 2014 at 10:16 am

Posted in Free Joe,Legal News

Tagged with

Does Your Use of Company Benefits Come with Privacy?

no comments yet

Shutterstock/Andrii Kondiuk

Shutterstock/Andrii Kondiuk

If you’re reading this at work, you’re most likely aware that anything you do online can be monitored by your employer. From Googling “polar vortex” last month to all the news you read this week, your online activity is practically as public as your power suit.

But what sort of privacy can one expect of more personal issues related to the workplace, such as health insurance claims or use of company benefits? This was the question raised when AOL’s chief executive started an internal town hall meeting last month about reduction in benefits—and nonchalantly referenced two private claims-related situations as reasons for cutting back benefits for all AOL employees.

While announcing a change in the way retirement plan matching benefits would be paid out, Tim Armstrong stated: “We had two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were OK in general. And those are the things that add up into our benefits cost.”

Almost immediately, news outlets, blogs and social networks were abuzz with conversations about “distressed babies” and the implications of outing employees whose use of health insurance benefits came with a certain expectation of privacy. The mother of one of the babies Armstrong referenced wrote a piece in Slate outlining the challenges faced by her premature daughter and how it felt to have a personal situation be exploited as justification for corporate cost-cutting.

HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, restricts sharing of confidential health information as a whole. For employers, in most cases, only certain company representatives are allowed to see such information as it relates to employee use of company benefits.

In the case of AOL’s CEO, legal experts question whether he was an authorized recipient of such reporting. “It’s likely an impermissible disclosure,” said NY-based lawyer Lisa J. Sotto in a New York Times article on the topic. “There is a permissible group that is pinpointed to administer the health plan, and they are not permitted to disclose that information [beyond what’s approved].”

Ultimately, AOL reversed the change to its retirement policy but questions of employee privacy remain. And besides some initial scrutiny of Armstrong’s actions, there don’t seem to be many answers.

Written by Bilal Kaiser

March 24th, 2014 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Legal News,Privacy

Tagged with