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Even Hells Angels Protect Their Brand

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Mess with a bike gang, and land yourself a legal battle.

It’s as if the notorious Hells Angels have traded in their leather jackets for blazers and ties after racking up over a dozen cases in federal court to protect their brand. The more popular they became since the group’s inception 65 years ago, the more noteworthy their symbols became.

Now, the Hells Angels have shifted gears from physical confrontations to those fought in a courtroom. Their actions have underscored how relevant—and lucrative—a successful and well-protected brand can go for any organization.

“We stabbed and stabbed people left and right in the day, but that way is less common now,” Richard Mora, known as Chico, a Hells Angels member in the Phoenix chapter, told The New York Times.

Most of their lawsuits were settled on favorable terms, The New York Times reported, pursuing Hells Angels’ ultimate goal to get other groups to stop using the trademarks or destroying and recalling merchandise and, in a few instances, pay some damages.

Back in October, the Angels sued rapper Young Jeezy’s clothing line, 8732 Apparel, arguing his company lifted their trademark logo for their own threads. They also moved to sue famous skater and clothing designer Rob Dyrdek last year for virtually the same thing.

The club also sued companies like Marvel Comics, which named one of its characters Hell’s Angel, as well as Company 81, a clothing brand, for using the official Hells Angels number (8 standing for “H” and 1 for “A”).

“The intent is not just to punish the infringers but to educate the public that the Hells Angels marques are well guarded and not generic and that they must not be infringed upon,” Fritz Clapp, the club’s lawyer, recently told The New York Times.

And according to a GQ report, the Angels have conducted their legal battles in a civil, non-violent way.

Hells Angels head Sonny Barger said, “We don’t let anybody use it but us,” Hells Angels head Sonny Barger told GQ.  “And should someone try? “I wouldn’t ask them, I’d take it.”

Hells Angels code has kept the death’s-head patch logo exclusive to only its full-time members. They even went as far as trademarking the look and have fought hard to protect it.

But they did not stop there.

Hells Angels pushed their product onto the public in years past, introducing new lines of merchandise anyone can purchase on club websites or at official events. They have already rolled out retail items sporting their trademark-registered logos on things like beanies, cigars, window decals and T-shirts, to name a few.

Written by Phil Corso

December 30th, 2013 at 10:05 am

New York Divorce: Murdoch Style

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Rupert Murdoch by Eva Rinaldi via Wikimedia Commons

Rupert Murdoch by Eva Rinaldi via Wikimedia Commons

Third time’s a charm, unless you’re Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch, the 82-year-old recently named the 91st richest man in the world, just closed a deal with his third ex-wife Wendi Deng Murdoch, 44, ending their 14-year marriage after initially filing in June.

“We are pleased to announce that we have reached an amicable settlement of all matters relating to our divorce,” the couple said in a joint statement. “We move forward with mutual respect and a shared interest in the health and happiness of our two daughters. We will not comment on this any further.”

But they didn’t need to comment any further. The final settlement was released on the first of December with Deng walking away with their $44 million New York apartment. Her divorce settlement also landed Deng her former husband’s pad in Beijing and one of his two coveted yachts.

That’s not to say he lost it all. Murdoch, who already has four adult children from previous marriages, was able to hold onto most of his greatest assets, including his major institutions such as News Corp., most of his homes all over the world, a yacht as well as his private jets.

New York chapter president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers Michael Stutman told Yahoo! News that New York has become a hotspot for high-end couples such as Murdoch’s to untie the knot.

“It’s favored not only for the deference it gives to prenuptial agreements, but also because it’s one of only a few states where the divorce filings are not open to the public,” he said in the report. “You can’t go to the county clerk’s office and pull out the Murdoch divorce file. In California, it’s all public record. All the juicy stuff is there.”

Reports outlined their final court proceedings as quick and seamless, which Stutman said could partly have been attributed to the couple’s prenuptial and postnuptial agreements. That’s also why they might have chosen to forgo a trial and move ahead with a speedy settlement.

“I’m glad you’ve been able to resolve these matters amicably,” Judge Ellen Gesmer told the cordial and collected couple at their settlement, the LA Times reported. “Good luck to both of you.”

The specific terms of their split, however, were sealed, as New York remains one of the few states nationwide where divorce filings are kept private and out of the public eye.

Since New York is defined as an equitable distribution state in marriage law, all assets are typically distributed in a somewhat equal fashion, unless a prenuptial agreement declares otherwise. Legal experts have historically favored entering into prenuptial agreements to avoid any ugly proceedings if the marriage fails.

In Murdoch’s case, that seemed to help move things along, which made sense, seeing as it was the third time the billionaire said, “I do.” Murdoch’s second divorce with Anna Maria Torv in June of 1999 saw his former bride walking away with a $1.7 billion settlement—one of the largest in history.

Written by Phil Corso

December 30th, 2013 at 9:35 am

Posted in Divorce

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New Legislation May Pave the Way for More Urban Farming in Boston

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Shutterstock/Fotoluminate LLC

Shutterstock/Fotoluminate LLC

Those living in the Boston area of Massachusetts may soon reap the benefits of an increase in locally grown food thanks to Article 89, a new zoning measure. Back in January 2012, the seeds were planted to make it easier for those interested in urban agriculture. Farmers, farming advocates, food industry experts and Boston neighborhood representatives were all part of the effort.

After 17 meetings of a working group and 11 neighborhood meetings, by the summer of 2013 it was clear that Boston was on board. Some key provisions regarding urban farms state the following:

• Up to 1 acre ground level farms will be allowed in all zoning districts
• Up to 5,000 sq. ft. roof-level farms will be allowed in all zoning districts
• Rooftop greenhouses will be allowed in institutional, industrial, and large scale commercial zoning districts, and conditional in all other districts

Once Article 89 is finalized, there will help available for those needing assistance in understanding the new requirements. A November 14, 2013 Board Meeting Memo states that a user guide will be issued summarizing Article 89. Also, the Mayor’s Office of Food Initiatives will be partnering with Harvard Law School’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation to further assist in explaining the process.

The next step on the way to finalizing Article 89 is a hearing before the Boston Zoning Commission scheduled for December 18, 2013. While this particular initiative is new, the concept of urban farming is not new to the city according to a article.

“The Dudley Greenhouse is a fully operational, 10,000 square-foot greenhouse on Brook Avenue in Roxbury, owned by the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative and run by The Food Project. It is one of Boston’s original urban agriculture projects.

In 2004, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative acquired the abandoned Brook Avenue Garage from Dudley Neighbors, Inc., with plans to transform the lot into a greenhouse to facilitate local food production and build a hub for community education. Then, in 2010, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative partnered with The Food Project — and the community farm that is the Dudley Greenhouse was born.

“It was an absolutely natural fit,” said Travis Watson, senior organizer and communications manager at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. The neighborhood had both the demand and the need, said Watson.”

Written by Lisa Johnson, Esq.

December 30th, 2013 at 9:35 am

Posted in Legal News,Legislation

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L.A. First to Ban Bullhooks for Circus Elephant Training

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Shutterstock/Adam Dufek

Shutterstock/Adam Dufek

In an unprecedented step, Los Angeles became the first city to outlaw the use of bullhooks by elephant trainers in traveling circuses, according to the Los Angeles Times. The City Council voted to give circuses three years to change their practices or remove elephants from their shows altogether.

Bullhooks are sharp-tipped tools that critics say inflicts pain. Other tools such as ax handles, pitchforks and baseball bats were also banned.

In a statement for the LA Times, PETA spokeswoman Julia Gallucchi said, “This is a huge win for elephants.”

During the deliberations at City Hall, evidence from L.A. Animal Services and PETA were taken into account. Last July, the former visited the Ringing Bros. while it was performing at Staples Center and found no violations or signs of abuse. However, in the PETA video, played by Councilman Paul Koretz, an elephant was hogtied in a pen for training purposes and another was crying from distress.

Feld Entertainment Inc., which owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, defends its practices and calls the bullhooks “elephant tools.” This year alone, 90,000 LA residents attended a Ringling Bros. performance, the company says.

The three-year grace period was put into effect in order to accommodate Councilman Gil Cedillo’s “friendly amendment,” according to the Daily News. The councilman claims that it would preserve the jobs of local workers at Staples Center who assist the circus when it makes stops in town.

Though some of the activists who showed up to the hearing were upset, yelling “Three more years of torture!” actress Lily Tomlin, an activist herself, tried to reassure them.

“We’d like it to be stopped this hour,” she said, according to the LA Times. “But it can’t be and it’s going to be done this way. We’re grateful for any kind of movement at all.”

What do you think? Will this ban affect the tens of thousands who go to the circus each year?

Written by Kylie Jane Wakefield

December 18th, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Posted in Legal News

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If You Didn’t Receive the Gift You Ordered, Maybe Blame Santa

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‘Tis the season for ordering gifts. Hopefully none of your purchases will leave you in a situation like that of Salt Lake City, Utah couple Jen and John Palmer.

As reported by ABC News, John ordered a desk ornament as a Christmas gift for his wife from five years ago. Because of a problem with the order, she never received the item and wrote a negative review about the company on the website

Since the incident was years ago, the Palmers forgot about it and were surprised to receive an email last summer from The company was demanding $3,500 per a clause in its Terms of Use on the website. The couple tried to have the review taken down, without any luck, and did not pay the money.

As a result, considered the money owed to them as a debt and reported it to at least one of the credit agencies. The couple has had problems with their credit since then, including being unable to receive financing to buy a new furnace. They and their young son were without heat for three weeks until they were able to save up to buy it.

After the Palmers’ story went public, they received some help. Scott Michelman, an attorney with Public Citizen Litigation Group, is now representing the couple and sent a letter to asking them to correct the reports of a debt to the credit agencies and seeking compensation of $75,000 for the couple. Attorney Michelman has given a deadline of December 16, 2013, for a response or else he plans to file suit.

It’s worth noting that Michelman has seen other companies try to do similar things to prevent negative reviews.

“So these contracts are ‘take it or leave it.’ They are not negotiated between parties of equal bargaining power,” he said. “A consumer going to a website to buy a product may not see or read through the terms of service by clicking ‘I agree.’”

Michelman also said that the “non-disparagement” clause was not even on the website when John Palmer placed his order in 2008.”

Written by Lisa Johnson, Esq.

December 16th, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Posted in Legal News

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Marvin Gaye’s Family Sues for Copyright Infringement

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Marvin Gaye by Billboard via Wikimedia Commons

Marvin Gaye by Billboard via Wikimedia Commons

Robin Thicke has sold six million copies of his song, “Blurred Lines.” This past summer, the hit topped the Billboard charts for an unprecedented 16 weeks.

It’s clearly been a great year for the R&B artist and his co-writers Pharrell Williams and “T.I.” Clifford Harris Jr. There’s only one problem: the song is a blatant rip-off of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” claims the Gaye family in a new copyright infringement lawsuit.

On October 30th, two of Marvin Gaye’s children, Nona Marvisa Gaye and Frankie Christian Gaye, formally filed the lawsuit. It alleges:

A.) “Blurred Lines” has a similar signature phrase, vocal hook, backup vocal hook, variations, and keyboard and bass lines as “Got to Give It Up.” Also, both songs include “departures from convention such as the unusual cowbell instrumentation, omission of guitar and use of male falsetto,” according to CNN and musicologist Judith Finell, who is quoted in the lawsuit. The Gaye family is using quotes from music journalists who claim that the songs sound similar, as well as quotes from Thicke himself, who said in an interview that he wanted to make a song like “Got to Give It Up.”

B.) Thicke stole from “After the Dance,” a Gaye song from 1976, for his tune “Love After War,” recorded in 2011. The two songs, the lawsuit alleges, “contain substantially similar compositional material in their choruses, including the melodies of their hooks,” according to CNN.

C.) Sony/ATV Music Publishing’s EMI should have pursued a copyright infringement lawsuit against the “Blurred Lines” writers in order to protect Gaye’s musical legacy, according to Yahoo News. It states that intimidation tactics were used to try and stop the family from filing their lawsuit.

While “Blurred Lines” was topping the charts this summer, people started to point out the similarities between it and “Got to Give It Up.” Back in August, Pharrell and Thicke “filed a preemptive suit in August, claiming the summer smash did not infringe,” according to the Washington Post. It stated that the songs had some popular music elements in common, but that was it.

In the countersuit, the Gaye family states that they would like $150,000 for every copyright infringement found, as well as profits from both “Blurred Lines” and “Love After War.” They are also looking to block Thicke, T.I., and Pharrell from using any more of Gaye’s musical elements in “Blurred Lines” or additional songs.

Written by Kylie Jane Wakefield

December 11th, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Legal News

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Small Business Scams

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Small businesses are susceptible to scams because scammers assume that owners don’t know any better. Entrepreneurs just starting out may, in fact, not be aware of the scams that are frequently targeted at small businesses.
To protect yourself and your business, here are some of the top scams that you should look out for and avoid whether you’re a new or seasoned small business owner.

The Sham Award

According to Open Forum, one of the biggest scams that occurs to small businesses involves a fake award. The scammer will reach out to a small business and express that they’ve won an award for their work. The catch is that the scammer will ask for a partial or full payment for the award and then charge a credit card yearly “membership fees.”

If someone calls your business and requests payment for any type of award, beware. Google the name of the organization and you’ll most likely find complaints from other small business owners.

The “Yellow Pages”

Scammers will call up small businesses and ask for someone to confirm the business’ address, phone number, e-mail, website and other contact information. They will say they are from an online directory like The Yellow Pages, and then some time later, a bill will come in the mail for the listing. Though the owner never agreed to the charges, the scammer cuts together the audio to make it sound as if there was confirmation.

If someone calls your business and asks you to confirm any type of information, don’t. Hang up on them immediately and report the scam to the BBB with the phone number that the scammers called from.

Fake Overpayment

When scammers pretend to purchase products from small businesses, they will send a bogus check for more money than required. That way, they will receive a check for the difference and get to keep this money and the products.

Never accept a bigger check than necessary from a client—return it right away and then ask for a new check for the right amount of money. If a client is rushing you to cash it, it’s probably going to bounce.

False Investors

Scammers will say they are representatives from a financial institution and offer to invest in small businesses. The first step, though, is for a small business to “qualify.” This takes a substantial amount of paperwork as well as fees and in the end, there are no investments made.

Stick to your own investors and banks. No one is going to come to you and make you pay for applications if they’re really interested in investing in your business.

Digital Money

Bitcoins and other digital currency websites are under scrutiny from The North American Securities Administrators Association because they are feeding grounds for scam artists. They are threats to investors and can prove to be detrimental to a business’ funding.

Stick to investors who have real sources for funds and not Bitcoins or other digital currencies. You never know who is lurking and looking to take advantage of you on those websites.




Written by Kylie Jane Wakefield

December 9th, 2013 at 1:59 pm

The Death of Lou Reed

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Shutterstock/Michal Durinik

Shutterstock/Michal Durinik

Last month, at 71 years of age, Lou Reed died from complications of liver disease. But that was not the end nor how his fans will remember him. A few weeks later in Lincoln Center, several hundred fans gathered together to celebrate his life and music. The New Yorker article said that Reed’s widow, Laurie Anderson, was there too.

“It was a cold, brilliantly sunny day. There were no speeches, no visuals—just people, trees, and tall poles with powerful speakers mounted on top. Beige chairs were set up in diagonal rows, and people of all ages, in black overcoats, leather jackets, sunglasses, knitted hats, and berets, sat in the chairs or along the wall or stood, leaning against trees, nodding their heads, looking at one another, gazing up at the leaves. Many took pictures or video. The bright sunlight was dappled under the flaking branches, extremes of light and shadow adding to the unreal, happy strangeness.”

According the New York Post, Reed left Anderson, their home in the Hamptons, a Manhattan apartment, all his personal property, his touring company Sister Ray Enterprises, plus 75 percent of his estate. The remaining 25 percent of his estate was left to his only sibling, Margaret Reed Weiner. Weiner was also given a $500,000.00 bequest to care for their 93-year-old mother.

In Reed’s will, he wrote, “It is my hope and desire, without imposing any legal obligation, that my said sister will use a portion of this cash bequest to help care for our mother, Toby Reed, for the balance of her life,”

Love for Reed from his family and fans will no doubt last long into the future. A biography about him is in the works, according to a Billboard article. Music writer Anthony DeCurtis is slated to write the book, though there isn’t a known release date or title yet.

Written by Lisa Johnson, Esq.

December 5th, 2013 at 8:47 am

“Get Your Legal House in Order” Google+ Hangout

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Hear a panel of experts discuss the various ways small businesses can get their legal house in order as the year comes to a close.

Written by Johanna

December 4th, 2013 at 9:42 am

SEC Proposes Rules on Crowdfunding

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Crowdfunding is a way for just about anyone or any small organization to raise money. Many individuals make sometimes micro-donations in amounts as low as five dollars. But if you can get enough people along with a few larger donations, a young business can get itself up and running. You may have even read a post here recently about how crowdfunding is being used by some craft breweries.

Back in October, a Brooklyn bakery and cocktail bar called Butter & Scotch, started a Kickstarter campaign in order to raise $50,000.00, so they could sign a lease and build their dream space. They surpassed their goal in the time allowed with the help of 528 backers.

Backers receive different incentives like thank-you shout outs on social media, tote bags, aprons, or a menu item named after them. As the pledges increase, the rewards get sweeter. Pledges of $2,500.00 gave backers a private party for 20 friends including custom beverages and desserts.

Because crowdfunding is so popular, there are organizations interested in gathering together many small investors and giving them shares of their companies instead of customized incentives. However, the laws are strict about buying and selling stock in private companies.

On October 23, 2013, the Securities and Exchange Commission released proposed rules on crowfunding. An article on Crowdfund Insider seems a bit wary of the proposed rules.

“It looks like the SEC has purposely tried to make equity crowdfunding expensive. They were tasked with taking a simple nine page law that passed Congress with overwhelming bilateral support and creating rules that would give the average small businessman a way to fill the void left by banks unwilling to lend them money. Instead, the SEC has created a quagmire of complicated rules and economic roadblocks. If a small business needs to raise $100,000, are they going to spend $15,000 in background checks, compliance costs and legal fees to give equity crowdfunding a try, knowing that if they do not reach their goal, they do not get the money raised, and are out the up front costs?”

Currently the SEC is taking comments on the proposed rules. The deadline for comments is February 3, 2014.

Written by Lisa Johnson, Esq.

December 2nd, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Posted in Legal News,Startups

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