For those who follow the Federal Trade Commission and are anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in AMG Capital Management v. FTC, several recent developments at the Commission may foreshadow the enforcement road that lies ahead. In many ways, the future may look a lot like the past, especially the 1960s and 1970s, when the FTC pumped out rules regulating many aspects of economic activity, including frosted cocktail glasses.

First, earlier this month, President Biden nominated Lina Khan, an associate professor of law at Columbia Law School, to replace departing Commissioner Rohit Chopra, who has been nominated to lead the CFPB. At 32 years of age, Khan would be the youngest FTC commissioner in the agency’s history.

Continue Reading Setting Some Ground Rules: Commissioner Nominee and a New Working Group May Steer the FTC Down a New (Actually an Old) Road

Trademark holders face a common dilemma in deciding whether and how to respond when their marks are used for comic effect, particularly when the humor is done at their expense for another’s commercial gain. Instinctively, trademark holders want to protect their marks, often with an aggressive legal response. But that approach is not always wise and is now less likely to succeed, at least in one appellate Circuit, following a recent case involving the well-known Jack Daniel’s brand.

The case involves Arizona-based VIP Products, which makes and sells dog chew toys with branding that plays on well-known alcoholic beverage and soda brands. According to VIP, its dog toys reflect “on the humanization of the dog in our lives” and comment on “corporations that take themselves very seriously.”

In July 2014, VIP introduced the “Bad Spaniels” toy, pictured below, which mimics the Jack Daniel’s whiskey bottle with some bathroom humor: “Old No. 2 on your Tennessee Carpet,” “43% POO BY VOL,” and “100% SMELLY.”

Continue Reading Mona Lisa or Dog Doo? Humor Avoids Trademark Liability

The laws and regulations surrounding subscription-based offers continue to change on a regular basis. Federal and state regulators and private plaintiffs continue to lodge challenges against companies selling products and services on a recurring basis. Moreover, new cases and law enforcement activity offer evolving interpretations on how to comply. Given the substantial developments, companies offering products or services on an automatically renewing basis should take heed.

The primary federal regulator of autorenewal programs, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), remains as active as ever in enforcing the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA), the federal statute governing online negative option programs. The FTC has filed multiple new lawsuits against companies selling products and services on a negative option basis and continues to litigate cases that it has filed.

The district attorneys in the California Automatic Renewal Task Force have also continued to bring actions at a furious pace, demonstrating their clear intention to pick up where the FTC has left off. In fact, the task force recently filed a lawsuit in California state court against Match.com, even though the FTC had already filed a lawsuit against the company. The California district attorneys also announced settlements with Classmates.com, Home Chef, CheckPeople.com, and Care.com, among other companies, and the consent decrees have imposed increasingly stringent requirements on the settling businesses.

Continue Reading Automatic Renewal Programs: Latest Updates

We’re sorry not to be meeting up with you in person, but we hope you can join us for our spring 2021 edition of “Not a Symposium, but a Virtual Ad Law CLE Bonanza.” Combining the experience and thought leadership of one of the nation’s largest advertising law practices with key figures in advertising regulation, these three CLE-packed sessions are designed to educate and innovate. Topics will cover broad trends and anticipated developments, as well as industry-specific hurdles, highlights, and more.

Register today for any or all sessions!

Continue Reading Spring 2021 Edition: Not a Symposium, but a Virtual Ad Law CLE Bonanza

On February 12, 2021, the Maryland General Assembly voted to override Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of House Bill 732, which carried over from the close of last year’s legislative session and enacts the nation’s first gross receipts tax on digital advertising targeted at Maryland consumers. The tax takes effect on March 14, 2021 and applies to all taxable years beginning after December 31, 2020. Legal challenges to the tax have already begun in the Maryland courts.

Overview of Digital Advertising Tax

House Bill 732 passed both the Maryland House and Senate with more than three-fifths support in March 2020, as the legislature rushed to consider legislation before adjourning for 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns. Governor Hogan vetoed the bill, leaving it in limbo until the legislature reconvened in 2021. The legislature’s override of the governor’s veto leaves companies with little time to determine their compliance obligations.

Continue Reading Maryland Passes First-of-Its-Kind Digital Advertising Tax

Last week the FTC announced it had settled with Chemence, Inc. (“Chemence”) and the company’s president over deceptive “Made in USA” claims. The company was required to pay $1.2 million to the FTC, which amounts to the highest monetary judgment ever for a Made in USA case.

By way of background, unqualified Made in USA claims require that all or virtually all of the product is made in the United States. Previous FTC guidance stemmed from a 1997 Enforcement Policy Statement, but last year the FTC announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the Made in USA Labeling Rule, which would codify much of the Enforcement Policy. Notably, the proposed Rule would allow the FTC to seek civil penalties for each violation. The Rule has not yet been made final, but the opportunity to comment ended in September 2020.

Continue Reading Superglue Manufacturer Stuck with $1.2 Million Judgment for Made in USA Violations

We are pleased to share with you the ninth edition of Venable’s popular Advertising Law Tool Kit. This annual resource compiles a broad spectrum of marketing-related topics, background information, and checklists into an easy-to-access guide, authored by some of the most experienced attorneys in the industry. Download this year’s Tool Kit or bookmark the link to our e-book for quick access to these industry best practices.

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While we anxiously await the Supreme Court’s decision on whether the FTC can obtain equitable monetary relief pursuant to Section 13(b) of the FTC Act in the AMG case, a defendant’s challenge to the FTC administrative litigation process appears to be struggling. As administrative litigation may be used more frequently by the FTC if it loses the AMG case, the case is worth following.

Axon Enterprises makes body cameras for police use and in May 2018 purchased one of its competitors. The FTC investigated the consummated merger and had concerns that the merger reduced competition. In January 2020, Axon filed a lawsuit in the District of Arizona, and on the same day the FTC filed a complaint against Axon. In its complaint, Axon argued that the FTC’s in-house litigation procedure violates due process and equal protection rights because the FTC controls all aspects of the proceeding, effectively making the FTC judge, attorney, and jury in these cases. Additionally, the complaint disparaged the FTC for the clearance process by which the FTC and Department of Justice decide which agency should handle a merger, claiming that the process lacks transparency. In support of its claim that these proceedings violate constitutional rights, Axon alleged that the FTC has not lost a single case in its in-house proceedings in 25 years. The FTC did not contest this statistic.

Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Rejects Challenge to FTC Administrative Proceedings

Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in AMG Capital Management v. FTC. As we’ve previously discussed, the Supreme Court is set to decide whether Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, which expressly grants the FTC the right to obtain “a permanent injunction,” also grants the FTC the authority to obtain “equitable monetary relief.” During oral argument, certain Justices expressed doubt that the plain language of Section 13(b), when viewed in the context of the entirety of the FTC Act, authorized the FTC to obtain “equitable monetary relief” when proceeding under Section 13(b). While none of us can predict the future, after last Wednesday’s oral argument, we can’t help but wonder: What will happen if the FTC loses? Below, we have outlined the potential avenues for the FTC if the decision doesn’t go its way.

First, Congress could revise the language of Section 13(b) to allow the FTC to seek equitable monetary relief, a request the FTC made in October 2020. There’s precedent for such a move. After the Supreme Court significantly curtailed the SEC’s calculation of equitable monetary relief in Liu, Congress codified the SEC’s authority to seek disgorgement in federal district court as part of the 60th annual National Defense Authorization Act in January 2021, by amending the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Congress could pass a similar amendment to the FTC Act to unambiguously allow the FTC to obtain equitable monetary relief under Section 13(b) or otherwise. Whether that potential authority would come with a statute of limitations, allow for joint and several liability, or be subject to other restrictions will be important in assessing any potential legislation.

Continue Reading So…What If the FTC Loses <em>AMG Capital Management v. FTC</em>?

On January 11, 2021, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC or the “Commission”) announced it reached a proposed settlement with Everalbum, Inc. (“Everalbum”), a developer of a photo app, to resolve allegations that the company deceived consumers about its use of facial recognition technology.

The settlement highlights the FTC’s focus on biometric data and increased scrutiny regarding facial recognition technology. Specifically, in announcing the settlement, the FTC stated that facial recognition technology can turn photos into “sensitive biometric data” and emphasized that ensuring companies keep their promises regarding the use of biometric data will be a “high priority for the FTC.” Additionally, while the proposed settlement was approved by all five FTC Commissioners, Commissioner Rohit Chopra issued a separate statement criticizing facial recognition technology and expressing support for a moratorium or restrictions on the use of such technology.

Everalbum provides a photo storage and organization app called “Ever,” which allows users to upload photos and videos to be stored and organized using the company’s cloud-based storage service. Starting in 2017, Ever launched its “Friends” feature, which uses facial recognition technology to group users’ photos by the faces of people appearing in the photos. Initially, the feature was automatically enabled for all users and could not be turned off, although the company later allowed users located in Illinois, Texas, Washington, and the EU to choose whether to turn on the feature. However, according to the FTC’s complaint, Everalbum’s website represented that Everalbum was not using facial recognition technology unless a user affirmatively enabled or turned on the technology. As the technology was instead enabled by default for users located outside of Texas, Illinois, Washington, and the EU, the FTC alleged that this representation was deceptive, in violation of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act.

Continue Reading FTC Takes Aim at Facial Recognition Claims in Latest Deception Settlement