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October, 2011:

Is That Legal – Apple Store Flash Mob

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney. In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice. It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.

(cc) Devon Christopher Adams

This past weekend, Improv AZ organized a flash mob that invaded the Apple Store in Scottsdale. Our friends at Brand X Custom T-Shirts made ours shirts that resembled the Apple Store employees’. Each participant wore a royal blue shirt with a heart on it that had a leaf coming out of the top and a bite taken out of the side. Our group of about 30 participants walked into the store in small groups and proceeded to browse around for about 30 minutes, looking at and buying merchandise. We never represented ourselves as Apple employees, but if someone mistook us for an employee, we answered their question if we could or directed them to an Apple employee. If anyone asked us what we doing, we denied any implications that were acting in conjunction with each other. At the end of our invasion, we walked out calmly, took some pictures in front of the store, and left.

Did We Trespass?
No. The Apple Store is open to do business with the public. In legal terms, we were invitees. If we were asked to leave and we refused, then we would have been trespassing.

But You Weren’t There To Shop . . .
And how many times have you gone into a store just to look around with no intention of buying anything? At least one person in our group purchased something and several others looked at products that they were possibly interested in buying in the future. Additionally, we did not do anything that interfered with other shoppers’ ability to shop or employees’ ability to work.

Did We Commit Disorderly Conduct? Unlawful Assembly?
No. You have to behave pretty badly for those charges to stick. Peacefully walking through a business that is open to the public in matching shirts is not illegal. We weren’t rioting, fighting, disrupting business, making unreasonable noise, or refusing a lawful order to disperse.

Our Shirt vs. Their Shirt (cc) Devon Christopher Adams

Did We Commit Trademark Infringement?
Apple uses the apple with the bite out of it as a symbol of the source of its goods. Our apple-heart was not indicative of the source of any goods or services. There’s no trademark infringement because we weren’t claiming anything as a trademark.

Did We Commit Copyright Infringement?
I wouldn’t be surprised if Improv AZ and/or Brand X get cease and desist letters based on copyright infringement because our design was inspired by Apple’s logo. However, I’d argue that we created a parody that is protected under the fair use doctrine. A parody needs to resemble the original in order for people to get it; thus our shirts had to resemble the Apple shirts to be funny. Improv AZ did not make any money of these shirts, and Brand X probably isn’t turning a big profit either. Additionally, Apple doesn’t sell its shirt to the general public, and there’s no way someone who wants an Apple shirt would buy ours thinking it was close enough to what they wanted.

Thank you to everyone who came out to make this event a success and to Devon Christopher Adams and Sheila Dee for shooting such wonderful pictures of the event! If you want your own apple-heart shirt, they are available at Brand X Custom T-shirts.

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Pulling the Trigger on my Law Firm

I’ve probably made the biggest decision of my professional life thus far – I’m opening my own law firm. As Sam Glover told me, there’s no reason to wait to go solo.

I would have preferred to get some experience at a law firm, but I didn’t find one that was hiring that could have been the right fit. And in this economy, there are no legal jobs for most neophyte attorneys.

cc Mat Honan from Flickr

Over the last few years, I’ve accepted that I don’t want to work at a traditional law firm. I don’t want to work 80 hours a week, doing work that clients will refuse to pay for, have no life, develop severe chemical dependency problems, and have a heart attack or nervous breakdown before turning 40. I want to love what I do and be happy.

I am probably what Emily Leach calls genetically unemployable. Now, this doesn’t mean that I’m lazy or that I don’t want to work. It means I can’t work my ass off for someone else’s dreams. I have my own dreams. And if I don’t go after them now, then when?

Once I have my law license, I’ll be officially trading in the certainty of a paycheck for the freedom to set my own hours, choose my own clients, and to try to live the life I’ve always wanted.  I want to foci of my law practice to be business formation, intellectual property, and internet law. I’m hoping that striking out on my own will also give me the freedom to write books and be a regular public speaker.

I’m taking Rachel RodgersFreedom Is The New Rich Teleclass and learning about how to operate a virtual law office. Essentially, my office will be wherever my laptop is. This year, my friend Brian Shaler has been essentially homeless because he’s been traveling all over the world. He works for himself so he can work from anywhere with an internet connection. Following his adventures has inspired me to travel more when I have the means.

Opening my own law firm has been exciting and petrifying. I’m sure I’ll have portions of the ethical rules memorized by the end of my first year because I feel like I have to consult it before doing anything. I’m grateful that I have incredible mentors helping me along the way. It’s comforting to remember that opening a law firm is relatively cheap and the ongoing overhead can be kept very low. I don’t need anything super fancy. I just need a system that works for me and my clients.

For now, I’m formulating what services I want to offer, determining where I’ll find clients, considering my rates, and what I want my website to look like while I wait to clear character and fitness. Oh yeah, and working my three jobs that are paying the bills until I become self-sufficient.

I Passed!!!

The wait is finally over – I Passed The Arizona Bar Exam!!!

I was pretty nervous for the week before the Arizona Bar scores were posted. I’ve already made the decision to open my own law firm, so not passing the Bar would have put a severe kink in that plan. Reminding myself that there’s nothing I could do to change the outcome calmed my fears a bit, but I constantly had the what-ifs running through my head.

The Arizona Courts website told us that scores would be posted at 4:45pm on Friday, October 7th. I do contract work with a lawyer, and I had a meeting with her and a client that day. I watched the web all day hoping that the State would post results early. When that didn’t happen, I had a friend watch the website for me while I was in my meeting. My meeting ended at 4:30. My friend called me while I was on the road home to tell me that I passed. I was so relieved.

When I tell people that I passed the Bar, a lot of them say, “I had no doubt.” I appreciate their confidence in my abilities, but I wasn’t going to relax until the pass list was posted. While I was studying for the Bar and while I was waiting for my score, I took comfort in a story about someone who mismanaged their time during the test and had to leave an entire essay question blank, and he still passed. However, there are really smart people who don’t pass the Bar. Only 434 of the 612 people who took the Bar Exam in Arizona passed it, which means 178 didn’t, including at least three of my classmates – and all them are wicked smart.

(cc) Rob Boudon on Flickr

And in case you were wondering, once I saw that I passed the bar, I opened my MBE score. If I had opened my MBE score when it arrived, I would have felt good about my results. Despite everything I know after the fact, I think it was the right choice to not open my MBE score when it arrived. The stress I would have felt if I wasn’t happy with my score would have been terrible. It was better to know nothing than to risk making my stress level worse.

So what’s next? I wait for the Character and Fitness Committee to approve my application. I hope to be sworn in to the Arizona Bar by the end of the year.

Thank you to everyone who supported me for the last four years. Your love, guidance, patience, and ice cream have helped me tremendously.

Congratulations to my friends who have passed the bar so far and special congrats to my classmates Melissa Bogden and Emily Gildar for getting the second and third highest scores on the 2011 Arizona July Bar Exam!

How To Copyright Your Blog

DISCLAIMER: Recent conversations with the Copyright Office have led me to change my stance regarding blogs and copyright registration. Please see this post for my updated views.

I’m working on my first ebook, which is tentative titled The Legal Side of Blogging. During law school, I wrote a substantial research paper on copyright, defamation, and privacy issues related to blogging. I also wrote a blog series called Can My Blog Get Me Sued, Arrested, Fired, or Killed. It made sense to combine the material from these two projects and present them in a way that was useful to the average blogger for my first solo book project.

Copyright Symbols

Image by MikeBlogs via Flickr

Blogs didn’t exist when the Copyright Act was written or last revised. The drafters only considered literary works that are published on paper when they wrote the law. When it comes to copyrighting blogs and websites, the best we can do is to try to find the digital equivalent to the works published on paper and register them accordingly.

The purpose of the Copyright Act is to protect advancements in the arts and sciences by giving authors and artists protection for the works they create. Copyright protection is afforded to every original expression that is fixed in a tangible medium. The law was written to protect things like books, photographs, music, sculptures, paintings, and audiovisual works. Works that exist only in an electronic form are fixed in a tangible medium, and thus, the law protects them.

I’ve spent hours considering the copyright implications of blogging and discussed it at length with my cyberspace law professor. We came to the conclusion that bloggers who blog on a set schedule are most like people who write a column in a newspaper or a magazine; and therefore their blogs should be able to be registered as serial works.

A single work can be registered with the United States Copyright Office for $35. If you publish a blog every week and register it, that will cost $1820 each year. The benefit of having a serial work is that you only have to register it every 3 months for $65, which is only $260 for the year. This saves a lot of time and money.

This week I was working on my ebook and I needed some clarification on how bloggers should go about registering their works, so I called the Copyright Office. The operator was very helpful in directing me to the circular on serial works, and she thought my ebook idea was interesting.  About five minutes later, I had a follow up question so I called her back. She said she was glad I called back because she needed to tell me that blogs cannot be registered as serial works. The only thing a blogger can do is register each post individually!

Seriously?!?!?!

I can see the Copyright Office requiring individual registrations for each post for someone who only writes sporadically; but this rule makes no sense for someone who posts on a weekly basis. They should be given the same protection as any other writer who publishes in a similar fashion in a newsletter, journal, or magazine.  Thankfully, the law protects writers’ and artists’ work the second a work is created, not from the date it is registered. The benefit of copyright registration is that you get to collect attorneys’ fees and statutory damages if someone steals your work and you successfully sue them.

I used to think that the best thing a blogger can do is register their blog as a serial work and use Google Alerts to monitor the internet for possible infringement. With this latest development, it makes more sense not to register every blog post you write, but only those  that you expect someone will try to pass off as their work. You can still use Google Alerts to police the internet for potential infringers. You just won’t be eligible for attorneys’ fees or statutory damages if your work hasn’t been registered within 3 months of publication if you find that someone is passing off one of your blog posts as their own. However, you can probably still get the post removed from the infringer’s website using a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

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