Articles Posted in E-Commerce and Internet Law

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As businesses move online the way they create contracts with consumers continues to change. This ever evolving area of business law impacts not only the way businesses interact with your customers but also the way they resolve any disputes with them should they arise. This makes it extremely important for business owners and those who draft their online contracts to understand the most recent rulings regarding online contract formation. One recent California decision affects the nature of arbitration provisions in online contracts.

Savetsky v. Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc.

This recent court decision is called Savetsky v. Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. The underlying lawsuit is a class action case alleging that Pre-Paid Legal Services, which did business as LegalShield, charged recurring payments for pre-paid legal services without making proper disclosures and without the the customers’ consent. LegalShield filed a motion to compel arbitration, which the court has now denied. This motion and the court’s decision regarding the motion is what is important about the case for our purposes.

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In the Internet Age, purported electronic signatures are becoming more and more common. They are the standard in certain areas of business law, like when one electronically “signs” a contract to engage in e-commerce. Real estate law, however, has always been more paper driven. While other areas have traditionally allowed for alternative contract forms like oral contracts, matters of real estate have traditionally required a paper contract. Recently, a California court decided a rare case dealing with the validity of an electronic signature.

California Court Decides Validity of Purported Electronic Signature

In this recent decision, J.B.B Investment Partners, LTD v. R. Thomas Fair, the First District Court of Appeals interpreted a portion of California’s version of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA). The purpose of this law is to establish that electronic signatures and records are the equivalent of paper records and manually signed signatures for commerce purposes. In the case, a trial court had determined that Fair’s printed name at the end of an e-mail where he had agreed to settlement terms in a prior email from J.B.B. counted as an electronic signature under the UETA and under contract law. The appellate court disagreed and held that Fair’s printed name in the email was not a sufficient electronic signature to make the settlement agreement binding.

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According to a recent article in P-V Tech, real-estate investment trusts (REITS) are growing across the country, and California is no exception. Earlier this month, a large land sale indicated that REITS are also beginning to have a hold in the solar industry. Near Fresno, the New York-based company Power REIT purchased approximately 100 acres of land that will support over 20MW of utility-scale projects in the area.strip mall.jpg

This recent land acquisition is likely to have implications for commercial solar energy solutions in California. If you have questions about commercial real estate and renewable energy, contact an experienced commercial lawyer today.

REITS and Commercial Real Estate

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Google, Inc. is always on the cutting edge of enhancing and simplifying the internet experiences of the average computer user. Sometimes, however, Google comes up with unique ways to help a certain segment of the population. One such segment, comprised of brand new small business owners, is set to benefit tremendously from a new Google tool: “Google for Entrepreneurs.”Search_Engine_Optimization.jpg

Google realizes that starting and growing a new business venture is not as simple as hiring a small business attorney to prepare the entity formation paperwork. In addition to all the legal issues associated with startup, new business owners will eventually have to tackle marketing, product delivery, and intellectual property rights to transform what may be a solid concept into a viable and profitable business.

Google for Entrepreneurs features a toolbox full of resources. On the marketing front, Google provides a service through which small business owners can launch their very own professional website to market and promote their goods and services. Google+ for Business helps ensure that your particular goods or services are reaching the types of Google users who are most likely to be interested in them. Google AdWords provides a way for your business to promote itself in the side margins of a Google search when the potential customer searches for certain keywords that are similar to or related to the product or service you are trying to sell.

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California prides itself on being at the forefront of green and sustainable industry practices. Its residents also pride themselves on being at the forefront of new and revolutionary business practices. If some members of the State Assembly have their hopes come to fruition, a new bill would bring these two realities into a single lucrative and green concept that would pave the way for thousands of new jobs and tremendous economic growth in California’s Imperial Valley. Sacramento business attorneys suspect that it will also create tremendous demand for regulatory compliance advice as new companies get involved in the industry.green-earth.png

According to a recent article in the Sacramento Bee, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 2205 into law on Friday. Assembly Member V. Manuel Pérez (D-Coachella) and Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), who co-authored the bill, say that the bill brings several state regulatory schemes into the 21st Century, allowing for a new technology to be applied to the extraction of precious minerals from the geothermal brines in California’s Imperial Valley.

Some of the byproducts of geothermal energy production in this area are actually quite valuable and applicable in a number of green industries. The production of geothermal energy produces high concentrations of lithium, manganese, and several other precious minerals. Among the most prevalent uses of these materials is in the production of electric vehicle batteries.

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Entrepreneurs who consult a California small business attorney for business formation advice sometimes neglect to ask about what may seem to be the most elementary consideration for a fledgling business: what to name it. In today’s modern age, and in the incredibly complex business environment of California, naming your start-up business may not be as easy as tacking on “Inc.” or “LLC” to your word or phrase of choice.sticker,375x360.png

According to the United States Census Bureau, there are more unique business entities in existence in California than in any other state in the union. In fact, more than 12 percent of all unique business entities across the country call California home. The lesson in these statistics is that an entrepreneur in California is far more likely than anyone else in the country to share an idea for a business name with another existing business. Sharing a business name with another business entity is not only illegal, but also detrimental to your efforts to distinguish your business’s products or services from those of other businesses in your market.

With this in mind, experts suggest that the owner of a California start-up business should come up with several different words or phrases and view them merely as candidates for the business’s name. Once the business owner is convinced that he or she would be satisfied with any of those several names, he or she should contact a California business lawyer for a consultation. A business lawyer will know the proper State databases to search in order to determine whether your prospective business names have been taken. Your lawyer can also help apply specific State rules about what constitutes a substantially similar business name. For instance, you may not be permitted to incorporate at “Haircuts, LLC” if “Haircuts, Inc.” or “Haircuts Co.” already exists. In a similar vein, something like “Haircutz” may be viewed as too similar to an existing name.

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Recently, I was contacted by a company – we will call it Web Co. – that operates a website with a rating and review system that allows users to provide feedback on user generated content. Like most companies operating in the technology age, Web Co. wanted to know what liability risks it faced when negative reviews were posted on its site. With the increased use of websites, blogs and social media, every company operating a website, blog or otherwise hosting third party content on the Internet is concerned with liability from third party content posted on their site. The good news for Web Co. and all the other companies doing business in the technology age: Congress has virtually eliminated liability stemming from content posted by third parties.

With the 1996 enactment of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) by Congress, liability for third-party content posted on the web has largely been eliminated. Section 230 of the CDA provides that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Section 230 further states that “No cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any state or local law that is inconsistent with this section.” This section grants broad immunity to website owners, internet service providers, chat room hosts, bloggers, or other hosts of online forums from liability for content posted by a third party that is defamatory, offensive, violates individual rights of publicity or privacy, or otherwise would trigger a claim under State law. Good news for Web Co. – but, what if Web Co. wants to screen and edit the third party content?

It is totally up to Web Co. to decide how and whether to edit its users reviews. If Web Co. decides to edit content posted by a third party for accuracy, obscenity or civility, the edits must not substantially alter the meaning of the content such that it turns otherwise non-defamatory content into defamatory content. In doing so,Web Co. then becomes the author of the content and is no longer protected by Section 230 of the CDA. Otherwise, Web Co. can be as passive or as aggressive as it sees fit in performing editorial functions.