Tag Archives: Attorney

What Is the Right of Publicity (and Are You Violating It)?

Is there a reference to your company’s notable clients on your website, or do your company’s social media posts include the names or images of individuals? If so, you may be violating their right of publicity.

The right of publicity allows an individual to prevent the use of his or her identity for commercial purposes without permission. “Identity” can include the individual’s name, voice, image, or likeness. And “commercial purposes” under Florida law is an uncertain standard.

Florida’s right of publicity is relatively broad.  Some states only allow “celebrities” to bring a claim, and some states only allow living persons to bring a claim.  Florida gives all individuals, regardless of their celebrity status, the right to bring a lawsuit, and Florida law extends its statutory publicity right for 40 years after an individual’s death.

One area where right of publicity issues arise often is social media. If your social media posts include the names or images of individuals, it is important to consider whether their consent is required. Some Florida cases have held companies liable when using others’ likenesses in Facebook posts to promote their company or event. These recent cases have warned against the potential suggestion of any type of endorsement (without permission) in online posts by businesses.

The right of publicity is a little-known, but very powerful, right.  In today’s increasingly digital society, it is crucial to consider the right of publicity and whether consent may be needed before using another person’s name or likeness in connection with your business.

Elizabeth M. Stamoulis
estamoulis@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-5546

Do You Own Your Company’s Internet Presence? (The Answer May Surprise You.)

Websites can make or break a business, and catchy social media posts are becoming part of a company’s brand.  Consumers look to websites and social media for company information, making the management of these digital assets crucial to a business’s success. While most companies put much effort into creating and sustaining their online presence, many do not implement policies to ensure that they own those digital assets.

Domain Names
Domain names are not traditional items of property but should be safeguarded nonetheless as vital company assets. A domain name signifies the primary identifier and addresses of a business’s website. To “own” a domain name, you must purchase it from a domain name registrar like GoDaddy. Purchasing a domain name registers it in the database of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. This database keeps track of all registered domain names purchased from authorized registrars.

In many cases, companies will have employees, contractors, or IT consultants register the domain name. Often, that person will enter his or her own name as the registrant. However, this results in that person, rather than the company, being listed as the owner of the domain. If the employee or contractor ever terminates their relationship with the company, this can lead to arguments over the ownership of the domain name and the website.  There have been several cases where unhappy employees attempted to use their control of a domain as leverage against a former employer.

Social Media Accounts
What happens when a company has a well-established social media account run by an employee? Who owns the account? Who owns its content? If the employee leaves the company, what rights does the company have over the information for the account? It is important that business owners know the answers to these questions before issues arise. Leading cases make it clear that the answer to these questions depend on the facts of the case and a variety of identifiable factors.

In one case in California, an employee had managed a Twitter account used to promote its employer’s services. Upon termination, the employee refused to turn over the login information for the account or remove the company name from the account. The company sued the employee for misappropriation of trade secrets. The case eventually settled, with the employee allowed to keep all rights over the social media account and its followers.

In another case, a company hired an employee to develop websites and social media accounts to promote the company’s products. The employee signed an agreement stipulating that they would return all confidential information to the employer if employment was ever terminated. Upon termination, the employee refused to turn over the login information for the accounts. The court held that the employee was required to turn over the login information.

Protecting Digital Assets
Disputes over digital assets can be costly and time-consuming. The cases discussed above demonstrate that the best course of action is to prevent these types of issues from arising in the first place. This can be done with a with a well-drafted agreement. Many business owners have employees and contractors sign agreements ensuring that intellectual property created by the employee or contractor will be owned by the business. In the modern age of the internet, these agreements should be updated to include provisions making clear that digital assets such as domain names and social media accounts, along with their contents, are also owned by the business.

Elizabeth M. Stamoulis
estamoulis@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-5546

Pink October: Be Careful That Giving Does Not Cause You Grief

For many years now, the arrival of October, which has been dubbed “Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” has been accompanied by an onslaught of pink products being sold to benefit various breast cancer charities. This practice of selling products or services to benefit a charity (often referred to as a “commercial co-venture”) has become increasingly popular among business owners—in addition to the philanthropic goal of donating to a worthy cause, the use of the charity’s name will also often result in an increase in sales for the company. Because these partnerships involve claims made to consumers regarding the recipient, and use, of the funds, many states have begun to regulate commercial co-ventures to ensure that accurate information is provided to consumers and that the money is ultimately used in the manner advertised.

Unfortunately, there is little uniformity among the regulations of the various states. For example, some states require a written contract with the charity specifying exactly how the donation will be calculated. In some cases, this contract must be filed with the state. Other requirements may include registration with the state and furnishing financial statements to the charity and/or the state. In each case, the regulations across the states differ with regard to whose responsibility (either the for-profit company or the non-profit company) it is to ensure that these requirements are satisfied. Adding to the complexity is the fact that many sales involve the internet and interstate commerce, so commercial co-venturers may unintentionally, and unknowingly, subject themselves to the regulations of multiple states.

Entering into a commercial co-venture is a noble, but complicated, endeavor. If you are considering entering into a commercial co-venture, you should take steps to ensure that you are complying with all applicable laws.  Some best practices include:

  • Entering into a written agreement that grants a license to use the charity’s name in connection with sales;
  • Including an honest disclaimer of the amount being donated (including any minimums or maximums) in advertisements and on the product;
  • Keeping a detailed accounting of sales during the promotion; and
  • Consulting with a lawyer to confirm all state-specific requirements are met.

Elizabeth M. Stamoulis
estamoulis@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-5546

Protecting Your Company’s Brand Through Trademarks

Protecting your company’s trademarks is important to grow your brand and prevent other companies from trading off your hard-earned goodwill. Below are a few things to keep in mind when creating and protecting trademarks.

Choosing a Trademark
There are a number of considerations when choosing your company’s trademark.  Among other things, you should:

  • Make sure that your mark will not infringe on an existing mark. Your trademark could infringe another trademark because it is spelled the same, looks the same, or even sounds the same.
  • Consider choosing a more “distinctive” mark to receive a higher level of protection. While marks that are descriptive of your goods or services may be desirable from a marketing perspective, they can be harder to protect as trademarks.
  • Make sure that the domain name is available for purchase. Even if the trademark has not been registered, the domain name may be in use by another company.

Registration
The best trademark protection comes from registering the mark. Where you register will depend on where the trademark is used.

  • If the trademark is used for goods sent across state lines or services that affect interstate commerce, a federally registered trademark would provide the most complete protection.
  • If the trademark will only be used within one state, state trademark registration may be a simpler alternative to consider.

Keep in mind that just because your company is registered with your state’s Secretary of State or because you have registered a fictitious name does not mean your trademark is automatically registered.

Protection
Once a trademark application has been filed and the mark has been registered, you must have a plan in place to police your brand to make sure that others are not infringing it. If someone is infringing your trademark, this could lead to a loss of business or could affect your company’s reputation and its ability to fully protect its trademark.

Evolution
As your company evolves, so must your trademarks. As you create new products and services or expand the area of your business, you may want to create new trademarks or file existing trademarks in new jurisdictions.

These are just a handful of items to keep in mind for creating and protecting your company’s trademarks. Other forms of intellectual property protection for your company may also be available through copyright and trade secret protection. For more information on using intellectual property law to protect your brand, please give us a call or email.

Elizabeth M. Stamoulis
estamoulis@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-5546

Filing Deadline Reminder – 2019 Florida Annual Uniform Business Reports

The deadline to file a 2019 Florida Annual Uniform Business Report for your corporation, limited liability company, limited partnership, or limited liability limited partnership to maintain its active status with the State of Florida is Wednesday, May 1, 2019. A non-negotiable late fee of $400 will be added to the state’s filing fee for entities that file their Florida Annual Report after this deadline. Failure to file a 2019 Florida Annual Report for an entity will result in the administrative dissolution or revocation of the entity in September 2019.

Even if a third party, like Cross Street Corporate Services, LLC, serves as your entity’s registered agent, it is your responsibility to file the annual report with the State of Florida. Annual reports must be electronically filed at the Florida Department of State’s website (sunbiz.org). If you need assistance, please contact us.

You may disregard this notice if your entity was formed in 2019 or has already filed a Florida Annual Report for 2019.

James-Allen McPheeters
jamcpheeters@williamsparker.com
(941) 329-6623

New IRS Guidance Makes Opportunity Zone Tax Break More Desirable

The Internal Revenue Service has issued updated regulations regarding the Opportunity Zone tax break created by the 2017 tax reform legislation. Investors have proven slow to seek Opportunity Zone investments because of ambiguities and a lack of details in The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act statute and the limited scope of initial guidance issues in October 2018. The new guidance is more sweeping and offers more definite answers to many of the open questions.

Opportunity Zone investments offer two tax benefits:

  • Deferral of capital gain recognition on other assets sold before an Opportunity Zone investment until earlier of (1) sale of the new investment or (2) December 31, 2026.
  • 100 percent elimination of capital gain on the Opportunity Zone investment itself, if held more than 10 years, or reduction of capital gain if held at least five, but not greater than 10 years.

Requirements exist regarding investment timing, legal structure, and investment characteristics. The program generally favors taxpayers with reliable access to emergency liquidity and a longer-term investment horizon.

View the IRS announcement which includes detailed guidance.

E. John Wagner, II
jwagner@williamsparker.com
941-536-2037

The Final Section 199A Regulations Eliminate Anti-Abuse Rule from the Proposed Regulations

The proposed Section 199A regulations provide anti-abuse rules to limit the ability of taxpayers to separate a specified service trade or business (“SSTB”) from a non-SSTB. One of those rules provides that if a non-SSTB has both 50 percent or more common ownership with an SSTB and shared expenses with the SSTB, then the non-SSTB will be considered incidental to, and part of, the SSTB if the gross receipts of the non-SSTB represent 5 percent or less of the total combined gross receipts of the non-SSTB and SSTB.

The proposed regulations provide an example of this rule where a dermatologist provides medical services to patients and also sells skin care products to patients. The same employees and office space are used for the medical services and the sale of skin care products. The gross receipts of the skin care product sales do not exceed 5% of the combined gross receipts. Under the rule, the sale of the skin care products (which is not an SSTB) will be treated as incident to, and part of, the medical service SSTB. Therefore, the qualified business income, W-2 wages, and any unadjusted basis of qualified property attributable to the skin care products business will not be eligible for Section 199A purposes unless the dermatologist is under the taxable income thresholds specified in Section 199A.

Treasury received numerous comments, including from Williams Parker, critical of this rule for various reasons, including uncertainty as to the meaning of shared expenses and how to allocate gross receipts, and also the negative impact to owners of SSTB’s that create start-up businesses that are non-SSTBs. Thankfully, in response to these comments, Treasury eliminated this so-called “incidental rule” from the final Section 199A regulations.

View the final regulations.

This post is one in a series of posts on the 199A regulations. 

Michael J. Wilson
mwilson@williamsparker.com
941-536-2043

Final Section 199A Regulations Provide Little Guidance for Skilled Nursing and Assisted Living Facilities

The final Section 199A regulations, which were promulgated on January 18, 2019, make several clarifications to the rules regarding specified service trades or businesses (“SSTB”). Over certain taxable income thresholds, SSTBs are not eligible for the Section 199A deduction. The performance of services in the field of health is an SSTB and is defined in Section 1.199A-5(b)(2) of the final regulations as “the provision of medical services by individuals, such as physicians, pharmacists, nurses, dentists, veterinarians, physical therapists, psychologists, another similar healthcare professionals performing services in their capacity as such.” The operation of health clubs or health spas, payment processing, or the research, testing, manufacture and sales of pharmaceuticals or medical devices are not within the field of health.

Many commentators to the proposed regulations, including Williams Parker, noted that many of the services provided by skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities are unrelated to health care, including housing, meals, laundry, security, and socialization activities. Unfortunately, Treasury declined to issue specific guidance as to whether the owners of skilled nursing, assisted living, and similar facilities are performing services within the field of health, and noted that the issue “requires a facts and circumstances inquiry that is beyond the scope of these final regulations.”

However, the final regulations added an example in Section 1.199A-5(b)(3)(ii) of a senior housing facility that is not engaged in the field of health. In the example, the senior housing facility provides its residents with standard domestic services (including housing management and maintenance, meals, laundry, and entertainment), but all medical and health services (including skilled nursing, physical and occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, medications, medical supplies and equipment, and ambulance transportation) are provided through separate professional healthcare organizations. All of the health and medical services are billed directly by the healthcare providers to the senior citizens even though the services are provided at the facility. Unfortunately, the final regulations do not address a scenario where the facility invoices the senior citizens for the health and medical services on behalf of the healthcare providers.

View the final regulations.

This post is one in a series of posts on the 199A regulations. 

Michael J. Wilson
mwilson@williamsparker.com
941-536-2043

Safe Harbor Created for Rental Real Estate Activities and Section 199A Deduction, but Triple Net Leases are Excluded

Section 199A generally provides a 20 percent deduction for qualified business income of a trade or business. Many comments made with respect to the proposed Section 199A regulations focused on when rental real estate activities will constitute a trade or business, and thus be eligible for the Section 199A deduction. The final regulations generally define a trade or business by referencing Section 162, and the IRS acknowledged there is uncertainty regarding when rental real estate activities constitute a trade or business for purposes of Section 162. In connection with issuing the final Section 199A regulations on January 18, 2019, IRS issued notice 2019-07, which provides notice of a proposed revenue procedure detailing a proposed safe harbor under which rental real estate activities may be treated as a trade or business solely for purposes of Section 199A.

The notice provides that a “rental real estate enterprise” will qualify for the safe harbor if:

(a) Separate books and records are maintained to reflect income and expenses for each rental real estate enterprise;

(b) For taxable years beginning prior to January 1, 2023, 250 or more hours of rental services are performed per year with respect to the rental enterprise. For taxable years beginning after December 31, 2022, in any three of the five consecutive taxable years that end with the taxable year (or in each year for an enterprise held for less than five years), 250 or more hours of rental services are performed per year with respect to the real estate rental enterprise; and

(c) The taxpayer maintains contemporaneous records, including time reports, logs, or similar documents, regarding (i) the hours of all services performed, (ii) a description of all services performed, (iii) dates on which such services are performed, and (iv) who performed the services. This contemporaneous records requirement will not apply to taxable years beginning prior to January 1, 2019.

The notice defines a rental real estate enterprise as an interest in real property (or multiple properties) held for the production of rents. The interest must be held directly or through an entity disregarded for income tax purposes. Commercial and residential real estate may not be part of the same enterprise. Real estate used by the taxpayer (including an owner or beneficiary of an owner of a pass-through entity that owns the real estate) as a residence for any part of the year under Section 280A is not eligible for the safe harbor.

Importantly, real estate leased under a triple net lease is also not eligible for the safe harbor. The notice provides that a triple net lease includes a lease arrangement that requires the tenant to pay taxes, fees, and insurance, and to be responsible for maintenance activities in addition to rent and utilities.

Rental services may be performed by the owner, employees, agents, and/or independent contractors of the owner. Rental services include (a) advertising to rent the real estate; (b) negotiating and executing leases; (c) verifying information contained in prospective tenant applications; (d) daily operation, maintenance, and repair of the property; (e) management of the real estate; (f) purchase of material; and (g) supervision of employees and independent contractors. Rental services do not include financial or investment management activities, such as arranging financing; procuring property; studying and reviewing financial statements or operation reports; planning, managing, or constructing long-term capital improvements; or hours spent traveling to and from the real estate.

In order to apply the safe harbor, the taxpayer claiming the Section 199A deduction must attach a signed statement (described in the notice) to its income tax return.

If a rental real estate activity fails to satisfy the safe harbor, it may still be treated as a trade or business for purposes of Section 199A if the activity otherwise qualifies as a trade or business under Section 162.

This post is one in a series of posts on the 199A regulations. 

Michael J. Wilson
mwilson@williamsparker.com
941-536-2043

The Final Section 199A Regulations Eliminate the “80 Percent Cliff” for Property or Services Provided to a Commonly-Controlled SSTB

We previously blogged about the final Section 199A regulations confirming “cliff” treatment for the de minimis aggregation rule. However, the final regulations did delete a different cliff in the rules designed to defeat the so-called “crack and pack” strategy of segregating various activities of a specified service trade or business (“SSTB”) into SSTB and non-SSTB elements. Since the enactment of Section 199A as part of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act late in 2017, tax practitioners have been devising ways to take an SSTB, such as a physician group, and segregate the parts of the business that are a specified service trade or business from the parts that are not. For example, there has been speculation as to whether an S corporation operating a physician group that provides medical services (an SSTB), owns its building, and employs administrative and billing staff could be divided into three S corporations. S corporation 1 would provide medical services to patients, S corporation 2 would own the medical office building and lease it to S corporation 1, and S corporation 3 would employ the administrative and billing staff and provide its services to S corporation 1 in exchange for fees. The hope would be that the common owners of the three S corporations would be eligible for a 199A deduction with respect to S corporation 2 and S corporation 3 (they would generally not be eligible for a 199A deduction if all of the components of the physician group were contained within one entity).

The proposed regulations address this issue by providing that an SSTB includes any trade or business that provides 80% or more of its property or services to a specified service trade or business if there is 50% or more common ownership of the two trades or businesses. If a trade or business provides less than 80% of its property or services to a specified service trade or business that has 50% or more common ownership, then the portion of the trade or business providing property or services to the commonly-controlled business will be treated as part of the specified service trade or business. For example, if a dentist owns a dental practice and a building used in the practice in separate entities, and 40% of the real estate is leased to the dental practice and 60% of the real estate is leased to an unrelated tenant, then 40% of the real estate business will be treated as part of the dental SSTB, but the remaining 60% of the real estate business will not be treated as an SSTB. But, if 85% of the real estate was leased to the dental practice, then all of the real estate business (including the 15% leased to the unrelated tenant) would be treated as part of the dental SSTB. Thus, this rule creates an “80% cliff” for the unrelated portion of the real estate business.

In response to criticism of this 80% cliff, Treasury removed the 80 percent rule in Section 1.199A-5(c)(2) of the final regulations. Therefore, if a non-SSTB provides property or services to a 50 percent or more commonly controlled SSTB, the portion provided to the SSTB would be treated as a separate SSTB, and the remaining portion will be treated as a non-SSTB. Using the example above, if 85% of the real estate was leased to the dental practice, then only 85% of the real estate activity would be treated as an SSTB, and the other 15% of the real estate activity would be treated as a non-SSTB.

View the  final regulations.

This post is one in a series of posts on the 199A regulations. 

Michael J. Wilson
mwilson@williamsparker.com
941-536-2043