Pattishall IP Blog

April 25, 2013

The FTC Issues Revised Guidance for Mobile Device and Social Media Advertising Claims

Filed under: Advertising, Social Media — Tags: , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 3:33 pm

PB LRby Phillip Barengolts, Partner

On March 12, 2013, the Federal Trade Commission issued revisions to its digital advertising guidelines, “.com Disclosures: How to Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising” (the “Guides”).[1]  The Guides do not break new ground, but they provide advertisers with valuable examples of compliant disclosures that qualify advertising claims appearing on mobile devices, on social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and through any other non-traditional platform.

The Guides highlight the FTC’s fundamental belief about advertising claims: the medium does not matter; the advertising claim must be true and not misleading from the viewpoint of a reasonable consumer or else it violates Section 5 of the FTC Act.[2]

Disclosures that qualify an advertising claim must be clear and conspicuous – which can be difficult when dealing with social media or mobile devices due to space constraints.  The FTC’s revised Guides helpfully explain that an advertiser must place a disclosure as close as possible to the qualified claim and must communicate the disclosure in a manner that a consumer is likely to notice and understand.

What if a platform does not provide an opportunity for an adequate disclosure (e.g., Twitter)?  The FTC is clear: don’t use the platform or modify the claim for that platform so that a disclosure is unnecessary.  The Guides do have some detailed suggestions, including:

  • If a consumer has to scroll to view a disclosure, then the disclosure should be unavoidable;
  • Linking to the text of a disclose is permissible, but not if the disclosure is integral to the claim or inseparable from it;
  • Don’t use pop-ups because many browsers block them and most users ignore them;
  • Disclosures should be made before a user clicks “add to cart” or “order now”;
  • If the advertised product is available through outlets other than the advertiser, for example, at an online or brick-and-mortar retailer, the disclosure must be in the ad itself; and
  • for Tweets, the advertiser should use clear terms such as “Ad” or “Sponsored” at the beginning of the Tweet.

The most useful part of the Guides for advertisers are the many examples of compliant and non-compliant disclosures.  Just to highlight a few:

  • the advertiser should optimize its website for mobile devices to ensure that users zooming on a phone will not miss a disclosure;
  • hyperlink disclosures should be right next to the claim they modify (if they can be used at all); and
  • Tweets should include the necessary disclosure not link to it.

Advertisers must be aware of the impact of their claims, intentional or unintentional, and use proper disclosures – suitable to every platform on which the claim will be seen by a consumer –  to qualify any potentially misleading claims.  The Guides provide the FTC’s position on the adequacy of a disclosure to avoid enforcement action.  Of course, advertisers should consult their advertising review counsel to ensure compliance with the Guides and other advertising rules and regulations.

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Phillip Barengolts is a partner with Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois.  Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, false advertising and unfair competition litigation, trials and appeals, and advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues.  Mr. Barengolts’ practice focuses on litigation, transactions, and counseling in domestic and international trademark, trade dress, Internet, advertising and copyright law.  He teaches trademark and copyright litigation at John Marshall Law School, and co-authored Trademark and Copyright Litigation: Forms and Analysis, published by Oxford University Press.

[1] The entire 53-page Guidelines can be found here:

[2] It should be noted that the Guides, like all other FTC guide, are not laws, but if a company fails to comply, the FTC “might bring an enforcement action alleging an unfair or deceptive practice.”

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November 27, 2012

When it Comes to Parody Twitter Accounts, Laughing Them Off May Be Your Best Move

Filed under: Internet, Social Media, Trademark (General) — Tags: , , , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 12:39 pm

by Andrew R. W. Hughes

The @NYTOnIt Twitter feed managed to draw more than 20,000 followers and accolades from Time magazine with its wry send-ups of New York Times trend pieces.  Whenever the New York Times published a story that Benjamin Kabak found obvious, pompous, or otherwise groan-inducing, he took to his @NYTOnIt Twitter handle to mock the venerable publication.  When the New York Times ran a piece on teenagers’ bedrooms being messy, @NYTOnIt was there with, “GUYS, teenagers have messy bedrooms, and The Times is ON IT.”  An article about seniors and the Internet drew, “GUYS, some old people aren’t too up on the Internet, and The Times is ON IT.”

While many people found the account hilarious, the New York Times did not.  This week, the paper complained to Twitter, which suspended the account.[1]  The basis of the complaint was apparently not the content, but Kabak’s use of a modified version of the Times’ “T” logo as the handle’s avatar:

As the paper’s spokeswoman Eileen Murphy explained, “We’re not seeking to disable the account however it is important to The Times that our [trademark] is protected and that it is clear to all users of Twitter that parody accounts or other unofficial Times accounts are not affiliated nor endorsed by The Times.”[2]

Kabak claimed that his use of the modified Times logo was fair use.  Bolstering his claim was the fact that the description of the account explicitly stated that it was “a parody account clearly not associated with any newspaper.”[3]  Nonetheless, in accordance with its rules regarding trademark protection, Twitter initially suspended the account, before restoring it without the potentially infringing logo. (more…)

August 8, 2012

What Do Kim Kardashian And Your Random Facebook Friend Have in Common? A Right of Publicity That May Be Worth Money

Filed under: Internet, Litigation, Right of Publicity, Social Media — Tags: , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 4:44 pm

By Meg C. Lenahan, Summer Associate

Use Facebook? If so, did you know that your right of publicity has been at the center of litigation for over a year?

In March 2011, a class action suit, Fraley v. Facebook, Inc., was filed on behalf of users featured in Facebook’s Sponsored Stories.[1] Sponsored Stories create customized paid advertisements, starring Facebook’s own users based their activity on the site. For example, if your friend Bucky “likes” Rosetta Stone, you might see his profile picture underneath the Rosetta Stone logo on the right side of the page—the portion of the site where advertisements appear.  See below.[2]

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, described the feature—which originally gave users a choice to opt out (rather than opt in)—as a “trusted referral” and “the Holy Grail of advertising.”[3] In their complaint, the named plaintiffs in Fraley instead described it as a violation of their publicity rights.[4]

Governed by state law, the right of publicity is an intellectual property right that protects against the unauthorized use of an individual’s identity for commercial purposes and grants that individual the exclusive right to control and profit from commercial use of his or her identity.[5] This means, for example, that Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte has the exclusive right to control and profit from any sales of custom-made American flag grills[6] using his image or that Kim Kardashian has the exclusive right to control and profit from use of her name to sell perfume. Even your friend Bucky would have an exclusive right to control and profit from use of his identity in connection with Rosetta Stone advertisements. That is, of course, unless Bucky licensed or transferred his right of publicity to someone else—someone like Facebook. (more…)

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