Texas Appeals Court Finds Copyright Infringement By Government Does Not Constitute a Taking

Nearly everyone understands the concept of copyright. Individuals can obtain copyright protection for books, songs, computer software, and photos, among many other things. Once a copyright is obtained, the holder can seek compensation from individuals that unlawfully use the copyrighted work. This fairly straightforward legal concept was turned on its head recently when a photographer filed a lawsuit against The University of Houston System (a government entity) not for infringing upon his copyright, but alleging the university’s use of his photograph constituted a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.

A Texas appeals court recently heard a case filed by Jim Olive Photography against The University of Houston System after the university used one of his photographs in advertising materials for its CT Bauer School of Business in 2012. Because the university is a government entity, it is immune from lawsuits, including copyright infringement lawsuits under the Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity, which protects all government entities from most lawsuits.

As a workaround to government immunity, Jim Olive Photography argued the violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from the unlawful seizure of property by the government without proper compensation. Jim Olive Photography argued that by using his photograph without his consent, the government (i.e. the university) took his property.

The Texas First Court of Appeals found “No Texas case appears to have addressed whether a copyright is property for purposes of the takings clause and whether copyright infringement by a state actor is a taking.” Because of this, the judges had to rely on federal cases to inform their decision. With guidance from similar federal lawsuits, the judges determined that using a copyrighted photo did not constitute a taking under the Fourth Amendment. In order for the claim to constitute a Fourth Amendment violation, the plaintiff would need to prove the government took the entire copyright interest. Because Jim Olive Photography was still able to use and license the photo itself, the government didn’t take all interests related to the photo. The court ruled the case was in fact a copyright infringement case, which the university is immune to.

Lawsuits With Government Entities

The takeaway from this lawsuit is that any legal action involving government entities will be incredibly complex. At Feldman & Feldman, our lawyers have extensive experience handling claims against governmental entities. We understand the nuances of this type of public interest litigation and can help you resolve these legal issues efficiently. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our government litigation lawyers.

SEC Wants Clearer Guidelines After Elon Musk’s Tweets

Elon Musk is known for many things, including founding Paypal and serving as the CEO of Tesla Motors. In addition to making cars, building spaceships, and investing in a wide variety of technology start ups, Musk is also known for his prolific tweeting. Unfortunately, not everyone likes Musk’s use of the social media platform Twitter, and his tweets have not only created controversy, but they have also led to legal troubles with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Now, the SEC wants clearer guidelines how social media usage can violate federal law and lead to commercial litigation.

Musk’s trouble with the SEC goes back to August 2018 when the CEO tweeted he was going to take Tesla private. This caused Tesla’s stock price to skyrocket, as eager investors wanted to purchase stock before the buyback; however, the SEC found Musk’s statement “lacked an adequate basis in fact” and filed a lawsuit against him for violating federal securities law. Just months later, Musk got in trouble again when tweeting about the company’s commitment to produce a certain number of cars in 2019.

Determining whether or not an individual’s social media use has violated securities laws is often not black and white. Current regulations don’t mention social media use, which has prompted the SEC Commissioners to ask for new guidelines. SEC Commissioner Robert Jackson said, “Without prejudging a particular matter, it might be time for us to come forward and say, here are some principles of this game.”

Nearly everyone uses some type of social media platform and company executives are no exception. While executives may want to share company information on social media, they still have a responsibility to investors and shareholders. Executives are allowed to share information on social media, but investors must be informed on what social media channel will be used to push out market sensitive information.

Even though the SEC has yet to adopt specific guidelines for social media use, the agency is committed to pursuing securities violations, which include violations that occur on social media. And, it’s important to note, social media usage can be a huge source of liability for a business well beyond securities violations.

Houston Commercial Litigation Attorneys

If you are facing any type of litigation arising from your social media use or want to pursue a claim against another party for their use of social media, do not wait to contact Feldman & Feldman. We can review your case and explain your legal options.

Refusal To Settle Case Out Of Court Costs HISD $9 Million

Experienced business litigation lawyers know there is no one-size-fits-all solution to legal matters. Success and winning should be defined by the unique circumstances of each case. Sometimes the most successful resolution to a case is not a long and drawn out court battle, but a careful negotiation and settlement. This is a lesson the Houston Independent School District (HISD) just learned the hard way in a recent lawsuit. Although HISD had the option to settle a copyright infringement lawsuit for just $250,000 out of court, the district decided to pursue the case in court where a jury ordered it to pay a whopping $9 million.

The lawsuit started when DynaStudy, a two-person educational materials supplier, alleged HISD made four violations of federal copyright laws. DynaStudy proposed a modest six-figure settlement on multiple locations, but HISD refused. DynaStudy reportedly proposed a $250,000 settlement, which the district rejected, leading the supplier to file a lawsuit.

During the discovery process, DynaStudy found dozens of other brazen copyright violations. Evidence showed some teachers used white tape and sticky notes to cover copyright notices and one teacher even wrote in an email that she was “OK with violating” copyrights.

After refusing several settlement offers, HISD launched a three-year legal battle that culminated in a $9.2 verdict against the district. Additionally, HISD may be on the hook for DynaStudy’s attorneys’ fees, which could amount to an additional $1.5 million. The jury decided in DynaStudy’s favor after hearing how dozens of HISD employees repeatedly violated copyrights and distributed copyrighted material for ten years.

Securing A Successful Resolution with the Help of Business Litigation Attorneys

The reality is most business litigation cases are not decided in a courtroom. This doesn’t mean trials are always a bad strategy for resolution, but it highlights the importance of understanding what a successful resolution looks like for each client. Oftentimes, out of court settlements are the quickest and most cost-effective way to resolve a dispute. Taking a case to trial can also present serious risks, as seen in the HISD copyright lawsuit.

Business Litigation Attorneys

At Feldman & Feldman, our business litigation attorneys put our clients’ interests first. We can explain your legal options and the benefits and drawbacks of each option. Our attorneys will help you make an informed decision about resolution strategies and continuously fight for what’s right for you. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced attorneys.

Pastor Charged With Clergy Abuse Appears In Court

We trust our religious leaders to help guide us in our faith. Most of them do, but there are some pastors and priests that violate this trust and sexually abuse parishioners. For victims, coming forward about the abuse is incredibly difficult, which means justice is almost never obtained. Justice will be served, however, for one victim after a pastor confessed to sexually abusing a minor.

Stephen Bratton worked as a pastor at Grace Family Baptist Church for over ten years. On May 16, 2019, Bratton confessed to other pastors that he sexually abused a girl from 2013 until 2018, when she turned 18 years old. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office arrested Bratton after the report, and he was excommunicated from the church immediately after confessing to committing abuse. In his first court appearance after his arrest, his bond conditions were set and he was prohibited from going anywhere children will be present, like parks and schools. If convicted, Bratton could serve 25 years to life in prison.

Victims Deserve Justice

It has taken many years for society to take reports of clergy abuse seriously. The state of Texas is fighting clergy abuse with the arrest of a Houston area pastor and a search of The Catholic Diocese of Dallas. It’s commendable Texans can turn to law enforcement to help stop clergy abuse, but criminal proceedings often fall short of giving a victim justice and of taking care of their ongoing physical and emotional needs. Clergy abuse victims can file civil lawsuits against their abusers and the churches that employ them. By pursuing a civil lawsuit, victims can obtain compensation to help pay for therapy and mental health treatment.

At Feldman & Feldman, we’ve represented clergy abuse victims, helping them to get their voices heard. Churches have a responsibility to keep parishioners safe, and when they don’t our Texas clergy abuse attorneys hold them accountable. If you or someone you love suffered clergy abuse, do not wait to call us. We offer free and absolutely confidential consultations. We will listen to your story and let you know what your rights and options are. There is no pressure to work with us, but if you do, we charge no upfront cost and you won’t owe us anything unless we help you obtain compensation. Call us today to talk to an attorney.

How To Avoid A Business Divorce

Many people compare business partnerships to domestic ones, and it’s easy to see why. Just like marriage, a business takes a lot of dedication and hard work; and, breaking up can be hugely expensive. Business divorces can destroy a business and any assets you have spent years building. While business divorces are sometimes necessary and the best course of action, every effort should be made to avoid these costly breakups.

Start With A Solid Foundation

Businesses are built on relationships and more than just the relationship between partners. Businesses will have relationships with other individuals, companies, and vendors in order to operate. Every relationship (including partnerships) needs to be clearly and specifically defined in a well written and thorough contract. Contracts between business partners need to clearly define each person’s duties, roles, investments in the business, compensation, and expectations. When these are not clearly defined, partners can easily find themselves in complex disputes.

Contracts with other internal and external individuals and companies are also a common source of conflicts that lead to business disputes. Your relationships with employees, vendors, contractors, etc. will function best with specific contracts outlining the roles and duties. This ensures partners are on the same page about the relationships necessary for the business.

Don’t Hesitate To Talk To An Attorney

Most business owners make every effort to avoid an attorney’s office, but this is a mistake. Talking with an experienced business law attorney does not mean you are filing a lawsuit. Attorneys can also act as counselors to business partners, helping them understand the contractual obligations currently in place and advising them on the best path forward for the business, which does not have to include litigation. An experienced business lawyer will put the business’ interests first and provide legal strategies that preserve the business you’ve worked hard to build.

Houston Business Lawyers

At Feldman & Feldman, our Houston business lawyers understand litigation is not always the answer. If you’re looking for honest legal advice that will help your business grow and avoid business divorce, schedule an appointment with one of dedicated attorneys. We’ve helped scores of business partners resolve disputes that could have destroyed their businesses. You can rest assured we will help you protect your business.

Phony Invoices Led To $4 Million Breach of Fiduciary Duty

Companies often utilize contractors to help complete jobs and fill gaps in their workforce. While this creates a mutually beneficial relationship, some individuals will abuse it. This was the case for an investment company that discovered one of its contractors was creating phony invoices totaling $4 million.

Forest Investment Associates filed a lawsuit against a couple the company alleges defrauded them by creating phony invoices. The couple worked at Kingwood Forestry Services, which was frequently retained by Forest Investments. The wife worked as an administrator and her husband worked as a contractor. The couple would submit invoices for work that was never performed, which would in turn be paid by Forest Investments and its clients. Because the wife worked in administration, she kept an eye on all of the false invoices and made sure the amounts were not too suspicious so as to raise eyebrows. The scheme, which began in 2011, totaled $4 million worth of false invoices. Forest Investments has filed a lawsuit against the company for breach of fiduciary duty.

Protecting Your Business

No business exists in a vacuum. Businesses rely on other companies and individuals to operate. These relationships need to be carefully and thoroughly defined by contracts to help prevent disputes. When a dispute or outright fraud does arise, business owners have the right to seek compensation for economic damages. While many types of fraud bring about criminal charges, the criminal prosecution will not provide any financial compensation for wrongdoing to the victims.

Businesses that are victims of fraud can seek compensation directly related to the fraud and can pursue damages for harm done to their reputation. Because these matters can be extremely complicated, it’s important that only experienced business fraud attorneys handle them.

Texas Business Fraud Attorneys

At Feldman & Feldman, our Texas business fraud attorneys fight aggressively for our clients. We understand how business fraud can impact your company, so we work to get your legal issues resolved quickly. To learn more about your legal options, contact us today to schedule an appointment with one our lawyers.

A Multimillion Dollar Website and Breach of Contract

Almost every business needs a website. For some businesses, website functionality is crucial to generating revenue; and, most types of marketing (websites included) are expensive endeavors. But what if you paid $32 million for a website that didn’t meet your expectations? That’s exactly what happened to car rental giant Hertz, which is suing its former marketing company, Accenture LLP, for breach of contract.

Hertz engaged Accenture to create a new website and mobile applications. From 2016 to 2018, Hertz paid Accenture over $32 million, but Hertz claims it did not get the website and mobile apps it wanted. According to the lawsuit, Accenture did not develop medium sized displays for the new website and mobile apps. While desktop and mobile sized displays were created, tablet-sized displays were not. Hertz requested the website and apps be “responsive” meaning they would automatically resize for the device on which they are accessed, but the Accenture “demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional fees to deliver the promised medium-sized layout.”

Hertz also claims Accenture failed to deliver website coding that was secure, which could make the website vulnerable to hackers. Possibly the largest problem with the website is that it wasn’t extensible, meaning it couldn’t be expanded to be used for Hertz’s global brand. Hertz asserts the decision to disregard extensibility was deliberate and made without Hertz’s knowledge or consent. A website that’s not extensible leaves Hertz needing to spend additional marketing dollars developing websites and apps for global use.

What may seem like a simple breach of contract dispute on the surface can actually become much more complex in the digital age. Websites and mobile apps are incredibly complicated. When companies enter into a contract that does not discuss the specifics of every aspect of the project, disputes can easily arise between the parties as to what is included in the scope of work. Digital assets like websites are presenting unique legal challenges. When contracts involving websites are not thoroughly drafted, there’s more than enough room for disputes.

Houston Contract Attorneys

At Feldman & Feldman, our Houston contract attorneys understand the complexities of drafting contracts involving websites. We also regularly represent individuals and business owners in breach of contract disputes involving intangible marketing materials. If you are involved in a breach of contract dispute, contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our dedicated attorneys.

Property Owners Association Refusing To Abide By Sale Of Marina

The Harborwalk in Hitchcock is a well known Galveston hot spot. Home to a marina, boat launch, restaurant, and even a swimming pool, it should be a bustling location. Instead, the entire area has been boarded up amidst a dispute among the location’s owner, the Flamingo Isles Municipal Utility District, and the Harborwalk Property Owners Association.

In total, the property consists of a 150-slip marina, yacht club, swimming pool, restaurant, ship store/welcome center, and extra real estate opposite the marina for expansion. The property was bought after previous owners went bankrupt; and, significant repairs were needed to get the property functional again. After pouring money into repairs, Harborwalk ran into a huge problem. The Harborwalk Property Owners Association has refused to vacate commercial properties and the Flamingo Isles Municipal Utility District has refused to properly dredge the marina. Although the utility district is responsible for dredging activities, it hasn’t dredged the Harborwalk, causing serious financial consequences. Without being dredged, the marina water is unsafe for boats. Last year, many boats were unable to dock at Harborwalk and many that tried were damaged. Harborwalk’s owner alleges the property owners association and the utility district are refusing to acknowledge and enforce the terms of the sale.

The dispute is a complicated one. Firstly, the utility district is a government agency, which means it has certain legal requirements and responsibilities to meet. Determining whether or not the agency has met these requirements and responsibilities is not always straightforward. Secondly, Harborwalk will have to contend with a property owners association, which also poses legal challenges. Property owners associations usually have their own bylaws and requirements for all members.

Commercial Litigation Attorneys

If our company is suffering severe financial injury due to a breach of a contract, you need an attorney who is able to offer innovative, aggressive legal representation. Feldman & Feldman has represented businesses in breach of contract litigation for many years. Litigation is the primary focus of our law firm. We know how to handle complicated commercial litigation matters. We have experience successfully resolving legal claims involving governmental agencies and other organizations. By using innovative and personalized strategies, we can help clients resolve matters quickly and efficiently. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our commercial litigation attorneys.

As Texas Fights Clergy Abuse The Catholic Diocese of Dallas Is Subjected To Police Search

Earlier this year, Catholic dioceses across Texas released the names of priests credibly accused of sexually abusing parishioners, many of whom were children. This list was released after public outcry when police arrested Father Manuel LaRosa-Lopez, a Conroe priest, for four counts of indecency with a child in September 2018. The release of names led to an investigation by Dallas police, which conducted a thorough search of a church and several offices just last week.

Dallas police executed search warrants at St. Cecilia Catholic Church, looking for diocese records. St. Cecilia Catholic Church is the same church in which a pastor was accused of stealing funds and sexually assaulting three teenage boys more than a decade ago. Arrest warrants were issued for pastor Edmundo Paredez for these allegations in September 2018. As police investigated Paradez, they uncovered allegations against four additional priests: Jeremy Myers, William Hughes, Richard Thomas Brown, and Alejandro Buitrago. Paradez and the other four priests were all named on the list of over 300 clergy members who were credibly accused of sexual abuse. While the Dallas police have been tight lipped about their investigation, it could lead to criminal charges filed against the priests and justice for victims.

However, the Catholic Church is not the only denomination facing clergy abuse allegations. Shortly after the Catholic dioceses released their list of priests accused of sexual abuse, an investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News revealed 380 Southern Baptist Convention church leaders and volunteers across the country have been accused of sexual misconduct. Over 220 of these individuals have been charged with sex crimes.

Texas Clergy Abuse Lawyers

While criminal charges can help provide justice for victims and prevent predator priests from targeting and hurting more victims, the criminal cases do nothing to offer victims compensation. Sexual abuse victims have the legal right to pursue civil lawsuits against their perpetrators. At Feldman & Feldman, we’ve helped clergy sexual abuse victims hold religious institutions responsible for failing to protect them. If you have been a victim of clergy sexual abuse, we know how challenging coming forward can be, but we promise to be with you every step of the way. Contact us today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to learn your legal options.

Houston Law Firm Files Lawsuit Over Faulty Printer: Here’s What You Need To Know About Warranties

Picture this: you have a really important print job, but as you stand in front of your office printer it starts making strange noises. Before you know it, the printer is jammed and your print job isn’t happening anytime soon. This is a common scenario for anyone that works in an office, which can become incredibly frustrating, particularly if the printer is brand new and fails to operate properly at all. This was the case for a local Houston law firm who became so fed up with printer problems that they filed a lawsuit against HP, Inc. alleging breach of contract, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of express warranty. While it’s unclear how this office drama will play out, it does serve as an important reminder to business owners about warranties.

According to the Houston law firm that bought an HP Color Laser Jet printer, the five-year warranty it purchased included promised in-person repairs, parts, and service “at your door the very same business day.” The firm claims the printer had problems since it was delivered, including constant paper jams and print jobs that would take hours. The firm tried to troubleshoot the issue with HP’s customer service call centers, but were unable to resolve the issue. The final straw broke when the firm needed several important printing jobs done, but the printer could only print one page every three to four minutes. Despite the promise in the warranty to send an on-site technician, the firm claims HP did not honor this promise and instead refused.

Like this Houston law firm, many businesses rely on technology and/or machinery to operate. In certain industries, when a business doesn’t have certain machines operational, everything comes to a complete stop, making warranties incredibly important. A warranty is a contract between two parties, so both are legally bound to uphold their end of the deal. When a breach of contract occurs – whether it is related to a warranty or not – businesses have the right to pursue legal action against the breaching party.

Houston Breach of Warranty Lawyers

The Houston breach of warranty lawyers at Feldman & Feldman understand how important warranties and contracts are to your business. That’s why we aggressively fight for clients who have faced financial consequences as the result of a breach of contract. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our experience trial attorneys.