Website Legal Compliance – FTC Accelerates Crackdown On Fake News Sites

We’ve all seen headlines in search results like this one – “XYZ Exposed: Miracle Diet or Scam”. And perhaps we actually believed there was objective reporting or unbiased commentary behind the headline. But after reading the web page, it was clear that the headline was just a clever way to catch your attention and lure you to a sales page with an aggressive sales pitch.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has seen these headlines too, and the FTC doesn’t think they’re clever at all. In fact, the FTC believes they constitute deceptive and unfair trade practices, as indicated by the FTC’s accelerated crackdown on affiliates of a popular diet drink with aggressive weight loss claims.

Modus Operandi

The modus operandi of these sites was to start with attention grabbing headlines such as the one listed above and these additional ones – “News 6 News Alerts,” “Health News Health Alerts,” or “Health 5 Beat Health News.”

The sites presented what appeared to be a skeptical commentator who raises the question of whether the diet drink is really effective. The commentator appeared to be objective; however, after a few paragraphs the commentator would conclude that use of the diet drink would result in a 25-pound weight loss in 4 weeks – all this without changing diet or exercise according to the FTC.

The prices for the supplement ranged between $70 and $100.

The FTC’s Claims

When the FTC originally initiated law suits against these sites, Charles Harwood, Deputy Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection stated: “We are alleging that nearly everything about these Web sites is false and deceptive”. In addition, the FTC pointed out that the defendants aggressively promoted the deceptive ads by spending millions of dollars for placement on high volume websites resulting in millions of views by consumers and substantial sales.

Specifically, the FTC contended that the offending sites –

* failed to disclose their material relationships involving the payment of affiliate commissions with the merchants of the products;

* failed to produce independent tests to support the claims made prior to public dissemination;

* included a section of “consumer comments” that were completely fabricated;

* used infringing logos of reputable media outlets such as ABC, Fox News, CNN and Consumer Reports to give the false impression of credibility; and

* misappropriated the image of a French reporter for use on the sites.

The Settlements

The cases brought by the FTC were against six affiliates of the merchant that manufactured and supplied the weight loss supplement.

In the settlements, the defendants agreed that they will permanently cease their allegedly deceptive practice of using fake news websites. In addition, the settlements require that the defendants cease making deceptive claims about their other products, including work-at-home schemes and penny auctions which most of them promoted.

The big hammer in the settlements included fines in an aggregate amount which represented the affiliate commissions the defendants received through their fake news sites.

These settlement results clearly indicate that the FTC aggressively pursued every dollar they could under the circumstances (the final amounts left most of them with few real assets, if any):

* one defendant’s $2.5 million judgment was suspended when he pays $280,000 and records a $39,500 lien on his home;

* another defendant’s fine of $204,000 was suspended pending the payment of $13,000 plus the proceeds from the sale of a BMW automobile, and

* still another defendant was suspended pending the payment of almost $80,000 over a 3 year period.

Conclusion

The take-aways from these cases include –

* fake news sites are virtually guaranteed to get you sued by the FTC,

* ditto for fake testimonials or user comments,

* diet supplements of any kind are high on the FTC’s radar screen for regulatory scrutiny,

* the FTC is serious about enforcing its guidelines that affiliates are required to conspicuously disclose the fact that they are paid commissions for endorsements, and

* consistent with the FTC’s long-standing policy, advertising claims should be substantiated prior to public dissemination.

The FTC continues to make it absolutely clear that the days of the “Wild, Wild West” on the Internet, when it was open season on deceptive marketing practices, is clearly over for good.

This article is provided for educational and informative purposes only. This information does not constitute legal advice, and should not be construed as such.

Employment Legal Advice – FWC Rules No Redundancy Exists if Due Only to Salary Cut

A pay cut rejected by workers does not equate to a valid redundancy, the Fair Work Commission recently ruled.
In Mr Leon Mallard; Mr Steven Bolton; Mr Bernard Stonehouse; Mr Jason Wood v Parabellum International Pty Ltd T/A Parabellum International [2017] FWC 2531 (15 May 2017), the Fair Work Commission ruled that jobs of four workers, all of whom worked in emergency services, were not genuinely rendered rendundant on the basis of a pay cut.
The four emergency service workers were employed by Parabellum, which supplies the services to Chevron. Due to a reduction in contract prices by Chevron, Parabellum faced significant financial challenges and attempted to reduce costs specifically the salaries of the workforce.
Employment Legal Advice
Employment Legal Advice
Employment Legal Advice
In the termination letters, Parabellum informed the workers that their jobs were made redundant, yet previously offered the same job for a reduced salary. Seeing as the workers rejected the job offer with lower pay, their employment was terminated.
The Fair Work Commission reviewed Section 389 of the Fair Work Act, which defined what a genuine redundancy is. Deputy President Bull stated that a genuine redundancy is “not restricted to whether an employee’s job is no longer required”.
Parabellum urged the Commission to take a wide interpretation of the provision, alleging that the “person’s job” includes all contractual arrangements the employer and employee entered into by contract, which includes employee remuneration. Parabellum contended that when the pay in an employee’s job is varied, and the role is no longer required to be performed at the original salary, then the job is no longer required to be performed by anyone, regardless if the duties and responsibilities are the same as those in the original job.
The Fair Work Commission examined relevant case law, specifically the definition of Bray CJ in R v Industrial Commission of South Australia; Ex parte Adelaide Milk Supply Co-Op Ltd (1977) 16 SASR 6, where redundancy was defined as the situation when “the employer no longer desires to have it performed by anyone.” Reference was also made to the definition of the word “job”, and it was noted that many of the definitions focused on the tasks, work, results, of a job, and none of them referenced the importance of the salary as an essential part of the definition of a job.
The “person’s job to be performed” under the Fair Work Act are, per Deputy President Bull, “the functions, duties, and responsibilities associated with the job”. Remuneration then would be “the value placed on performing the job by the employer”, and variations in salaries “does not equate to the employer no longer requiring ‘the job’ to be performed”.
Therefore, a redundant job is one where the functions, duties, and responsibilities of the job are determined by the employer as superfluous to the current needs. However, as the Commission noted, when Parabellum hired others to do the job at the lower pay, and even offered the same job at the lower salary to the four workers, then the jobs were not genuinely redundant.
Lessons for Employees – Seek Proper Employment Legal Advice
Knowing your rights is key to understanding how employment law works for you. Employees should, as in this case, ascertain the nature of the proposed redundancy, and logically, if the same work is required by the employer, then it is not a real redundancy.

Commercial Law – Payment of Commission – Commercial Agency Regulations – Commercial Agent

The case of Heirs of Paul Chevassus-Marche v Groupe Danone and Others (Case C-19/07) [2008], involved a determination on community laws relating to commercial agents. According to Article 7(2) of Council Directive (EEC) 86/653 (On the coordination of the laws of the member states relating to self-employed commercial agents) (“the Directive”):

“A commercial agent shall also be entitled to commission on transactions concluded during the period covered by the agency contract either where he was entrusted with a specific geographical area or group of customers… And where the transaction has been entered into with a customer belonging to that area or group…”.

Article 10 provides as follows:

“(1) The commission shall become due as soon as and to the extent that one of the following circumstances obtains:

(a) the principal has executed the transaction; or the principal should, according to his agreement with the third party, have executed the transaction; or…

(c) the third party has executed the transaction.

(2) The commission shall become due at the latest when the third party has executed his part of the transaction or should have done so if the principal had executed his part of the transaction, as he should have”.

In 1987, the first respondent in this case concluded an exclusive mandate with C. The applicants in this case were heirs to C’s estate. The exclusive mandate concerned the first respondent’s representation of C’s subsidiaries, namely the second and third respondents, in their dealings with the importers, wholesalers and retailers of their goods in a specific geographical area.

Before the termination of that contract, C requested payment of various sums. Such sums included commissions relating to purchases made by two companies established in his geographical area.

The requests for payment were refused on the ground that the purchases concerned had been made from central buying officers or dealers in metropolitan France, an area outside the control of the respondents, and without any action on C’s part.

C then brought an action concerning payment of commission.

The national court made a reference to the Court of Justice of the European Communities. The question concerned a request for a preliminary ruling on the interpretation of Article 7(2) of the Directive. The question referred by the national court was as to whether Article 7(2) of the directive was to be interpreted as meaning that:

“A commercial agent entrusted with a specific geographical area was entitled to commission where a commercial transaction between a third party and a customer belonging to that area had been concluded without any action, either direct or indirect, on the principal’s part”.

It was held as follows:

The court was of the opinion that

· Article 7(2) of the Directive had to be interpreted as meaning that a commercial agent entrusted with a specific geographical area did not have the right to a commission for transactions concluded by customers belonging to that area without any action, direct or indirect, on the part of the principal.

· Article 7(2) merely refers to any transactions concluded during the period covered by the agency contract. There is no requirement that those transactions had to be entered into with a customer belonging to a geographical area or a group of customers for whom the commercial agent was responsible.

· There is not an express requirement for action on the part of the principal, and there is no requirement for action on the part of the commercial agent.

· However, it should be noted that when considering Article 7(2) in conjunction with Article 10, the commercial agent’s right to commission arises either:

§ when the principal has (or should have) carried out his obligation; or

§ when the third party to the agency contract, namely, the customer, has (or should have) carried out his obligation.

· The presence of the principal in the transactions for which the commercial agent could claim commission was indispensable. It therefore followed that the commercial agent could claim commission. The commercial agent’s claim for commission could be made on the basis of a transaction only to the extent that the principal had acted, directly or indirectly, in the conclusion of that transaction.

· As a result, this meant that it was for the national court to establish:

“Whether or not the evidence before it, assessed in the light of the aim of protecting the commercial agent and of the obligation on the principal to act dutifully and in good faith, allowed it to establish the existence of such action, be that action of a legal nature”.

© RT COOPERS, 2008. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.