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The only “Blurred Line” Robin Thicke is dealing with right now is the one between paying homage to another artist’s creation and ripping it off.

The question of when, exactly, a certain piece of art goes from evoking another to infringing on the earlier piece’s copyright is a question that all artists have to deal with at some point in their careers and it’s never easy to answer.

Thicke’s hit single, “Blurred Lines,” which was released in 2013 and named Song of the Summer, has earned profits of more than $16 million for the singer/songwriter and his co-songwriter, Pharrell Williams.

But according to Marvin Gaye’s family, the hit song sounded too much like Gaye’s own hit, “Got to Give It Up,” to be anything other than outright plagiarism. Frankie and Nona Gaye, two of Marvin Gaye’s children, sued Thicke and Williams for copyright infringement in 2013 when “Blurred Lines” was still ranked Number 1. Continue reading

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Business relationships are often just as complicated as personal relationships, and the longer the relationship, the messier the breakup can be. In a perfect world, people would be able to accept that things change and allow both their loved ones and their coworkers to move on when the time comes. Unfortunately, the pain and sense of betrayal felt by those left behind often makes them do inadvisable things.

One person who allegedly couldn’t let it go was Garrett Patten, the owner of Patten Industries, a Caterpillar heavy equipment dealer located in DuPage County of Illinois. According to a recent defamation lawsuit filed against both Patten Industries and its owner, Garrett Patten allegedly retaliated by seeking to destroy a former employee’s reputation after he left the company to work for a competitor.

Michael Jaworski started working for Patten Industries in 2001 and worked his way up to sales manager. In 2013 he allegedly notified his superiors that he had received a job offer from a competitor, but had turned it down, even though he was not entirely happy working for Patten Industries. According to Jaworski’s lawsuit Garrett Patten allegedly threatened Jaworski, comparing it to an ugly divorce if Jaworski ever did quit. Continue reading

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Class action and collective action lawsuits are both important tools for plaintiffs with common complaints against the same defendant. Both types of lawsuits allow plaintiffs to do essentially the same thing in terms of the rights they can win for plaintiffs, but with one distinct difference.

In class actions, all the potential plaintiffs that can be identified are automatically included in the class unless they opt out. By contrast, collective actions require potential class members to submit a valid claim in order for them to be included in the lawsuit. Each type of lawsuit has its own procedural rules but, according to the Eleventh Circuit Court, the filing of one type of lawsuit does not invalidate a lawsuit of the other kind, even if both were filed by the same plaintiffs.

Four sheriff’s deputies in Lee County, Florida filed a collective action against their sheriff, Michael Scott, for allegedly requiring them to work overtime without properly compensating them for the extra hours they worked. The collective action alleges Scott violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by refusing to pay the proper overtime compensation of one and one-half times their normal hourly rate when they worked more than 40 hours a week. Continue reading

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We live in a world in which everyone constantly feels like they don’t have enough time, which is why most of us hate to feel like anyone is wasting our time. That feeling only gets worse when we don’t have any control over it, such as when our employer keeps us waiting.

According to a recent wage and hour lawsuit filed against Labor Ready, a temp agency, the company allegedly kept its temporary workers waiting to receive assignments without paying them for the time they spent waiting. The company also allegedly refused to pay them for the time they spent traveling to their assignments and also allegedly charged them a fee to cash their paychecks.

Most workers don’t think of the time they spend traveling to and from work as time they should be paid for, but there are certain instances in which that time is compensable. For those who work at the same location every day and simply commute between home and work, no payment for that time is required. On the other hand, some workers who are required to travel between different work sites in the course of a day should be paid for the time they spend traveling between sites.

The same goes for those who need to check in at one location before traveling to another site to perform their actual tasks for the day. This can sometimes be the case for those working for temp agencies when they’re technically employed by the temp agency, but the work they’re actually doing is for the agency’s client, usually at a separate location. Continue reading

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The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) defines overtime as any time spent working after eight hours a day or forty hours a week. It also requires employers to pay their workers one and one-half times their normal hourly rate for all the overtime they spend working. Some employers maintain agreements with their workers in which, instead of additional wages, the workers are compensated in the form of extra paid time off, which is not always legal.

Most employers are required to compensate their workers for overtime by paying them the premium overtime rate, but there are exceptions to that rule. For example, government employees can legally receive overtime compensation in the form of one and one-half hours of paid time off for every hour of overtime they work. But there is a limit of a total of 480 overtime hours that are eligible for this method of compensation, and once that limit has been reached, the employees must be compensated in the form of additional wages.

According to an investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the Puerto Rico Police Department was using paid time off to compensate police officers for the overtime they worked, but the department did not pay overtime wages when officers worked more than 480 hours of overtime.

The DOL’s investigation further found the police department had not compensated former police officers for the compensatory time they had built up by the time their employment was terminated. They also did not pay canine officers for the time they spent taking care of dogs for the police department, and did not pay academy cadets the proper compensation for the overtime hours they worked performing activities that were required by the department. Continue reading

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Death is a part of life and that’s even more true in certain places of our communities, such as hospitals and nursing homes. It’s expected that most people will die there or shortly after their stay, but there are still plenty of deaths happening in these places that are preventable.

Liability insurance for the medical industry is much higher than other industries because they need to protect themselves from angry family members looking for someone to blame for their loss. Sometimes they’re just lashing out, but all too frequently, the families have a legitimate complaint and now many of them are claiming that nursing homes have been working to keep allegations against them out of the public eye.

Over the past decade or so, an increasing number of businesses, including nursing homes, have been including arbitration agreements in both their employment and service contracts. The result is that it has become nearly impossible for consumers to do anything without signing away their right to take the company to court in the event of a legal dispute.

Arbitration was created as a way for businesses to settle disputes between themselves without cluttering the courts with their lawsuits. It is a private process that is much less formal, and often less neutral, than our current legal system. For example, is common for negotiations to take place in the offices of an attorney representing one of the parties. Continue reading

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It’s often more cost effective for companies to hire independent contractors to perform certain jobs, rather than hiring employees. Even for part-time employees, companies are responsible for paying things like employment taxes and Social Security, none of which they have to worry about with independent contractors. There are benefits to working as a true independent contractor, but because independent contractors are not protected by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), workers have to meet very specific requirements in order to legally be considered independent contractors.

Under the FLSA, workers classified as independent contractors must be able to negotiate their own rates, have control over their own schedule, the environment they work in, and have a certain level of discretion as to how they perform their duties, among other things. Any and all workers who do not meet all of the necessary qualifications for independent contractors must be classified and compensated as employees, including benefits (such as health insurance) for full-time employees.

Many employers have been illegally classifying drivers as independent contractors and FedEx is just one of several companies to have recently faced multiple class action wage and hour lawsuits from drivers alleging they should have been classified as employees.

Current and former FedEx drivers from approximately 40 different states have been filing wage and hour lawsuits against the giant shipping company for more than ten years now. Many of those lawsuits were consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL) and then certified as class actions so that drivers from all across the country could combine their claims against FedEx. Continue reading

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Whether an airline employee can avail himself of state whistleblower protections currently depends on which federal circuit he finds himself in. He should hope not to be in the Eighth Circuit, which continues to find state whistleblower laws preempted by the federal Airline Deregulation Act (ADA), even where the employee reports serious safety violations (John A. Watson v. Air Methods Corp., No. 15-1900 (8th Cir. 2016)).

John W. was a flight paramedic for Air Methods Corp., which transports and provides in-flight medical care for patients being airlifted to hospitals. Air Methods is an “air carrier” for purposes of federal aviation regulations. John allegedly witnessed numerous federal safety violations by the flight crew, which he reported to Air Methods’ corporate office. After the company terminated his employment, he sued Air Methods in Missouri state court for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, claiming he was fired for reporting illegal activity to his superiors.

Air Methods removed the case to federal court, then sought dismissal based on the Eighth Circuit’s holding in Botz v. Omni Air International, 286 F.3d 488 (8th Cir. 2002). In Botz, the appeals court ruled the ADA preempted a state wrongful discharge claim in a case where a flight attendant had refused to work a round-trip international flight that exceeded maximum crew working hours. The district court granted Air Methods’ motion and John appealed.

The crux of the Botz ruling was ADA’s express preemption clause, which supersedes state laws and regulations “related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier.” Quoting the U.S. Supreme Court in Morales v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 504 U.S. 374 (1992), the court in the instant case wrote: “This section has a ‘broad preemptive purpose,’ precluding state laws ‘specifically addressed to the airline industry’ and generally applicable laws that indirectly relate to air carriers’ rates, routes, or services.” Continue reading

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Value stores like Meijer and T.J. Maxx, which have built a reputation for providing discounted items, allegedly don’t always use the best business practices for attaining those items. Many of them are sourced from outside the U.S., where labor is cheap, and allegedly sometimes they resort to knockoffs, which are usually cheaper versions of a patented and/or well-known design.

When Design Ideas, a design firm based in Springfield, IL, refused to lower its price on its Sparrow Clips, the retailers threatened to purchase the clips from another vendor. Design Ideas pointed out that it owned the Sparrow Clips’s exclusive copyright, which it had purchased from Pititas Waiwiriya, the Thai designer who allegedly invented the clothespins that come in multiple colors and are topped with the outline of a small bird.

After Design Ideas refused to lower their price, Meijer allegedly started buying “Canary Clips,” a knockoff produced by a company called Whitmor. Whitmor is another vendor that provides products to large retailers across the country, including T.J. Maxx and Meijer.

After someone who worked for Design Ideas allegedly saw the knockoffs being sold at a T.J. Maxx and a Meijer in Springfield, Design Ideas responded by filing a copyright lawsuit against its former customers.

In the claim they filed, Design Ideas included an email that allegedly showed Whitmor asking a Chinese manufacturer how much it would cost them to produce a knockoff of the Sparrow Clips. In that same email, Whitmor also allegedly asked the knockoff manufacturer to research the original mold and discover whether or not it was protected by a patent. Whitmor denies having ever sent such an email. Continue reading

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Most people who are active on the internet are accustomed to seeing many different memes on a daily basis. People take famous photos or freeze frames from movies, attach their own funny and/or enlightening quotes to them and post them on the internet. Some of these memes go viral and get seen by millions of people, but few people ever stop to think about who owns these memes.

In the United States, memes are most often generated and distributed without much, if any, thought to copyright issues, but it’s a slightly different story in Germany. Recently Get Digital, a German company, received a notification that it owed Getty Images licensing fees for a penguin meme that appeared on one of its blogs.

Getty Images owns the rights to National Geographic‘s photos and the meme on Get Digital’s blog allegedly originated from a photo taken by a National Geographic staff photographer. Get Digital claims the amount Getty Images demanded was double what would be considered a normal licensing fee, but the company paid up anyway. It wasn’t until Getty Images allegedly required confidentiality regarding the transaction that Get Digital decided it had had enough. Continue reading