Sunday, 22 April 2012

Time to learn computing

So as our technology practice grows, we find that we are being forced to brush up (or in my case, just acquire some!) knowledge on the concept of  'cloud computing'. Now if you're anything like me, i.e. not a technophobe but not exactly on the cutting edge of every new technological development, then the term 'cloud computing' might be a bit hazy for you. One of my colleagues who is very 'techy' - although I doubt he would appreciate that tag! - explained the concept in very simple terms for me.

Basically he said to imagine 'the cloud' as a virtual filing cabinet - so basically, you can store music/documents etc in the cloud, instead of having, say, a physical hard drive to back them up on. There are some free cloud providers or you can pay for them.The main benefit is, though that it means your files are accessible anywhere - it means you don't have to be on your home PC, for example, to access that Word document you were working on last night. And so on and so forth.

Not surprisingly, however, with this major new concept comes a whole host of legal issues, everything from data protection and data security, to environmental concerns - indeed only this weekend Greenpeace have spoken out about concerns that big companies who provide cloud services, are using too much coal as opposed to 'cleaner' sources.

One of the issues of most interest to me in terms of the intellectual property research I often do, is the implications for copyright infringement - who is responsible for illegal material stored within the cloud - is it the provider? Indeed this is something that is still under debate in terms of who is responsible for preventing illegal material being downloaded - is it the internet service provider? There's also issues surrounding the processing of personal data. With all of these rapidly changing technologies comes new and unexplored legal issues.

I don't think this is an area that I will ever become a specialist in, but it certainly looks like there is no getting away from the increasing number of questions we are receiving in the law library with respect of this topic - therefore I think it may be  a case of, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em....

Researching non-profit US organisations...

If we law librarians are totally honest, I am sure that many of us can empathise with that sinking feeling you get when certain names appear on your phone screen when it rings...I can't deny that I have a few fee-earners who, although are perfectly nice people, still make my heart sink whenever they appear at my desk/ring me up/appear in my inbox. This is because without fail they are going to ask me to carry out a piece of research which a) I have never had to do anything like before and which b) even none of my most experienced colleagues have had to carry out. Very often there is also c) the question is related in some way to US law, which means even more trouble, as a lack of resources comes into play, and so favours with our US law librarian counterparts need to be called in...

In case you couldn't tell already, a), b) and c) all happened to me this past week, in the shape of a query about finding out more information about a particular foundation based in the US - specifically, information about its charitable status, and if available, any financials.

After my initial few minutes of feeling frozen with fear as to how I was going to go about this, I started with the obvious - finding out if they had a company website so that in the first instance, I could just get it clear in my head exactly what they are and what they do. Some of this information formed the preliminaries of my report.

My manager then suggested that I contact one of our US colleagues in order to get a bit more information on where we should be looking. They suggested the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website as there you can search for tax-exempt organisations:,,id=249767,00.html,,id=249767,00.html

Unfortunately the company I was looking for did not appear on this section of the website, which was disappointing, as it seemed they do not have a tax exempt status, which surprised us.

I was also advised by the US to search the New York Attorney General's Charities database, but again there was no evidence of them having a listing here. My US colleague again suggested that I check this website, as she thought that they would have had to file something here.

In the end, the research is non-conclusive. I am waiting to hear if the fee-earner wants me to try contacting the IRS directly to try and obtain more information. I was also able to look at the skills of some of our US attorneys to see if any have experience of non-profit organisations, and suggested perhaps contacting one of them too.

I have to admit, I find this kind of conclusion totally unsatisfactory! It's very frustrating when you can't find a definitive answer to something, but unfortunately in the law library, it's very often the case that there IS no definitive answer out there, but rather, a likely answer must be pieced together from a number of different resources/materials etc.

Welcome to the joys of the corporate law library....

Image courtesy of: Salvatore Vuono /

Saturday, 7 April 2012

A little bit about product placement....

So for one (intellectual property) reason or another it became necessary in the law library this past week to take a crash course in product placement. Here's a little summary of what we learned...

- Product placement is simply where a brand owner will pay to have their product featured in a TV show or film, for example. It's been allowed in the USA for some time but was only made legal in the UK in Feb 2011. Prior to this advertising could only take place in the ad breaks.

- There are quite a few famous instances of product placement in the US - famous because they have been criticised for being a bit OTT. You might already know some of them - the dating website 'Plenty of Fish' features prominently in music videos by both Lady Gaga and Britney Spears, while Virgin Airlines and other products received substantial coverage in several episodes of popular sitcome 'Friends'.

- In the UK, product placement cannot take place in news or children's TV shows, nor can products such as cigarettes, high fat foods or baby milk be used in placement deals. There are other prohibited items too, for exmaple things that cannot be advertised in the UK eg. guns.

- One of the reasons that product placement often attracts such criticism is because there are specific Ofcom guidelines that state that product placement must not be overly prominent; in other words, you shouldn't be able to take one look at a scene and realise that product placement is occurring! This is often one of the reasons why it attracts so much controversy.

- In the UK, if a show features product placement, a logo must be shown at the start of the programme to inform viewers this is going to happen.

The one major thing that stood out to me was that product placement is still very much in it infancy in the UK, whereas in the US it has been going on for years. In the last year there have only been about 20 product placements on UK TV! There has been suggestions that Ofcom guidelines are too restrictive, but there are no plans to change them going forward. It will be interesting to see how this develops. Let's hope that the critics aren't proved correct and UK television becomes chock-a-block with brand promotion!

Articles of interest:

What Hinders UK Product Placement Growth: Rules, 'Free Prop'-agenda
Feb 29 2012

Will product placement change TV?
Feb 16 2011

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