By Attorney Edward Jesson
Last December, Congress passed the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2020—better referred to as the CASE Act. The CASE Act instructed the U.S. Copyright Office to create the Copyright Claims Board (“CCB”) as an efficient and user-friendly option to resolve copyright disputes where the amount disputed is less than $30,000.00.
Generally speaking, before the CASE Act, a copyright holder would have had to file a lawsuit in federal district court in order to enforce his or her copyright. The problem with this is that federal litigation is both expensive and time consuming. Many professional content creators and small businesses simply could not afford to enforce their rights under copyright law. Moreover, the people who were infringing on those rights knew that in all likelihood nothing would be done as a result of their copyright infringement.
The CCB will be permitted to hear three different types of claims: (1) Creators bringing infringement claims against people infringing on their copyrights; (2) Users can request that the CCB issue a statement ruling that their use of something does not infringe on the copyright owner’s rights; and (3) Users who receive a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DCMA”) takedown notice (similar to a cease and desist) are able to challenge that notice if they feel it is inaccurate.
It is important to note that, if the copyright holder prefers, they can still bring the claim in federal district court (assuming all other jurisdictional factors are satisfied) or move forwards with mediation and arbitration. Also, the Respondent can “opt-out” of the CCB proceeding, requiring the copyright holder to move forward with a federal lawsuit. However, there are several incentives for those named as respondents in CCB proceedings to opt-in to the proceeding. For example, on top of the cost of litigation in federal court, a successful plaintiff in a federal proceeding can be awarded up to $150,000.00 per work infringed whereas, in the CCB setting, that amount is limited to $15,000.00 per work infringed. The CASE Act also caps the damages that can be awarded by the CCB at $30,000.00 whereas, in federal court, those damages are unlimited.
Once the CCB is fully established (as of writing, it is currently still in the rule making stage), it will provide small businesses and individual creators a cost and time effective way of enforcing their copyrights under federal law. If you believe that your copyright has been infringed or that you have been wrongly accused of infringing on a copyright, please call the attorneys at Jesson & Rains for a consultation on the matter today.
By Attorney Kelly Jesson
We previously wrote about the importance of keeping good business records in order to avoid personal liability for business debts. However, did you know that certain business records can act as estate planning tools?
Your interest in your business, whether an LLC interest or corporate stock, is personal property that you can leave to a family member when you pass away. Unfortunately, it will go through probate unless you transfer it to a trust or enter into a transfer-upon-death (TOD) or joint with rights of survivorship agreement with your heir. The court collects a fee based on the amount of personal property that goes through probate, so if your business is worth some money, you want to avoid this.
What if you have a business partner? Perhaps you don’t want to do business with his/her spouse or child if your partner passes away? That’s where an operating agreement or a shareholder’s agreement comes in handy—in either of these agreements, the owners can agree that if one of them passes away, the other will buy out their interest. This is helpful for the survivor, who will remain in control of the company, and this is helpful for the deceased owner’s family, who will get a sum of money. These agreements (also called buy-sell agreements) are oftentimes funded with life insurance, to ensure that there is liquid cash available to pay the family.
In either of these agreements, the owners can promise the other not to transfer their business interest to third parties while they’re alive, which is also helpful for control purposes. The parties can agree to buy the other out when other “triggering events” happen, such as a partner’s bankruptcy or divorce. You don’t want one of these events to cause the forced sale of all or part of the business. It is important to put a plan in place to prepare for the unexpected (that frequently happen).
If you or someone you know needs assistance putting an operating agreement or shareholder agreement in place, or incorporating their business into their estate plan, please give Jesson & Rains a call! We offer flat fee packages for these formation documents. We also offer flat fee annual plans that include preparing annual meeting notices and minutes, filing annual reports with the Secretary of State’s office, and other legal services. More information can be found here.
By Meg Abney, Jesson & Rains PLLC Intern
If you are a professional, like a therapist, CPA, or attorney, you know exactly how your business should be run. But what happens when incapacity or death intervenes? Who will pick up where you left off?
A “Professional Will” can help provide guidance and critical instruction for what comes next.
While not a true legal document, like a Last Will and Testament, a “Professional Will” is essentially a roadmap explaining how to terminate or continue operations at your business or practice. Unlike your Last Will and Testament, which concerns distribution of assets, a Professional Will names a trusted individual or emergency response team to handle business affairs like:
Depending on your profession, you may be obligated to provide some form of advance planning for your business or practice. In North Carolina, psychologists, LPCs, NCCs, and LMFTs are required to make advance plans for the transfer of clients and to protect the confidentiality of records and data. A Professional Will satisfies this ethical responsibility.
Even if not specifically required in your industry, all professional business owners can benefit from a Professional Will. Professionals often have an obligation to protect the interests of their clients, and a Professional Will can help avoid a breach of duty. Individuals whose clients rely on continued care or service should strongly consider a Professional Will to help prevent disruptions.
Ideally, you should create your Professional Will alongside your personal will since your Last Will and Testament supersedes all other testamentary documents. Therefore, it is best to work with an experienced attorney to ensure that there are no discrepancies between these two documents.
Please call Jesson & Rains PLLC if you have questions about whether your business could benefit from a Professional Will or want to learn more about protecting your business’s future.
By Attorney Kelly Jesson
One of the main reasons why business owners formalize their businesses by forming an LLC or a corporation is so that their personal assets and liabilities can be separated from their business assets and liabilities. If the business is sued, the owner’s personal assets will be protected, and vice versa.
However, in certain circumstances, a court may disregard the corporate entity and hold its owners personally liable for business debts if the corporate entity, at the time, had no separate mind, will, or existence of its own. In making this determination, a court will consider, among other factors, whether a business has complied with “corporate formalities.” Corporate formalities include issuing and following bylaws, issuing shares, electing a board of directors, holding annual meetings of the board and shareholders, sending proper notice of these meetings, and keeping minutes and other corporate records. Owners should not intermingle business and personal assets or employees. Owners should not deal with third parties in such a way that the third party does not know they are doing business with an LLC or a corporation.
Some closely-held corporations may enter into a shareholder agreement in lieu of some of the above requirements. With an LLC, some of these corporate formalities do not have to be observed, since LLCs are subject to fewer formal statutory requirements than are corporations.
If the owner of a business complies with corporate formalities and consistently lists the business’s name on contracts and other documents, third parties will be considered to have voluntarily dealt with the business, and a court will be less inclined to hold the individual owner personally liable for the business’s debts. However, if corporate formalities are being ignored, even inadvertently, that could lead to a court ignoring the existence of the LLC or corporation, which may result in the business owner’s personal assets being at risk.
If you or someone you know needs assistance bringing a business in line with its required formalities, please give Jesson & Rains a call! We offer flat fee packages for these formation documents. We also offer flat fee annual plans that include preparing annual meeting notices and minutes, filing annual reports with the Secretary of State’s office, and other legal services. More information can be found here. We work with our clients to reduce the likelihood that they will ever be responsible for business liabilities.
By Associate Attorney Danielle Nodar
May is Small Business Month in Charlotte! As a small business, safeguarding the confidential information that makes you stand out from the competition is important to the long-term success of the business. Non-compete agreements are common tools used by businesses to help protect this kind of confidential and proprietary business information and allow for business to hire talented employees without worrying that the employee will take your idea and implement it elsewhere. These agreements generally restrict an employee from working for a competitor until a certain period passes and protect confidential information from being used by an ex-employee. However, with companies transitioning to a remote working environment and widespread unemployment, more businesses and lawmakers are re-evaluating the scope and legality of non-compete provisions.
Non-compete agreements are controlled by state law, meaning that each state has unique provisions for what is permissible in these agreements. In North Carolina, a non-compete agreement must meet the following requirements:
With the changes in the employment landscape in the last year, there has been a growing movement to limit or even abolish the use of non-compete agreements. As more workers are forced to find new jobs, have moved to remote working environments, or move to a state outside of their employer’s home base, the question of how and when to enforce non-competes has been more present with business owners and lawmakers. As non-competes are governed by state law, it also makes it difficult for employers with employees residing in multiple states to be able to maintain enforceable agreements without careful planning. For example, some states have limited noncompete agreements to apply only to employees making over $100,000 a year, or to be valid only when a business interest is being sold.
There is also a push for the federal government to step in and put some overarching limitations on non-compete agreements that limit these agreements in cases where a narrow group of defined trade secrets are trying to be protected by a business. While it is too soon to tell if federal laws impacting non-compete provisions are on the horizon, it is important for employers to be mindful of the importance of crafting a narrowly tailored non-compete provision that works to protect their business while still allowing for fair treatment of former employees. Exploring other legal options that could be used to protect confidential business information is also crucial. If you have questions about how to best protect your business’ proprietary and confidential information, please call Jesson & Rains!
By Associate Attorney Danielle Nodar
There are numerous to-do items and deadlines business owners must keep up with in order to successfully run a business. However, many business owners forget that they must file an Annual Report with the North Carolina Secretary of State to keep their business in active and good standing with the state.
The Annual Report is used to keep the business records up to date with the Secretary of State. On the Annual Report, you will provide basic information about your business, such as the name and address of the registered agent, the principal address of the business, and the names and signatures of company officials. Most businesses formalized with the Secretary of State’s Office need to file an Annual Report, such as Business Corporations, Limited Liability Companies (LLC), Limited Liability Partnerships (LLP), and Limited Liability Limited Partnerships (LLLP). Limited Partnerships, Professional Corporations (PCs), and Professional Limited Liability Companies (PLLC’s) do not have to file an Annual Report. There is also a filing fee due with the Annual Report. For LLC’s and partnerships, the fee is $200 and for corporations, the fee is $25.
The due date for your business’s annual report depends upon the type of business, but April 15th is the deadline for most businesses. For corporations and partnerships (LLP and LLLP), the annual report is due to the Secretary of State’s Office the 15th day of the fourth month following the entity’s fiscal year’s end. For example, if your fiscal year ends on December 31, your annual report for that year is due on April 15th . All LLC’s must file the Annual Reports on April 15 each year after the date of creation.
Jesson & Rains is now offering a yearly plan for businesses that includes serving as our client’s registered agent and filing their annual report, among other things. This plan helps to ensure your privacy (if your business is ever sued, the lawsuit will be delivered to our office’s address); you will be less likely to fall victim to a scam (we will sort through and destroy junk mail); you will be more organized and have less paper (we will scan and forward your mail immediately to your attention after sorting); and we will ensure that corporate records and Secretary of State records are kept up to date.
We’re also offering an upgraded yearly plan that includes unlimited access to attorneys throughout the year. No more billing for .1 emails or .2 telephone calls. We want to encourage people to contact us anytime they need us instead of being afraid to get a bill from us.
The consequence for not filing an Annual Report and/or paying the fee is that the Secretary of State can administratively dissolve your business. This means that you will lose the liability protection you enjoy by being a formal business, and a creditor can come after your personal assets. If you have questions about filing your Annual Report or want to learn more about the new business services offered by our firm, please reach out to Jesson & Rains!
Subscribe to our newsletter.