The bitter family feud over the Samsung inheritance fortune that has been brewing in South Korea for the last several months should be a stinging reminder of how important it is for individuals to have end-of-life and estate-planning documents in place before death and before they grow too old or ill to do so.
Protecting Loved Ones from Tough Decisions. Planning for one’s own death is not easy. Individuals should look past the macabre elements of estate-planning, not only because death is an inevitable reality, but because it is absolutely required for the protection of loved ones. A death without a thoughtfully-prepared and frequently-revisited estate plan could leave loved ones guessing about how to handle one’s end-of-life issues, such as resuscitation and others raised by advanced health-care directives. Loved ones can be left with lasting trauma when forced to make life-altering decisions for their parents or relatives, assuming they can even reach an agreement. Estate-planning documents can provide necessary instruction and relieve loved ones from the burden of having to guess how to handle tough issues.
Problems with “DIY” Wills. For the past few years, I have been involved in a number of lawsuits involving adult children and relatives in complex families, in which a step-parent is left with virtually all of the assets and control of the family finances after the passing of the biological parent. This is a problem that can be exacerbated by overly simplistic wills. Basic or “do it yourself” wills often do not consider the problems that exist when there are biological children of now-divorced spouses and “new-family” children produced by re-married spouses. On occasions, relationships between “first-family” children and a step-parent are sour at best, and when a step-parent is left in total control of the family’s finances simply because of an overly-simplistic will, there is every risk that the “first-family” children and “new-family” children are not dealt with equally. The “first-family” child often feels hurt by the biological parent’s perceived thoughtlessness, angry at the step-parent, and resentful of step-siblings. Most of the times, the family relationships are never the same. A current and thoughtfully-prepared will on the part of the deceased could have wholly avoided these unfortunate events.
What’s the Hurry? Most Americans mistakenly believe they are too young to be worrying about end-of-life and estate-planning. This is terribly naïve. Accidents happen, children are born in and out of marriages, divorces result, and family relationships change over time. If an individual is involved in an accident that leaves him or her mentally impaired, it is usually too late. The law requires individuals be fully competent and capable of understanding the nature of his/her actions in taking estate-planning steps – otherwise, the documents could be deemed ineffective and void.
Who Should Be Planning? Any person who has a loved one needs to consider end-of-life and estate-planning issues. This includes not only the preparation of a will providing instructions on the distribution of one’s property, but also self-care instructions, such as advanced health care directives, living wills, and other documents. If substantial assets are involved, individuals should consider how best to place their assets in the hands of those to whom they wish those assets to be given. Sometimes, individuals simply want loved ones to “inherit” their belongings outright – but other times, they would prefer to leave gifts that help pay for college costs, medical expenses, a downpayment on their child’s future house, or wedding expenses – events that could happen many years after the individual’s death. There are countless ways of estate-planning in a manner that comports with one’s wishes.
Avoidance Increases the Risks. Dealing with aging family members and one’s own impending mortality is not easy – it is arguably the toughest issue that individuals face in life. But ignoring the issues simply because they are unpleasant to consider is dangerous – accidents can happen at any time and being left deceased or too impaired to prepare an estate plan can have lasting, irrevocable, and entirely-avoidable consequences for loved ones. It doesn’t take the $613 million at issue in the Samsung family lawsuit for bitter disputes to arise between family members.
A Sears’ janitor has been arrested for installing up to 60 hidden cameras in womens’ restrooms and fitting rooms.
Three female employees who learned about the peeping-tom have hired lawyers and are attempting to sue Sears for allegedly “doing nothing” about the situation.
Obviously, videotaping others undressing and using the bathroom is illegal. But the question is whether Sears is on the hook for the illegal actions of its janitor. Usually, companies are not responsible for the criminal actions of their employees unless the criminal actions were taken as part of the employee’s job duties, or that the actions furthered the company’s business.
However, Sears could be sued for failing to supervise the janitor, negligently hiring the janitor, if the janitor had any kind of history of being a peeping-tom that a background-check would have revealed, or failing to fire him, if Sears knew about the filming but did nothing. Time will tell.
There is a new version of Facebook’s Terms of Service. Like a governmental agency, they are using a “open comment period,” to allow users to comment on the proposed changes. Comments are due by April 27, 2012.
Tupac Rising: Who Owns the Intellectual Property Rights to a Dead Musician’s Ghost and Hologram Performance?
The hologram performance of deceased 90s rapper Tupac Shakur at the Coachella music festival last weekend dropped jaws, but also raised the eyebrows of many in the industry, spurring a hot debate about the moral, legal, and intellectual property issues involved with bringing a dead musician back to life for a “digital” performance. In the few days that have passed since then, sparks of discussion have arisen over the possibility of bringing back to stage some the nation’s most famous long-departed musicians – Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Freddie Mercury, John Lennon, Jerry Garcia, Joey Ramone, and many others.
Shakur’s hologram performance was commissioned by his former colleague Andre (Dr. Dre) Young, from digital producer Digital Domain Media Group (made famous through its work on the virtual version of Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) and San Diego-based AV Concepts. It was the first-ever live performance of a deceased entertainer.
According to reports, the hologram was stunningly realistic, down to the details of Shakur’s movements, skin-art, boots, clothing, and other details. In fact, the performance created such a buzz that it has been announced the hologram of Virtual Tupac will now be going on tour.
The most dazzling element of Shakur’s post-mortem performance was that it was not borrowed from footage of Shakur filmed during his life, but rather, entirely fabricated and produced specifically for the Coachella music festival. Virtual Tupac performed in front of the audience, addressed them, danced, and pranced around like a living ghost, interacting with the crowd as well as other entertainers. At the beginning of the performance, Virtual Tupac yelled, “What the f— is up Coachella?” even though Coachella was not even founded until 3 years after his death. In the wake of the performance, some commentators expressed uneasiness that words and actions never said or taken by Shakur could be scripted by others and put into the deceased entertainer’s mouth.
Legally, the digital resurrection of a deceased entertainer brings up a plethora of thorny issues, including the appropriation of the entertainer’s publicity, intellectual property rights to the digital software/video that created the performance, rights to the performance itself, and rights to other works depicting the performance, including footage, video clips, sound clips, and other forms of social media – in addition to the huge issue over royalties and who is entitled to them. In this case, it appears that Afeni Shakur, Shakur’s mother and the legal representative for Shakur’s estate approved (and was in fact “thrilled with“) the performance of her dead son, so concerns about the unauthorized uses of Shakur’s image and likeness may be moot. It is unclear who the copyrightholder of the Shakur performance is. Now-defunct Death Row Records, one of Shakur’s former record companies, is already complaining that Shakur’s performance was not sufficiently attributed to Death Row.
But the digital performance also raises significant issues for living entertainers. When Shakur passed away in 1996, the digital revolution had just begun. There would have been no way for Shakur to have known that 15 years later, in 2012, his “ghost” would be brought back to life for a live digital performance. Frequently, entertainers, who already have very little leverage when negotiating with big record companies, are asked to sign broad assignment of their rights. The broad release of rights allows record companies and their representatives to use, re-use, and manipulate nearly every conceivable likeness, depiction, and work of the artist, in all venues and channels, irrevocably, in perpetuity, and exclusively. Many artists and entertainers are often unaware of how much of their rights they assign over to record companies when they sign a deal.
Should artists and talent be made aware that the release of their rights could extend to new mediums of expression that do not exist today, but could be made possible through advances in technology? Certainly, it’s very possible that artists would find the new forms of expression unsavory. For example, would a 55-year old Justin Bieber be comfortable with a 15-year old digital hologram of himself waking young schoolgirls from sleep each morning and kissing them goodnight?
Then there is the most important issue – the integrity of the deceased artist himself. Not all deceased musicians end up with responsible representatives managing their affairs in the afterlife. If it becomes profitable for the legal representative of a deceased entertainer to approve new projects involving the entertainer, there could be virtual performances and other activities attributed to the entertainer that the enterainer may never have agreed to in his or her lifetime. Imagine Johnny Cash promoting a commercial for Starbucks. Who should be charged with maintaining the integrity of a deceased entertainer’s unspoken wishes? Unfortunately, because technological growth so exceedingly outpaces legal rules, there are no easy answers to these questions.
While it is true that individuals can leave instructions in their wills and other estate planning documents, the representatives entrusted with carrying out those wishes are sued all the time for failing to uphold them. But unless someone takes that legal representative to court for failing to honor the deceased’s wishes, there is no one to stop them for doing something the deceased would not have agreed to.
Further, although the law provides for the protection of unborn voices by permitting for the appointment of guardians who must act in the best interests of unborn children, the dead are sadly left on their own. Unfortunately, performing in front of a packed crowed at Coachella does not sound like resting in peace.
Nice to know what U.S. taxpayers are really paying for. A full dozen Secret Service agents were relieved of their duties after it was revealed that they were canoodling with Colombian prostitutes in Cartegena, Colombia, on the night before the Summit of the Americas international event. Apparently one of them refused to pay for the services of the prostitute, who then complained to the Colombian police.
It may sound like breaking news, but it is not. The sad reality is that governmental employees, starting from the bottom-rung and up, consistently engage in bad behavior. Last month, it was revealed that state governmental offices were prodding into employees’ Facebook accounts by asking for their usernames and passwords, to see first-hand what kind of potentially objectionable” content could be found on their personal and private accounts. Quite ironic given the long history of fraudulent, offensive, or illegal behavior on the part of high-ranking governmental figures at the top of the totem pole.
Consider these examples:
- General Services Administration Martha Johnson, who fired two GSA officers and quit herself after over $800,000 was spent in Las Vegas on a 4-day training conference for GSA employees;
- Ultra-religious conservative John Ensign (R-NV), who quit last year before the Senate Ethics Committee began examining fiscal violations in connection with his extramarital affairs;
- Tom DeLay (R-TX), convicted in 2010 of money laundering;
- Rick Renzi (R-AZ), prosecuted for 35 charges of fraud, conspiracy and money-laundering.
- Spencer Backus (R-AL), accused of insider-trading to avoid financial losses after being given a Congressional report on the impending melt-down of the American economy;
- David Rivera (R-FL), under investigation by the FBI, IRS, and other state organizations for money-laundering, public-corruption, and tax-evasion
Although these are just a couple of examples from recent years, the larger list of scandals involving governmental leaders and employees is stunning (as well as the two presidencies under which the greatest number were apparently reported.) The state/local list is longer and just as lurid.
Secret Service agents are certaintly entitled to blow off steam, just like every other employee. But this isn’t the first time they or other federal security agents have misbehaved. In November of 2011, a federal agent providing security shot an unarmed man in a Honolulu McDonald’s and was charged with second degree murder. In August, a Secret Secret Service agent was apparently driving drunk in Iowa and arrested. Three newsworthy reports in the past six months. The Secret Service (organized under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) requested $1.9 million in appropriations from the federal budget for 2012, nearly $1.7 million of which is intended to pay for salaries. If the majority of Secret Service funds end up as employee wages, the agents themselves are the agency’s most important asset, and must perform accordingly.
The good news is that the Obama administration, upon becoming aware of the misconduct, relieved the agents of their duties immediately instead of covering up the story or brushing it away under the guise of a long drawn-out “investigation” ultimately leading to nowhere. But where there is smoke, there is usually fire. A deeper clean-up may be in order.
There won’t be much of a chance of smooth taste here. Heineken USA has ordered a recall of several brands of its beer products, including Dos Equis, Carta Blanca, Indio, Beers of Mexico, and Best of Mexico varieties. Apparently, there were some defects in the glass-manufacturing process (produced by a third party supplier) and detected through quality control inspections. U.S. Food Safety reports that there may be grains or particles of glass in the liquid that separated from the lip of the bottle.
The U.S. Dep’t of Justice filed a lawsuit today accusing Apple and other e-book publishers of colluding to price-fix the cost of e-books, in violation of federal antitrust laws. The antitrust suit was filed against Apple, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Penguin, MacMillan, and Simon & Schuster. Three of the publishers have agreed to a settlement, while the Justice Department will continue to litigate against Apple and the two publishers Macmillan, and Penguin.
The Justice Department accuses the publishers of conspiring to limit e-book price competition, increasing Amazon’s e-book retail prices and causing “consumers to pay tens of millions of dollars more for e-books than they otherwise would have paid.” The publishers settling with the DOJ have essentially agreed to pay more than $51 million back, to compensate consumers who bought price-fixed e-books.
What is unusual about this story is not the increasingly commonplace efforts by blue-chip corporations to swindle average consumers, but how the DOJ appears to be handling the allegations. The civil antitrust lawsuit is seeking only the repayment of money, which seems to be a departure from prior antitrust price-fixing lawsuits by federal and state authorities, which have on numerous occasions resulted in the perpetrators getting arrested or going to prison. Perhaps, a pound of cash truly is more valuable than a pound of flesh.
Last week, the UK began a probe of Apple in connection with Apple’s advertising campaign that promised iPad 4 users 4G speeds. Apparently, 4G is not even available in the UK.
Around the same time, Sprint revealed that there is only a single U.S. town, Kankakee, Illinois, that receives 4G Speed signals. Sprint said it will offer 4G LTE service by June in Kansas City, Baltimore, Dallas, Atlanta, and Houston.
Sprint’s admission begs the question: why would anybody pay more to buy 4G phones if 4G service from Sprint isn’t actually available?
“Cramming,” for those who may not know, is the practice adopted by cell phone and telephone companies that permits third-parties to access customer billing accounts and place charges on them. Sometimes, those charges are not authorized by the customer, leading to infuriated customers who have to spend hours on the phone with the telephone/cell phone providers to get the charges removed.
In the FCC’s open-meeting agenda last week, Senator Charles Schumer (D) called for the FCC to ban cramming altogether. Since cellphone/telephone companies of course make a lot of money through cramming, especially when customer bills are “auto-paid” and not closely scrutinized, some degree of campaign contributions resistance from both vendors and cell phone conglomerates should be expected.