NFTs: The Harbinger of Property Rights in the Metaverse?

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Non-fungible tokens (“NFTs”) continue to dominate the crypto-zeitgeist. It is beyond dispute that they are currently a major economic and cultural force. In 2021, sales surged to approximately $25 billion. They have been featured in high profile television commercials during the Olympics and the Super Bowl. And Nike recently purchased the NFT developer RTFKT Studios, signaling its intention to be a dominant provider of digital fashion in the metaverse.

Despite all this, it remains unclear what legal rights are conveyed with the purchase of an NFT. The academic consensus is that, absent a “smart contract” that expressly includes intellectual property (“IP”) rights, purchasing an NFT does not convey any copyrights or trademark rights. Yet, the creation of an NFT (called “minting”) is almost certainly limited by recognized IP and other legal principles. These issues have begun to percolate up through the courts.

This article explores lingering, undefined NFT questions through the lens of several pending lawsuits. While many articles just describe the facts of each case, this article focuses on the most interesting legal arguments that each makes. It also identifies how decisions by these courts may form the basis of property rights within the metaverse. And ultimately, it questions whether the emergence of such lawsuits undermines blockchain as a decentralized institution.

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NFT Infringement: No Free Taking or New Fair Transformations?

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Earlier this month sports apparel giant Nike sued StockX LLC, a Michigan-based sneaker and streetwear resale marketplace, for offering to its customers non-fungible tokens (NFTs) depicting Nike’s sneakers.  The claims asserted in the February 3 complaint filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York include trademark infringement, trademark dilution and unfair competition, all stemming from inclusion of Nike’s trademarks (e.g. Nike, Air Jordan, Jumpman, the “Swoosh” Design) in the shoe images depicted in the NFTs provided by StockX.

This is not the first case of its kind.  In January, Hermes sued a digital artist for unauthorized reproductions of its well-known Birkin bag in a line of NFTs released by the artist called “Metabirkins.”  And before that, in November 2021, Miramax – the studio that produced the 1994 cult movie classic Pulp Fiction filed suit to enjoin Quentin Tarantino from releasing NFTs based off of his original handwritten script of the movie, including scenes from an early script that were cut from the final version.

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Will New FTC Endorsement Guidelines Make A #Hashtag of Influencer Advertising?

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In a world where social media influencers can wield more power over consumers than network media buys, the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Endorsement Guides felt increasingly like a relic from an earlier era. While not wholly ineffective, the FTC’s formal guidance to businesses on the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising was still a policy with roots in the limited media environment of the 1970s, the decade when the Guides originated. There were no Instagram influencers, no sponsored posts, and no hashtags in 1980, when the Guides were finally enacted, and even cable television was in its infancy. And despite important and well-intentioned 2009 amendments crafted during the early days of social media, so much has happened in the intervening years that the Guides never seemed fully engaged with the radical implications of a marketing environment where blurring the lines between advertising and reality is more often a feature rather than a bug.

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Introducing TCAMToday – a Faegre Drinker℠ blog on T®ademark, ©opyright, Advertising & Media

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Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP (Faegre Drinker) launched global operations on February 1, 2020. Faegre Drinker is the combination of Faegre Baker Daniels, an international law firm with deep roots in the Midwest, and Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, a full-service national law firm with storied East Coast origins.

With more than 1,300 attorneys, consultants and professionals in 22 locations across the U.S., U.K. and China, Faegre Drinker is one of the nation’s 50 largest law firms based on size and projected gross revenue.

We are very excited to introduce TCAMToday, Faegre Drinker’s successor to the DB®anding Blog.  Our newly expanded team of over 30 T-CAM professionals will continue to provide fresh commentary on Trademark, Copyright, Advertising and Media topics ranging from anticounterfeiting to sweepstakes and promotions.  Watch this space!

Let the Games Begin – But Only After the Rules Are In Place (Sweepstakes & Promotions Series Part 2)

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As we mentioned last month in our kickoff post on this topic, we are excited to dive deeper into the world of sweepstakes and promotions law.  This post explores several key elements to keep in mind when formulating the official rules and abbreviated rules for a promotion.

The main goal of the official rules in any promotion is two-fold: (a) to inform participants and the public regarding the details of the promotion, and (b) to comply with a series of federal and state laws and regulations.  Both of these goals are critical – no company wants to face either disgruntled participants or angry regulators.

The rules must be in place and finalized before the promotion begins.  If you are running a U.S.-based sweepstakes with a total prize value of over $5,000, you may also be required to register and bond the promotion with various state agencies up to thirty days before the promotion begins. Registration will require you to submit a copy of the promotion rules, so keep in mind that in those cases, the rules must be finalized at least thirty days before the beginning of the promotion.  That means the clock is ticking!  Depending on the type of promotion, other state laws and regulations may also be implicated, so be sure to check well before the beginning of the promotion. Continue reading

Launching a Sweepstakes or Contest – What You Need to Know (Part 1)

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As we proudly admit on this blog’s “About Us” page, we’re passionate about all things brand related – and what better way to promote your brand than by running a sweepstakes or contest?  At a time when we are seeing the “gamification” of every part of our lives, it should come as no surprise to see that many brands now include prizes and rewards as a significant component of their consumer outreach.  Where once upon a time this was a niche explored by only a handful of large companies or fly-by-night operators, today, prize promotions are seen by many of our clients as among their most effective forms of advertising.

The concept is wonderfully simple: in a prize promotion, someone enters the promotion, and someone wins a prize.  Yet this basic formulation encompasses a nearly endless number of variations, including sweepstakes, contests, games, trade promotions, sales incentives and viral engagement.  Some of these variants are legal; some are not.  And because we have been so passionate about sweepstakes and contests for so long, we’ve decided to explain the basics in a helpful, multi-post series on the topic.  There’s a lot of nuance, and it would be impossible to cover it all in one place, but we think that once we’re done you’ll be as excited about this area of the law as we are. Continue reading

Minimizing Website Infringement Liability: (Re)Designate Your Digital Millennium Copyright Act Agent

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If you have a brand, chances are you have a website.  And if you have a website, chances are you have content on the website – probably some combination of text, music, photos, and graphics, including a logo that may be registered with both the USPTO and the Copyright Office.  You’re probably taking steps to help ensure that infringing content isn’t posted to your website –right?  In case you hadn’t heard of it, here’s an additional nifty, inexpensive way for you to help minimize liability even further: compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Continue reading

Review of 2016 ANA/BAA Marketing Law Conference

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This past weekend, the Brand Activation Association (BAA), a division of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), held its 38th Annual Marketing Law Conference in Chicago, Illinois.  The author, along with two other members of Drinker Biddle’s branding team, attended the conference, which is widely regarded as one of the top conferences on marketing and advertising law, with deep practical legal content.  The conference was co-chaired by legal counsel from Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo, and Twitter, and speakers included representatives from Airbnb, American Express, Buzzfeed, Expedia, Facebook, Intel, Lyft, MasterCard, McDonalds, Procter & Gamble, VISA, AT&T, WPP, Mondelez, Sears and at least 30 other companies. Continue reading