Pirates be damned!
Congress has taken measures to protect copyrighted electronic information from information pirates.
Because of the increased use of the Internet and its free access to more information than ever before, Congress recently updated American copyright law with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 to protect creators and consumers of electronic information. Writers, artists and other creators of copyrighted material now are protected from fraud, while easy access by consumers will continue.
With the new act, it is illegal to:
Pirate copyrighted works;
Reverse engineer works to generate operation;
Decode encrypted works;
Circumvent protection measures that control access to protected works;
Invade personal privacy (or parental supervision) of minors on the Internet;
Inhibit the preservation of materials by libraries and archives.
Businesses whose intellectual property is posted on the Internet should be satisfied that first-time violators of the act face a $500,000 fine and five years in jail; repeat offenders face a $1 million fine and 10 years in prison.
Millennial mediation: A kinder, gentler Y2K
Businesses face high costs if they are hit with a lawsuit stemming from the Year 2000 problem and have to defend themselves in court. To stem the flood of litigation, legal organizations from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong are touting their Millennium Accorda mediation solutionas a way to settle disputes.
The Year 2000 (Y2K) problem stems from a practice begun in the early days of computers. Programmers opted to save memory space by programming only the final two digits of years. When the century changes, many computers and software will continue to infer a 19 for the century, with results ranging from system crashes to erroneous calculations in date-dependent operations, which could interrupt or cease the course of business.
Information about the Millennium Accord, whether mediation is a good Y2K solution for your company and the procedures involved in solving Y2K problems cooperatively with mediation instead of in court can be found at its Web site at: www.accord2000.com.
Y2K settlement: Free software upgrades
A medical practice software vendor recently agreed to provide free Year 2000 upgrades of its product to settle a class action lawsuit filed against it.
In August, a class action suit was filed against Medical Manager Corp. claiming unfair trade practices for not advising customers that its software could not recognize dates after 1999 and for not offering free upgrades for the software. Under terms of the settlement, Medical Manager will provide Y2K upgrades at no cost.
A judge dismissed a similar suit against Intuit last year, noting that, although older versions of its Quicken software may not be Y2K compliant, no customers have yet sustained any damage as a result. Intuit has said it will have free upgrades available in 1999.
Though the cases do not set any legal precedent, the future may include free Y2K fixes for customers who use non-Y2K-compliant software.
How to defend against product liability lawsuits
A product liability lawsuit can hit a business from out of the blue. Companies big and small should be prepared to defend themselves when product liability litigation arises.
In 1994, fire damaged the Pennsylvania Transportation and Safety Building in Harrisburg. Firemans Fund Insurance Co. paid $20 million to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for structural damage, personal property and clean-up, pursuant to a fire insurance policy, then went after Xerox Corp. for $20 million in product liability damages, alleging that a faulty copy machine caused the fire. After a trial last year, a federal jury found the copy machine did not cause the fire and Xerox was not negligent.
If your company manufactures or sells products that could be targeted as the source of a fire, your business may be dragged into a lawsuit, either from the property owner or an insurance carrier. To ensure a strong defense, follow all applicable safety standards and keep accurate records demonstrating the product is safe. If your company provides service, service records are also be critical in the defense of your product.
John E. Hall
Why you should investigate harassment charges
To avoid liability when faced with an allegation of sexual harassment, you must be able to demonstrate that you exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct sexually harassing behavior. To meet this burden, its critical you not only conduct a thorough and prompt investigation into the allegations, but be able to demonstrate the actions taken to investigate the complaint and, if harassment has been found, correct the harassing behavior.
Every complaint of sexual harassment must be investigated no matter how minor or insignificant it might
appear, even if the person who complained doesnt want to pursue the matter. The investigation should be conducted by an individual trained in conducting harassment investigations.
The investigation should consist of several stages:
An initial meeting with the person who complained for a thorough and detailed explanation of the complaint;
Preliminary evaluation of the merits of the complaint to determine whether the complaint involves unlawful harassment;
An interview with the accused, as quickly as possible following the complaint and without notice of the reason for the meetingits important to get an unrehearsed response;
Further investigation, including confidential interviews of witnesses;
Preparation of a report containing conclusions of the investigations;
Remedial action, if appropriate, and follow-up with the complainant.
If the investigation finds that sexual harassment did occur, appropriate remedial action should be taken as soon as possible. When a complaint cannot be substantiated, both parties should be informed and the accused reminded about the companys policy against harassment. The alleged victim should be told that any future incidents of harassment or retaliation should be reported immediately.
When the investigation is over and necessary actions taken, all documentation relating to the complaint and the investigation should be maintained in a complaint investigation file.
William E. Adams and Lisa M. Passarello
Still time to amend retirement plans
In the past few years, several acts of Congress have changed U.S. pension and retirement laws, including the Retirement Protection Act of 1994, the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act of 1994, the Small Business Jobs Protection Act of 1996 and the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997.
These new laws require virtually all businesses to amend their defined contribution and defined benefit retirement plans by the end of 1999, if they are to remain IRS-qualified. Required changes affect testing to make sure the plan does not discriminate against lower-compensated employees; limits on plan benefits and contributions; required minimum distributions; and cash-out and valuation of distributions.
Law Briefs is compiled by attorneys from Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC, a national law firm based in Pittsburgh. The firm can be reached at (412)566-6000 or by e-mail at email@example.com