As you may have heard, Facebook is going to allow users to register names in their Facebook URL, replacing the former random ID numbers.  This policy, announced in a Facebook blog post earlier this week will become effective on a first come, first served basis beginning Saturday, June 13 at 12:01 am.  This new policy creates the danger that Facebook users may try to register as their user name words or phrases that could infringe on a company name, trademarked slogan, or even a broadcast station’s call signs.  To prevent others from using your company’s name, call sign or other trademark, Facebook has created a form allowing rights holders to register their marks ahead of time.  To protect your intellectual property in the easiest manner possible (without the need for costly infringement lawsuits of other actions), companies should take advantage of the procedures outlined by Facebook itself, and register with the company.

A couple of caveats:  

  1. User names have to be at least five alphanumeric characters.  This means that four letter call signs cannot be used as user names unless used with a suffix or frequency.  Since periods are the only punctuation allowed, acceptable user names might be WXYZ.FM, or FM98.1, for example. 
  2. In order to prevent someone from using your trademark in advance, it appears that it must be a registered mark.  However, a separate form appears to allow intellectual property rights holders to reclaim a user name, even if it is not a registered trademark.  Thus, if your company name, mark or call sign is unregistered, you can either register it as your own Facebook user name or wait until someone else does that and complain after the fact.  You do not need to be a Facebook user to submit the intellectual property rights forms described above.


Continue Reading Protect Your Company Name or Call Sign on Facebook

Further information from the FCC regarding the DTV transition, this time dealing with call signs. The FCC has announced that following the DTV transition, full power television stations may either keep their current call signs (i.e. WXYZ or WXYZ-TV) or they may formally change to use "-DT" instead, as in "WXYZ-DT".

Stations

The FCC today issued two fines to stations who violated the FCC’s rule against airing phone calls for which permission had not been received before the call was either taped for broadcast or aired live.  We’ve written about other fines for the violation of this rule, Section 73.1206, many times (see here, here, and here).  What was interesting about the new cases is that they made clear that a station needs to get permission to record or broadcast the phone call even before the person at the other end of the line says "hello."  

In one case, the station was broadcasting using a tape delay.  The station placed a call to a local restaurant and, when the person at the other end of the line said hello, the station DJ informed the restaurant employee that he was being broadcast and asked if that was OK.  The person responded "yep."  But he changed his mind later in the call.  The station claimed that, had the person not given permission, the tape delay would have allowed the call to be dumped but, as permission was given, the station continued to run with the conversation on the air. The FCC found that insufficient, as permission had not been received prior to the person saying hello.  The second case was much more straightforward – a wake up call by the station to a randomly selected phone number.  While the station immediately informed the person who answered the phone that the call was on the air – that did not happen until the recipient of the call had already said hello.  In the first case, the fine was $6000 – in the second, $3200.


Continue Reading More Fines for Stations That Broadcast Telephone Conversations Without Prior Permission – Permission After “Hello” Is Too Late

Last week, the FCC issued several fines to noncommercial broadcasters who had underwriting announcements that sounded too commercial.  In these decisions, the Commission found that the stations had broadcast promotional announcements for commercial businesses – and those announcements did not conform to the FCC’s rules requiring that announcements acknowledging contributions to noncommercial stations cannot contain qualitative claims about the sponsor, nor can they contain "calls to action" suggesting that listeners patronize the sponsor.  These cases also raised an interesting issue in that the promotional announcements that exceeded FCC limits were not in programming produced by the station, but instead in programs produced by outside parties who received the compensation that led to the announcement.  The FCC found that there was liability for the spots that were too promotional even though the station itself had received no compensation for the airing of that spot.

The rules for underwriting announcements on noncommercial stations (including Low Power FM stations) limit these announcements to ones that identify sponsors, but do not overtly promote their businesses.   Underwriting announcements can identify the sponsor, say what the business of the sponsor is, and give a location (seemingly including a website address).  But the announcements cannot do anything that would specifically encourage patronage of the sponsor’s business.  They cannot contain a "call to action" (e.g. they cannot say "visit Joe’s hardware on Main Street" or "Call Mary’s Insurance Company today").  They cannot contain any qualitative statements about the sponsors products or services (e.g. they cannot say "delicious food", "the best service", or "a friendly and knowledgeable staff" ).  The underwriting announcements cannot contain price information about products sold by a sponsor.  In one of the cases decided this week, the Commission also stated that the announcements cannot be too long, as that in and of itself makes the spot seem overly promotional and was more than was necessary to identify the sponsor and the business that the sponsor was in.  The spot that was criticized was approximately 60 seconds in length. 


Continue Reading FCC Fines for Noncommercial Stations Having Underwriting Announcements That Were Too Commercial – Even Where the Station Received No Money

A Canadian radio station has apparently pulled off an amazing stunt that would have prompted an FCC fine if it had been done by a US radio station – calling Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin and engaging her in an on-air conversation under the premise that she was talking to French President Nicholas Sarkozy.  A recording of

In a decision released late on Friday, the FCC upheld a $9,000 fine on a noncommercial television operator who broadcast underwriting announcements which, in the opinion of the Commission, were too much like commercials and thus were impermissible on a noncommercial station.  Under the Commission’s policies governing the noncommercial nature of noncommercial stations, it is permissible to air an underwriting announcement acknowledging a commercial entity that makes a financial contribution to the station.  And it is permissible to state the nature of the business, where it is located, and to air the slogan of the company.  What is not permissible is when the underwriting announcement contains "calls to action," qualitative or comparative claims, price information, or other inducements to do business with this particular company.  In this case, the Commission felt that the announcements crossed some or all of these lines.

In the initial Notice of Apparent Liability in this case, released in late 2004, the text of the announcements at issue are set out.  In last week’s order, phrases such as "planning a special occasion?" as the intro line to an announcement about an Ice cream store were deemed to be calls to action, and the description of the ice cream cakes that the store made as "tastefully decorated" were deemed to be qualitative.  Similarly, statements about a real estate company that "we’re all about family" and "we love selling real estate" were deemed to be comparative in nature, trying to distinguish this particular agent from other competitors.  In only one of ten ads, one for a school supply store, did the Commission overturn its previous determination, finding that an announcement for "creative learning materials" was arguably descriptive and not qualitative.


Continue Reading FCC Fines Noncommercial Station for Enhanced Underwriting Announcments that Were too Commercial