Schools And Public Agencies Face A Rise In Digital Copyright Infringement Claims For Use Of Protected Photos

April 2019
Number 19

Cease and desist letters alleging copyright infringement for the unauthorized use of digital photos-along with demands for settlement payments ranging from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars-are being sent to public agencies. This trend seems to be on the rise, whether it is a journalism student’s use of a photo for the online student newspaper, or a social media manager’s use of a graphic for the agency’s Facebook feed. Although the initial demands can be quite high, including threats of hundreds of thousands of dollars in statutory damages if the copyright owner has to litigate the claims, sometimes the license fees can be negotiated down depending on the number or nature of infringing uses.

A contributing problem is the ease with which digital photos can be copied online. Additionally, it is increasingly simple to detect unauthorized online use. Advanced algorithms used in today’s Internet search engines make it easy to identify every unauthorized use of a photo online anywhere. Digital photos can also be copied from anywhere on the Internet using a snipping tool or by taking a screenshot and are quite tempting to those who want the perfect photo, but may not have given consideration to the intellectual property rights of the photo’s owner.

A number of law firms seem to be at the forefront of pursuing these claims. These attorneys identify the sites where unauthorized photos appear, the registrants for those sites, and the addresses where the demand letters can be sent. If you receive one of these letters, the first step in addressing the claim is to secure proof of copyright ownership and the lawyer’s authority to act on behalf of the copyright holder.

In addition to assisting public agencies with resolving the pending infringement claims, Lozano Smith is also working with clients to implement “best practices” to avoid future claims of copyright infringement. These best practices include, but are not limited to:

  • Do not use any pictures that are “copied and pasted” from other Internet sites.
  • Consider using only photos that are taken by someone associated with or hired by the agency department responsible for publication of the pictures.
  • If you find that the picture you want to use is “subject to copyright,” contact the copyright holder in advance and get permission or a license to use it.
  • Train staff, or in the case of school districts, students as well, regarding these issues. Focus training particularly on web designers, public information officers and journalism teachers.
  • Use the threat of copyright infringement as a “teaching opportunity” for students and staff to understand what is required to navigate the digital universe.

For more information about the legal requirements for use of copyrighted works or how to implement these and other best practices to avoid such claims, please contact the authors of this Client News Brief or an attorney at one of our eight offices located statewide. You can also subscribe to our podcast, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn or download our mobile app

Written by:

Harold M. Freiman

Partner

Lee Burdick

Associate

©2019 Lozano Smith

As the information contained herein is necessarily general, its application to a particular set of facts and circumstances may vary. For this reason, this News Brief does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you consult with your counsel prior to acting on the information contained herein.

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Records Owned And Held By A Third Party Are Not Public Records Even If A Public Agency Has A Right To Access Such Records

March 2019
Number 16

A recent California appellate court ruling has clarified the reach of the California Public Records Act (CPRA). InAnderson-Barker v. City of Los Angeles, the Second District Court of Appeal held that records in the possession of a third party contractor under a contract with the City of Los Angeles were not subject to the CPRA where the city had access to but did not actually possess or control the records.

Background

In Anderson-Barker, the plaintiff sought to compel the city to disclose electronically stored data relating to vehicles that private towing companies had impounded as directed by Los Angeles Police Department per a contractual agreement. The city had access to this information but did not control the data stored, nor did it control the databases on which it was stored. The city argued that the requested data did not qualify as “public records” under the CPRA because the city did not possess or control the data. Recent amendments to the contract with the third party contractors expressly stated that the data was “owned” by the contractors. The trial court ruled in favor of the city, and the Court of Appeal
affirmed that decision.

Analysis

The court focused on the issue of possession to decide whether the data in question must be produced under the CPRA. Prior state and federal cases (the latter addressing the Freedom of Information Act) had held that records are considered in possession or “constructive possession” of a public entity if they have “the right to control the records.” The court, particularly following federal cases, held that constructive possession does not apply when the entity only has access to the data: “[t]o conclude otherwise, would effectively transform any privately-held information that a state or local agency has contracted to access into a disclosable public record.”

The court further explained why this case does not reach the same result as the California Supreme Court’s decision inCity of San Jose v. Superior Court (2017) 2 Cal.5th 608. At issue in City of San Jose was a CPRA request for “all electronic information relating to public business, sent or received by [mayor and council members] using his or her private electronic devices” related to a city-involved real estate matter. The California Supreme Court ruled that such records were subject to the CPRA. (See 2017 Client News Brief No. 11.) The City of San Jose court, focusing on the definition of “public record,” held that a record does not lose its “public record” status simply because of its location on a public employee’s personal account. The Anderson-Barker court focused on a CPRA requirement distinct from the definition of “public record,” that the record must be in the possession or control of the agency, ultimately finding that the City of Los Angeles did not have possession or control of the record because the record was with a third party. The city had only access to the records, and the court concluded that access does not satisfy the requirement of possession or control. However, the court also explained that data actually extracted from the database by the governmental agency and used for a governmental purpose might be disclosable.

Anderson-Barker thus creates a distinction between documents in possession of an employee or official versus documents controlled by a third party contractor. The former will generally be subject to the CPRA, while the latter generally will not.

Takeaways

Under Anderson-Barker, members of the public may not have a right to access records in the possession of a third party contractor. An agency or its employees or officials must control, and not merely have access to records, in order for the records to be subject to mandatory production under the CPRA. Public agencies may wish to address the structure of document control through contractual arrangements with third party contractors, allowing the agency to decide who controls records for purposes of CPRA production.

If you have any questions about theAnderson-Barker v. City of Los Angeles decision or the California Public Records Act in general, please contact the authors of this Client News Brief or an attorney at one of our eight offices located statewide. You can also visit our website, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or download our Client News Brief App.

Written by:

Harold M. Freiman

Partner

©2019 Lozano Smith

As the information contained herein is necessarily general, its application to a particular set of facts and circumstances may vary. For this reason, this News Brief does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you consult with your counsel prior to acting on the information contained herein.

Lay Opinions May Trigger The Need For An Environmental Impact Report

February 2019
Number 12

A California appellate court has ruled that lay public opinions on nontechnical issues concerning a project’s size and general appearance can provide substantial evidence of environmental impact, triggering the need to prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The California Environmental Quality Act

CEQA generally requires public agencies to identify potentially significant impacts of projects they carry out or approve, and mitigate those impacts where feasible. Unless a project is exempt from CEQA, the public agency must prepare one of three types of documents. A negative declaration (ND) can be prepared where there is no substantial evidence that the project may have a significant effect on the environment, and a mitigated negative declaration (MND) can be prepared where the project has potentially significant environmental effects, but these effects will be reduced to insignificance by mitigation measures. An EIR, however, is required whenever substantial evidence in the record supports a “fair argument” that the project may produce significant impacts or effects. An EIR generally involves more time and often more cost than an ND or MND.

Georgetown Preservation Society v. County of El Dorado

The Third District Court of Appeal filed its decision inGeorgetown Preservation Society v. County of El Dorado (2018) 30 Cal.App5th 358, on December 17, 2018, affirming the trial court’s writ setting aside El Dorado County’s (County) approval of a project based on an MND. The County had prepared an initial study to analyze the environmental impacts of a proposed Dollar General chain discount store (Project) and found that there was no basis to require an EIR. Local residents acting through plaintiff Georgetown Preservation Society (Society) objected, claiming that the Project would impair the aesthetic character of their town. The Project was located in a historic center and several lay opinions were submitted by the local community, which commented that the Project was
too big and too boxy and would damage the look and feel of the town, and would therefore have significant and negative effects related to aesthetics. The County slightly modified the project and ultimately adopted the MND. In part, it found that the project complied with local zoning because the area was zoned for commercial retail, that the Project’s design, architectural treatments, and associated improvements substantially conform to the County’s Historic Design Guide and, that the Project would not substantially detract from the town’s historic commercial district.

The Society filed a lawsuit seeking to require the County to prepare an EIR. The trial court applied prior case law and found that the Society’s evidence supported a fair argument that the Project may have a significant aesthetic effect on the environment. Accordingly, the trial court issued a writ of mandate compelling the County to prepare an EIR.

On appeal, the County relied on the fact that it had applied its Historical Design Guide principles when it found the project met aesthetic standards. In the County’s view, the ensuing finding of compliance with its Historical Design Guide principles could not be disputed by lay opinion evidence. A key issue addressed by the Court of Appeal was whether non-expert factual evidence or lay opinion evidence proffered by area residents can support a “fair argument” that the Project may have a significant aesthetic impact on the environment. In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeal followed the rationale in Pocket Protectors v. City of Sacramento (2004) 124 Cal.App.4th 903, and held that (1) consistency with local design guidelines could not be used to insulate a project from CEQA review; (2) lay opinions can provide substantial evidence to support a “fair argument” that a project may have a significant aesthetic impact on the environment, triggering the need to prepare an EIR; and (3) since the County made no credibility determinations, it could not categorically disregard the
public’s comments.

Takeaways

Georgetown Preservation Society serves as a reminder of the impact public opinion may have on projects approved or carried out by public agencies, and that lead agencies should not disregard public opinion in non-technical areas like aesthetics. Previous court decisions have also considered lay opinions in other impact areas such as noise, traffic safety, and parking. Therefore, lead agencies should not solely rely on its industry experts when evaluating the environmental impacts of a project. If the community members’ opinions on these issues are not properly taken into consideration, project delays and increases costs can result.

If you have any questions about the appellate court’s decision in Georgetown Preservation Society and its impact on CEQA compliance, or about the CEQA in general, please contact the authors of this Client News Brief or an attorney at one of our eight offices located statewide. You can also visit our website, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or download our Client News Brief App.

Written by:

Kelly M. Rem

Partner

Jose Montoya

Associate

©2017 Lozano Smith

As the information contained herein is necessarily general, its application to a particular set of facts and circumstances may vary. For this reason, this News Brief does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you consult with your counsel prior to acting on the information contained herein.

Bid Thresholds Raised For 2019

January 2019
Number 4

According to the California Department of Education Office of Financial Accountability and Information Services, pursuant to Public Contract Code section 20111(a), the bid threshold for K-12 school districts’ purchases of equipment, materials, supplies and services (except construction services) has been adjusted to $92,600, effective January 1, 2019. The notice may be viewed here.

The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office is expected to announce a similar adjustment to the bid threshold for community college districts’ purchases of equipment, materials, supplies and services (except construction services), pursuant to Public Contracts Code section 20651(a), sometime in the next few days. Once released, that information will be available here.

The bid limit for construction projects remains at $15,000.

The bid thresholds for cities, counties and special districts are not affected by the bid limits discussed above.

On a related note, the Legislature increased the bid limits under the California Uniform Public Construction Cost Accounting Act (CUPCCAA), effective January 1, 2019. (See 2018 Client News Brief No. 47) The increase in the bid limits affects school districts, cities, counties and all other public entities that have adopted CUPCCAA.

For more information on the new bid limits or bidding in general, please contact the author of this Client News Brief or an attorney at one of our eight offices located statewide. You can also visit our website, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or download our Client News Brief App.

Written by:

Ruth E. Mendyk

Partner

©2017 Lozano Smith

As the information contained herein is necessarily general, its application to a particular set of facts and circumstances may vary. For this reason, this News Brief does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you consult with your counsel prior to acting on the information contained herein.

Changes To Skilled And Trained Workforce Requirements For Public Works Projects

January 2019
Number 2

Recent legislation modifies the skilled and trained workforce requirement for certain public works projects, shifting much of the burden for compliance to subcontractors. The new law also authorizes the California Labor Commissioner to investigate suspected violations of the statute and impose civil penalties in specified circumstances.

Background

In recent years, contractors have been required to utilize a “skilled and trained workforce” for “design-build” and “lease-leaseback” public works projects (see 2015 Client News Brief No. 8;2015 Client News Brief No. 71; and 2016 Client News Brief No. 63.) These requirements do not apply to publicly bid projects. Also, the skilled and trained workforce requirements may not apply if the public entity has entered into a project labor agreement covering the project.

These skilled and trained workforce requirements include two elements. First, all of the workers performing work in designated apprenticeable occupations must have “at least as many hours of on-the-job experience as would be required to graduate from an apprenticeship program…;.” Second, a minimum percentage of that workforce must be graduates of an apprenticeable program for the applicable occupation. This minimum threshold was originally set at 30% but is set to increase to 60% by 2020 for some trades. Other trades, including bricklayers, carpenters, drywall installers, plasterers, roofers, and stone masons, will remain at 30%.

Under current law, a contractor is required to provide monthly reports to the project owner that demonstrate compliance with these skilled and trained workforce requirements. In the event the contractor fails to provide the report or the report does not demonstrate compliance with the percentage requirements, the project owner must withhold all further payments until the contractor provides a plan to achieve substantial compliance. As a result, noncompliance by one subcontractor, for even a small portion of work, has had the potential to hold up payment to the contractor for all of the work on the project.

Assembly Bill 3018

Effective January 1, 2019, Assembly Bill (AB) 3018 amends Public Contract Code sections 2601 and 2602, and adds new section 2603, shifting some of the responsibility for skilled and trained workforce compliance to subcontractors. If the general contractor fails to comply with the monthly report requirements as a result of one noncompliant subcontractor, the project owner is required withhold 150% of the value of the monthly billing for that subcontractor only, until that subcontractor demonstrates a plan to achieve substantial compliance, or until the subcontractor is substituted out in accordance with applicable law. The contractor is permitted (but not required) to withhold payment from the subcontractor. However, now the project owner will be permitted to pay the contractor for the other work on the project performed by the contractor or by other subcontractors.

AB 3018 also gives the Labor Commissioner authority to investigate suspected violations of the skilled and trained workforce requirements and impose a separate civil penalty up to $5,000 per month on non-compliant contractors. In situations where the Labor Commissioner finds that violations of the skilled and trained workforce requirements are willful, the contractor or subcontractor may be temporarily disqualified from bidding on public works projects.

Takeaways

These changes to the skilled and trained workforce requirements shift the consequence of noncompliance to the responsible party. As a result, AB 3018 may make design-build and lease-leaseback projects more attractive for prospective general contractors. However, the increased burden on subcontractors to demonstrate compliance and the Labor Commissioner’s oversight may deter subcontractors from participating in such projects. Public entities in regions of the state where there are a limited number of graduates from apprenticeship programs should carefully consider these changes before proceeding with a delivery method subject to skilled and trained workforce requirements.

If you have any questions about the skilled and trained workforce requirements, please contact the authors of this Client News Brief or an attorney at one of our eight offices located statewide. You can also visit our website, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or download our Client News Brief App.

Written by:

Claudia P. Weaver

Partner

Shawn A. VanWagenen

Senior Counsel

©2017 Lozano Smith

As the information contained herein is necessarily general, its application to a particular set of facts and circumstances may vary. For this reason, this News Brief does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you consult with your counsel prior to acting on the information contained herein.

New Law Updates Bidding Preferences for Various Public Agencies

November 2018
Number 75

The Legislature has significantly expanded local agencies’ ability to use a small business preferences on a public works projects, and has expanded the use of preferences for small businesses, disabled veterans businesses and social enterprises in some counties. This new law seems to indicate the Legislature is responding to the desire of local agencies to support local businesses.

Assembly Bill (AB) 2762, signed by Governor Jerry Brown, increases the small business preference from five percent to seven percent for all local agencies, including counties, cities, school districts, and other districts. The bill limits the value of a preference to a maximum of $150,000 on any contract, no matter the value of that contract. The small business preference authorizes a local agency, in facilitating contract awards to small businesses, to provide for a small business preference in construction, the procurement of goods, or the delivery of services.

AB 2762 also authorizes local agencies in the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Lake, Los Angeles, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma, to adopt preferences for disabled veteran businesses and social enterprises, and provides for the preferences to be a maximum of seven percent for an individual preference and up to fifteen percent for a single bid having two or more preferences. In these counties, an agency’s ability to use a small business preference is not different from agencies outside those counties.

This new law defines a social enterprise to include a nonprofit or for-profit business whose primary purpose is to benefit the economic, environmental, or social health of the community and which uses the methods and disciplines of business and the power of the marketplace to advance its social, environmental, and human justice agendas. The business must also have been in operation for at least one year providing transitional or permanent employment to a transitional workforce or providing social, environmental, or human justice services.

Under AB 2762, each local agency within the specified counties that chooses to utilize a disabled veteran business or social enterprise preference is authorized to define a disabled veteran business and social enterprise and to define their eligibility for the purposes of these preferences and goals. The statute granting authority in certain counties to utilize preferences is set to expire in 2024. However, the statute permitting small business preferences by all local agencies in the state has no expiration date.

To help local agencies meet these preferences, the new law permits a prime contractor, with the approval of the local agency, and subject to meeting specified conditions, to substitute one subcontractor for another, if doing so will help meet the preference adopted by the agency. This provision seems to create a scenario where a subcontractor could be substituted solely in the interest of meeting the agency’s adopted preference, but the new law explicitly states that subcontractors are still afforded all the protections of the Subletting and Subcontracting Fair Practices Act.

Takeaways

AB 2762 demonstrates a greater interest by the Legislature in allowing public agencies to adopt preferences for certain types of businesses. Agencies wishing to adopt such preferences should first review their existing policies and bidding practices for any needed updates to comply with the new law.

For more information on AB 2762, or preferences in bidding generally, including for assistance in drafting policies and bid documents to implement preferences, please contact the authors of this Client News Brief or an attorney at one of our eight offices located statewide. You can also visit our website, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or download our Client News Brief App.

Written by:

Devon B. Lincoln

Partner

Alyse A. Pacheco

Associate

©2017 Lozano Smith

As the information contained herein is necessarily general, its application to a particular set of facts and circumstances may vary. For this reason, this News Brief does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you consult with your counsel prior to acting on the information contained herein.

New Law Indefinitely Extends Community College Use of Best Value Process in Bidding

November 2018
Number 74

An expiring law allowing special bidding procedures for community college districts has been amended and extended. Although competitive bidding is the default rule for procurement of personal property and non-construction related services by community college districts and other public agencies, under Public Contract Code section 20651.7, a community college district is allowed to award bids on the basis of “best value,” if the district determines that it can expect “long-term savings through the use of life-cycle cost methodology, the use of more sustainable goods and materials, and reduced administrative costs.” This allows community college districts to use factors other than price to determine the lowest responsible bidder for contracts that are competitively bid.

To utilize this method for awarding contracts, a community college district is required to establish policies and procedures for determining “best value,” and in doing so is required to consider certain factors like pricing and service levels. Community college districts are also permitted to consider a number of additional factors, including the economic benefits to the local community and job creation and retention. This alternative method was set to expire on January 1, 2019. However, Assembly Bill (AB) 3186, signed by Governor Jerry Brown, extends the requirement indefinitely to community college districts, as well as to the University of California. AB 3186 also deletes the requirement that the use of best value procurement be reported by the district to the Legislative Analyst, which then would report to the Legislature.

For more information on this bill or on best value procurement generally, please contact the authors of this Client News Brief or an attorney at one of our eight offices located statewide. You can also visit our website, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or download our Client News Brief App.

Written by:

Devon B. Lincoln

Partner

Alyse A. Pacheco

Associate

©2017 Lozano Smith

As the information contained herein is necessarily general, its application to a particular set of facts and circumstances may vary. For this reason, this News Brief does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you consult with your counsel prior to acting on the information contained herein.