Copyrights? Bring It On

Author: Meg Franklin, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

In a 2000 film called Bring It On, a high school cheerleading squad captained by Kirsten Dunst was accused of stealing cheer routines.[1] Seventeen years later, the spotlight is again on cheerleading. Yet, instead of copied cheer routines, The Supreme Court is concerned with allegedly copied cheerleading uniform designs.[2]

In Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands, the Supreme Court recently granted certiorari to end disagreement among lower courts over the “separability” test in copyright law.[3] Since a bedrock principle of copyright law is that only expression can be copyrighted, this test directs courts to separate the expressive elements from the utilitarian elements of an article in determining .[4] After refining this test, Supreme Court ruled the designs on cheerleading uniforms were eligible for copyright protection.[5] This result was noteworthy because many courts and the United States Copyright Office have copyrights for clothing designs.[6] Clothing designs were deemed inseparable from the usefulness of the clothing.[7]  Some commentators may interpret this holding as a message to fashion designers and designers of other useful articles to “bring it on” and enforce their copyrights. However, time will tell whether the fast-paced fashion industry will use litigation to protect their original designs.

Copyrights for Useful Articles

The Court’s decision in Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands— whether Varsity Brands held a valid copyright—was dependent on whether the designs on the cheerleading uniforms could be classified as copyrightable subject matter.[8] In a copyright infringement case, a threshold issue is whether a valid copyright exists, because some articles are not deemed copyrightable subject matter.[9] Under the Copyright Act of 1976,[10] copyrightable subject matter is limited to original works fixed in any tangible medium of expression such as a “pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work.”[11] Thus, a tenet of copyright law is that a copyright protects expression but not ideas.[12] In Baker v. Selden, the Court elaborated that a copyright protects an author’s original expression but not the utilitarian ends to which expression may be put.[13] Congress later codified this holding in §102(b) of the Copyright Act.[14] Yet, the difficultly in determining the boundary between the “original expression” and the “utilitarian ends” has produced a body of law regarding “useful articles.”[15]

Useful articles are not copyrightable subject matter,[16]“to qualify as a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work on its own, the feature cannot itself be a useful article.”[17] In the leading case of Mazer v. Stein[18], the Court held that the statuette of a dancer was copyrightable even though it was used as the base of a lamp.[19] There, the lamp itself was a useful object, but the design of the stand could be protected under copyright because its design could be “conceptually” separated. Congress later codified this holding in § 101 and § 113(a) of the Copyright Act of 1976.[20] Under § 101, “the design of a useful article” can be copyrightable “only to the extent that, such design incorporates pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features that can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article.”[21] The requirement to identify design “separately from” utility in § 101 has led to the development of the “separability test.”

The Long-Awaited Separability Test

The House Report at the time of the codification of Mazer in § 101 and § 113(a) of the Copyright Act of 1976, suggested that separability may occur either “physically or conceptually.”[23] In response, courts diverged in their development of “physical separability” and “conceptual separability” tests.[24] Basically, physical separability exists when one could physically remove a design from the useful article without impeding the function of the article.[25] On the other hand, conceptual separability exists when one can imagine the design elements apart from the useful elements of the article.[26] However, courts have not applied these test consistently. In fact, before the Court granted certiorari in Varsity Brands, Judge McKeaugue ended his dissent with a plea to the Supreme Court or Congress: “It is apparent that either Congress or the Supreme Court (or both) must clarify copyright law with respect to garment design. The law in this area is a mess—and it has been for a long time. . . . until we get much-needed clarification, courts will continue to struggle and the business world will continue to be handicapped by the uncertainty of the law.”[28]

Fortunately for those frustrated with the former iterations of the separability test, Justice Thomas clarified with a textual interpretation of the Copyright Act.[29] The majority reasoned that based on the language of § 101, there is a “separate identification” requirement and an “independent-existence” requirement.[30] It was not difficult for the Court to “look at the useful article and spot some two- or three-dimensional element that appears to have pictorial, graphic, or sculptural qualities.”[31] The cheerleading uniform’s design with shapes, colors, and lines satisfied this “separate identification” requirement.[32]  Justice Thomas’s majority explained the independent existence requirement demanded “the feature must be able to exist as its own pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work as defined in §101 once it is imagined apart from the useful article.”[33]

This imagination test may seem reminiscent of the “conceptual separability” of past cases. Yet, the Court expressly rejected this prior interpretation of § 101 by explaining, “[b]ecause we reject the view that a useful article must remain after the artistic feature has been imaginatively separated from the article, we necessarily abandon the distinction between “physical” and “conceptual” separability, which some courts and commentators have adopted based on the Copyright Act’s legislative history.”[34] Instead, “[t]he ultimate separability question . . . is whether the feature for which copyright protection is claimed would have been eligible for copyright protection as a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work had it originally been fixed in some tangible medium other than a useful article before being applied to a useful article.”[35] In applying this test to the cheerleading uniform designs, the Court found the uniforms met the threshold requirement of copyrightable subject matter.[36]

New Role for Copyright in Clothing and Fashion

Besides clearing up the confusion regarding the separability test, some commentators believe that Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands will pave the way for copyrights in many new areas.[37] The stark contrast between prior application of the law of useful articles and the pronouncement in Varsity Brands can be illustrated by the Copyright Office’s existing guidelines. For example, 924.3(A) of the Copyright Office’s Compendium states, “Clothing such as shirts, dresses, pants, coats, shoes, and outerwear are not eligible for copyright protection because they are considered useful articles. This is because clothing provides utilitarian functions, such as warmth, protection, and modesty. As a result, the U.S. Copyright Office will not register a claim in clothing or clothing designs.” [38] Contrast that guideline with the recent Ninth Circuit ruling which upheld willful copyright infringement on a fabric pattern.[39]

Although only time will tell, some predict this ruling will have the largest impact on clothing with longer shelf-lives such as the costume and wedding industry.[40] Due to the potential for long-term returns, these industries may justify the cost of litigation more easily than industries that have styles with shorter shelf-lives. Therefore, litigation may be impractical for companies designing clothes in faster-paced markets.[41]


The Court’s ruling in Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands changes the traditional understanding of copyrights in clothing designs. It provides much-needed clarification on the separability test for useful articles. Additionally, it could provide wider access to copyrights for useful articles, like clothing, not formally understood as copyrightable subject matter. Since the Copyright Office has explicitly disallowed copyrights for clothing, it is likely that new guidelines will be issued to reflect the holding in Star Athletic v. Varsity BrandsFor example, the Copyright Office will have to remove § 924.3(A) of its Compendium because clothing designs are copyrightable subject matter under Star Athletic v. Varsity Brands. Yet, only time will tell whether all areas of the clothing industry will take advantage of this new avenue to copyrightability.


[2] See, Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc., No. 15-866, 2017 U.S. LEXIS 2026 (Mar. 22, 2017).

[3] Id.

[4] Infra, n.8.

[5] Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc., No. 15-866, 2017 U.S. LEXIS 2026 (Mar. 22, 2017).

[6] See, infra, n. 37.

[7] Id.

[8] Id. at *10-11.

[9] 4 Nimmer on Copyright § 13.01 (2017).

[10] Congress’s authority to enact the Copyright Act is found in the United States Constitution: “The Congress shall have power … To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries[.]” U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 8.

[11] “Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories: [listing a non-exclusive list of eight copyrightable subject matter categories.]” 17 U.S.C. § 102(a).

[12] Baker v. Selden, 101 U.S. 99 (1879).

[13] Id.

[14] “In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.” 17 U.S.C. § 102(b).

[15] Supra, n. 24.

[16] “[A] ‘useful article’ is an article having an intrinsic utilitarian function that is not merely to portray the appearance of the article or to convey information.” 17 U.S.C.S. § 101 (LexisNexis, Lexis Advance through PL 115-14, approved 3/27/17).

[17] Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc., No. 15-866, 2017 U.S. LEXIS 2026, at *17 (Mar. 22, 2017). Also,

[18] 347 U.S. 201, 74 S. Ct. 460 (1954).

[19] Id.

[20] Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc., No. 15-866, 2017 U.S. LEXIS 2026, at *12 (Mar. 22, 2017).

[21] 17 U.S.C.S. § 101 (LexisNexis, Lexis Advance through PL 115-14, approved 3/27/17).

[22] Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc., No. 15-866, 2017 U.S. LEXIS 2026, at *18-19 (Mar. 22, 2017).

[23] H. R. Rep. No. 94-1476, p. 55 (1976).

[24] 1 Nimmer on Copyright § 2A.08.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id. See, also, ARTICLE: THE COPYRIGHT/PATENT BOUNDARY, 48 U. Rich. L. Rev. 611 (“The sheer number of tests applied by the courts and proposals suggested by scholars for the reform of copyright’s useful article doctrine is overwhelming.”)

[28] Varsity Brands, Inc. v. Star Athletica, LLC, 799 F.3d 468, 496-97 (6th Cir. 2015) (McKeague, J., dissenting; internal citations omitted).

[29] “The statute provides that a ‘pictorial, graphic, or sculptural featur[e]’ incorporated into the ‘design of a useful article’ is eligible for copyright protection if it (1) ‘can be identified separately from,’ and (2) is ‘capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article.’ Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc., No. 15-866, 2017 U.S. LEXIS 2026, at *16 (Mar. 22, 2017).

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] See, id.

[33] Id.

[34] Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc., No. 15-866, 2017 U.S. LEXIS 2026, at *27 (Mar. 22, 2017).

[35] Id. at *18.

[36] Id. at *21. See, also, Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc., No. 15-866, 2017 U.S. LEXIS 2026, at *21 n.1 (Mar. 22, 2017) (“We do not today hold that the surface decorations are copyrightable. We express no opinion on whether these works are sufficiently original to qualify for copyright protection, see Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U. S. 340, 358-359, 111 S. Ct. 1282, 113 L. Ed. 2d 358 (1991), or on whether any other prerequisite of a valid copyright has been satisfied.”)

[37] See, e.g., Sandra Aistars, Courthouse Steps: Fashionable Copyright Law in the U.S. Supreme Court – Podcast, The Federalist Society (April 5, 2017),

[38] Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, 3rd Ed. (Dec. 22, 2014),

[39] Unicolors, Inc. v. Urban Outfitters, Inc. , 2017 BL 107988, 9th Cir., No. 15-55507, 4/3/17.

[40] Supra, n. 33.

[41] Id.


When Do I Get My Lawyer?

Author: Andrew Fernandez, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

The Sixth Amendment is a fundamental right that ensures those accused of criminal offenses have sufficient legal counsel on decisions that will affect their life and liberty. Without this right, criminal defendants would be forced to navigate the confusing and seemingly harsh world of criminal law.[1] Without this protection, the government could manipulate criminal defendants into severe restrictions of their liberty without the guidance of someone advocating their interests. One significant component of this right is the point at which the right attaches. The Supreme Court has held the right to counsel attaches at a “critical stage” of a criminal proceeding.[2] Critical stages can be pre-trial proceedings if formal charges have been filed including post indictment plea negotiations, post indictment lineups, and post indictment interrogations.[3]

Circuit courts have inconsistently interpreted whether a critical stage test should be determined using a bright line test or if there should be a rebuttable presumption incorporated into the analysis. Five circuit courts follow the bright line rule approach; while, four other circuits allow for a rebuttable presumption to the standard that the right to counsel only attaches after formal charges are filed.[4] For example, the Sixth Circuit applied the bright line approach in holding a criminal defendant did not have a right to counsel at plea negotiations before formal charges were filed. [5] In contrast, the Seventh Circuit held this standard is merely a presumption the prosecution has crossed the threshold of factfinder to adversary. [6] However, the Supreme Court should alter its holdings in order to accommodate the Seventh Circuit approach because it best protects criminal defendants.

The Bright Line Approach

            In Turner, the Sixth Circuit applied the bright line approach holding the defendant in this case had no Sixth Amendment right to counsel during plea negotiations because no formal charges had been filed. [7] During Tennessee’s prosecution of the defendant for aggravated robbery, the defendant’s attorney and U.S. District Attorney’s Office discussed a potential plea offer for federal charges arising out of the same conduct.[8] The defendant originally declined to plead but later accepted a less favorable plea offer.[9] The defendant then sued to have his conviction struck down because of ineffective counsel during his plea negotiations.[10] The court determined even though the Supreme Court had never directly addressed whether a defendant had a right to counsel at plea-negotiations, it had consistently stated the right to counsel only applies when formal charges have been filed.[11]

Furthermore, the Sixth Circuit had previously held twice the right to counsel only applies when formal charges are brought against the defendant. [12] For example, in Moody[13], even though the Court felt the result was “a triumph of the letter over the spirit of the law”, the Sixth Circuit felt bound to follow Supreme Court precedent even though it thought this interpretation was inconsistent with the Framer’s intentions for the Sixth Amendment. [14] The Sixth Circuit held the defendant’s motion must be dismissed because it was undisputed by the parties no formal federal charges had been filed during the course of the plea negotiations.

The Rebuttable Presumption Approach

            In Larkin, the Seventh Circuit applied the rebuttable presumption approach by holding a defendant could prove the government had crossed the divide from factfinder to adversary.[15] In this case, the convictions of the defendant for robbery were largely founded on the eyewitness testimony of bank employees.[16] The employees identified the defendants at a lineup six months before trial in addition to their in-court identification of the defendants.[17] The defendants argued the district court committed reversible error by not suppressing the testimony for a number of reasons including the fact that the government refused to grant the defendant’s request to furnish appointed counsel at the lineup.[18] The court first noted the right to counsel attaches at the beginning of adverse criminal proceedings.[19] Therefore, had the lineup occurred after the grand jury had indicted the defendant, refusal to provide counsel would have violated the Sixth Amendment and suppression of the evidence would have been necessary.[20] However, the lineup in this case occurred three months before the indictment so the right presumptively did not attach.[21] This presumption may be rebutted by a demonstration that even though formal charges had not been filed, the government had ceased to be a factfinder and was now an adversary.[22] The court held the defendants failed to show the government had crossed the line from factfinder to adversary and therefore ruled against the defendants.[23] The court did note that although the Constitution did not compel the government to grant the defendant’s request for appointed counsel, the government should make every effort to grant such requests at pre-indictment lineups.[24] In this way, justice is best served and  convictions are not tainted.[25]

The Supreme Court Should Follow the Seventh Circuit Approach

Because there is such a significant circuit split, it is likely the Supreme Court will rule on the split soon. When the Supreme Court chooses to rule on this split, it should follow the Seventh Circuit’s approach because this strikes the best balance between protecting the rights of criminal defendants and ensuring the government’s interest in fighting crime.

In Turner, the Sixth Circuit referred to its precedent in Moody to flesh out how its decision was rooted in the letter of the law as opposed to the spirit of the Sixth Amendment.[26] The Sixth Circuit in that case acknowledged the pretrial plea negotiations raised the certainty in many cases of the defendant waiving his trial rights in exchange for an imbalanced plea without the assistance of legal counsel.[27] Perhaps most importantly, by offering a plea deal, a prosecutor had committed himself to raising prosecution against the defendant.[28] Even in the Sixth Circuit opinion upholding the bright line approach, the court saw the wisdom in using some sort of presumption standard.

The presumption would best ensure the constitutional balance of the government’s fact finding function and the right of the defendant to an effective legal defense. The presumption the constitutional right does not attach ensures the government is still able to pursue its fact-finding function without being unnecessarily compromised by constitutional restraint. Having a rebuttable presumption also allows the court discretion to look at the facts of the case and determine whether the government crossed the line from factfinder to adversary. For example, as the Sixth Circuit noted it seemed clear the prosecution had crossed the line to adversary when it offered a plea deal.[29] Yet the government can get away with these offers to uneducated clients because they have not formally charged the defendant. This seems to make the Sixth Amendment protection ring hollow particularly when its purpose is to prevent criminal defendants from facing the rigors of prosecution without the assistance of legal counsel.

Some may argue the bright line approach has it merits because it fixes a certain standard that is easy to follow. To allow a rebuttable presumption under the standard could lead to uncertain outcomes in the legal system. Furthermore, the government would be hampered in its criminal investigations by not knowing when it has crossed the line from factfinder to adversary. However, adjusting the standard to a rebuttable one is not likely to lead to different results. As the Seventh Circuit showed in its holding in Larkin, it will still be difficult for defendants to show the government crossed the threshold from factfinder to adversary particularly in a non-plea setting.[30] Furthermore, utilizing a rebuttable presumption standard ensures a criminal defendant has the advice of legal counsel when the defendant faces the possibility of prosecution and incarceration. Therefore, changing the standard will likely not fundamentally change the prevailing norm that the Sixth Amendment does not demand a lawyer be present for most pre-trial proceedings before charges are formally filed.


            The Supreme Court should adopt the Seventh Circuit approach because it best balances the fact-finding needs of the government with the protections of the Sixth Amendment of criminal defendants. A rebuttable presumption standard will ensure a criminal defendant will have the advice of legal counsel when the government considers prosecuting the defendant as opposed to merely collecting information. This is critical in plea negotiations when the liberty of the defendant is at stake. Finally, applying the rebuttable presumption standard will not fundamentally change criminal procedure because defendants would have the burden of proving the nature of the fact-finding function has changed to adversarial. Therefore, the rebuttable presumption standard from the Seventh Circuit will best preserve the fundamental rights the Sixth Amendment offers to criminal defendants.

[1] United States v. Moody, 206 F.3d 609, 614-615 (6th Cir. 2000)

[2] Montejo v. Louisiana, 556 U.S. 778, 786 (2009).

[3] Turner v. United States, 848 F.3d 767, 770 (6th Cir. 2017).

[4] Id. at 771.

[5] Id. at 773.

[6] U.S. v. Larkin, 978 F.2d 964, 969 (7th Cir. 1992).

[7] Turner, 848 F.3d at 771.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Turner, 848 F.3d at 770.

[12] Id. at 771.

[13]  Id.

[14] See id.

[15] Larkin, 978 F.2d. 964, 969 (1992).

[16] Id. at 967.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id. at 969.

[20] Larkin, 978 F.2d at 969.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Larkin, 978 F.2d at 970.

[26] Turner, 848 F.3d at 771.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Id. at 773.

[30]Larkin, 978 F.2d at 969.


Author: Ryan Kenny, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

An important component of estate tax planning concerns the transfer of family business interest from one generation of business owners to the next. For small family-owned businesses in partnerships and close corporations, it can be important to keep control of the enterprise within the family.

However, transfers of business interests from family member to family member via an estate plan provided opportunities for taxpayers to circumvent the purpose of estate planning and tax laws in ways that were never intended. Wealthy families were able to prevent taxation of larger amounts of wealth with careful tax planning.

In 1990, Congress sought to close the estate freezing loopholes by enacting Internal Revenue Code (Code) §§2701 – 2704.[1] The purpose was to prevent the seemingly arbitrary valuations of interests transfers between holders of interests in entities to their family members. However, as tax planners, taxpayers, and state legislatures combined to affect the regulations of Code §2704 and the corresponding state law provisions contained therein, the provision, along with the other anti-freeze provisions, became “effectively toothless.”[

In response, the Internal Revenue Service issued proposed regulations to strengthen the regulations for lapsing liquidation rights to determine the value of transferred interests in partnerships for estate, gifts, and generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax purposes.[3] This analysis addresses the current regulations under Code §2704, and the proposed amendments. Continue reading


Author: Ryan Kenny, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

In 2012, the United States Supreme Court heard National Federation of Independent Business et al. v. Sebelius, the landmark decision regarding the Affordable Care Act.[1] One of the primary issues in the case was the individual mandate requiring individuals to purchase health insurance, or face a fine.[2] While the Court upheld the fine as a legitimate exercise of Congress’s power to tax[3], the Court held that Congress could not mandate commercial activity, as this was outside the scope of the powers granted under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution[4]. The Court held that Congress could not compel “individuals to become active in commerce by purchasing a product, on the ground that their failure to do so affects interstate commerce.”[5]

This raises the issue of states’ ability to tax inactivity in a similar manner as the federal government.[6] One possible interpretation from Sebelius is that under the principles of federalism, there are no Commerce Clause limitations on the states in their power to tax inactivity, since the Commerce Clause does not grant Congress the power to regulate inactivity. Another interpretation is that even though the Commerce Clause may not permit Congress to compel commercial activity, state taxes that have the same objective may nevertheless have to satisfy the test of the Dormant Commerce Clause as outlined in case law. In order to prevent the type of protectionist policies for which the Commerce Clause was enacted, the Dormant Commerce Clause must have effect on states’ ability to tax inactivity.

Continue reading

Judicial Barriers: Why the Supreme Court Should Not Impose an Additional Requirement on Rule 24 Intervenors

Author: Kalisa Mora, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedures were enacted to “secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.”[1] Pursuant to these rules, the federal courts possess a duty to exercise authority in a way that all cases will be resolved fairly. Unfortunately, rules that are ambiguous or not clearly defined can be interpreted in many different ways by these courts, causing confusion and variations of legal standards. When this occurs, it is the duty of the Supreme Court to resolve these issues and allay any doubt about what rule, standard, or interpretation governs.

The Supreme Court recently granted certiorari in a land dispute case to answer the underlying question of what the proper standard is for a party moving to intervene in a case.[2] The District Court held that the moving party could not intervene because it lacked proper Article III standing under the United States Constitution.[3] However, the Second Circuit overturned the District Court’s decision, holding that “there is no need to impose the standing requirement upon a proposed intervenor where the existence of a case of controversy has been established in the underlying litigation.”[4] In so ruling, the Second Circuit joined six other circuits in interpreting the Federal Rules to not require Article III standing. However, three other circuit courts have consistently held that Article III standing is required and will deny a moving party the right to intervene if it cannot show it possesses standing. It is this type of unjust and unfair outcomes that the Federal Rules were enacted to prevent. Granting certiorari in Laroe Estates, Inc. v. Town of Chester, the Supreme Court will soon have a chance to remedy the confusion among the courts. Continue reading

Who is a Whistleblower?

Author: Andrew Fernandez, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

The 2008 financial crisis was a defining moment in American history as millions of people lost their jobs and wages stagnated. The 2008 financial crisis may well have been the catalyst for the election of President Obama in 2008. In response to the devastation of the financial crisis, Congress passed the Dodd Frank Act to reform the financial regulatory system.[1] One component of this comprehensive of legislation was protection to whistleblowers who reported violations of U.S. securities laws to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).[2] “The term “whistleblower” means any individual who provides, or [two] or more individuals acting jointly who provide information relating to a violation of securities laws to the [Securities and Exchange] Commission . . . .”[3] The Fifth and Second Circuits have recently confronted whether an individual who is not a whistleblower under the statutory definition of the term is entitled to protection from the relevant section. The Fifth Circuit held a “whistleblower” who is not reporting a SEC violation is not entitled to this protection.[4] However, the Second Circuit ruled a whistleblower reporting non-SEC violations may seek protection under this statutory provision.[5] The Fifth Circuit’s approach is the correct one because it applied the plain meaning of the statute and avoids breaching the essential principles of the separation of powers.  Continue reading

Outlook and Gmail Encounter the SCA

Meg Franklin, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

Under the Stored Communications Privacy Act (“SCA”), the government may only obtain electronic communication through a lawful search warrant.[1]  Yet, two recent cases illustrate the weakness of the SCA.  When the SCA was passed in 1986, it specifically addressed technology that existed at the time.  However, as the cases illustrate, its application can lead to absurd results in today’s era of global digital communications.  Since the SCA can only govern search warrants within the United States, the absurdity results from determining whether the data is stored and transmitted domestically or extra-territorially. The distinction can be absurd because modern-day electronic communication companies have many options when structuring their data storage practices. Yet, under the current interpretation of the SCA, these business decisions may conclusively determine the SCA’s application. Continue reading

Email Boilerplate as Notice under Rule 26(b)(5)(B)

Meg Franklin, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

In Harleysville Ins. Co. v. Holding Funeral Home, an electronic confidentiality notice was not strong enough to protect attorney-client privilege.[1] The court held that the attorney-client privilege was effectively waived because counsel failed to take “reasonable steps to prevent [the privileged information’s] disclosure or to rectify the situation.”[2] Yet, the opposing counsel’s use of the privileged information resulted in court sanctions.[3] The court found that the defense counsel had acted contrary to rules of ethics and civil procedure.[4] Most notably, a confidentiality notice contained in an email served as notice under Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(5)(B).[5] This holding, while effectively punishing the defense counsel’s unethical behavior, is contrary to general understanding of Rule 26(b)(5)(B). Continue reading

The Protestor Plow: A Legislative Attempt

Adam Pitchel, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

The First Amendment protects the freedom to express oneself through conduct.[1] Protests, rallies, and demonstrations typically bring together many people to collectively espouse their views and enhance the overall force of their message. However, the freedom of expression and by extension, the freedom to protest, is limited and subject to restrictions.[2] Regulations that constrain the freedom of speech are subject to intense scrutiny and usually implemented to protect public safety.[3] In these cases, legislators and judges must balance free speech rights against the possible consequences of that speech. Recently, protestors opposing the Dakota-Access Pipeline (DAP) obstructed several of the roads across the state and delayed traffic for several hours.[4] People have engaged in similar types of protests around the country for various reasons.[5] In response, the North Dakota Legislative Assembly introduced H.B. 1203, which states “notwithstanding any other provision of law, a driver of a motor vehicle who negligently causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway may not be held liable for any damages.”[6] State lawmakers have cited emergency concerns, traffic safety, and public orderliness as motivations for drafting this piece of legislation.[7] Unfortunately, this bill was poorly drafted and failed to adequately balance expressive conduct against public safety considerations. Continue reading

Material Falsehoods and Denaturalization  


Author: Andrew Fernandez, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

Immigration currently dominates the national conversation as President Trump’s travel ban and plans to build a wall on the south border have captured the attention of the nation. The immigration debate captures the attention of the nation because America has often been described as a nation of immigrants. Amidst this contentious debate, hundreds of thousands of people from around the world seek entry in to this country.[1] In the fiscal year of 2015, the United States naturalized 729, 995 people.[2] One issue that occurs in this process is when persons applying for naturalization lie on their applications in order to secure naturalization. The Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) addresses this issue: “Whoever knowingly procures or attempts to procure, contrary to law, the naturalization of any person … [s]hall be fined not more than $5,000 or, imprisoned not more than five years, or both.[3] However, the Sixth and Ninth Circuits have disagreed about whether this statutory language requires a “material falsehood” in order to denaturalize a person. The Ninth Circuit found this statutory language required a showing by the government that the falsehood was materially false.[4] Alternatively, the Sixth Circuit held this language did not require a material falsehood in order to denaturalize a person.[5] The Sixth Circuit holding was the better decision because it better protects our nation from potential threats, while ensuring the protection of constitutional liberties. It also respects the proper role of the courts when interpreting statutes. Continue reading