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Total Wine Tests the Boundaries of FTC CIDs

Total Wine & More (Total Wine) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are currently clashing in federal court over a civil investigative demand (CID) that the FTC issued to Total Wine, a third party in the FTC’s investigation of Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, LLC (Southern Glazer).

Total Wine has fervently resisted producing certain corporate documents and data in response to the FTC’s subpoena. It is rare that companies challenge the FTC’s authority to compel production and take such a strong stance against complying with agency CIDs for information. This dispute could have wide-ranging implications for third-party CID compliance, regardless of the industry. For companies operating in the alcohol industry and following the FTC’s investigation into Southern Glazer, the court’s decision could have a serious impact on the investigation as it will impact the breadth of documents and data to which the FTC will have access to for its case.

Under Section 20 of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 57b-1, the FTC is empowered to issue CIDs, a type of administrative subpoena, to require any person—including third parties—to produce documents or other information, file written reports or answers and give oral testimony relating to any FTC enforcement investigation. When third-party companies are issued CIDs, they usually negotiate the scope and comply, albeit reluctantly, with the requests, as refusing to comply typically is not advised. As part of the FTC’s investigation into Southern Glazer’s business practices and, specifically, whether the company has engaged in discriminatory practices in its sales to retailers in violation of the Robinson-Patman Act or engaged in other unfair competition practices in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act, the agency issued a number of CIDs to third parties, as is customary. However, in a rare turn of events, a third party, Total Wine, and the FTC have ended up in a court battle over the subpoena.

After making limited productions, Total Wine filed an administrative petition with the FTC to limit the CID’s scope. This action is rarely taken by third parties, who often focus on negotiating the scope of the requests and limiting the burden of compliance to the extent possible, as opposed to challenging the CID itself. The FTC outright denied Total Wine’s petition, and in October, after four months of Total Wine’s resistance to comply fully, the FTC filed a petition seeking a federal court order to force Total Wine to comply with the CID.

In its petition to the court, the FTC alleged Total Wine “unilaterally narrowed the scope of the CID in a manner inconsistent with the CID’s specifications and refused to search any employee’s custodial files for responsive documents.” Although Total Wine has produced purchase-related transaction data to the FTC, it has persistently refused to produce information relating to email communications, business strategies and competitor assessments, and it has described the scope of the FTC’s demand as “truly alarming.” Despite FTC staff and Total Wine trying to work cooperatively together, the FTC has deemed Total Wine’s CID response severely [...]

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The Fine Print: Avoiding IP Pitfalls in Unlicensed Fonts

When developing a new brand or product, creatives often give considerable attention to avoiding intellectual property infringement. Trademark lawyers are similarly vigilant to avoid infringing another company’s mark. However, when a company creates its labeling and marketing materials, they tend to not give enough thought to the issue of fonts. The fonts that a beverage company uses to create its website, print advertisements, bottling, labeling, and packaging may be protected by copyright and the company may not have appropriately licensed them. If a company uses a font without the permission of the owner of that font, or outside of the scope of that company’s license, that company could be subject to a claim of copyright infringement.

Typeface Versus Fonts

First, we need to draw a distinction between two terms that are often used interchangeably: fonts and typeface. A typeface refers to a set of characters that share the same design or style. Typeface is the collective name of a family of related characters (e.g., Times, Arial and Garamond). It describes the overall look of the characters—their design and aesthetics. A font, on the other hand, is a computer program that is used to create text characters. Fonts are often installed into, and made available through, a word processing program such as Microsoft Word or design programs such as Adobe InDesign. In the digital era, the distinction between these two terms has become blurred, as many people use “font” to refer to what is technically a typeface.

Copyright Protection

In the United States, typefaces themselves are not protectable under copyright law. Code of Federal Regulations, Ch 37, Sec. 202.1(e) states: “[t]he following are examples of works not subject to copyright. . . (e) Typeface as typeface.” In addition, the Copyright Office’s Compendium of US Copyright Office Practices states that “[t]he Office cannot register a claim to copyright in typeface or mere variations of typographic ornamentation or lettering, regardless of whether the typeface is commonly used or unique.” Typefaces may be eligible for a design patent, which protects new, original and ornamental designs. However, design patents have significant limitations, must meet very specific requirements and are rarely used.

A font, on the other hand, is computer software that is protectable under copyright law because it is an original work of authorship in the form of software code. Typefaces cannot be copyrighted, but the font software used to display them can be. This distinction is crucial because it separates the visual design of characters (typeface) from the underlying code that instructs computers and printers how to reproduce those characters (fonts).

Font Infringement and Enforcement

Type foundries have made available a number of fonts that are free (often referred to as open source fonts) or are otherwise in the public domain. However, if a font is copyright protected, then copyright owners can sue companies and others who use that font without a license for copyright infringement, and a finding of copyright infringement can result in substantial liability. A copyright owner can seek actual [...]

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How Alcohol Industry Members Can Prepare for a Government Shutdown

With less than a week and a half remaining to avert a government shutdown, Congress appears no closer to finding a solution. This means that a shutdown could occur as early as October 1, 2023. Alcohol industry members should understand what this means for the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

While TTB would continue to provide essential services during a shutdown, the agency would not process formula approvals, permit applications or Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) applications. If a shutdown materializes, the length of the shutdown may determine the downstream impacts on the industry, but significant delays and backlogs within TTB are possible (and have occurred with previous government shutdowns).

Industry members should begin to plan for these shutdowns and/or delays as much as possible. For example, we recommend expediting the submission of seasonal labels traditionally submitted later in the fall in order to secure a COLA prior to a shutdown (TTB’s current label processing time is between 3 and 8 days, depending on the commodity).

We also recommend industry members communicate with their trade organizations about the business impacts of a shutdown and urge Congress to fund the government to avoid a shutdown altogether.




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Alcohol’s Next Innovation: ESG

The ever-evolving alcohol industry seems to be at the forefront of yet another major innovation, this time embracing sustainability with a focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives. We see this through the installation of renewable energy production on-site, the incorporation of recycled materials in packaging and the embracement of like-minded enterprises to serve as suppliers, vendors and business partners. How else can alcohol industry members build sustainability into their production process?

Recent evidence suggests that finding ways to contribute some of the waste streams from the production of alcohol to the production of biogas may be the answer. Some examples of this trend are listed below.

  • Biogas is produced from converting waste materials (livestock manure, food waste and brewery waste) into methane gas, which can be used as a heating fuel or more broadly as a feedstock for electricity production. Spent grain from beer production can be a great source for biogas generation.
  • The Molly Pitcher brewery in Carlisle, Pennsylvania has teamed up with the Dickinson College Farm to supply grain waste to a digester facility that is creating clean, burnable methane gas. One of this partnership’s ultimate goals is to power Dickinson College and some local dairy farms exclusively through biogas produced from brewer’s grain from Molly Pitcher, cow manure from local dairy farms and food waste from Dickinson College.
  • At South Australia Water’s Glenelg Wastewater Treatment Plant near Adelaide in South Australia, expired beer is being used to power digesters at the site and contribute to powering 1,200 homes. The beer is proving to be a highly efficient ingredient to feed the digesters and has fueled record energy generation at the plant.
  • In a similar trend for a parallel industry, both Jim Beam and Jack Daniels have recently entered partnerships with a biogas producer to build a biogas production facility and use still from the whiskey production process to create biogas. This biogas is intended to power the adjacent distilleries and potentially the surrounding neighborhoods as well.

These are just a few examples of how alcohol industry participants are reducing their carbon footprints and being more resourceful in disposing of waste products and powering their facilities. For smaller industry members, teaming up with others to form a co-op or consortium to pursue these opportunities may help build scale and share costs.

Additionally, there are a whole host of renewable energy tax credits that may be available to alcohol industry members in connection with these types of projects, and we are actively helping clients find ways to obtain, maximize and potentially transfer those credits.

Our alcohol, renewable energy and tax teams work together to take these initiatives from an idea to executed contracts and subsequent development. Reach out to our authors if you’d like to learn more and see how you can be part of the beer-to-biogas movement.




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Key Takeaways | Going Green: Environmental and Sustainability Risks and Opportunities for Alcohol Companies

In a recent webinar, Alva MatherJacob HollingerCarl Fleming and Parker Lee guided attendees through the unique energy-related challenges and opportunities for alcoholic beverages companies presented by current megatrends relating to environmental, social and governance (ESG), carbon and sustainability.

Some of the significant topics discussed included:

  1. Sustainability Trends
  2. Related Trapdoor Risks
  3. Sustainability Opportunities Across the Alcohol and Other Industries
  4. New Tax Opportunities Under the Inflation Reduction Act of 2023
  5. Case Study: Beam Suntory’s Renewable Energy-Powered Jim Beam Expansion

Access the webinar and key takeaways.




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2022 TTB Industry Circular 1: Consignment Sales

Each year the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issues “Industry Circulars” that apply statutory or regulatory requirements to a “specific circumstance or set of facts” or restate existing requirements. TTB also uses Industry Circulars to announce new statutory requirements or to discuss certain corrective actions. The last few years have been relatively quiet in terms of TTB Industry Circulars, with only seven released in the last three years. Industry Circulars are an incredibly useful tool for a range of industry members and can provide clarity and direction on complicated regulatory issues.

In 2022, TTB issued three Industry Circulars. The first, released March 4, 2022, provided clarity on TTB’s views on the Federal Alcohol Administration Act’s (FAA Act) consignment sales provisions. The second, released November 16, 2022, reminded industry members of certain advertising rules, as well as clarified how those rules apply in the world of social media advertising. The third and final Industry Circular, released December 29, 2022, provided guidance for distilled spirits plants and importers on how to calculate certain reduced or effective tax rates under the Craft Beverage Modernization Act (CBMA).

As we gear up for 2023, the following is our take on how TTB’s guidance may be useful for you and your business.

Industry Circular 1: Consignment Sales

TTB issued its first Industry Circular of the year to clarify how it views extended payment terms under the consignment sales provisions of the FAA Act. The FAA Act makes it unlawful for an industry member (supplier or wholesaler) to sell, offer for sale, or contract to sell to any trade buyer (wholesaler or retailer), or for a trade buyer to purchase, offer to purchase or contract to purchase any products:

  1. On consignment
  2. Under conditional sale
  3. With the privilege of return
  4. On any basis other than a bona fide sale, or
  5. Where any part of the sale involves, directly or indirectly, the acquisition by the industry member of other products from the trade buyer or the agreement to accept other products form the trade buyer.

See 27 USC § 205(d). Sales “on consignment” are arrangements where a trade buyer is under no obligation to pay for product until they have been sold by the trade buyer. See 27 CFR § 11.22.

This Industry Circular reminds industry members that although TTB generally prohibits consignment sales, the regulations do not specifically impose payment term limitations for sales between industry members and trade buyers. That does not mean, however, that all payment terms are “beyond scrutiny as potential sales on consignment.”

In particular, TTB advised that “in the absence of explicit terms that violate the consignment sale regulations, payment terms of up to 30 days are unlikely to constitute consignment sales.” Conversely, payment terms exceeding 30 days may invite scrutiny from TTB to determine whether those payment terms were “merely a subterfuge” to sell goods on consignment because the buyer is effectively under no obligation to pay for product until the trade buyer has sold [...]

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2022 TTB Industry Circular 2: Social Media Advertising

Due to the uptick in alcohol advertisement on social media platforms, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued guidance on advertising via social media and how TTB’s rules on advertising generally apply in this new and important context, as summarized below.

  • TTB views an entire page or site as a single advertisement, so mandatory statements need only appear once on the page, but they should be conspicuous and readily apparent to the viewer.
    • This includes Facebook, LinkedIn, your brand’s Instagram or YouTube, TikTok, etc.
  • On social networking sites where providing all the mandatory information may be difficult because of space restrictions, TTB allows you to provide a link to another webpage that contains the mandatory information.
    • You must clearly name or mark it to indicate that the mandatory company and/or product information can be found by clicking the link.
    • The link should take users directly to the mandatory information and not to a “general website” that would require additional action to find the information.
  • TTB also considers content created by another party that is reposted or “liked” by an industry member or other similar action that would cause the content to show up in the feed of their page followers to be “advertising” and therefore subject to the advertising rules.
  • Your brand’s Instagram, for example, is considered a single advertisement by TTB but if a photo or video is posted to a site and is not associated with a profile section that bears mandatory information about the product, the industry member must include the mandatory statements within the photos/videos themselves.
    • Influencer marketing, for example, requires the same mandatory advertising statements that are required for industry members’ social media sites. This requirement may also be satisfied with the influencer including a clearly marked link to another website that contains all the mandatory information

SeeTTB Industry Circular 2022-2.

As a reminder, below are the basic TTB requirements for mandatory information that must appear on all alcohol advertisements:

Basics of Alcohol Advertising

TTB requires certain mandatory statements appear in advertising for a malt beverage, wine and distilled spirits products:

  • For malt beverages and distilled spirits: the name, city, and state OR the name and other contact information (phone number, website or email address) where the responsible advertiser may be contacted.
  • For wine: the name and address (city and state) of the permittee responsible for the advertisement (TTB has modernized the advertising rules for malt beverages and distilled spirits but has not yet finalized modernization of wine advertising rules).
  • For all commodities: the class to which the product belongs, corresponding with the information shown on the approved label.
  • For distilled spirits only: the alcohol content presented as a percentage of alcohol by volume (the same alcohol content that appears on the label of the distilled spirits you are advertising) and, if needed, the percentage of neutral spirits and the name of the commodity.

There are several [...]

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TTB Industry Circular 3: Calculating Tax Rates and Tax Credits on Imported Distilled Spirits

In the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) final Industry Circular of the year, they provided DSPs guidance on how to calculate effective tax rates for distilled spirits products eligible for the Craft Beverage Modernization Act (CBMA) reduced tax rates, as well as providing importers with guidance on calculating and using effective tax rates or standard effective tax rates (SETRs) for imported products that are eligible for CBMA tax benefits. This Industry Circular supersedes Industry Circular 2018-4. This 2022 iteration essentially restates the procedures for DSPs calculating effective tax rates for distilled spirits products subject to CBMA reduced tax rates, but updates guidance for importers on how to calculate and use effective tax rates or SETRs for imported products that are eligible for CBMA tax benefits.

Because the guidance for DSPs on calculating effective tax rates remains essentially unchanged, we summarize the updated guidance for importers set forth in the Industry Circular below:

The Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020 transferred responsibility for administering the CBMA tax benefits for imported alcohol from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to the US Department of the Treasury (Treasury) beginning with products entered for consumption in the US on or after January 1, 2023. That responsibility was then delegated by the Treasury to TTB.

Generally, the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (IRC) imposes a tax of $13.50 per proof gallon on distilled spirits produced or imported into the U.S. See 26 USC § 5001(a)(1). However, reduced tax rates of $2.70 and $13.34 per proof gallon may be available under certain circumstances. Id. at § 5001(c). Section 5010 of the IRC allows certain credits against the tax imposed in Section 5001 on each proof gallon of alcohol in a distilled spirits product derived from eligible wine or from eligible flavors to the extent the eligible flavors do not exceed 2.5 percent of the finished product on a proof gallon basis (5010 credits).

An effective tax rate for an imported distilled spirits product is the tax rate applicable to the product after subtracting allowable 5010 credits. TTB must approve an effective tax each time a distilled spirits product containing eligible wine or eligible flavors is imported into the US. The procedure for securing approval of an effective tax rate is located in 27 CFR § 27.76.

An SETR for an imported distilled spirits product is established under 27 CFR § 27.77 based on the least quantity and lowest alcohol content of eligible wine or eligible flavors used in the manufacture of the distilled spirits products. TTB must also approve an SETR for distilled spirits in accordance with the procedure set forth in 27 CFR § 27.77.

Beginning January 1, 2023, importers who want to take advantage of CBMA tax benefits must pay the full tax rate to CBP and then submit a claim to TTB for a refund of their claimed benefits. TTB advises importers to follow the procedures set forth in 27 CFR § 27.76 to establish effective tax [...]

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Alcohol Suppliers Hit with ADA Website Accessibility Lawsuits

The increasing popularity of online shopping is placing e-commerce businesses—specifically those in the alcohol beverage industry—in legal crosshairs. In lockstep with a recent uptick in website accessibility cases, plaintiff firms are sending pre-suit demand letters to alcohol suppliers and, in some cases, even filing a state or federal court lawsuit. These lawsuits—which are typically filed in California or New York—involve claims that a supplier’s website is not accessible to individuals who are blind in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and related state laws. In these cases, plaintiffs seek attorneys’ fees, damages (only under state law) and injunctive relief that would require the website to conform with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards, which have been broadly adopted by courts and regulators.

To prevail on a website accessibility claim, plaintiffs must first show that a defendant is a private entity that owns, leases or operates a “place of public accommodation.” Courts, however, are split on what it means for a website to be considered a place of public accommodation under Title III of the ADA. While some jurisdictions require that there be a “physical nexus” between the website and a brick-and-mortar store, other jurisdictions have permitted these cases to go forward against a website-only company that does not own or operate any physical retail location.

In addition to establishing that the supplier’s website is a place of public accommodation, the plaintiff must satisfy certain jurisdictional requirements which will depend upon whether products can be purchased directly from the website as well as whether the supplier ships to the state in which the suit was filed. Leveraging these defenses (among others) will be critical when it comes to either convincing the plaintiff to withdraw the claim, filing a motion to dismiss or achieving an early resolution on favorable terms.

Due to the rise in these website accessibility lawsuits, we encourage industry members to take a proactive approach:

  1. Train personnel on accessibility requirements and WCAG standards.
  2. Test the website against WCAG standards (through independent consultants or user testing).
  3. Retain testing documentation to demonstrate that users with disabilities can fully use the website.
  4. Assess potential areas of non-conformance with WCAG standards.
  5. Work with internal/external technical teams to implement accessibility features into the website.
  6. Develop an accessibility policy that informs users about the company’s accessibility practices.
  7. Consider including a link to the website accessibility policy on every webpage, including a reporting option that is appropriately routed to address accessibility issues.
  8. Regularly audit the website to assess its level of accessibility (particularly after website updates).
  9. Engage legal counsel to minimize litigation risk associated with website accessibility issues, including whether the ADA is applicable to the company’s website in light of the current state of the law.

For questions about these lawsuits, please contact Jeremy White, Alva Mather or McDermott’s Alcohol Regulatory & Distribution Group.




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Second Prop 65 Amendment Effective April 1, 2021: New Warnings Required

The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, also known as Proposition 65 (Prop 65), was enacted as a ballot initiative and requires businesses to inform Californians about exposures to chemicals that are known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. The regulation prohibits knowing or intentional exposure of any individual to a “chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving clear and reasonable warning to such individual.” (See: 27 CCR § 25249.6.)

The state maintains and updates a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity, with alcoholic beverages being added to the list April 29, 2011, and requiring suppliers to comply with Prop 65’s “clear and reasonable warning” mandate. (Click here for more information.) This includes, without limitation, beer, malt beverages, wine and distilled spirits. (See: 27 CCR § 25607.4(a).) Generally speaking, for alcoholic beverages, it is the responsibility of the manufacturer or its distributors to ensure proper compliance with Prop 65. (See: 27 CCR § 25600.2(a).) Further, any consequences for failure to comply with Prop 65 typically rests with the manufacturer or its distributor, provided that the retailer has not frustrated the manufacturer’s reasonable efforts to properly display the warning.

The warning provided must read: “WARNING Drinking distilled spirits, beer, coolers, wine and other alcoholic beverages may increase cancer risk, and, during pregnancy, can cause birth defects. For more information go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov/alcohol.” (Id. at § 25607.4(a)(1)-(2).) To comply with Section 25607.3, among other specific requirements, the warning must be made at either point of sale (for off-premises consumption) or on a menu or list identifying the alcoholic beverages sold on-premises. (See: 27 CCR § 25607.4.) Note, however, that a supplier who is a party to a “court-ordered settlement or final judgment, establishing a warning method or content is deemed to be providing a “clear and reasonable” warning for that exposure if the warning complies with the order or judgment,” even if the requirements set forth in the order or judgment differ from the specific requirements set forth in the regulations. (See: 27 CCR § 25600(e).)

Prop 65 is enforced by the California attorney general, any district attorney or city attorney for cities whose population exceeds 750,000 and/or any private individual or group acting in the public interest. (See: 27 CCR § 25249.7.) Penalties for violating Prop 65 can be as high as $2,500 per day. (Id.) The fine is paid to the party that brought the litigation, including individuals or groups acting in the public interest, which creates a powerful incentive for private parties to enforce Prop 65. (Id.)

Prop 65 has undergone multiple amendments, two of which are in direct response to the ever-growing e-commerce market for alcoholic beverages. The first amendment, effective August 30, 2018, required the Prop 65 warning language be displayed on websites and on or in packages containing direct-to-consumer orders sent to California addresses. (Click here for [...]

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