Uncategorized
Subscribe to Uncategorized's Posts

Preparing for Evolving Cybersecurity Threats

The recent ransomware attack against the Duvel Moortgat Brewery demonstrated the very real risk that cybersecurity incidents pose to the alcohol industry, reportedly halting operations for several days at four of Duvel Moortgat’s facilities in Europe and the United States. This attack comes after other major alcohol producers experienced disruptive ransomware attacks in the last several years. Incidents like these can be devastating for a company’s business and reputation, and hackers’ strategies are constantly evolving to maximize their damage. But companies can be prepared with an information security program designed to prevent successful attacks and quickly respond if one occurs. Experienced partners such as McDermott are critical resources throughout this process, enabling companies to better update and fortify their security programs.

The Growing Threat of Attack

Hackers have extorted companies through ransomware attacks for decades, but hacker strategies have evolved to increase the risks to companies, often resulting in a larger ransom for the hacker. A “ransomware” attack traditionally refers to a strategy in which a hacker gains access to a victim’s computer system, encrypts the information on those systems and demands a ransom payment to unlock that information. Victims may try to avoid paying the ransom by restoring most of their systems from backups, but hackers have recently introduced additional strategies that can complicate that recovery. Today, hackers often try to steal the victim’s information before encrypting it on the victim’s system, so that they can sell or publish the information if the victim refuses to pay the ransom. Hackers also may try to “corrupt” backups so that the victim cannot effectively restore its system without the hacker’s assistance. One ransomware group, AlphV, says that it also reports its publicly traded victims to the US Securities and Exchange Commission if they don’t pay the ransom.

Determining whether to pay a ransom is a complicated decision, with either choice presenting notable risks. The ransom will likely be expensive and must be paid without any guarantee that the hacker will make good on its promises. The decryption software or key may not work, or the hacker may not delete information. One hacking group, LockBit, is believed to save victims’ information after their ransoms are paid despite promising to delete it. The hacker may be willing to negotiate a lower payment amount, but doing so takes valuable time while the victim’s systems likely remain nonfunctional. The hacker may be under sanctions, in which case paying the ransom would be illegal and could result in a fine for the victim. Paying the ransom rewards the hacker, which may increase the risk that the hacker targets the victim again. There is rarely a clear path back to safety after a successful breach, so it is important that the victim make an efficient, informed decision.

Opportunities for Preparation and Prevention

Companies can minimize these risks by maintaining a security program designed to prevent incidents from occurring and to effectively respond if they do occur. The security program should utilize administrative, technical and physical security policies [...]

Continue Reading




read more

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 [...]

Continue Reading




read more

How Industry Members Can Prepare for Alcohol Theft

While there has always been theft in the alcohol industry, there has been a significant uptick in large-scale larceny in recent months. Because of this reality, alcohol industry members should take steps to prepare for missing product. Below are some ideas to consider.

  • Ensure you have adequate insurance coverage: While reviewing your insurance policy is not always top of mind, you should understand what coverage you have and the steps you must take in the event of theft. Many policies have timelines in which theft must be reported and requirements about what steps must be taken to report a claim. Understanding these policy elements will help ensure you do not miss the chance to make a future claim.
  • Review your contractual obligations: Agreements with carriers, shipping companies, storage facilities, third-party manufacturers or other business partners often, or should, have clauses related to each party’s obligations in the event of theft of product. Carefully review facility operation provisions and indemnification clauses to understand each party’s responsibilities in the event of theft, especially if a theft is potentially the result of a party’s negligence or willful misconduct. When negotiating new agreements with a vendor that may store or handle product, ensure the party has sufficient security measures and protocols in place to prevent theft. Some industry members may look for protections and facility security beyond what federal or state regulators look for in order to issue a license to store or handle alcohol.
  • Create an internal policy and training program: Having a clear protocol for employees to follow in the event of a theft will ensure your business doesn’t unintentionally jeopardize its ability to file an insurance claim or to obtain taxes back on lost goods. Because time is typically of the essence, it is crucial that your employees know how to respond to theft.
  • Understand if you can retrieve taxes back for product that has been stolen: The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) will not pay claims for stolen product if insurance covers excise tax or if you have indemnification from other parties. Alcohol losses due to theft are also not eligible as a disaster claim. However, relief can still be sought if the industry member can demonstrate to the TTB that the loss was not due to fraud or negligence by the member or its agents or employees. The conditions that must be met to determine if a tax refund can be sought, and the process for seeking a claim for remission of tax liability, can be found here:
    • Distillers: 26 USC § 5008; 27 CFR § 19.263; 27 CFR § 70.413
    • Brewers: 26 USC § 5056; 27 CFR § 25.282; 27 CFR § 70.413
    • Wineries: 26 USC § 5370; 27 CFR § 24.265; 27 CFR § 70.413

Due to the sizable uptick of theft, we encourage industry members to ensure not only that their current insurance coverage and contractual obligations provide adequate protection but also [...]

Continue Reading




read more

Maine Disclosure Requirements Burden Industry Members

Over the summer, Maine’s Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages & Lottery Operations issued clarification of its ownership disclosure requirements for new applicants and existing license or certificate holders. We understand the significant impact this has on industry members and have summarized the updated guidance below.

Like most states, Maine has a long history of requesting the ownership information for the licensed entity. Maine law 28-A M.R.S. § 651(2)(A) states that an application must contain the entire ownership or any interest in the person or establishment for which a license or certificate of approval is sought. Historically, Maine has issued licenses with disclosure of the applicant and its parent company so long as these entities or individuals met the eligibility requirements discussed in 28-A M.R.S. § 601.

However, Maine’s new enforcement of §651 now focuses on the “entire” ownership structure; it requires disclosure of every level of ownership until the entity identifies everyone with ownership interest in the business or until a public entity is listed. This requirement applies to all applicants and licensees, including holders of a certificate of approval.

This level of ownership disclosure is rare in this heavily regulated industry. It is a burden on current license or certificate holders entering their renewal period as well as on new applicants looking to begin business in the state.

McDermott’s alcohol team is working closely with the state to navigate this new requirement and to discuss legislative changes to best support both industry members and regulators while ensuring our clients are able to continue operations with license extensions. For questions or assistance with Maine’s disclosure requirements, please contact Alva Mather or the alcohol team.




read more

A Toast to Celebrate Women’s History Month

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, our women-led Alcohol Legal Team would like to make a toast to the future and to the women who have paved the way.

Our team has worked in-house at some of the most well-known alcohol companies in the world. Led by Alva Mather, partner and head of the Alcohol Regulatory & Distribution Group, our industry-leading women work together to provide businesses with innovative insight and legal strategies needed to navigate the complex regulatory landscape.

Get to know our team of 10 – some of their favorite spirits – and join us in being inspired by what they do for the industry.





read more

Treasury Responds to Biden Administration Executive Order with Report, Recommendations to Increase Alcohol Industry Competition

On February 9, 2022, the US Treasury Department (Treasury) released a report with recommendations for how the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) can help drive competition in the beer, wine and spirits markets by stepping up conduct enforcement, adopting creative and nuanced theories of harm in merger reviews and implementing new regulations to decrease the burden on smaller industry participants.

TREASURY REPORT SUMMARY

  • Treasury released a report entitled “Competition in the Markets for Beer, Wine, and Spirits” in response to President Biden’s July 2021 Executive Order 14036 that assesses the current market structure and conditions of competition, including an assessment of threats to competition and barriers to entry.
  • Treasury’s report is based, in part, on hundreds of comments received from industry participants and paints a detailed picture of the current landscape for alcohol beverage distribution and sale across the United States.
  • The report focuses on how changes could benefit smaller participants in the beer, wine and spirits industry. Given that the stated goal of Executive Order 14036 was, in part, “to reduce the trend of corporate consolidation, increase competition, and deliver concrete benefits to America’s consumers, workers, and small businesses,” it is not surprising that the report is focused on analyzing how a shift in enforcement priorities may be able to help eliminate impediments that make it difficult for smaller producers, distributors and retailers to compete with the larger players in the industry. Treasury specifically recommends that TTB cease bringing cases against “smaller industry members whose conduct does not have obvious effects on competition” (i.e., the investigation several years ago against small wineries for ‘consignment sales’).
  • Treasury makes recommendation on enforcement priorities for FTC, DOJ and TTB. To address the market concentration concerns that the report describes, Treasury makes recommendations regarding how the TTB, FTC and DOJ should focus investigations and enforcement of mergers and conduct in each of the three tiers of the beer, wine and spirits markets: producers, distributors and retailers.
  • Many of the recommendations are likely to be pursued given that the Attorney General and FTC Chair were consulted. The report and its recommendations should be considered carefully as a clear indication of the kinds of issues that FTC and DOJ are likely to focus their investigations on in beer, wine and spirits because the report was developed “in consultation with the Attorney General [DOJ] and the Chair of the FTC.”

TREASURY’S KEY RECOMMENDATIONS

  • While there are myriad competition-focused suggestions in the report, we think the areas that are most likely to receive increased focus from FTC, DOJ and TTB are the following:
    • Anticompetitive Conduct: Treasury noted that FTC, DOJ and TTB have generally not brought any conduct cases on many theories of harm for which myriad complaints were received. Treasury suggests that TTB should act on [...]

      Continue Reading



read more

Thank You to Our Readers

We greatly appreciate our readers over the past year and are pleased to share that we were once again recognized for our food and beverage thought leadership in the 2020 JD Supra Readers’ Choice Awards, which acknowledge top authors and firms for their thought leadership in key topics during all of last year. Through our various blogs and thought leadership pieces, we are dedicated to maintaining our position as a leading firm for alcohol and cannabis work, and keeping clients abreast of significant and relevant topics in the industry.




read more

McDermott’s Marc Sorini Named a 2019 NLR ‘Go-To Thought Leader’

We are very pleased to share that one of our editors for Alcohol Law Advisor and head of McDermott’s Alcohol Regulatory & Distribution Group Marc E. Sorini was named a 2019 National Law Review Go-To Thought Leader. The National Law Review’s 2019 “Go-To Thought Leader Awards” spotlight 75 legal authors—less than 1% of the publication’s 15,000 thought leaders—selected from a pool of over 100,000 news articles published in 2019. Sorini was one of three thought leaders recognized in the “Food & Drug” category. According to the awards description, “The NLR Go-To Thought Leadership recipients not only demonstrate a depth of legal knowledge but also outline the steps needed for compliance and/or adaptation. These designated authors are not only reader favorites but are often quoted in other publications and/or syndicated in other media.”

Recognized as one of the leading lawyers in his field, Sorini has represented alcohol beverage suppliers before federal and state courts, the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state alcohol beverage control agencies. He advises clients on compliance with the regulations and policies of the TTB, FTC, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Here, he shares his thoughts on the recognition, how he stays on top of industry trends and the advice he has for peers and future thought leaders.

Q: What are your thoughts on being named a NLR ‘Go-To Thought Leader’?

A: My first instinct is to say, “Dude, it rocks!” But sincerely, I’m honored to be included in such a selective list of my peers. Over the past year especially, our practice group has focused on optimizing our content: getting to the heart of why, say, a regulatory update really matters and how readers should take action in response. It’s validating to see that approach has resonated.

Q: What have you found most useful in your tenure in terms of staying on top of industry trends for this practice, which led you to this recognition?

A: It starts with discipline, first and foremost. I carve out the time to read up on industry developments through daily updates like Alcohol Issues INSIGHTS, Beer Business Daily, INSIGHTS Express and Wine & Spirits Daily. I also try to keep tabs on bills and case law, as well as the monthly and bimonthly publications like The New Brewer and Artisan Spirit Magazine. Making the time to stay up to date really pays dividends, in my experience. Court cases, for instance, become old news very quickly if you don’t stay on top of them.

Q: As an established thought leader, what would you advise the peers and future thought leaders? How are you already working with the next class to ensure a continued stream of valuable content in this space?

A: As we know, the way lawyers are compensated can sometimes create a perverse incentive: The instant reward is for putting in billable hours, not for the deeper practice [...]

Continue Reading




read more

Data Breach: How to Prepare for What Experts Have Deemed Is Inevitable

Data security experts often say there are two types of businesses: those that have been hacked and those who will be hacked. Many small business owners believe they are too small to attract a hacker or fall victim to a breach, but this is not true. Given the costs and broad reach of data breaches, small businesses must take a proactive role in preparing themselves for a breach and mitigating its effects. A small business can take practical steps to better protect itself and its brand from the effects of a data breach.

Read the full article.

Originally published in Artisan Spirit: Summer 2019.




read more

24th Annual Wine, Beer & Spirits Law Conference

On September 16–17, CLE International will host the 24rd Annual Wine, Beer & Spirits Law Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. Those attending will include the alcohol beverage industry’s leading practitioners, including in-house counsel for producers, distributors and retailers, as well as industry lawyers and state administrators. Conference topics include:

  • Updates on TTB developments and trends
  • An overview of recent developments in alcohol trade practice and trademark law
  • The significance of regulatory compliance, and the state of data security and ownership
  • Updates on the cannabis industry, including the latest legalization efforts and how it could affect the alcohol beverage industry

McDermott partner Marc Sorini serves as co-chair for the event and will also present. Other McDermott presenters will be Michael Kimberly and Anthony DeMaio.

Click here for the full agenda and registration information.




read more

STAY CONNECTED

TOPICS

ARCHIVES