Law Offices P.C.


Legal Advisor



42% of theft occurs in companies with less than 100 employees.
* Association of Certified Fraud Examiners 
As a business owner you want to believe that the people you hire are honest, and most are. That said, you must be vigilant concerning theft
from your own employees regardless of the size of your business or the loyalty of employees and length of service, some employees are dishonest or make honest bookkeeping mistakes.

Theft may be in actual money or company owned assets. Either way it costs YOU money.


A.  One very distinguished and successful attorney had a bookkeeper who embezzled over $250,000.00 from his client trust account. 

B.  A multi-billion dollar publicly traded corporation had an employee in inventory/sales embezzle over $6,000,000.00 in conjunction with an outside "vendor" using fake invoices.

I know, I was tasked with putting together the paper trail of their scheme for the police and FBI just before their arrest.

Proactive anti-theft steps you can take include:

  •   *   Establish a procedure of checks and balances, with more than one person performing all accounting bookkeeping deposits and check writing tasks.
  •   *   Hire outside accountants and perform impromptu audits.
  •   *   Be vigilant and frequently take a good look at your books, actual receipts, invoices, and checks.
  •   *   Trace your inputted data. Is the person inputting data the same as the one cutting the checks? 
  •   *   Create indelible footprints in your financial system to give you a clear audit trail.
  •   *   For retailers, establish strict cash register procedures and monitor them.
  •   *   Establish a system of inventory control and actively review the records.

Remember embezzlement happens in privately held companies as well as publicly traded corporations. Periodically have your financial procedures reviewed by an experienced business attorney.


    Company owners with five or more employees should have an Employee Handbook for their business. 
    The handbook can be brief or lengthy depending on the type of business.

The Employee Handbook prevents misunderstandings among employees who will know their rights. The Employee Handbook is a guide for policies and rules of behavior.  

Whether long or short every handbook should contain:
  • *** A statement that employment is "at will."
  • *** Expectations of employees for behavior, dress code and conduct including acceptable and unacceptable behavior, use of company computers, telephones, etc.
  • *** List of employee benefits including vacation and sick days.
  • *** A statement of equal opportunity employment and zero tolerance for discrimination and harassment.
  • *** Information regarding harassment and the duty to investigate all complaints with confidentially.
  • *** The right of the company to monitor employee phone calls and e-mails.
  • *** Procedures for settling employment disputes
There are many other rules and guidelines that may be included in the Employee Handbook.

Although it is common to let the Handbook age, it should be reviewed annually by a business attorney or a qualified Human Resource Director. There are ongoing changes in the law so it's wise for the business owner to stay current. Remember, problems prevented are problems avoided. Additionally, you will have a smoother operating business when everyone knows the rules.


With thousands of attorneys in the Los Angeles area, many practicing different fields of law, some are truly gifted, some just barely get by, and most fall in the middle. When you have a legal problem that is important to you, how do you make sure you pick the best attorney for your case? 

 Look for the following:

  • Ask if the attorney has experience with your specific type of case. Be it a car accident, employment dispute, contracts, copyright, divorce, criminal, etc. The attorney you choose should have experience in this area of law.
  • Is the attorney responsive to your requests, calls, or emails?
  • Ask for an estimate of costs, legal fees and time. No outcome is guaranteed especially if a lawsuit is required, but an experienced attorney can give you a range of what to expect, cost and time wise.
  • In an injury case if any attorney tells you your case is worth a million dollars, RUN. No competent attorney will give you a case value right at the start.
  • Ask other attorneys for referrals. Your friends may also know "the best" attorney however, this specific attorney may or may not be the best for your case;
  • When hiring a large firm be clear about who will be working on your case; the senior partner, the first-year associate, more than one associate, or all of the above?
 Simply put who will take care of your matter and how many attorneys are you paying for? 
  • Finally, go with your instinct. How do you feel after speaking with or meeting the attorney? Do you feel confident?  Is there a rapport?  Do you feel that the attorney understands and cares? If so, that is the attorney for you. 
 Bus.Law Binder



An attorney in Beverly Hills was once asked how much he charges per hour? and he responded $850.00. The potential client said, "isn't that a lot of money for one hour?" and the attorney replied, "you are not paying for one hour, you are paying for 40 years of experience!"


Harvey Weinstein, Why the Uproar Now?  

The mainstream media, social media, pundits, bloggers and everyone in between have gotten on the bandwagon to blast Harvey Weinstein, demonstrating once again that a man is guilty until proven otherwise when it comes to sexual harassment.

Do not get me wrong, I do believe the women who have come forward with their stories of Harvey’s inappropriate behavior. What I don’t understand is why now?

Something else is going on. Now I may sound paranoid, and as an attorney I believe that is my right, but there is someone big and powerful out to get Harvey Weinstein and now is the time.

I don’t understand why reporters, bloggers, and investigative journalists do not ask the hard questions. Sure, it’s easier to report the stories of the women coming forward, the juicy details of Harvey’s inappropriate actions, the fact that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences revoked Harvey’s membership, and that the Producer’s Guild will probably do the same. But if you truly are an investigative reporter, investigate the reason why this is happening now. Don’t just report what is being spoon fed to you.

As to the question “why now” the answer is who has the most to gain?

Was there a plan to take over the Weinstein Company, buy them out? Certainly, the price has dropped significantly since the scandal broke.

Did Harvey tick off someone with more clout than his in the industry, someone who decided enough with the Weinstein Company?

Did Harvey’s brother, Bob, want out of the Company but wasn’t being offered what he thought was a fair amount of money?

Did Harvey want out and wasn’t being offered enough, or did Harvey want to destroy the company he built to prove it was his and no one else’s? The epitome of Harvey’s ego. Was this whole debacle orchestrated? I believe it was.

The Weinstein Company hasn’t had a blockbuster hit in over two years. The highest gross movie was just over $51M in 2016 according to , nothing to brag about. And none of their movies hit the $100M dollar mark in years.

As far as the uproar in claims, some speculate that there is safety in numbers, once one or two women come forward it encourages others to follow, yes that is certainly the case. But let’s back up a moment. There are multiple reporters who have been pursuing this story, apparently one of the worst kept secrets in the entertainment industry, for years. And at the last minute the story or stories got squashed. So why was it different now?

Jocelyn Noveck of the Associated Press proposed on October 7, 2014 the premise that Harvey Weinstein “has fallen on more challenging times recently, and his influence appeared to be waning.” But in the same article, appearing in the Chicago Tribune, there were also the suggestions that culture had changed in the entertainment industry, prior accusations such as those of Gretchen Carlson which brought down Fox CEO Ailes gave other women courage, and on and on.

I don’t buy it.

Each of these instances, bringing down moguls, actors, producers had their just perfect timing for someone’s good reason. Crosby was about to go into production on a new show. Ailes “built not just a conservative cable news channel but something like the fourth branch of government; a propaganda arm for the GOP, an organization that determined Republican presidential candidates, sold wars, and decided issues of the day for 2 million viewers.” O’Reilly too, had risen to influence beyond what people were willing to accept, and out he went.

While it’s true these men committed reprehensible, despicable acts against women for years without compunction, and they deserved the lawsuits, punishment and ouster from their powerful positions, I would delve into the timing.

Timing is everything. 

Why use a business attorney?
Prevailing wisdom is that business success requires a superior product, excellent customer service, and fair pricing. Beyond that there are marketing, promotion, and sales as well as economic conditions and a bit of luck. How does your business build a foundation for success?
When I am asked what are the three most important things a business should have, I answer:  
1. An experienced business attorney
2. A qualified business accountant
3. Insurance

Prevention of serious legal problems is the key. Investing in a business attorney is part of the cost of doing business. It's important to remember that by the time you are sued, the preventable damage has been done. At that point, you'll incur substantial attorney fees, court costs, and damages.

Most business owners believe that with the right insurance policies in place, like property insurance, general liability, unemployment insurance, workers compensation, employment liability, officers/directors and errors and omissions, they are all set.
But buying the policy and having a claim paid are two very different things. There are many pitfalls in between.
Example One:  Laid Off
An employee is laid off and files for unemployment benefits. The employer contests and employee is denied benefits. Employee sues for wrongful termination costing the employer thousands of dollars.  
Solution: to avoid this pitfall I recommend employers do not contest unemployment benefits. The employer has already paid into the system and will not get the money back. There is nothing that will send a former employee to an attorney faster than an employer who fights unemployment benefits.   

Example 2: The Broken Pipe

Employer has a pipe burst which causes damage to her business and inventory. Employer contacts her property insurance company and files a claim telling them main pipe line broke. The insurance company determines main line is responsibility of building owner and denies claim. 
Solution: When filing a property damage claim it is not your job to identify cause of damage, i.e. Water damage versus main pipe burst, less said to insurance the better. Additionally, it is recommended to file the claim with all potential insurance companies, including the property owner. And if it looks like your claim may be denied, seek advice of attorney familiar with insurance companies and policies. A letter from our law firm explaining why the insurance company is liable, may avert costly litigation.

Remember, Insurance companies exist to collect premiums and make a profit, when it comes to paying claims you, the business owner, may need to do a great deal of non-business-related work to get your claim settled.
And yes, your company does need a Business Attorney such as myself to become a winner.
Image result for uber logo images  EMPLOYEES BRING  UBER TROUBLE

UBER ignored a primary cornerstone of a solid business during its super-expansion. Simply stated, no one at the company took the time to create a foundation - a structure, and sound policies.     

In fact from public reports it seems UBER sanctioned sexual harassment and gender bias which was encouraged or ignored by management in a hostile work environment. The prevalent company culture, which brought UBER financial success, ignored the basic rights of employees. 
And in the blink of an eye, one employee went public and the situation snowballed into a law firm investigation, dozens of layoffs, and investor revolt. 
The lesson is this: whether you are starting out or already established, create and adhere to an employee policy that conforms to the law and protects your employees.

An ounce of prevention is worth ten pounds of cure. A good business/employment attorney can save your company. 

Where you have employees you have potential for problems, people are human, they do not always get along. When people spend hours at work together situations arise for which an Employer must prepare. The best way to do this is with policies and procedures which set out expectations of workplace behavior. What is acceptable and what is not. 

Once these procedures are in place the next step is enforcement. What is the point of going to the trouble of drafting policies if they are to be ignored? Whether you have a human resources department, or are a one person CEO/President/COO assign someone, even if its you, to listen to employee complaints. And make sure employees know they can speak freely.

When employees sue for sexual harassment, hostile work environment, etc. 9 times out of 10 the issue could have been avoided had management or HR taken proactive measures to welcome the employee, investigate and resolve the problem.

Ignoring the issue, or worse yet encouraging a company culture of gender disrespect and harassment gets you to UBER, and the lawsuits by the UBER Employees have not even started. This is just the beginning of a long road for the company.

If you have any questions regarding implementing procedures, updating handbooks, investigating grievances, please contact the Law Offices of Liat Cohen (818) 579-9996. Free consultation.

Employers Are Responsible For Workplace Safety  

The news is rife with school and workplace shootings. The opportunity to review office safety procedures with your employees is NOW.

Employers have an obligation to keep the workplace safe. Employers may have liability for failing to act under certain circumstances.

Collage of diverse multi-ethnic and mixed age range people expressing different emotionsNow would be be a good time to send an E-mail to all employees. I suggest sending something like the following:


We want to ensure our workplace is safe for everyone. Company procedures require that any employee, who has obtained a restraining order, or who is being physically threatened, or who is in fear for their safety or the safety of their loved ones, must bring this information directly to management as soon as possible. 


While we will take steps to keep matters confidential, our foremost priority is your safety and the safety of our employees. Thank you.

If an employee brings up an issue, they should meet with HR or management and provide at least the following information:

  • Name, address, E-mail, phone number of person presenting threat
  • Detailed description of the person and a photograph
  • Nature of threat (what is employee concerned about?)
  • Who has been threatened ... When? How?
  • Duration (how long this has been going on?)     

(All this information should be placed in employee's personnel file.)


 A Guide to Employer's Actions 



Depending on the situation and your assessment of the threat, you may wish to do any or all of the following:


1. Keep person off premises: 

Put supervisors on notice to watch for person, disseminate the photograph, especially to receptionists and front desk people who are greeters.


2. Notify Security: Advise security and building personnel that the person is banned from premises. 

3. Police: Advise personnel to contact police if person is spotted. Depending on threat, file a police report. 

4. Confidential: Share information only with gatekeepers to workplace safety.


In your opinion, if the threat is old, not imminent, not relevant, or not credible, you may only need to make a record of it.

  • Are you married?
  • Do you have an "ex"?
  • Do you have children?
  • Children from a previous marriage?
  • A home? Or Two?
  • A business?
  • Parents you need to take care of?
  • A crazy relative?
  • A brother you cannot stand?
  • A special needs grandchild or other relative?
  • An in-law you think is out for the family money?


If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions you should plan your estate!  A couple of hours with an attorney and a few well spent dollars can save years of infighting and tens of thousands of dollars in litigation and attorney fees.


No one wants to think of a time when they will die or their spouse will pass away. However, statistics show that all people will die at some point in their lives, usually the end.


It does not matter if you are worth $150,000 or $150 Million, to avoid probate, keep your affairs private, and most importantly ensure your wishes are carried out and your family's well being is maintained, create your Estate Plan TODAY.  


An estate plan consists of several documents working together to protect you.

  1. An Advanced Health Care Directive - lets you appoint a person you trust to make general and specific health care as well as life ending health decisions for you if you are not capable of doing so yourself.
  2. A Durable Power of Attorney - lets you appoint a person you trust to make financial and legal decisions for you if you are not capable of doing so.
  3. Revocable Trust - holds your assets, personal, and real property. The trust allows you to manage your affairs as always and provides for subsequent persons you appoint to manage your affairs and distribute your assets per your instructions after your passing.
  4. A Will works with the Trust making sure all assets, especially those that may not be in the Trust, are handled per your intentions. Additionally, the will is where you appoint guardians to take care of your children.


If an individual is worth more than $5.3M or a couple are worth more than $10.7M then an Estate Plan is even more critical to manage Federal Estate Tax ramifications. There are many options with a little planning.


Are you one of the few well prepared individuals who already has an estate plan in place? When was it last reviewed? Do your children still need a guardian? Are the agents or trustees you appointed still capable of protecting your interests? It never hurts to review the documents. The time to make changes is now.



Liat Cohen



I have a simple will I wrote about 8 years ago and I want to make sure my assets go to my children. I only have a small house, a couple of saving accounts, and a life insurance policy. Is the will I wrote enough?


Do It Yourselfer

Dear DIY:

Is the will you wrote enough for what? If you have more than $150,000 in assets (and your house and life insurance count as assets) the will you wrote will be enough to send your estate through probate court, ensure your children spend money on attorneys as they wind their way through the system for about 2-3 years until they finally receive what is left of their inheritance.

Whether you are worth $200,000 or $200 Million, there is a lot more to Estate Planning than just a "simple will". In fact, the "planning" is different for each individual or couple and depends not only on the financial situation, but the needs, age, health, family situation, children, grandchildren, blended families, exes, relatives, friends, and much more.

Estate Planning takes into consideration your potential incapacity, while you are still alive. An Advanced Healthcare Directive lets you appoint a representative of your choice to carry out your wishes with regard to healthcare and life saving heroic measures. If you are unable to manage your financial affairs, a well drafted Durable General Power of Attorney ensures the people you trust are in charge until you can again take over.

The mainstay of any good Estate Plan is the Trust. In a Trust you outline your plans during your lifetime and after your demise for the benefit of your chosen heirs. You set forth your intentions. You, and subsequently the Trustees you appoint carry out those intentions and instructions. You can create a simple or intricate plan, to protect you, your family and your assets as well as minimize tax consequences.

Finally, the Will that is drafted in Estate Planning works to ensure that all assets are either placed into the trust (pour over) or distributed pursuant to your instructions.

While this is not a subject many of us like to contemplate, for those who want peace of mind for themselves and their loved ones, Estate Planning is the smartest thing to do.

Partnership Agreements

Dear Liat:

I have a business I have been running for 8 years. I want to bring in my friend as a partner. He has $50,000 he wants to invest and I wondered what I need to do to protect my interest and his in the business.


Concerned Owner


Dear Concerned:

Great question. You have a business you have been operating and you have a friend who wants to invest and work with you. This can be a recipe for success or disaster. 

To avoid disaster, plan ahead. A partnership agreement which would describe in detail each partner's duties and obligations would be your best solution. This agreement should take into consideration what happens when the business becomes a great success, and what happens if it doesn'tThere are many other aspects to a partnership agreement and your attorney can discuss all of them with you. Your attorney may recommend that she represent only you and that your future partner have his own representation. All of these issues are worth resolving now, because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.


Case Study:  Reckless Employer

In handling employment cases since 1996 for both employees and employers I have found one principle holds true: it is the disgruntled employee who files a lawsuit. Nine out of ten times a terminated employee seeks an attorney because they were terminated dismissively, they were humiliated, denigrated, or terminated without dignity or respect. Of course an employee needs a legitimate legal basis to bring a lawsuit, and there are protections against frivolous suits. But for an employee who is upset by an employer it is quite easy to find an attorney and to find a reason to file a lawsuit.

 I have been advising employers for years that firing with dignity is the key. Even an employee with a legitimate claim can be terminated so as to avoid a lawsuit and I am proud to have helped many employees and employers find the right path.

Yet in this day and age of political correctness, employers still act recklessly. Some traps to avoid:

  1. An employee who tells you they are not happy or disgruntled.  (Pretty clear message!)
  2. An employee who asks for a severance package and then their demands are ignored. (Trouble?)
  3. An employee who tells you she is pregnant and then is terminated one week later. (OMG)
  4. An employee who comes into work wearing a neck brace (red flag?) and an employer who picks that day to terminate the employee (death wish?).
  5.  An employee who is a high level executive terminated and walked out of the building by security, (smart?)
  6.  An employee jokes with another employee about them both being gay, and then both are terminated "because they told jokes," (get your checkbook out!)

All of the above are recipes for disaster.  If employers or HR are not competent or comfortable handling a proper termination, I would recommend seeking guidance from a legal professional before termination. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

If you are an employee and any of the above has happened to you, call me immediately! 


Dear Liat:

I own a car dealership and I train my employees and teach them how to sell cars. Recently two of my employees left to work for a competitor.

Before they left my employment I offered and they accepted $5,000.00 in exchange for an agreement that they would not compete with my business for the next 5 years. How do I enforce this agreement?


Frustrated Dealer

Dear Frustrated:

Your situation is common. Many employers spend time training workers only to have employees leave to work for a competing business. Unfortunately, in California this is not against the law. 

The California Business and Professions Code Section 16600 holds that:

"...every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void."

Therefore, non-compete agreements, like the one you describe, are generally unenforceable.

Such an agreement may be enforced when the following criteria are met: 

(1) it is necessary to protect the employer;

(2) provides a reasonable time limit;

(3) provides a reasonable territorial limit; 

(4) is not  harsh or oppressive to the employee; and 

(5) is not contrary to public policy. 

If these criteria are met, the way to enforce the agreement is with a cease and desist letter to the employee. And if that does not work, a lawsuit may be filed.

Case Study: Actors and Loan Out Companies

Recently I had a client, an Actor, who had his own Limited Liability Company which loaned out his services when he was acting. This is common in the entertainment industry.  stripes-trenchcoat.jpg 

The entertainment professionals form a LLC or corporation in order to protect themselves from liability and the entity "loans out" the actor's services to productions. The actor can then take tax deductions which they may not be able to do as individuals.

My client was asked to sign an indemnification agreement by one of his employers to ensure proper tax payments would be made. This type of request is standard.

My client was not well versed in this area. Once we reviewed and modified some of the language he was comfortable with signing the agreement. Then he got paid.

As an attorney and not a talent agent, manager, financial advisor, or accountant, I urge people working in the entertainment industry to consult with the proper professionals before setting up any type of business entity, to make sure they understand the ramifications and that the company they create meets their financial, business, and tax needs.


Dear Liat:

I have several agreements, vendor contracts, and other documents that I have been using for the past five years. I know there will be some changes in the laws in 2014. How often do I need to review and update my business documents?


Business Owner

Dear Business Owner:

It is never too early to review and update your contracts and agreements, especially the fine print. It can, however, be too late if a dispute arises and you discover your documents are out of date.

The start of a new year, when laws change, is a good time to review your business/client and vendor agreements, purchase orders, employment handbooks, applications, and other documents you use in the daily operations of your business.  It is always a good policy to review documents that have not been updated in a while.

You may be comfortable updating these documents yourself or you may want to get professional assistance from an attorney, accountant or human resource specialist.

A couple of changes that became effective January 1, 2014  in California are:

The minimum wage  has gone up to $9 per hour, effective as of July 1 paychecks.

If you have more than 50 employees, the Family Medical Leave act (FMLA) now states that an employee is allowed to care for grandparents, grandchildren, in-laws and siblings as well as the previously permitted care for children, spouses, and parents. 

Additionally, to keep up with technology, an update to many agreements may include permission to sign via electronic signature or PDF which is considered as valid as an original signature in California. (California Civil Code 1633.2 et seq.)

For these and other reasons, now is a great time to review and update documents.


Case Study: Second Opinion

Over 20 years ago, when I started practicing law my first area of expertise was personal injury cases. Car accidents, slip and falls, dog bites, etc. Many a time I have been asked to provide a second opinion by someone who had a case, was being represented by an attorney, and did not think they were getting a "good deal."

It has been my practice to avoid these situations. Unless I actually review the documents carefully and analyze the entire situation, I do not second guess another attorney who has been working on a case, possibly for months.

Similarly, whenever clients would ask me "how much do you think this case is worth" - on the first day they visit my office, I tell them it is irresponsible of me or any attorney to provide a dollar amount without seeing the case develop including a determination as to who is at fault, total medical bills, extent of injuries, loss of earnings, and much more.

With all due respect to my colleagues, any attorney who throws out a figure of what a case is worth without reviewing the file is doing a disservice to the client and the profession.

As a client you always have the right and the option of seeking  a second opinion from another attorney.  For your sake, make sure it is a reputable one.

Can A Business Refuse Service?   

Dear Liat:

I own a restaurant and sometimes I have people come in whom I would rather not serve. I have a sign saying I have the right to refuse to do business with anyone. Is this enforceable?

- -  Concerned Owner

Dear Concerned:

Yes sometimes you can refuse to do business with certain people or customers. It all depends on the reasons. The most basic reason to refuse to do business with someone is if it detrimentally affects your business. ( e.g. negative financial impact; causes you to lose money.)

However, California and Federal law has many protections that prohibit business owners from refusing to do business. A business owner is not allowed to refuse to do business or serve a customer based on that person's race, color, religion, national origin or disability. In California it is illegal to discriminate against individuals based on unconventional dress or sexual orientation. For example, a restaurant was found liable for discrimination when it refused to seat a same sex couple in a booth because the restaurant had a policy against homosexuals.

In cases where a customer is a member of a protected class (meaning state or federally protected, like the classes described above) the issue will depend upon whether the business's refusal of service was arbitrary or the business had a specific non-discriminatory interest in refusing service. A case of a sports bar which required customers to remove their gang affiliation tags/jackets before entering the bar was found to be a legitimate non-discriminatory reason as the bar wanted to avoid fights between rival gang members in their bar.

This issue is not always as simple as putting up a sign. Yes, a business owner has the right to refuse to serve or do business with people. However that business owner needs to make sure she is not singling out a protected class of people to whom she is refusing service.  


Legal Case: Unauthorized Use of Trademark

I represented the producers of a well-known television series about advertising in the 60's, let us call it "Madison Men." The series, scripts, logos, and merchandise were protected by trademark and copyright. Quite often I would come across people and companies who were using the logo or title of the show to advertise their own merchandise, parties, company, and so forth.

One time an advertising association decided to use a portion of the show name and logo to advertise its annual conference. I sent them a cease and desist letter requesting they take down and stop using the copyrighted and trademarked material.

Under U.S. Trademark Law, civil liability is established for any person who uses in commerce any name, symbol or device, or a false designation of origin which is likely to cause confusion, mistake, or deceive as to the origin of that person's goods or commercial activities. The Federal Trademark Statute provides for recovery of damages, lost profits, costs of the action for trademark infringement, as well as attorney's fees.  The association's advertising campaign was planned and executed with knowledge of my client's rights and designed to gain income based on the goodwill of a popular television show. 

As an advertising association they certainly should have known better.

Companies that own copyrights or trademarks must make sure they take steps to enforce their rights whenever they discover unauthorized use or they may lose rights. In this case, it was not about getting  money from the advertising association. It was about protecting the trademark.

The matter was resolved when the advertising association agreed to take down the materials and donate a sum of money to my client's charity of choice.

Protect Your Script or Story

Dear Liat:

I recently wrote a script and I want to shop it around and get it made into a movie, how do I protect my work and my rights?

 ----   Aspiring Writer

Dear Aspiring,

Whether you have a complete script, a screenplay, a story, sound recording, video or other creative expression there are several ways to protect your rights.

Work created is automatically copyrighted at the time you create it. However in order to enforce your rights, you must have a valid copyright registration. Obtaining a copyright registration is easy and can be done on line with the U. S. Copyright Office by following the instructions at

You may also want to file a copy of your work with the Writers Guild of America as they provide writers with some protections.

Remember ideas cannot be protected by copyright. For example: (a) bad guys take hostages and make demands - "Die Hard"; "Con Air"; "Air Force One"; (b) Cheating husband caught by wife; "A Fish Called Wanda"; "Diary of a Mad Black Woman"; (c) serial killer on a spree; "Silence of the Lambs"; "Natural Born Killers" and every episode of the Television series "Criminal Minds."

These ideas appear in many films and television shows. They are not protected by copyright and can be used again and again.

Copyright protects the original expression of your work, which you record in a set medium, like on paper. It is your interpretation and expression that is protected.

As the Copyright holder your rights include the right to copy the work, to be credited for the work, to determine who may adapt the work to other forms, who may perform the work, and who may financially benefit from it.

For additional protection, when disseminating your work, you may wish to consider entering into non-disclosure agreements, submission agreements, confidentiality agreements and/or other contracts. A good attorney can recommend the right type of agreement for the plans you have.


Legal Case:  Use of Person's Photo or Likeness  

An attorney contacted me while I was representing Tigergate Pictures. He complained that a photograph of his client, let's call him, Mustafa Mahmoud Mobadi ("MMM") was used in several scenes without his client's permission in one of Tigergate's movies; let's call the movie "The Next Four Days."

The photo was used in a "Wanted Poster" screenshot of about two dozen people. The attorney claimed this caused his client embarrassment among his friends and associates.

There are strict laws about using a person's likeness, obtaining permission and a license, especially if the person is a private individual. Celebrities and public figures fall into different categories, yet the matter is still serious.

I looked into the claim and discovered that MMM was in fact a convicted terrorist who pled guilty to assisting Bin Laden after 9/11. 

His photo had been on the FBI's most wanted list and MMM had served time in federal prison.

I called the attorney and he confirmed MMM was a convicted terrorist; yet still maintained the 0.6 seconds MMM appeared in Tigergate's movie was the sole cause of damage to MMM's reputation. I took this to mean, "damage" to his reputation among his fellow terrorists, cellmates and probation officers. My policy is not to negotiate with terrorists so I dropped the matter. MMM did as well, after a Judge tossed his case out of court.

Monies Owed for Services

Dear Liat:

My customer owes me money. I provided goods and services, I want my money. Can I sue? What should I do?

----Frustrated Business Owner

Dear Frustrated:

Of course you can sue. Anyone can sue. This is America the land of "sueportunity!" 

The question is, "Should I sue?" The answer depends on:

How much your customer owes you?
Is this a one-time thing or recurring issue in your business?
And, most importantly, is this a customer you are willing to sue-and-lose as a customer?

If the amount owed is under $10,000 then you may want to consider suing in small claims court. In small claims court you can represent yourself, and if you have a contract, or can prove service was provided, the courts look favorably on these claims and you have a good chance of success.

Make sure to follow the small claims court instructions.  You may wish to consult an attorney and pay for one hour of her time. This will greatly increase your chances of success. 

If you have several customers who have not paid for the goods or services you provided, you may want to contact a collection agency to pursue these monies on your behalf.

If you are a professional contractor you may consider a mechanic's lien.

If this is a recurring problem, you may wish to seek the services of an attorney to review your business practices and contracts and revise these for you to avoid future problems. An ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure.

If you have a large amount of money that is owed (usually over $30,000) you may wish to contact an attorney to discuss your options.  Consultation with an attorney about your matter should be free.

The right attorney may be able to solve your problem without the need for costly and drawn out litigation. Depending on the situation, lawsuits can be time consuming and in some cases, absolutely the way to go. 

An attorney should be able to provide you with a range of her fees for pursuing a lawsuit taking into consideration the various aspects of your case and potential work involved. This information will help you make a business decision of how best to proceed.   

Legal Case: Pot and Ms. Gobbler

There was a very popular series on TV lets call it "Pot" mostly about the sale of ... you guessed it, pot. In some of the episodes the actors are seen playing a video game, let's call it "Ms. Gobbler".

An entertainment company client of mine who produces the television series received a letter from the makers of "Ms. Gobbler" complaining about the fact that the actors are playing their video game on a show called "Pot" and that this is causing damage to their wholesome family game.

They requested the actors stop playing "Ms. Gobbler" in the series, maybe they thought kids playing "Ms. Gobbler" might also be watching the show "Pot" and decide to "take a hit" during the game.

How likely was that? Should kids be watching a nighttime pay cable show called "Pot" and does the fact that the actors are amusing themselves with a video game in some of the scenes really denigrate the game or does it actually bring it more publicity? 

Does a production company have a right to use a product, even a trademarked product in the manner in which it is intended without obtaining permission or a license? The answer is usually yes.

However, on my recommendation, and in the interests of world peace, my client obliged and removed "Ms. Gobbler" from future episodes of the show. Sometimes an attorney recommends taking the high road rather than tilting at every windmill. 

Open A Business

 Dear Liat:     
 I am planning on opening a business what are the top things I need to know?     
 ----Intrepid Entrepreneur

Dear Intrepid:

If you are planning to open a business or have just opened a new business the top three  things you must obtain are: insurance, insurance, and insurance. In retail you may have heard, location, location, location.

For now let's go with Insurance as the topic. Whether it is general liability, premises liability, workers compensation (in the case of employees), professional liability, or any other type of insurance; it is best to be covered. If someone decides to sue you -- and there are all types out there -- if you don't have insurance coverage, your business will be dead in the water before you get started, and your personal assets may also be in jeopardy.

After insurance, I recommend (1) a business plan, (2) capital to see you through the first year of business, and (3) a mentor or good support group to help you avoid pitfalls.

A good attorney can protect you from the slings and arrows of the business world, especially when signing leases and contracts, dealing with vendors, hiring employees, and serving customers.                

Legal Case: "The Oranges" 
A few years back I was walking into one of my favorite sushi restaurants for lunch, when the manager, whom I knew well, asked me for some advice.                                         
She stated that one of her busboys kept eating the oranges that are served to customers at the end of a meal. She had warned the busboy to stop, and that despite the warning he continued to eat the oranges right in front of her. The manager asked me if she could fire the busboy.                                                                                                         
My answer: Heck yes.                                                                                                
She asked if she needed to give him 2 weeks notice.                                                      
My answer: Heck no. (without going into the legal aspects of "at will" employment, can    you imagine how many oranges that guy would have eaten if he would have gotten 2      weeks notice?)

Disclaimer: This information is for entertainment and advertising purposes only. It should not be regarded as providing any kind of legal advice or creating an attorney / client relationship. The names have been changed to protect the innocent and foolhardy.

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