Equine Law Explained

When I tell people I am an equine attorney, a lot of people think I represent horses in legal actions. That’s not quite how it works, although I hope that horses benefit from the work I do with humans. An explanation of equine law might help explain the wide breadth of this area of law and what I can do for you.

Equine law focuses more on the community it serves rather than a specific area of law. As an equine attorney, I work with people who have horses in their lives. My clients can run the gamut from a person who has a horse in the backyard as a companion animal to someone who competes at the national and international levels. I work with individuals and companies, both for profit and non-profit, who are involved in the horse industry. These people have different legal needs depending on their role in the horse world. Some of the people who require equine legal services include horse trainers, riding instructors, boarding barn owners, clinicians, breeders, horse sellers, professional riders, horse purchasers, equine vets, horse chiropractors, and horse massage therapists.

In order to meet the various needs of the horse community, equine law encompasses several areas of law. Business law applies to many horse-related activities, especially when dealing with contracts. The horse industry has historically conducted business “on a handshake,” but that leads to many problems. Contracts are a way for all parties involved to make sure everyone has the same understanding concerning the transaction. Some of the contracts necessary to the horse community are boarding contracts, sales contracts, breeding contracts, and liability releases. Business law also applies if a person wants to create a company or a nonprofit. Many horse people are great with horses, but not with the business side of being a horse professional. Hiring an equine attorney allows you to feel confident that you have picked the right business structure and that your business has been set up properly. Because of my experience as a horse professional, I also provide consulting services for equine business owners.

Another very important area for equine business owners is trademark law. If you want to protect your brand, and by that I mean your business identification not your horse brand, then you should register your name, logo, slogan, or something similar that lets people recognize your business. Registering a trademark can be tricky because it’s not an automatic approval process. I provide a search and analysis for horse businesses as well as registration services. If you tried to get your mark, and the United State Patent and Trademark Office denied your registration, I also respond to Office Actions after discussing the issues with you to see if there is a chance we can get you your mark.

A lot of horse people are writing books and creating DVDs. In addition, equine photography is a growing field in the horse industry. These creative horse people need to protect their work with copyright registration. It’s true that you own the copyright as soon as you create a work. However, you can only enforce those rights in court if you have an approved registration of your work with the US Copyright Office.

Estate planning is an important legal area to include when thinking about equine law. In Massachusetts, an individual can have a horse trust, which ensures that a horse or horses are taken care of if the owner is incapacitated or dies. You may think your will is all you need in those situations, but a will has no effect if you are incapacitated, and it must go through probate before it can take effect when you die. Money and other assets are not available until the will is probated, which can take several months or even years. A horse trust gives you peace of mind that your horse is taken care of as soon as you are incapacitated or during the time your will is probated. In addition, Massachusetts has an estate tax unlike most other states. If you own horse property, you may hit the $1 million amount that triggers the tax. I have solutions for you to save you on estate taxes so that more money can go to your beneficiaries.

There are only about 100 attorneys in the country who practice equine law.  To be a good equine attorney, the person should obviously be a good attorney but she should also have a solid working understanding of the horse industry.  The more experience an equine attorney has around horses, the better she will be able understand the many scenarios that can happen and she will be able to craft solutions to avoid problems or to handle them if they arise.

Joanne L. Belasco, Esq.I practice preventive equine law, which means that I work with clients to avoid problems that may lead to litigation.  When you talk to me about your legal concerns, I understand your problems because of my experience as a horse professional and personal horsewoman.  An attorney without knowledge of horses and the horse industry is not able to understand basic terms and broader situations that we, as horse people, do. You don’t have to spend time explaining basic concepts to me, such as your horse colicking, because I know the term and have gone through the experience myself with my horses.

Contact me today, and we’ll set up a time to see how I can help with your equine legal needs.

Horse Sales Contract Basics

wills trusts equine law bridle saddle padOne of the big issues in equine law concerns buying a horse. Many people buy one on a handshake, trusting the other person at her word. Unfortunately, doing so can lead to both headaches and heartaches. Having a simple sales contract can make the experience a positive one for all parties. You want to make sure that your sales contract contains certain required parts. The best way to have a secure, and legally-binding sales contract is to hire an equine attorney to draft one. This blog explains some of the important parts the attorney will include in that contract.

Sales Contract

A horse sale contract should include the names of the seller and buyer and all the details of the sale. A thorough description of the horse should be included and one or more pictures can even be attached. If the horse is registered, then the contract should state the registry and registration number. Keep in mind that the seller is held to whatever description is included in the sales contract. For example, if the contract says the sale is for a Paint mare, then the seller has made the guaranty that she is selling a Paint mare. If she delivers a sorrel Quarter Horse instead, she is breaching that contract.

The price of the horse as well as any payment terms should also be in the contract. Sometimes a buyer needs to make payments on a horse instead of paying the entire sale price upfront. If the seller agrees to this, the payment terms should be clearly spelled out in the sales contract, including the amounts and the dates by which they should be paid. The seller can even require the payments be made in a certain manner, such as by electronic deposit instead of by check. Terms should be included that address what happens if the buyer fails to make a timely payment or is unable to pay the entire amount within the time frame specified in the contract. If the seller and buyer renegotiate the payment terms, that new agreement should be written up, signed by both parties, and attached to the original contract.

“As Is” Clauses

You may see what is called an “as is” clause in a sales contract. Such a clause means that the buyer accepts the horse in the condition at the time of the sale, and the seller makes no further guaranties about the horse. Even though these situations are common in the horse world, a buyer should still be cautious. If there is a particular issue a buyer is concerned about, for example lameness or a training issues like bucking, then the buyer should make sure that issue is addressed in the contract.

Even though “as is” clauses are legal, a seller may be liable if she engages in fraud. For example, a seller can’t lie about the horse, stating the horse is sound when she knows the horse is lame. If a pre-purchase exam (PPE) is performed the contract should mention it as well as any details, such as who will be performing the PPE. The contract should include any limitations the buyer is accepting. For example, if the vet states that the horse may need hock injections in five years or is not capable of becoming a Grand Prix jumper due to physical limitations, include those restrictions in the sales contract. Doing so can prevent a future lawsuit or aid in defending one by showing that everyone was on the same page with the same expectations about the horse at the time of purchase.

Two Important Sections

There are two sections in a sales contract that are important to include. One is an explanation of who will pay attorney’s fees if the sale winds up in court for some reason. Litigation is expensive, and you may find that you win a court case but wind up losing financially when you add in what you must pay your attorney for winning the case. You can avoid this possibility by including a section stating that the party who loses at trial will pay attorney’s fees for the party who wins. In addition, you want the contract to set forth what state will have jurisdiction if the matter goes to court. Imagine living in Massachusetts and buying a horse in California. You would not want to go to California to litigate any problems.

While it may cost a bit more, you should have an equine attorney or at least an attorney familiar with contracts draft your sales contract for you. A little bit of foresight can save a lot of time, money, and energy if something goes wrong with the sale. Contact me today if you are buying or selling a horse, and let’s make sure you have a contract in place so the sale can be a pleasant experience for all involved.

This blog post is for educational purposes only.  It does not create an attorney-client relationship.  Seek an attorney’s advice for your specific situation. 

 

 

 

Brand Your Company

You know that the reputation of your business can mean the difference because success and failure. In this blog entry, I am going to explain how registering your trademark is an important way to protect your professional reputation. If you don’t protect your brand, someone can use your name, logo, or slogan, and you can’t stop them. Someone could also use your name, logo, or slogan and hurt your business by doing disreputable business.

Two Trainers, One Stolen Logo

I once knew someone – we’ll call her Sally – who moved cross country after riding with a trainer – we’ll call her Mary – for years in Florida. Sally started to search for a new riding horse in her new home. She came across a horse on a horse sales website that interested her and went to the listed website to learn more about the horse and the person selling the horse. She was shocked at what she found. On the main page of the website was the logo for Mary’s barn! It was flipped, as if appearing in a mirror, but it was clearly the same logo. Sally knew that Mary’s brother had hand drawn the logo several years before. She immediately contacted Mary to tell her about the stolen logo. Mary was a highly-successful trainer so she said she wasn’t worried about it. She said that no one would confuse her training services with the trainer who had stolen the logo. Besides, Mary lived all the way across the country. Sally never pursued the horse that led her to the website. She figured if that trainer would steal a logo, what else would she do that was dishonest.

Hurting Your Business

horse law questions jo belascoMary didn’t think there was a problem with the other trainer using her logo because Mary was a higher-level and more famous trainer, plus she lived across the country. But such thinking can leave a business open to problems. What if Mary decided she wanted to expand her training to that area? What if people looking online simply assumed that Mary and the trainer who stole her logo were somehow affiliated and that trainer engaged in deceptive practices? Or was a bad trainer? Or abused the horses under her care? Mary might be losing clients and gaining a bad reputation without even knowing it.

Trademark Registration

Mary could have prevented these problems by registering the logo with United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO defines a trademark as a “word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols, or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.” If Mary had a registered trademark, then she could have had an attorney force the trainer to take it off her website, either through a cease-and-desist letter or a lawsuit.

You may have heard that you should brand your company. Branding your company is a way of identifying your business and setting you apart from your competition. Registering a trademark is an important part of branding. Why? Because one of the main issues the USPTO considers when determining if a trademark should be granted is whether it creates confusion in the marketplace. Let’s say you want to start a fast food restaurant and call it McRonald’s. Your chances of getting that trademark approved are slim to none Why? Because McDonald’s, the famous fast-food restaurant, already has that name trademarked. Allowing for two similar trademarks in the same business would cause confusion in the marketplace.

What happens if you don’t register your trademark? Well, someone else could register the same or similar name. That may not seem like a big deal but think of this. Once someone has a registered trademark, they can enforce it by issuing cease-and-desist letters to companies that are using their trademark. They can even take that company to court. Let’s say you are using a certain business name and another company trademarks it. Even if you can avoid court, you will have to rebrand. What does that mean? You have to choose a new name and reform your company with that new name. You have to change all of your merchandise to the new name. You have to let your customers and clients know. It can be a very expensive and time-consuming endeavor, as you might well imagine.

Save yourself the time, money, and headache. Contact me today so I can talk to you about the registration process help you protect your brand.

 

 

Supreme Court Allows “Immoral” or “Scandalous” Trademarks

wills trusts estate planningBack in January, I wrote a blog post about the US Supreme Court agreeing to hear a case concerning “immoral” or “scandalous” trademarks. The case concerned the attempt by Mark Brunetti to trademark the word FUCT. This summer, the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that the law denying such marks violates the First Amendment because “it disfavors certain ideas.” In its decision, the Court cited certain marks that were allowed, such as a game called “Praise the Lord,” while other marks, such as “Bong Hits for Jesus” were denied.

The Court left open the possibility that Congress might narrow the law so that certain terms are still not approved. But absent Congress doing so, it could become a free-for-all at the United States Patent and Trademark Office concerning what marks are submitted and approved with terms that were formerly denied.

And, in case you were wondering, the Justices apparently took great care during the hearing to “not to use the FUCT name out loud.”

Contact me today if you want to trademark your brand!

This blog post is for educational purposes only.  It does not create an attorney-client relationship.  Seek an attorney’s advice for your specific situation. 

The Trouble with Photos

massachusetts attorney online friendly convenient affordableI don’t know about you but one of the fun things about owning a business is that I get to look through interesting photos whenever I put together material for my website or social media. There are literally millions of photos online to look at. Really. I just did a Google search for “horse image,” for example, and got 1,990,000,000 results in .52 seconds. I could just download any number of photos for my website and social media accounts, right?

Wait. Whoa. Not so fast. Did you read the viral story about the hipster? Yes, this does connect to your use of online photos. A hipster guy got so mad thinking a journal had used his photo without permission when it reported on a study about hipsters that he threatened to sue the journal. The funny part of the story is that the photo wasn’t him but it confirmed the study results that hipsters tend to conform to a certain look. What’s important for us is the story behind the photo.

The journal had bought the hipster photo from Getty Images. You have may have bought their photos or spent time looking at them in your search for marketing or blog illustrations. The journal’s editor-in-chief contacted Getty, and it had a signed release from the model in the picture. That release was worth its weight in gold because it showed the man who emailed was not in the photo and therefore had no legal action against the journal or Getty.

You hopefully now see where I am going with this and your use of online photos. A lot of people download photos from the Internet, but that viral story illustrations a point you may never have thought about: you should not use these photos on your website or social media unless you or the company you bought them from have a model release. (What about pictures you’ve taken yourself? I will get to that issue in a blog this week, I promise.) Chances are good that you are going to have to pay for high-quality photos that you can use legally. Places like Getty, which has some stunning photos, may be a bit pricey for your budget, although the photos are certainly worth it. Take a look at a site like PixelRockstar. You can get photos for about $1 a picture.

I know that copyright and the use of photos in blogs and for marketing is a huge topic. Stay tuned to my blog this week as I continue to explore how we can use great photos to help people learn about our businesses.