WASHINGTON, January 8, 2017 — Politics and technology have combined to create new ideas in recent decades, resulting in a continuing array of questions about what is or may be legal. These questions are important. The answers may soon affect many Americans in their pocketbooks.
Here are a few random issues where changes and advancements may play out:
Individual tax rates
To begin with, politics may have a very sharp influence for many American individuals with regard to the taxes they may owe to the IRS in coming years. If President-elect Trump’s promised policies take affect, what are currently seven tax brackets may be reduced to three. Depending upon income earned, some people may find increases in the amount due, and others may find decreases.
Currently, Federal tax rates for individuals are currently set at 10, 15, 25, 28, 33, 35 and 39.6 percent. Trump’s plan is to implement three rates: 12, 25 and 33.
Not accounting for deductions and other aspects of the tax code (which may also change), for anyone earning $413,350 or more, that simplification would mean a decrease in the amount of tax owed, with a drop to a 33 percent top tax rate. For someone earning $100,000 the rate would also drop, this time from 28 percent to 25 percent.
However, under Trump’s plan, if a taxpayer earns from $112,500 to $190,150, the tax rate for that person would increase from 28 percent to 33 percent.
There are many more changes planned by the next President. But it is important to remember that, historically, few Presidential plans survive completely intact. But at least one thing is certain: having a good accountant is a must going forward in 2017 and beyond.
New products, new product liabilities
Technology has intrigued many with the invention of the 3D printer. Among other things, rocket engines, guns and even human tissue have been “created” over the years. But with any breakthrough product or technology, legal issues abound if things go wrong .
A 3D printer uses successive “layers” of materials to create three-dimensional objects. Instead of using ink, plastic or other malleable materials are used to form the output. The 3D printer works through a computer, often connected to the Internet, and uses “computer-aided design” files in the process of product creation.
But what if the created product harms someone? What if a part fails in the device fails and causes financial losses? What if something printed is used in a criminal endeavor?
Above all, who is responsible for the output and the results? Those involved are likely located in different countries. Often, teams of people and organizations participate in creating the final product, meaning that dozens of “cooks” may be involved in that product and outcome. Beyond assessing responsibility, where, and against whom, would someone who is harmed file a lawsuit?
The legal fields of product liability and criminal law have not handled these issues very much, if at all. To suggest that pointing the finger is a potential nightmare for any new product or creator is an understatement.
One technology matter where the law has caught up to reality finds California leading the way, as is often the case. California just passed a law making it a crime to hold a cell phone while driving. The fine for the first offense is $20, and $50 for subsequent convictions. Using a hand-held cell phone in California, however, carries a more egregious penalty. The initial fine is $76 and subsequent offenses are $190.
Manufacturers of the dashboard-mounted cell phone holders are rejoicing. Californians should be too, as the new state law should eventually reduce distracted driving accidents and injuries.
Technology and divorce
Still another technology advance recently got a spouse in trouble. The woman in a divorce case auto-forwarded her soon-to-be ex’s emails to her email account, thus becoming aware of his communications with other women with whom he was allegedly cheating. A 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled that this could violate the federal Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act.
It is not unusual to spy on a suspected cheating spouse. Evidence of adultery can be compelling and helpful in any number of ways in the divorce process. There are legal limits on snooping, however, and it now seems that the law has precluded stealing your spouse’s emails. Such tactics could land the information thief in more legal and financial trouble than the underlying divorce.
More legal issues involving technology
When it comes to technology and the law, it is very clear that technology often seems a wonder in many arenas. However, the law can still have an impact in this area in the event of misuse or even mistakes, as these can have wide and severe consequences.
Consider some common mistakes that could produce devastating results.
- Sending an email to the wrong email address. Was the content confidential? Were trade secrets involved? Was the email potentially hurtful to someone and did that someone end up being the recipient? E-mailers should always double-check the “Send to” address before pressing the “send” button, and they should also double check the “Copied-to” (cc:) line.
- Sending the wrong attachment to the wrong person can be just as bad as sending an email to the wrong person.
- Everyone is aware, at least on some level, that their activities are often tracked when visiting individual websites. User profiles are created as data is collected, and each user’s browsing habits are being gathered and refined. Among the things that occur, advertisements are pushed that are determined to be unique and desirable to each user profiled. On a related note, companies and employees not only have the legal right to monitor employee’s computers. They regularly do so.
Thus, if there is a desire to avoid sex or sailboat ads, hair growth product marketing or gluten-free marketing from popping up on a work computer, each employee should keep work and personal browsing separate.
Patent and Trademark issues
Politics may have nothing to do with the rulings of the Patent and Trademark Office. But a recent effort by the founder of an Asian-American rock band can have implications for many who want to obtain the blessings of that office.
Simon Tam wanted the name of his band, The Slants, to be registered. The PTO refused, finding the name to be disparaging to Asian people. An appeals court however ruled that the PTO “deciding” whether a registered name is offensive violates the First Amendment. The government says the ruling sets a precedent that would allow anyone to register an offensive or insulting name.
Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins professional football team, may be watching this development keenly. He felt the same sting of the PTO in 2014 when that organization revoked the trademark for his team.
Where it all ends up remains to be seen.
So in 2017, eat your vegetables and be careful out there.
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website.
His book “The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You” can be instantly downloaded, for free, on his website: http://www.samakowlaw.com/book.
Samakow has now also started a small business consulting firm. His new book “Step By Step, Achieve Small Business Success” is available at www.thebusinessanswer.com.