Antonin Scalia paves the way for change

It’s always a shock when a justice of the Supreme Court dies.  Love ’em, hate ’em, agree or disagree, they are part of a small, elite group of jurists who set the course of justice for an entire country.  Once appointed, they hold their position for life, so it should come as no surprise that to replace one is news making.

I had the honor of meeting Justice Antonin Scalia on the very same day, ten years ago, that I also met Justice Samuel Alito.  For an Italian-American attorney, this was the double-header, to say that I have studied under two justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.  Heck, it was only a CLE course but how many attorneys can say they got up close and personal with two of The Supremes?

Actually, up close and personal was not exactly what Justice Scalia would allow.  As you can see from the photo, he was not the warm and fuzzy kind and did not want his photo taken with anyone.  Alito, on the other hand, was only too happy to pose when approached with respect and not expectation.

Justice Scalia passed away this past weekend and while his opinions from the bench were always newsworthy, it is his passing that is garnering more than its share of controversy in this Presidential election year.

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Conservative Republicans are playing the stubborn elephants of their party’s mascot, digging in their heels and waving their big trunks, vowing to stall any nomination to the court by President Obama.  Are they that threatened?  No matter who gets appointed, isn’t a judicial nominee supposed to leave their party affiliations at the door of the Supreme Court Building?  Republicans have kicked the sand in the sandbox like spoiled children long enough.  To stall a nomination is not only childish but irresponsible, shackling the court in likely deadlocks for the next eleven months.

If I were President, I’d wait till the kids take their summer recess and then make a recess appointment.  It’s legit.  The President wouldn’t need the approval of the Senate and maybe some cases that mean something could be decided.  A “recess appointed justice” would only hold her position until the end of the next Senate session.  To continue to serve beyond would require a re-appointment and Senate confirmation.  And in our nation’s gloried history, of the ten justices appointed during a recess, only one was not subsequently confirmed by the Senate.

By the way, did you notice that I suggested that “she” would have to be confirmed by a full Senate?  Yes, maybe it’s time for a truly balanced bench with a fourth female justice to serve…then again, that might have to wait until we have a new female President:)

 

Authors, beware of Amazon’s Copyright Grab!

My publisher recently received a notice from Amazon suggesting the idea of giving away copies of my two books, Amalfi Blue and Shrouded in Pompei.  Amazon’s angle was to increase sales and allow me to promote my books across social media platforms.  No purchase was necessary by the entrant and it’s not really clear who was paying for the cost of the prizes.  Certainly, I was not going to receive money if nothing was being sold.

OK, the free giveaway sounds good so far, right?  Wrong.  If it sounds too good to be true, it generally is!  Lucky for me, I happen to be a really good lawyer and cherish my creative copyrights because the red siren of doom sounded as soon as I read the fine print in Amazon’s Giveaway Services Agreement.

To the uninitiated laymen…you’re screwed if you use Amazon’s Giveaway…in my humble opinion.  Look at the Definitions section.  Amazon defines “Your Material” as “all Technology, Your Trademarks, Content, information, data, photographs, images, videos and other materials and items provided or made available by you or your Affiliates to Amazon or its Affiliates.”

CopyrightThen scroll up to Paragraph 5 and check what type of license you are granting to Amazon:

“You grant us a royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use, reproduce, perform, display, distribute, adapt, modify, excerpt, analyze, re-format, create derivative works of, and otherwise commercially or non-commercially exploit in any manner, any and all of Your Materials, and to sublicense the foregoing rights; provided that nothing in this Agreement will prevent or impair our right to use Your Materials without your consent to the extent that such use is allowable without a license from you or your Affiliates under applicable Law (e.g., fair use under United States copyright law, referential use under trademark law, or valid license from a third party).”

So why does this scream – “put on the brakes?”

  1. Royalty free – that means they don’t have to pay you to use your creative material or content.
  2. Create derivative works – that means they can make a movie or merchandise your characters when the book is a bestseller…again without paying you any royalties.
  3. Sublicense the foregoing rights – that means they can sell your rights, now their rights, to any third party

It amazes me how Amazon continually tries to exploit independent authors who have become the lifeblood of their Kindle revenue stream.  Writers, always, always read the fine print of any Terms & Conditions before signing up for anything that sounds just too good to be true.  You risk giving away your intellectual property rights for a free book giveaway!

Cross Border Estate Planning in Italy

I’ve previously discussed what to do with your Italian inheritance but let’s look at cross border estate planning when you are now the individual who owns property or a bank account in Italy.  What do you do when it comes to drafting your will and making sure your heirs get their assets, both in the United States and Italy, as easily and quickly as possible?

Italian InheritanceIn my years of international practice between the United States and Italy, there is one thing I have learned…Italy does not like the way we draft documents in the US.  Despite international treaties which afford apostilled, US-drafted documents recognition in Italy, they do things a bit differently across the Atlantic.

It is essential to work with an estate attorney who can assist you with drafting a will that can be used in both countries.  Key clauses would allow a will which is drafted and probated in New York, for example, to also be used in the succession process in Italy.

Working with a foreign legal consultant from Italy, we can include the exact phrases necessary to pass muster with Italian law; collate the requisite supporting documentation and obtain the apostilles to initiate probate in New York and succession in Italy with little fuss for most estates.

Believe it or not, as fussy as they are with their documents in Italy, it is not necessary for an attorney to undertake succession (probate) in Italy.  That fosters an environment of many individuals and online companies offering to undertake succession with very little knowledge or experience in international law.  It is much better to plan your estate carefully in the United States, with attorneys well-versed in the process in Italy and in the U.S., with the goal of also making the estate process much easier for your heirs in Italy.