Volkswagen Braces for “Dieselgate” Fallout

On September 19, 2015 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called for a recall of almost 500,000 Volkswagen (VW) diesel powered cars, after finding these cars contain software that manipulates results for standard emissions tests. In its report, the EPA states that this software “allowed Volkswagen vehicles to spew as much as 40 times the pollution allowed under the Clean Air Act.”  On Tuesday, VW disclosed that 11 million cars have this software, suggesting that there is a possibility for a global recall.

Since this announcement there have already been 16 class actions filed against VW in the United States. These suits “include claims for breach of warranty and fraud by concealment as well as various state consumer protection laws.”

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4chan Sold: Can Web Forums Be Profitable?

Last week, Christopher Poole, founder of the anonymous image-based web forum 4chan, sold the site to Hiroyuki Nishimura, founder of earlier anonymous forum 2channel. Neither Poole nor Nishimura commented on the terms of the acquisition, but the sale comes at a time of growing venture capital investment in traffic heavy websites such as 4chan and Reddit.

4chan holds only a fraction of Reddit’s nearly five million daily page views, however it is not yet clear whether either site can utilize its traffic to produce scalable ad revenue. The growth of sites such as Reddit is attributable in large part to the freedom they afford their users, but the selfsame hands-off policies that have fueled their popularity are often in direct conflict with monetization strategies.

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Recap: “The Life of a Start-Up Attorney”

So what does a start-up attorney actually do? If you are like me, when I first heard the term I had no idea what the practice entailed. On September 13, 2015, Jay Purcell of Goodwin Procter and Morgan Sawchuck of Fenwick & West, two experienced and successful start-up attorneys, discussed their practices and their typical day to a full room of interested UC Berkeley Law students. The event was hosted by the Berkeley Center for Law, Business and the Economy.

Start-up attorneys have the ability to help their clients achieve success. Typically, the clients they represent have great ideas, but many do not know how to run a company, let alone how to start one. These attorneys assist clients with the entire range of legal issues facing young companies, such as forming the companies themselves. Steve Jobs, for example, was once one of these clients. With the help of his start-up attorneys, he was able to turn his garage-operated company into one of the largest and most well-known corporations in the world.

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Ex-Morgan Stanley Adviser Pleads Guilty in Connection with Data Breach

A former financial advisor for Morgan Stanley, Galen Marsh, pleaded guilty last week to one count of unauthorized computer access in connection with one of the largest data breaches of a private wealth management company.

Between 2011 and 2014, Marsh uploaded sensitive financial information—including names, addresses, bank account numbers, and investment information—of over 350,000 Morgan Stanley clients to his private computer.

In late 2014, data from 900 Morgan Stanley clients appeared online at Pastebin.com, an open file sharing website known for leaking confidential information, including the hacking of Sony Pictures. The breached data did not include “critical” information such as social security numbers or account passwords, but cyber security expert Darren Hayes of Pace University told the Wall Street Journal that it could provide an “important first step” for identity thieves to create duplicate identities. According to Morgan Stanley, there have been no reports of financial loss from the breach.

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Antitrust Regulators Take Aim at Google

Technology giant Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOGL) is facing mounting scrutiny from antitrust regulators across several continents.

Last month, Google received a preliminary report from the Competition Commission of India who, after a three-year investigation, voiced concerns about the company’s dominant position in search and online advertising, and its anti-competitive behavior.

More recently, Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service, the country’s antitrust regulator, found Google guilty of “abusing its dominant market position.” The agency’s probe began in February 2015 after Yandex NV, Russia’s biggest internet firm, accused Google of unfair practices with respect to how the company bundles apps with its Android mobile operating system. While the probe did not find the company guilty of “unfair competition practices,” the agency was expected to issue a full ruling on the case later this month.

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Tax Treatment of Yahoo’s Planned Alibaba Spin-Off Remains Uncertain

In a securities filing from September 8, 2015, Yahoo disclosed that the IRS had declined to rule on the tax consequences of their long-planned Alibaba spin-off.

Yahoo announced its intentions to spin off its holdings in Alibaba into a new company, Aabaco Holdings, in January 2015. Yahoo currently owns 384 million shares in Alibaba, which are collectively worth around 23 billion dollars.

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Recap: “General Counsel Speaker Series – The University Lawyer”

On September 10, 2015, the Berkeley Center for Law, Business and the Economy (BCLBE) welcomed Charles F. Robinson, the University of California’s general counsel, for a Q&A discussion about his career, the role of the University’s top lawyer, and the legal challenges currently facing the University.

A graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School, Mr. Robinson was formerly a litigation partner at the law firm of Heller, Ehrman, White and McAuliffe in San Francisco. He then took on a series of in-house positions in the private sector before becoming a Vice President and Chief Legal Officer of the University of California in January 2007.

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An Important First Step: The DOJ’s New Response to White-Collar Crime

Last week, the Justice Department announced new policies for prosecuting corporate employees. This was in response to criticism the DOJ received for failing to indict enough bankers in the wake of the recent financial crisis. Indicting these individuals can be very difficult and many of the challenges facing prosecutors still remain despite the new policies outlined. “White-collar cases are hard to prove, because they’re very complex and if you don’t have direct evidence of fraud, there’s room for arguments on both sides,” said David O’Neill, former acting head of the criminal division of the Justice Department in Washington.

The financial system is also growing increasingly more complex and global, which adds further strain on the DOJ­—an organization with the majority of its limited resources allocated for fighting terrorism instead of white collar crime.

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Taxes on Marijuana: A Percentage of Gross Profits or Net Profits?

Many pro-legalization advocates and legislators claimed legalizing marijuana would result in massive tax revenues. And while this has proven true, state officials want more.

From June 2014 to June 2015, cannabis sales soared to over $260 million in the state of Washington. State officials claim to have collected over $65 million in first-year taxes from recreational marijuana sales. In Colorado, state officials estimated that it will collect close to $100 million in taxes from the first year of recreational marijuana legalization. However, the state came short, only collecting $44 million in taxes from recreational marijuana sales, largely due to a quirk in the state’s constitution. In addition, despite legalization, some observers are suggesting not all sales are going through legal channels. (more…)

Insider Trading: Is the Benefit to the Tipper Tangible?

In December of 2014, a federal appeals court in Manhattan reversed the convictions of two hedge fund managers for insider trading in United States v. Newman. The court held the evidence was insufficient to sustain a guilty verdict for two reasons. First, the Government provided insufficient evidence of any personal benefit received by the alleged insiders, meaning there was not enough evidence to “establish the tipper liability from which defendants’ purported tippee liability would derive.” Second, the Government did not provide any evidence that “the defendants knew that they were trading on information obtained from insiders in violation of those insiders’ fiduciary duties.” (more…)