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Northwestern University football players on scholarship are university employees and may unionize, a National Labor Relations Board hearing officer ruled on Wednesday.

The first-round legal victory by Northwestern players has the potential to shake up the world of big-time college sports. But the fight has just begun, as this is likely just the start of a long, arduous legal battle.

Still, the Northwestern football union ruling (attached below) is groundbreaking and could prove revolutionary.

NLRB regional director Peter Sung Ohr ruled that ex-Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter and current players are employees and entitled to form a union.

Universities have long argued -- successfully in court -- that athletes are not employees.

But Ohr disagreed, ruling Northwestern's players work between 20 and 50 hours per week and generate millions of dollars for their institutions. He illustrated how they perform services under a contract of hire (scholarship), subject to the other party's control (coaches) and in return for payment ($61,000 per academic year at Northwestern; $76,000 for those players who attend summer school).

Northwestern promptly announced it plans to take the case to the full NLRB in Washington.

"This is a landmark decision," William Gould IV, a former chairman of the NLRB, told the Chicago Tribune. "This is going to rattle the universe of universities."

The legal battle for compensating college athletes just began in earnest.

Airline Lawsuit Over Sex-Toy Prank Survives at 5th Cir.

A lawsuit against an airline for allegedly taping a sex toy to the top of a checked bag should survive a motion to dismiss, the Fifth Circuit has ruled.

The complaint for intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, and negligence can proceed, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in an unpublished opinion (attached below).

The lawsuit claims the sex toy had been removed from their luggage, covered in a greasy foul-smelling substance and taped to the top of one of their bags.

The bag was circulating on the luggage carousel at the Norfolk Airport when the travelers discovered it, the ABA Journal reports. The plaintiffs argue that airline employees targeted them because they are gay men.

The defendants -- United Continental Holdings, Inc. and Continental Airlines -- argued the plaintiffs' suit was preempted by Article 17 of the Montreal Convention, which governs airline liability, including liability for damage to baggage. But the 5th Circuit disagreed.

"The alleged misconduct in this case simply does not relate to any damage to plaintiffs' duffel bag ... rather, plaintiffs seek a remedy for the way in which their bag was utilized to inflict personal injury," the court ruled.

The case was remanded to the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Texas.

Google Books Lawsuit Defeated: Book Scanning Deemed 'Fair Use'

Google has defeated an 8-year-old lawsuit by authors who accused the Internet company of digitally copying millions of books for an online library without permission.

U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin’s ruling (attached below) states that Google’s scanning of more than 20 million books, and making “snippets” of text available online, constituted “fair use” under U.S. copyright law.

Thursday’s ruling, which the Author’s Guild has vowed to appeal, ostensibly permits Google to continue expanding the library.

Judge Chin wrote that the scanning makes it easier for students, teachers, researchers and the public to find books, while maintaining “respectful consideration” for authors’ rights.

“This is a big win for Google, and it blesses other search results that Google displays, such as news or images,” University of Maryland intellectual property law professor James Grimmelmann told Reuters.

The Authors Guild expressed disappointment over the ruling.

“Google made unauthorized digital editions of nearly all of the world’s valuable copyright-protected literature and profits from displaying those works,” Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, told Reuters. “Such mass digitization and exploitation far exceeds the bounds of the fair use defense.”

Yelp Sues Law Firm for Posting Fake Reviews, Testimonials

Do legal consumers use Yelp, the consumer review website best known for reviewing restaurants, to help them choose an attorney?

A San Diego law firm apparently seems to think so. Enough so that it allegedly used its staff and five fellow attorneys to write fake, beaming reviews of its bankruptcy practice. Yelp has sued the McMillan Law Group for violating Yelp's terms of service and eroding its value to consumers in a damning complaint (attached below).

The company's complaint states that a series of favorable reviews of the firm were written by McMillan employees -- sometimes from the office itself. Yelp further alleges that five San Diego lawyers also wrote glowing, quid pro quo reviews for the firm.

"The McMillan Law Group's efforts to mislead consumers are particularly brazen and disappointing given they have targeted some of the most vulnerable consumers of all -- individuals who may be facing bankruptcy," claims the lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court.

Firm owner Julian McMillan, meanwhile, says Yelp is actually after revenge. She claims Yelp's lawsuit is in response to her firm winning a small claims court case against the website last year.

"I'm the only business that ever sued them and won," McMillan told The Recorder. "And now, I'm the only business they've ever counter-sued."

American-US Airways Merger Blocked by DOJ Antitrust Lawsuit

The American Airlines-US Airways merger should be blocked to protect consumers from higher fares and fees, the U.S. Justice Department argues in an antitrust lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The antitrust lawsuit (attached below) upends American’s plans to exit bankruptcy via a deal that would create the world’s biggest airline. United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, which both grew through mergers of their own in recent years, are currently the two largest domestic carriers.

The DOJ, along with the attorneys general of six states and the District of Columbia, argue the proposed American-US Airways merger would lead to less competition in the industry, higher fares and cut flight service. The Department the merger would result in four airlines controlling more than 80 percent of the U.S. commercial air travel market.

“This merger will leave three very similar legacy airlines—Delta, United and the new American—that past experience shows increasingly prefer tacit coordination over full-throated competition,” says the lawsuit, filed in Washington, D.C., federal court. “Competition at [Washington’s] Reagan National [Airport] cannot flourish where one airline increasingly controls an essential ingredient to competition.”

US Airways CEO Doug Parker vowed to fight the lawsuit in a letter Tuesday to airline workers.

“We are extremely disappointed in this action and believe the DOJ is wrong in its assessment,” Parker said. “We will fight them.”

Apple Import Ban: Obama Admin. Overrules Ban on Some iPhones, iPads

The Obama Administration has vetoed a ban on imports of some Apple iPads and older iPhones — a rare move that undercuts a legal victory for smartphone rival Samsung.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman overruled a June decision by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) which banned imports of the iPhone 4 and some variations of the iPad 2.

Froman’s formal decision (attached below) to veto the ITC ban cited concerns about patent holders gaining “undue leverage” as well as potential harm to consumers and competitive conditions in the U.S. economy.

The action is the first time since 1987 that a presidential administration had vetoed an import ban ordered by the ITC, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The ITC had ruled that the Chinese-made Apple devices violated a patent held by Samsung and couldn’t be imported.

Samsung and Apple are in a global legal battle over smartphones. Patent victories have been claimed by both sides in legal proceedings around the world.

Indeed, Froman said Samsung could continue to pursue its patent rights through the courts.

MLB Sued by San Jose Over Oakland A's Proposed Move

Major League Baseball has dragged its feet for four years on an owners vote on the Oakland Athletics’ proposed move to a new ballpark in San Jose. Now the city has taken matters to federal court.

The San Jose lawsuit (attached below) challenges MLB’s exemption from antitrust laws and its right to deny clubs the ability to move without seeking league approval. Specifically, it is going after the territorial rights of the 30 MLB teams.

Under the rules that govern MLB, each of the 30 teams enjoys a monopoly in its market. No other team is permitted to intrude upon the home team’s territory.

The San Jose lawsuit takes aim at the antitrust exemption from a 1922 Supreme Court decision. Some legal experts say the exemption is unlikely to survive the San Jose attack if the lawsuit is not settled and proceeds to a trial.

“There is no reason why antitrust laws should not apply to them, because obviously they’re a business in interstate commerce,” Joe M. Alioto, co-lead counsel for the Oakland Raiders when they beat the NFL in 1982 to relocate to Los Angeles, told USA Today

“Even if you can’t do it under the antitrust laws, it’s obviously an intentional interference with a prospective business advantage for the Santa Clara (County) area. I think they would have a substantial likelihood of success.”

You Can't Resell Music Bought on iTunes, Federal Judge Rules

Thinking about making some cash selling your massive iTunes library? Think again.

A federal judge has declared a unique website enabling the online sale of pre-owned digital music files unlawful. "The first sale defense is limited to material items, like records, that the copyright owner put into the stream of commerce," ruled U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan.

This is bad news for ReDigi, which launched in October, 2011 with a bold idea: If the "first sale" doctrine in copyright law permits the re-selling of acquired copyrighted material, let's create an online market for "used" digital music.

Judge Sullivan's ruling has, for now, dampened the idea of reselling of digital goods. If it holds up, the ruling could mean digital sales venues would have to get the permission of right holders. Stay tuned for updates on this evolving area of the law.

An affidavit has surfaced in which lawyers at the world's largest law firm trade casual e-mails about running up legal bills for a client. One attorney jokes "that bill shall know no limits." Another described a colleague's approach to the assignment as "churn that bill, baby!"

It's not every day you read documentary evidence of possible churning -- the creation of unnecessary work to drive up a client's bill. But that appears to be what The New York Times found in a Manhattan Supreme Court filing last week involving the law firm DLA Piper.

DLA Piper is in a fee dispute with client Adam H. Victor, an energy industry executive. DLA Piper sued Mr. Victor for $675,000 in unpaid legal bills. Then Mr. Victor filed a counterclaim, accusing the law firm of a "sweeping practice of overbilling."

Do law firms inflate bills by performing superfluous tasks and overstaffing assignments? Here are some highlighted portions of DLA Piper's emails:

"I hear we are already 200k over our estimate -- that's Team DLA Piper!" wrote Erich P. Eisenegger, a lawyer at the firm, the Times reports.

"Now Vince has random people working full time on random research projects in standard 'churn that bill, baby!' mode. That bill shall know no limits," replied another DLA Piper lawyer, Christopher Thomson, noting that a third colleague, Vincent J. Roldan, had been enlisted to work on the matter.

A DLA Piper spokesman told TheTimes the firm did not comment on pending litigation.

Samsung Didn't Willfully Infringe Apple Patents, Judge Rules

Samsung had reason to celebrate this week after a federal judge declared that its infringement of Apple iPhone design and utility patents was not a willful scheme.

Still Samsung, the world’s largest device maker, still owes a mammoth fine for violating some Apple intellectual property. But it could have been much worse.

U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh ruled Tuesday that she predominantly agreed with the jury’s decision that Samsung infringed on seven of Apple’s design and utility patents. However, she disagreed with one finding — that Samsung “willfully” infringed on Apple’s patents.

This means is that Apple will not be able to triple its damage awards. If Koh had agreed with the jury on this decision, Apple could have collected up to as much as three times in damages from Samsung.

The trial between the two tech giants wrapped up in August after the jury awarded Apple $1.05 billion in damages. However, the two sides have been slugging it out over a final judgment on damages.