The Metaverse and Your Wine Brands
Every winery and wine brand will eventually need a Metaverse strategy.
During the pandemic, some wineries have become adept at conducting on-line tastings and enhancing customer experience by providing virtual vineyard, winery and cellar tours. Wineries were compelled to connect online with customers like never before. This is just the beginning. Wine businesses will need to adapt to an increasing technological sales process not only online but in the Metaverse.
The Metaverse is a virtual and immersive digital world that that reflects our real lives in many respects. The Metaverse is inhabited by digital representations of people, places and things (including brands). The Metaverse experience can provide experiences on par with the real world, while also offering experiences beyond those of the real world, for example, the sensation of human flight.
Of importance to brand owners, the Metaverse hosts a growing virtual marketplace that allows users to buy, sell and share digital assets like NFTs (non-fungible tokens), virtual real estate, experiences, information and virtual goods. It will be inhabited by users living second (or even third) lives – wholly digital lives. Just as the Metaverse parallels our real lives, where branding is used in the real world it will have a digital partner in the Metaverse.
Wineries should be interested in the Metaverse because retail will be one of the largest sectors in it, with social experiences, a close second. In addition, wineries should care about the Metaverse because it will have real world impact on their marketing and branding. Not only will the Metaverse be a new market for products and services, it will also be a new source of data collected from users of the Metaverse that can be leveraged by businesses in the real world. Just as real-world sales drive sales in the Metaverse, the Metaverse can drive sales in the real world.
There will be opportunities in the Metaverse for wine product placements (branded products in games or experiences), virtual events like cellar, winery and vineyard tours, virtual tastings, computer generated retail stores featuring wine, and virtual online education featuring branded content or sponsorship. The Metaverse can also offer wineries opportunities for sales of NFTs, for example, NFT Wine Club has more than three thousand real-life vines in Napa, California which are tied to a digital NFT. In addition, Wine Bottle Club will replicate its physical cellar in a virtual shop in the OVER (OVR) Metaverse.
The Metaverse is likely to become an important part of the wine industry marketing and sales. In addition to real world brands make sure your trademarks are registered for virtual goods, goods for use in online environments, virtual online environments and extended reality virtual environments, retail store services featuring virtual goods, etc. A trademark for a real-world brand may not protect you in the Metaverse. Ensure that your trademarks are registered for digital and virtual reality products. This is the key to protecting a brand in the Metaverse.
For assistance with branding protection in the Metaverse or the real world, contact Katja Loeffelholz.
New Laws Expand Winery Off-Site Tasting Room Privileges and Manufacturer Charitable Donation Advertising
This week, Governor Gavin Newsom signed three bills that expand certain winery off-site tasting room privileges and grant alcohol beverage manufacturers the right to advertise and promote charitable donations in connection with the sale of alcohol. The laws will become effective on January 1, 2022. We have summarized the new bills and how they amend current law below.
Number of Winery Off-Site Tasting Rooms (SB 19)
Under current California law, Type 02 wineries are permitted to operate tasting rooms only at their licensed Type 02 premises (i.e., the same premises where the winery’s wine is crushed and fermented), and at an off-site Duplicate Type 02 premises (where crushing and fermentation of wine is not permitted). Current law permits a winery to operate only one off-site Duplicate Type 02 tasting room.
SB 19 amends Section 23390.5 of the California Alcoholic Beverage Control Act (“ABC Act”) to increase the number of Duplicate Type 02 locations that a winery can operate to two locations.
Duplicate Type 02 tasting rooms can be quite helpful for wineries to reach consumers, as they allow wineries to operate a tasting room in another location in California and sell wine to consumers there without having to maintain a production facility on the same premises.
Sale and Delivery of Consumer-Provided Containers at Duplicate Type 02 Tasting Rooms (AB 239)
Under current law, a winery may exercise all the same privileges at its Duplicate Type 02 tasting room as at its Type 02 winery premises (such as the sale and delivery of wine), with certain important exceptions. One of those exceptions is that a winery may not, at its Duplicate Type 02 premises, sell or deliver wine to consumers in containers that have been supplied, furnished, or sold by the consumer.
AB 239 amends Section 23390 of the ABC Act to delete that exception. Starting on January 1, 2022, consumers may provide their own bottles and containers to be filled at a Duplicate Type 02 tasting room premise. AB 239 provides an additional means by which wineries can provide wine to consumers that can be cost-effective for both the winery and the consumer.
Advertisements of Charitable Donations in Connection with the Sale of Alcohol (AB 1267)
Generally, California law prohibits an alcohol beverage licensee from giving a gift or “thing of value” in connection with the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages, unless there is a statutory exception. The ABC Act permits licensees to donate to specified charities and nonprofit organizations (typically 501(c)(3)s). However, where such donations are tied to sales of alcohol beverage products and/or advertised as such – for example, when a licensee advertises that it will donate a portion or percentage of the proceeds from the sale of a product to a charity – the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (“ABC”) views these types of donations as “gifts” or “things of value” to consumers that “incentivize” or “entice” consumers to purchase and consume alcohol in violation of California law. During COVID-19, the CA ABC temporarily created an exception for the enforcement of this prohibition; however, this relief is limited to COVID-19 related charities only.
AB 1267 expands and codifies the CA ABC’s relief with respect to charitable donation advertising by amending Section 25600 of the ABC Act. Starting on January 1, 2022, specified manufacturers – winegrowers, beer manufacturers, distilled spirits manufacturers, craft distillers, brandy manufacturers, rectifiers, and wine rectifiers – may donate a portion of the purchase price of alcohol beverages to nonprofit charitable organizations (not limited to just COVID-19 related charities), subject to all of the following limitations:
- The donation is only in connection with the sale or distribution of alcoholic beverages in manufacturer-sealed containers.
- The promotion does not directly encourage or reference the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
- The donation does not benefit a retail licensee or a charity established for the specific purpose of benefiting the employees of retail licensees, and the advertisement for any donations does not promote or reference any retail licensee. (Note that a manufacturer may identify – but not otherwise promote – the name, address, and website of two or more unaffiliated retailers who sell the manufacturers’ product being offered in the charitable campaign, subject to the restrictions in Sec. 25500.1 of the ABC Act).
Note that this new statutory exception will sunset on January 1, 2025, so unless the exception is made permanent or extended, licensees may not advertise any donations related to the sale of alcoholic beverages at all after the date.
The bills’ text can be found on the California Legislative Information website at the following links: SB 19 (Winegrowers: tasting rooms); AB 239 (Winegrowers and brandy manufacturers: exercise of privileges: locations); and AB 1267 (Alcoholic beverages: advertising or promoting donation to a nonprofit charitable organization).
Winery Websites and ADA Compliance
The recent news of lawsuits filed against New York wineries has caused industry members to ask if they face any litigation risk if their websites are not accessible to people with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The answer is “maybe.” There is considerable ambiguity in the law as to which companies are required to make their websites ADA-compliant and what actually constitutes ADA compliance.
This blog post provides a brief overview of the New York litigation and the current status of federal law governing websites and the ADA. Wineries should check in with their information technology vendors to determine what, if any, accessibility features are currently part of their websites, not only to avoid potential claims, but also to make sure their businesses are open to all consumers.
What’s the New York case all about?
The lead plaintiff in these actions is legally blind and uses screen-reading software to access website content. That software only functions correctly if the website incorporates certain screen-reading compatible features, such as alternatives text for images and videos. Plaintiff claims that the ADA requires the winery to make certain information on their websites accessible to visually impaired persons, including: e-commerce features, wine club membership instructions, ability to book or make reservations, hours of operation, and location of the winery. Plaintiff ultimately claims that Defendant’s failure to remedy such accessibility barriers is a discriminatory practice against blind and visually impaired people, in violation of the ADA and certain New York laws. Plaintiffs are seeking injunctive relief on their ADA claim and an order requiring the wineries to take “all the steps necessary” to make their websites compliant with the ADA.
This type of case is not unique to the wine industry. Over the past two years, there have been a slew of cases filed against businesses for allegedly violating the ADA by not making their websites accessible to people with disabilities.
What is the ADA?
The ADA is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. Under Title III of the ADA, any place of “public accommodation,” such as businesses generally open to the public, must provide individuals with disabilities full and equal enjoyment of goods, services, facilities, and accommodations. Places of public accommodation include shops and facilities serving food or drink.
States have also adopted their own laws that require businesses to provide access to persons with disabilities. For example, New York State’s Civil Rights Law and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act set forth those states’ accessibility requirements. Local governments may have their own regulations, too. Plaintiffs in the New York winery lawsuits have claimed that the wineries are also in violation of the New York City Human Rights Law because they operate a physical location in the city. Note – this blog post focuses solely on the ADA requirements, and compliance with state and local laws regarding accessibility are beyond the scope of this article.
Do winery websites need to be ADA compliant?
Here’s where things get confusing. Courts have been all over the board on which businesses must make their websites ADA compatible.
In general, websites that service places of public accommodation are required to make their websites accessible to visually impaired persons. In the wine industry context, this means that, wineries that have tasting rooms, or that allow for tours, tastings, and on-site purchases, likely need to make their website accessible to the visually impaired under the ADA.
Wineries that have no physical location of their own for customers to visit, taste, or purchase wine are less at risk from an ADA claim. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a website that is not tied to a place of public accommodation or that is attached to a place that does not qualify as a public accommodation is not subject to the ADA. (eg. Weyer v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 198 F.3d 1104 (9th Cir. 2000)). That being said, there are cases in which courts have concluded that a stand-alone website service without a physical location can itself be considered a place of public accommodation, and subject to ADA requirements. Moreover, in 2014, the DOJ entered into several settlements agreements with online-only vendors, requiring each time, compliance with the WCAG (see below). In other words, not having a physical location may not be enough.
How do I make my website ADA-compliant?
Ready for even more confusion? Currently, there are no federal guidelines for how to make a website ADA compliant. The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) had contemplated adopting a new rule to outline how private companies’ websites can comply with the ADA. But in 2017, the department decided to halt its proposed rulemaking activity on this front.
Although the DOJ failed to issue guidance on website accessibility requirements, the World Wide Web Consortium, an international standards organization, has published coding standards for accessibility, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, often referred to as WCAG 2.0 AA.
While there is nothing in federal law that states that implementation of WCAG 2.0 AA automatically means a website is ADA compliant, the complaints filed against the New York wineries all seek relief that would require the wineries to comply with WCAG 2.0 AA. Moreover, the DOJ has previously argued in ADA enforcement actions that companies can comply by making their websites and mobile apps conform to WCAG 2.0 AA standards.
Action Items for Wineries
Given the fluid state of the law surrounding the application of the ADA to websites, there is no clear answer as to which businesses must make their websites ADA-compatible, or even what is required for a website to be considered ADA-compatible under federal law.
Wineries should check in with their IT vendors and professionals to determine if their websites, apps, and mobile sites have implemented accessibility features per the WCAG 2.0 AA, and if not, assess if the cost of doing so would cause hardship to the company. Implementing such features may not only help stave off legal actions, but would also signal that your winery is accessible to all consumers.
UPDATE (11/13/2018): The Wine Institute recently circulated additional information regarding the ADA and winery websites.
New Law on Winery Social Media Ads for Certain Retailer-Hosted Events
Governor Brown recently signed into law AB2452, a bill that grants wineries broader privileges in the use of social media to promote certain events held at retailer premises, such as winemaker dinners. The bill was introduced by Assembly member Cecilia Aguilar Curry, co-authored by State Senator Bill Dodd, and sponsored by the Napa Valley Vintners.
The new law amends three tied-house exceptions in the California ABC Act that govern the organization and promotion of certain events held at on- and off-premise retailers that involve supplier-side licensees (ABC Act Sections 25503.4, 25503.56, and 25503.57). Those laws restricted how the participating supplier could advertise and promote those events. For example, the advertisement could only list the name and address of the retailer and expressly prohibited pictures or illustrations of the retailer’s premises.
The new bill allows suppliers (including wineries) to now include the following in their advertisements of those permitted retailer-hosted events:
ADDITIONAL RETAILER INFORMATION – The supplier’s advertisement for the event can now include an expanded range of information about the host retailer (including the retailer’s website address and “other electronic media”) so long as such information is “relatively inconspicuous in relation to the advertisement as a whole.”
PICTURES & ILLUSTRATIONS – The new bill allows participating suppliers to include “pictures, illustrations, and depictions of the retailer’s premises, personnel, and customers” in the event advertisements. Videos, however, are expressly prohibited.
REPOSTING OF SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS – Participating suppliers are now allowed to repost social media posts that advertise the event, including posts by the host retailer, provided that the reposted advertisement complies with all other content restrictions in the ABC Act.
Wineries and other suppliers should note that these expanded advertising privileges only allows them to advertise in connection with specific events governed by ABC Act Sections 25503.4 (wine-related events, including winemaker dinners), 25503.56 (instructional tasting event at off-sale retailer premises under a Type 86 license), and 25503.57 (instructional events at on-sale retailer premises). It is not a blanket permission to begin photographing and posting about retailers on supplier social media accounts.
The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2019.
If you have any questions about the new law, tied-house issues, or winery use of social media, please contact John Trinidad.
DISCLOSURE: DPF represents Napa Valley Vintners on a variety of matters, and advised on the proposed legislation.
ASCAP (ESCAPE) TO WINE COUNTRY
What should you do when copyright owners come a-knockin’?
Wineries throughout Sonoma and Napa Valley have recently received legal notices from copyright owner groups, threatening legal action for unauthorized live and recorded musical performances in their tasting rooms, etc. which feature songs subject to copyright protection.
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) are two of the most prominent performing rights societies which collect license royalties for the public performance of musical works in their catalogs. Public performance is defined broadly under the Copyright Act to include both live performances (aka “covers”) and recorded music played on the radio, on television, or online (e.g., via regular Pandora, without a business account). Performing rights societies are well-known for bringing suit when their on-the-ground surveillance reveals that a commercial establishment is allowing public performance to take place without an appropriate license.
Since tasting rooms are commercial establishments which fall outside of the private listening license that typically applies when you purchase music, playing music in a commercial environment (i.e., outside the “normal circle of friends and family”) constitutes an actionable copyright infringement of the public performance right of the copyright owner. Businesses that fail to pay the licensing fees of the copyright owner society (such as ASCAP) will be liable for copyright infringement, potentially including an award of the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees. See, e.g.,: http://www.ascap.com/press/2015/0527-venues-refuse-to-pay.aspx
If you have not yet been contacted by ASCAP or BMI and know that you are not in compliance but still want to play music in your tasting room, your best strategy would be to subscribe to a provider that will cover licensing obligations with ASCAP and BMI, such as Sirius XM Music for Business or Pandora for Business. (Note that such plans typically do not cover paid entry or dancing.)
Chris Passarelli is Senior IP counsel at Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty with experience in copyright and trademark issues facing the food & beverage, hospitality and entertainment industries. Contact Chris here.
It’s Time to Renew Your FDA Food Facility Registration
Just a reminder that it’s time for wineries, breweries and distilleries required to register with the FDA to renew their FDA Food Facility Registration. Beginning on October 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014, food facilities that are required to register with FDA (which includes most alcohol beverage producers, even those operating as alternating proprietors) must renew their food facility registrations. Note that if a food facility registration is not renewed during this period, it will be deemed canceled by the FDA. Section 415 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) [21 U.S.C. § 350d] requires food facilities that are required to register with FDA to renew such registrations during the period beginning on October 1 and ending on December 31 of each even-numbered year.