Computer & Online Industry Litigation Reporter, May 6, 1997, Pg. 24087
Can one corporation prevent another from linking to its trademarked, for-profit Internet web site? Alleging electronic piracy, Ticketmaster has filed a claim in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles aimed at stopping Microsoft Corp. from linking its proposed series of advertising-supported city-guide web sites to a site maintained by the automated ticket service. Ticketmaster Corp. v. Microsoft Corp., No. 97-3055 (CD CA, complaint filed April 28, 1997).
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The Ticketmaster site, which uses the domain name http://www.ticketmaster.com, provides extensive listing of live entertainment events and offers access to ticket-buying. The suit, which has reportedly aroused considerable controversy in some quarters of the Internet, was filed by Ticketmaster following failed talks with Microsoft to reach an agreement on possible advertising cross-promotions.
Ticketmaster seeks specifically to enjoin Microsoft from continuing its link to the Ticketmaster site from the software giant's Seattle Sidewalk web site, with the domain name http://seattle.sidewalk.com. The Seattle Sidewalk site is the first of a planned series of city guides that will offer entertainment and restaurant information for New York, Boston, Denver, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, San Diego, San Francisco, Washington, DC, and Sydney, Australia.
By offering hypertext links to Ticketmaster's site, Ticketmaster claims that Microsoft "is feathering its own nest at Ticketmaster's expense."
"In this narrow corridor of cyberspace, Ticketmaster must maintain control of the manner in which others utilize and profit from its proprietary services, or face the prospect of a feeding frenzy diluting its content," the complaint states.
Ticketmaster seeks damages, declaratory and injunctive relief, and costs and attorneys' fees pursuant to the dilution provision of the Lanham Act. The complaint also seeks relief for alleged violations of the California Business & Professions Code, and relief under California common law for alleged unfair business practices and unfair competition.
Microsoft will contest the suit vigorously, says Microsoft legal spokesman Mark Murray. "Links to someone else's site is what the World Wide Web is all about," Murray said. "This lawsuit is a threat to the Web itself. Anyone who cares about the Web should be concerned about the outcome of this suit."
Murray contends that the Seattle Sidewalk site serves to drive more customers to Ticketmaster, and that Microsoft's link preserves the Ticketmaster site in its entirety, with no additions or changes.
Representing Ticketmaster are Robert H. Platt and Cara R. Burns of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips in Los Angeles, and Jack E. Brown of Brown & Bain in Phoenix.
Editor's note: This suit has the potential to change the way the Web works, at least among the growing number of commercial, for-profit sites. It presents a far greater threat than the Scottish lawsuit that provoked panic among the Internet community several months ago. In that case, Shetland Times Co. v. Willis, a Scottish court found that one newspaper's use of another's headlines as Web links could violate Scottish copyright laws. (See Computer & Online Industry LR, Jan. 21, 1997, P. 23,534.) The case turned not on the legality of linking per se, but on the much narrower questions of whether the plaintiff's headlines were copyrightable expression under Scottish law, and whether the plaintiff's web page could be considered a "cable program" under a unique Scottish law.
By contrast, Ticketmaster's suit challenges the backbone of the Internet,
namely the ability of one Internet user to simply link his or her page
to other pages, without changing the linked pages in any way.