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A Pop-Up Victory

Competitors' ads could muscle in on your Web site.

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This story appears in the February 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Small e-tailers may have more pop-ups invading their Web pages, thanks to a federal judge's ruling that trademark and copyright laws do not bar pop-ups from appearing in front of the content of other parties' Web sites. The ruling last September came in a lawsuit filed by U-Haul International Inc., a Phoenix-based trucking company, against WhenU.com Inc., a New York City Internet advertising company providing Web surfers free software or downloads, such as video players or screen savers. The freebies come with the SaveNow program that matches users' surfing habits with advertisers. This "spyware" or "adware" shows Web users pop-up ads independent of the sites they visit-so visitors to U-Haul's site could see pop-ups from competitor Ryder System Inc.

U-Haul's lawsuit claimed the ads infringed on its trademarks and copyrights and violated competition laws. U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee dismissed the suit, noting that U-Haul's pop-up ads open in a WhenU-branded window that's separate and distinct from the window in which the U-Haul Web site appears, and that users willingly subjected themselves to the pop-ups when they downloaded the software. While U-Haul may appeal, the decision is a blow to Web site operators seeking to maintain control of the ads that appear on their sites.

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