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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 copyrightlaws do not bar pop-ups from appearing in front of the content ofother parties' Web sites. The ruling last September came in alawsuit filed by U-Haul International Inc., a Phoenix-basedtrucking company, against WhenU.com Inc., a New York City Internetadvertising company providing Web surfers free software ordownloads, such as video players or screen savers. The freebiescome with the SaveNow program that matches users' surfinghabits with advertisers. This "spyware" or"adware" shows Web users pop-up ads independent of thesites they visit-so visitors to U-Haul's site could see pop-upsfrom competitor Ryder System Inc.

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

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