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Linking, Framing, and Metatagging

The Washington Post, et als. v. TotalNews, Inc., et als., Southern District of New York, Civil Action Number 97-1190.

Summary

In this case, the Washington Post and various other news services sought to preclude the defendant online news service from framing their web sites and web site content. The plaintiffs asserted claims of infringement, dilution and misappropriation. As constructed at the time suit was filed, the defendant's web site produced no content of its own but employed a series of four frames, one of which contained links to various news organization web sites. Another frame identified TotalNews and another frame contained TotalNews' advertising. The matter settled out of court with TotalNews agreeing not to frame the plaintiffs' web sites and the plaintiffs allowing TotalNews to access their web sites by simple hyperlink.

Analysis

On February 20, 1997, the Washington Post, CNN, Reuters and several other news organizations filed suit against TotalNews Inc. claiming that through its the use of frames on its web site, "TotalNews.com", the defendant infringed upon the respective plaintiffs' copyrights and trademarks, diluted the content of their individual web sites and misappropriated the content of those web site. The plaintiffs claimed additionally that TotalNews's framing practice effectively deprived the plaintiffs' web sites of advertising revenue.

At the time the Complaint was filed, the TotalNews web site generated no original content. Instead, TotalNews relied on links to selected web sites of eight other news organizations, including the plaintiffs, and general news categories such as political news (C-Span, etc.) and sports news (ESPN, Fox Sports, etc.). TotalNews's web site employed four frames: the TotalNews logo appeared in the lower left frame, the various links were located on a vertical frame on the left side of the screen, TotalNews's advertising was framed across the screen bottom, and the "news frame," the largest frame, appeared in the center and right. Clicking on a specific news organization's link allowed the reader to view the content of that particular organization's web site, including any related advertising, within the context of the "news frame." In some instances, the framing distorted or modified the appearance of the linked web site, including the advertisements, while the appearance of TotalNews's advertisements, in a separate frame, remained unchanged. In addition, the URL remained fixed on the TotalNews address, even though the content in the largest frame on the web site was from the linked web site. The "news frame" did not, however, eliminate the linked web sites' identifying features.

The matter was settled out of court. As part of the Stipulation and Order of Settlement and Dismissal, TotalNews agreed to enter into a linking agreement with the plaintiffs which allowed TotalNews to link the plaintiffs' web sites but prohibited the use of frames, graphics, video or audio materials, or plaintiffs' proprietary logos any or all of which might imply an affiliation with, or endorsement of TotalNews by, the plaintiffs. The settlement further provided that the each plaintiff could revoke permission to link to its web site.


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