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Linking, Framing, and Metatagging

Ticketmaster v. Microsoft, United States District Court for the Central District of California, Civil Action Number 97-3055DPP

Summary

This case is similar to the Shetland Times dispute in that the linking practice at issue is the use of a "deeplink" which bypasses advertising and directly accesses embedded pages. However, unlike the link at issue in the Shetland Times dispute, Microsoft's "deeplink", which directs visitors to the ticket purchasing pages on Ticketmaster's site, arguably benefits Ticketmaster. Nonetheless, Ticketmaster sought to preclude the "deeplink," claiming, in essence, that the practice infringed on Ticketmaster's trademark, diluted the mark's value and violated state and federal laws concerning unfair competition. In February 1999, the matter was settled. While the terms of the settlment are confidential, Microsoft did remove its deeplink and now routes its traffic to Ticketmaster's home page.

Analysis

Ticketmaster operates an online ticket agency web site where consumers can purchase tickets to local events throughout the United States. Ticketmaster sells advertising space on the front page of its web site but not the embedded pages. Microsoft put up various city entertainment web sites under the domain name "sidewalk.com." Prior to this suit being filed, the parties attempted to negotiate a linking agreement from Microsoft's "sidewalk" web sites to Ticketmaster's web site which would allow visitors to Microsoft's sidewalk web sites to purchase tickets online through the Ticketmaster web site. Negotiations broke down but Microsoft went forward and included a link to Ticketmaster's embedded ticket purchasing page in its sidewalk web sites. Ticketmaster, meanwhile, signed a linking agreement with "City Search" a sidewalk.com competitor.

On April 28, 1997, Ticketmaster filed suit against Microsoft, claiming that Microsoft's deeplink infringed on Ticketmaster's trademark, diluted it value, and violated various state and federal unfair competition laws. Ticketmaster claimed that Microsoft's unilateral deeplink reduced the revenue received from companies advertising on Ticketmaster's web site and negated Ticketmaster's ability to control and direct traffic on its web site. At bottom, Ticketmaster claimed that its web site is entitled to trademark protection. In its answer, Microsoft defended its link, relying primarily on the First Amendment and the fair use doctrine. In addition, Microsoft asserted that linking is ubiquitous and that by placing a web site on the Web, Ticketmaster impliedly consented to links, including deeplinks. By way of counterclaim, Microsoft sought a judicial declaration that its deeplink was lawful and suggested that Ticketmaster's complaint raises the issue of whether hypertext linking in any form is legal. In responding to the counterclaim Ticketmaster expressly denied attacking the use of hypertext links in general, limiting its claim to the validity of Microsoft's deeplink.


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