Ticketmaster Wins Tactical Victory
March 03, 2003 - Lawyer for USA Interactive's Ticketmaster hailed as a victory a recent decision by a Los Angeles federal judge that, they claim, will pave the way for the world's largest ticketing company to halt the practice of deep linking to its Web site.
In its suit, Ticketmaster claimed that its smaller rival, Tickets.com Inc., was unlawfully deep linking to its Web site and taking its event information for use on its own Web site. Ticketmaster v. Tickets.com , CV7654 (C.D. Cal., filed 1999). Tickets.com countered by filing an antitrust suit against Ticketmaster.
U.S. District Judge Harry Hupp of Los Angeles on Monday granted Ticketmaster's motion to dismiss the antitrust claim. Hupp also dismissed Tickets.com's motion for summary judgment in Ticketmaster's breach-of-contract suit. Hupp's ruling, which will be published, allows a jury trial to proceed on the breach-of-contract claim, which addresses the controversial deep-linking aspect, said Ticketmaster's lawyer Robert Platt of Los Angeles' Manatt Phelps & Phillips.
"Ticketmaster is extremely pleased that the judge allowed it to proceed in its breach-of-contract claim before a jury," Platt said.
"Ticketmaster believes that its terms and conditions posted on its Web site are enforceable and that its Web site should not be used by its competitor for commercial purposes," Platt said.
Lawyers for Tickets.com did not return calls seeking comment. A deep link, or hyperlink, allows a Web user to click directly into the page he or she wants without visiting the home page, or front page. Many businesses with Web sites don't like hyperlinks because they allow users to bypass their ads and promotions. Wendy Seltzer, a staff [attorney] for San Francisco's Electronic Frontier Foundation, believes it is too early for Ticketmaster to claim victory.
Seltzer said that even if the ruling - which has not yet been issued in written form - falls against deep linking, she said that she is certain it would apply only between two competitive companies. She does not believe it would apply to a user who puts an event on his or her own Web site - even an event listed on Ticketmaster's Web site.
"It's a misguided dream of lots of Web site owners that they can take their sites out of the Web and have gardens with a single entrance," Seltzer said.
She said that the foundation's philosophy is that attempting to limit Internet hyperlinks will create a chilling effect. Moreover, she said, it is dangerous to say that people are binding themselves to contracts simply by clicking around on the Web. Everyone knows that most people don't read the contracts, she said.
While there have been several earlier cases that were settled out of court, there is no legal precedent against deep linking, Seltzer said. Platt said that Hupp's decision will be the first ruling on the issue from the state's Central District.
Ticketmaster first filed its suit in 1999 because it objected to Tickets.com's practice of referring people, through a hyperlink, to Ticketmaster to buy certain event tickets that Tickets.com did not handle.
While the practice gave Ticketmaster more business, it also allowed people to bypass Ticketmaster's home page and ads for its products.
"Ticketmaster believes that its conduct and practices were legal, and we were vindicated," said Manatt lawyer Chad Hummel, who handled the company's antitrust arm of the case.
"Ticketmaster was sued by a competitor who was trying to get a leg up in court that it couldn't achieve in the marketplace," Hummel said.
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