Cyber Ramblings - Oct 31, 2000

31 October 2000
Pollstar Wins First Stage of Lawsuit
Pollstar, one of the leaders in concert information on the web, won an early battle in what could be a long war in the courts when a U.S. court in California allowed the suit to move forward under the state's misappropriation and unfair competition laws. The case could become significant in the U.S. where there is no equivalent of the E.U. laws that specifically protect the rights in databases. Although the suit does not allege federal copyright infringement, the court found that Pollstar, a company that provides world-wide concert tour information on its web site, had the right to proceed with its lawsuit suit against its competitor Gigmania. The suit alleges that Gigmania regularly copies Pollstar's concert information and then posts it on its own web site. Pollstar's suit seeks damages and a court order against, among other things, misappropriation and unfair competition. Gigmania sought to dismiss the case on the ground that Pollstar's claims are barred under US copyright law.

Since 1991, when the US Supreme Court ruled that a phone directory was not "original" enough to be copyrighted because it was "so mechanical or routine as to require no creativity whatsoever", US courts have been reluctant to protect databases - such as Pollstar's concert information database - from copying by others. Pollstar contended, however, that its concert information should be entitled to protection under the misappropriation and unfair competition laws of the State of California. In its suit, Pollstar used a host of arguments:

  • that it incurs a great cost in gathering its concert information;
  • that Pollstar and Gigmania are direct competitors; and
  • that much of the value of Pollstar's concert information is derived from the fact that the information is current and up-to-date and that the ability for a competitor, such as Gigmania, to "free ride" its efforts jeopardizes the existence of Pollstar.

The Court agreed with Pollstar and rejected all of Gigmania's arguments for dismissal. The case highlights one of the differences between European law and US.

Laws on protecting databases were synchronized throughout Europe at the start of 1998. In the UK, this took the form of the Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997. Basically, in Europe, if someone else without permission uses your database, you probably have grounds for legal action against them.

Celebs Gain Control of Sites with Their Names on Them
The United Nations panel ruled last week that singer Michael Feinstein and actress Bridget Moynahan should have control of Internet addresses featuring their names. Feinstein, a Grammy-nominated artist who has produced 17 albums, was granted, and All three were registered by PAWS Video Productions of Thousand Oaks, Calif. Moynahan, who plays Natasha on HBO's "Sex and the City," was awarded control of, registered by Fantastic Sites of Lincoln, Neb. Neither Fantastic Sites nor PAWS responded to letters from the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization. Anyone can register a domain name for a few dollars, which has led to so-called "cybersquatters" to file for famous names to make money from those who want the names. Since its launch last December, WIPO's arbitration center has resolved hundreds of cases, giving rights to disputed Internet addresses to the person, organization or company after a short, inexpensive procedure that can be conducted over the Internet. Some domain name owners who have been ordered by WIPO to hand over the names have taken their cases to court.

Yahoo! Ventures into Free Telephone Service
Internet giant Yahoo! is spreading its wings and launching a free telephone service designed for web surfers. The service will enable users to call and have their e-mail, news and other information read to them. The initiative being announced this week pits Yahoo! against America Online and some high-profile startups in a race to "voice-enable" the Web so people who are not near a computer can still get online information. The urgency to introduce listening-based Web access was evident in Yahoo!'s decision to rollout its telephone portal without any of the speech-recognition or voice-activation features offered by Tellme and BeVocal, pioneers of the new niche.

In other words, users of the new Yahoo portal will for now be required to enter numbers on a touch-tone telephone keypad to select the information they want to hear.

AOL has yet to add a telephone-based version of its Internet service, but recently acquired a start-up voice portal named Quack and owns a stake in SpeechWorks, a developer of speech-recognition technology.

Like competing telephone portals, the new 'Yahoo! by Phone' service has a toll-free number, though many of the more likely users--those calling with mobile phones--would still be expending minutes from their calling plans. The Yahoo! service can also take voice mail messages at the same phone number.

To hold down costs, Yahoo will route calls to the toll-free number over Net2Phone's private Internet-telephony network, avoiding the access fees charged by operators of traditional telephone networks. Meanwhile, to generate revenues from the telephone portal, Yahoo plans to play brief ads, lasting three-to-eight seconds.

Oracle Announces Partners to Business Online
Oracle, the database software giant, announced this week a list of new partners to support Business Online, its application service provider (ASP) unit, which rents and hosts the company's business management software for corporate clients. The company said the latest flagship members of its Business Online implementers initiative are system integrators AnswerThink, Arthur Andersen, Computer Sciences (CSC), Deloitte Consulting, Grant Thornton, KPMG, Millenia Vision, Parker Management Consultants, Solbourne, Solix Systems and Stonebridge Technologies. Oracle said it wants to provide customers with several options in addition to Oracle Consulting to help them rent applications. Oracle also said communications providers Sprint and Genuity have joined the company's new network partner program that supports Business Online. The partners have agreed to offer Business Online customers a fixed price for their network connectivity services. ASPs host software so businesses don't have to install and manage the applications themselves. People access the software over the Web, and it is typically monitored remotely from a data center. Customers pay outside providers to run everything from complicated enterprise software installations to more common desktop applications, which can also be difficult and time-consuming to maintain.

Internet Being Used for a New Avenue of Communication
Many Internet users take advantage of the Web for staying in touch with friends and family from all across the world, live ones. But more and more users are using the web to communicate with friends and family who are have left the physical world. Although it's impossible to say how many people partake in such rituals, experts estimate that hundreds of mourners write personal e-mails to the dead each month - letters of longing from mothers, boyfriends, teachers, neighbors, sympathetic strangers and others. Many memorials land in public tribute sites on the World Wide Web - a medium that psychotherapists say has become a symbolic connector between the real world and the netherworld. Most experts agree that e-mail to the deceased is decidedly less ghoulish than other forms of trying to communicate with the deceased. They say it's the modern-day version of a widow's journal - a way to telegraph words and sentiments that survivors didn't have a chance to express in the dying days of a loved one. They say it's similar to stamped letters to the deceased with the address ``Heaven' - letters the U.S. Postal Service receives each year by the hundreds. Psychotherapist Tom Golden, an expert in grief therapy who operates, said the Internet is a modern miracle for people who cannot otherwise express loss.

IBM and Sun Microsystems Attacking Wireless Network
IBM and Sun Microsystems are launching new servers aimed at tapping into the wireless market. Sun is doing so by forming a new business unit and has created $100 million venture fund while IBM unveiled a new server, software and services this week aimed at getting wireless customers. In addition to the new fund, Sun also is launching a new server for telecommunications companies as well as new software and services. With the move, Sun is trying to take advantage of its status as the top seller of Unix servers, a key product in enabling telecommunications companies to offer Internet services such as e-mail or online shopping via their cell phones. IBM has also signed BT Celt, Telecom Italy, Avenger, Unix, and others as customers. But selling servers for wireless computing infrastructure may not be as profitable as IBM and Sun hope. For one thing, they face competition from Hewlett-Packard, which has offered its own wireless hardware, software and services for a year. Also, Compaq Computer - though trailing Sun, HP, and IBM in Unix server sales - has long been a strong seller of telecommunications servers for handling ordinary voice telecommunications.