Tickets.com Accused of Misrepresentation

SAN FRANCISCO (03/31/2000) - Ticketmaster Online-Citysearch is accusing Tickets.com Inc. of misrepresenting a federal judge's ruling in a lawsuit filed against Tickets.com by Ticketmaster.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Harry L. Hupp handed down the first ruling in the lawsuit, dismissing four of the 10 complaints filed earlier this year against the Costa Mesa, Calif.-based Tickets.com by Ticketmaster, in Pasadena, Calif. Hupp did agree to proceed with six of the complaints against Tickets.com.

Both companies sell tickets to various events that can be purchased at their Web sites. However, Tickets.com also provides information as to where and how tickets it does not sell can be purchased. Tickets.com also provides consumers with a link to other ticket brokers.

Ticketmaster filed the lawsuit in U.S. District in California to prevent Tickets.com from hyperlinking - or linking to pages deep within its Web site - without authorization, bypassing Ticketmaster's home page and much of the advertising there. Ticketmaster claimed it was losing advertising from this type of "deep" hyperlinking.

In its lawsuit, Ticketmaster accused Tickets.com of illegal business practices, including violating federal copyright laws, false advertising, infringement of federal unfair competition laws, violating state unfair business practices, interference with business advantage and reverse passing off.

Here's an example of reverse passing off: When a retailer rips the labels off Gucci purses and replaces them with its own labels.

The judge has agreed to proceed to trial with these complaints. He dismissed Ticketmaster's breach of contract, trespass, unjust enrichment and state copyright laws.

But even though Tickets.com is claiming the judge's ruling speaks directly to the issue of hyperlinking, Ticketmaster CEO Charles Conn said in an interview yesterday that Tickets.com's perception of the ruling is misguided.

In a press release issued on Tuesday, Tickets.com said, "The federal court's decision is a validation of Tickets.com's mission to make it easier for consumers to get access to event information and buy tickets," said W. Thomas Gimple, Tickets.com's co-chairman and CEO, in a statement. " . . . This decision supports Tickets.com's position that consumers should be free to surf the Web and gain access to information, without unwarranted restrictions."

Conn, however, said the judge didn't rule on the issue of deep linking and that the case isn't even about deep linking.

"Our case goes on as before with the substance in six (of our) complaints going forward," Conn said. "It is a complete inaccuracy what was put in the Tickets.com press release. Our case was not about deep linking. The judge said deep linking in and of itself is not illegal, but what we're saying is when it is coupled with other business practices, it may be improper."

Conn said there is nothing wrong with deep linking, but when a direct competitor makes links to another company's Web site for competitive purposes, "it's not OK."

Tickets.com attorney, Daniel Harris, a partner in the intellectual property group at Palo Alto, Calif., law firm Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison LLP, said that while the judge did agree to proceed to trial with the six complaints, he didn't speak to the legality of the complaints.

"All the judge is looking at is whether (Ticketmaster) satisfied the legal requirements for their claims; he did not address the pros and cons of those claims. There is nothing implicit in his ruling that there is any value to these complaints. The proof step is yet to come. This just allows Ticketmaster to live another day," Harris said.

Harris said, "But what is important here, in terms of the Internet community, is the fact that he sets forth some law (about hyperlinking), which has not been addressed in this context before. He provides guidance on how companies should move forward when they implement their own functionality."

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