Victory in the Toy Wars

SAN FRANCISCO (01/27/2000) - Despite the way e-commerce has changed the Web in the past few years, the success Zurich-based conceptual art group etoy has had in beating back an attack by the massive online store eToys suggests that the old insurgent Net culture remains a vital force. As Wired News reported, the toy company eToys has agreed to drop its copyright-infringement suit against etoy and to pay the group up to $40,000 in legal fees and expenses. In return, wrote Wired News' Steve Kettmann, etoy has dropped its countersuit against the e-retailer.

The dispute began when users who mistakenly typed "etoy" into their browsers complained to eToys about finding content that offended them. Even though etoy's site was established in 1995 and eToys' in 1997, the toy store won a court order forcing etoy to temporarily abandon its domain. EToys' actions infuriated many, inciting a deluge of e-mail protests and creating a PR disaster.

Victory was especially sweet for the art group: Its whole project is based on satirizing corporations. Consequently, etoy, its lawyer and its supporters didn't hesitate to gloat. Kettmann quoted Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow, one of etoy's high-profile allies: "This is the point where people begin to realize there is a difference between the Internet industry and the Internet community, and the Internet community needs to bind itself together and find a common voice." CNET quoted etoy attorney Chris Truax: "EToys doesn't get anything from this episode but a black eye." And in the New York Times, an etoy member calling himself zai acknowledged that the litigious toy store had raised the group's profile immeasurably: "It was a pleasure to do business with eToys."