L.L. Bean Sues Nordstrom Over Adware Pop-Ups
from the interesting-legal-questions dept
There have been many, many lawsuits filed against the various adware/spyware companies that will place ads over certain web pages (for example, putting a FedEx ad over the page if someone visits the UPS website). The real problem with these companies is the fact that their products are often installed without the end users realizing it, and they make it very difficult to remove. However, that legal issue (sneaking stuff onto your computer) gets confused with the other legal question of whether or not it’s illegal for these products to pop-up these ads for competitors. The lawsuits have returned mixed results. Sometimes the adware companies win and sometimes they lose. On the whole, they should win these cases. If (and it’s a huge if) someone installs this software on purpose – then why shouldn’t they be allowed to let the software pop up ads from competitors? Maybe I want to know about competitors to the websites I visit? Why shouldn’t I be allowed to set that up on my own computer? The real problem with these products is the fact that they are installed without any real notification (often by having it hidden in the fine print while installing another product). Still, the lawsuits continue. This time, however, L.L. Bean is taking a different path and one that makes a little more sense (though, I still think they should lose). Instead of suing companies like WhenU and Gator directly, they’re suing Nordstrom, J.C. Penney, Atkins and Gevalia for buying ads on one of these systems to pop up whenever someone visits the L.L. Bean website. To me, this is the same question of whether or not Google can sell trademarked advertising terms. The companies doing the advertising aren’t violating trademarks. A trademark doesn’t give a company all rights to a word or phrase – it just lets them protect it from others pretending to be them. However, by suing the other companies, they’re following the same plan some are suggesting companies take with Google: don’t sue Google, but sue the advertising companies. Still, I don’t see how this is anything other than someone trying to position their ads well. For years, companies have bought billboards outside of their competitors. IBM and Informix have run billboards right outside of Oracle’s offices for years. Fox News apparently has a billboard outside of CNN’s offices. It may be a little obnoxious (and who knows how well it actually works), but it’s certainly not illegal. If L.L. Bean really wanted to help, they should just offer adware/spyware removal tools on their site and fight to against the sneaky nature by which these programs are installed without users knowing it.