Wall Street Journal Blacks Out Line In Vonage Ad

from the advertising-abridged dept

As the Vonage-Verizon patent spat winds its way through the courts, Vonage has decide to plead its case in a different court -- the court of public opinion. The company has been taking out ads explaining its position, and basically making the case that Verizon is simply trying to use its patents to stifle competition. Apparently, the Wall Street Journal didn't like a line in one of Vonage's ads, so readers were greeted to a full page ad with one sentence blacked out. It's not clear why the sentence, which read "Now, Verizon has chosen to attack Vonage in the courts. Why? Could it be all about the money?", set off the alarm bells, although presumably it was under some sort of pressure from Verizon. This doesn't really constitute censorship on the Journal's part, since it's a private company and can do whatever it wants, but it is odd that the company would make an editorial decision in this way, and just black out one line, rather than refuse the ad outright. What makes this story particularly odd is that the Journal ran its own article about Vonage's ad campaign, in which it specifically referenced the offending line, as though it were somehow explosive. Assuming that it did face some sort of (presumably legal) pressure from Verizon over the line, the episode is indicative of how high the stakes are for both companies.

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  • identicon
    RandomThoughts, 30 Apr 2007 @ 10:06am

    The Wall Street Journal didn't black out the wording, Vonage did.

    Vonage was told that the wording was not acceptable, so they decided to black it out. Smart move, as that gets even more publicity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Greg, 30 Apr 2007 @ 11:03am

      Re:

      The Wall Street Journal didn't black out the wording, Vonage did.

      Vonage was told that the wording was not acceptable, so they decided to black it out. Smart move, as that gets even more publicity.


      Do you have a source for this?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    scate, 30 Apr 2007 @ 10:07am

    This doesn't really constitute censorship on the Journal's part, since it's a private company and can do whatever it wants,


    Yes, this is censorship. It just happens to be legal censorship by a private entity.

    You have a narrow understanding of the word "censorship." Censorship does not have to be state-sponsored nor does it have to violate ones First Amendment rights to be called "censorship."

    BTW, the Journal cannot always "do whatever it wants." It can only do whatever it wants that is legal. However, one may assume that by "do whatever [the Journal] wants" you meant decline to print text in a company's ads I think you are right. But, a newspaper couldn't, say, refuse to run someone's housing ad just because they were black. There are restrictions on what private companies can do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2007 @ 10:49am

      Re:

      But, a newspaper couldn't, say, refuse to run someone's housing ad just because they were black.

      Uh... yes, yes they can. There is NOBODY that is allowed to tell them they MUST carry an ad they find offensive (if that be the case).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Chronno S. Trigger, 30 Apr 2007 @ 10:23am

    I hope Comcast is watching

    I have four options for home phone service in my aria

    Verizon
    Vonage
    Skype
    Comcast

    If Verizon wins this legal battle it will probably aim at Skype next (maybe, but it seems as if they're infringing on the patent as well) and then comcast (since they provide the same exact service as Vonage)

    Just wanted to throw that out there.

    You have to go see the free to compete web site. Its a good laugh and reminds me why I like Vonage over Verizon. Not just because there cheaper, but because there adds and site always seem to have actual people behind them not just one big corporation that's just trying to get your money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      noflachik, 30 Apr 2007 @ 1:03pm

      Re: I hope Comcast is watching

      Please visit Wikihow's topic on using "there," "their," and "they're." It just makes me cringe...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    scate, 30 Apr 2007 @ 11:07am

    "But, a newspaper couldn't, say, refuse to run someone's housing ad just because they were black."

    Uh... yes, yes they can. There is NOBODY that is allowed to tell them they MUST carry an ad they find offensive (if that be the case).


    Sorry, AC, but you are wrong on the law. I specifically contrived to create an example that is covered by Federal Law, in this case, the Fair Housing act. Note that my example specifically was a housing ad and that the refusal was specifically, and only, racially motivated. Your substitution of a different example that you could knock down is a specious argument. The Journal cannot be required to carry housing ads, but if they do they cannot discriminate on the basis of race.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2007 @ 11:13am

      Re:

      The Journal cannot be required to carry housing ads, but if they do they cannot discriminate on the basis of race.

      Wrong again.

      The Journal can discriminate all they want.

      What they cannot do, is carry an ad that states discrimation as a requirement to obtain said housing.

      My original comment still stands.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Matthew, 30 Apr 2007 @ 11:20am

    Blacked out line

    Well I don't think the Journal could accept money for the Ad, and then turn around and censor it. That sounds like it should be a breach of contract.

    This is why I'd believe that the ad was printed as is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Xenohacker@hotmail.com, 30 Apr 2007 @ 11:21am

    Shape Up Or Ship Out...

    I don't blame the Wall Street Journal for censoring ads that use their company to help slam another through advertisements. Vonage appears to be going down like the titanic and is trying to suck everyone in with them. I don't know anything about the case Verizon vs. Vonage case. However, I agree it is within the Journal's rights to avoid any potential for possible litigation through it's advertisements. It shows the professionalism of their business practices. Also it is smart not to allow their paper to harm potential business with Verizon. I think that Vonage should seek a refund of their advertising costs on this ad though. If I was the Wall Street Journal I would gladly refund their money and tell them to shape up or ship out. Vonage is a crab in a bucket...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    RandomThoughts, 30 Apr 2007 @ 11:26am

    According to Brooke Schulz, Vonage vice president for corporate communications, the Wall Street Journal’s advertising department told Vonage that it would not accept the ad in its original format, forcing the company to black out the aforementioned line if it wanted to spend its money on the Journal’s pages.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2007 @ 11:43am

      Re: Random Thoughts x2

      But that doesn't change anything...

      It only means that Vonage knew and accepted the censoring.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        squik, 30 Apr 2007 @ 12:12pm

        Re: Re: Random Thoughts x2

        But that doesn't change anything...

        It only means that Vonage knew and accepted the censoring.


        No. It means Vonage knew it had to change the ad and did so in a way that would give it maximum PR. Smart on their part. Others might have pulled the ad entirely and bitched about the censorship, while the rest of the world ignored them. This way, people who probably don't care have their curiosity piqued and will hear what Vonage wants to tell them.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    RandomThoughts, 30 Apr 2007 @ 12:07pm

    I agree that the WSJ did censor it, but the Journal didn't just black line edit the ad and then run it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 30 Apr 2007 @ 12:09pm

    What About Prior Art?

    The WSJ bit doesn't do the story justice because it omits the various cases of prior art which have been found, many of which pre-date the Verizon patents.

    see: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20070423/094554.shtml

    These VZW VoIP patents may well be proven invalid someday because of the prior art, but that doesn't mean they can't be used to kill Vonage now.

    Capitalism is about free markets. Patents are about government-granted monopolies. Free markets and patents are diametrically opposed, and don't let anyone get away with making them seem synonymous. There is a time and a place for patents, but these are compromises capitalist societies make for the singular goal of bringing new inventions to market.

    Many patent positions today are more anti-competitive than they are innovation-based. This is the norm, not the exception. Verizon's suit against Vonage is more about stopping competition than about inventing things at Verizon. That shouldn't be OK in American law.

    Verizon doesn't need changing, the law does.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    scate, 30 Apr 2007 @ 12:29pm

    What they cannot do, is carry an ad that states discrimation as a requirement to obtain said housing

    Indeed, you may be right on that point. But you have just disproved your own point. The Journal cannot do "whatever it wants to do." There are restrictions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2007 @ 12:39pm

      Re:

      But you have just disproved your own point. The Journal cannot do "whatever it wants to do." There are restrictions.

      I never said such thing.

      The only point I made was that noone could force the paper to carry an ad it didn't like.

      Perhaps you were replying to some other entity too lazy to type in a name? Yes, that is probably the case. Sorry for the confusion my laziness has caused.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    scate, 30 Apr 2007 @ 12:48pm

    Sorry, AC, we still disagree. It is still my contention that the paper can't refuse to run ads solely based on the race of the advertiser. We are not getting anywhere because we have both constructed hypotheticals we can defend.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2007 @ 12:55pm

      Re:

      It is still my contention that the paper can't refuse to run ads solely based on the race of the advertiser.

      Oh yes, we definitely still disagree.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    RandomThoughts, 30 Apr 2007 @ 12:51pm

    On other thing, don't believe that Vonage is all "power to the people." If you look at the astroturfing job they are doing, notice how it only mentions Vonage and not any other pure play VoIP provider. It is basically an advertising machine set up for Vonage.

    I am not saying this is wrong, but don't believe that Vonage is out there fighting for the little guy, they are fighting for themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Sanguine Dream, 30 Apr 2007 @ 2:04pm

    Analogies again...

    I think I'm starting to get the hang of analogies.

    If I want to buy some ad space to sell a house in the WSJ and they:
    1. Deny me because they don't run housing ads. Fine

    2. Deny me because there no more room in that issue. Fine

    3. Deny me because I am black. Problem.

    The trick is I have to prove they denied me soley based on my race. They could discriminate against my race and then some up with some bullshit answer later to cover their butts.


    Back to the topic at hand. I agree with comment #8. WSJ would told them in advance if the ad was unacceptable or else the WSJ would have been in trouble for altering the ad after approving it. Looks to me like Vonage tried to run the ad and WSJ gave them the choices of blacking out that one line, removing that one line, or not get the adspace in that issue. And Vonage knowing with would generate more attention knew just what to do...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    DV Henkel-Wallace, 30 Apr 2007 @ 3:16pm

    There's a sensible explanation -- thanks to Techdi

    What makes this story particularly odd is that the Journal ran its own article about Vonage's ad campaign, in which it specifically referenced the offending line,
    Hey, weren't you the ones who invented the term, "streisand effect?" What if the Journal's editorial board (no friend of government regulation) wanted to call attention to this issue? What better way to do so?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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