September 2007 Quick Links Part I

By Eric Goldman


* From the NYT: There are 200+ auto repair shops in the “Iron Triangle” area in New York, and apparently they compete fiercely with each other, shouting out price quotes as cars needing repairs drive by. But according to one business owner, “Competition is fierce, but we got ground rules here for pulling in customers…For one, you got to stand in front of your own business. You can’t come and stand in front of my shop and steal my customers.”

* Cowan v. Hotwire, LASC Case No. BC328621 (Los Angeles Superior Court complaint filed Feb. 10, 2005). I just found out about this case because apparently I’m a potential class member. The gist of the lawsuit is that Hotwire overpromised the hotel quality based on the star ratings assigned to specific hotels. Whether or not this lawsuit is meritorious, it’s another reminder that companies need to precisely characterize their rating systems.

* You may recall the lawsuit over James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, a non-fiction story that was a little fictional. The case settled with a class remedy of a refund for book purchasers who went through a fairly complicated process. Care to guess how many purchasers tendered claims? Try 1,345–meaning about $20,000 of actual cash will go into the hands of “harmed” class members. Transaction costs to award this $20,000 of relief? Lawyers want almost $800,000, plus the costs to communicate with the class were about $335,000–in total, about $56 for every $1 of relief.

* In this article, I discussed how intermediaries would seek to mine a person’s various methods of communication as source material for ad targeting (that is, unless the law restricts the intermediaries’ ability to mine such data sources). The latest example? Pudding Media, which provides free Internet-based calls for the opportunity to deliver contextually relevant ads triggered by the contents of the phone call.

* The “perfect schwag“? One obvious option that didn’t make the list…slinkies!

Intellectual Property

* We usually assume that copyright owners won’t license their content to critics seeking to disparage them; hence, fair use is needed to permit such critical secondary uses. But a counterexample from the NYT: Naomi Klein licensed the Canadian “National Post” to display excerpts of her book alongside a critical review. There is some evidence Klein didn’t know the hatchet job was coming, but even if she did, would it have been a bad choice on Klein’s part? Not necessarily. See this study showing that even a critical New York Times book review lifts sales.

* Chang v. Virgin Mobile USA (D. Tex). See the NYT article on this case. Virgin Mobile allegedly downloaded photos from Flickr to use in an advertising campaign without getting publicity consents from the individuals depicted. This is a lawsuit by one of the depicted individuals. I’m very surprised by this apparent oversight because most ad agencies are thoroughly aware of publicity rights issues. Maybe someone mistakenly thought that Flickr’s Creative Commons license extended to publicity rights?

* Freecycle Network, Inc. v. Oey (9th Cir. Sept. 26, 2007). Defendant does not make a trademark “use in commerce” when his actions were not “made to promote any competing service or reap any commercial benefit whatsoever.”

* WSJ: “Web-Address Theft Is Everyday Event”

* WSJ: Some franchisors are loosening restrictions on franchisees’ ability to make independent choices.