Legal Questions Remain on Web-Content Protection

Article excerpt

While the new frontier of the World Wide Web is often compared to the Wild West, on-line businesses now are looking to the courts to impose law and order and to help protect their content.

As that content becomes more valuable, the on-line entrepreneurs increasingly want to control who links to their sites, how they link and how their content is displayed -- questions that seemed largely insignificant even a year ago.

However, the first litigation on the matter appears to have raised as many questions as it answered. Earlier this month, Total News Inc. settled a lawsuit with Time Warner's CNN, The Washington Post and four other major media conglomerates by agreeing to stop displaying their Web content with its own ads. The Total News case involved a browser function that permits a Web designer to use a simple command to create partitions in a Web page. Total News, a Web company based behind a Lulu's Taco Stand in Gilbert, Ariz., links to 1,350 news sites, wrapping the linked content in a frame of its own advertising. Because the closely watched case never made it to trial, legal scholars and people in the on-line industry said it failed to provide any significant precedent. At the most, "it was a warning shot across the bow to people who want to make money using other people's content," said Trotter Hardy, professor of law at William and Mary Law School. Tom Baker, business director of the Wall Street Interactive Edition of Dow Jones & Co., a plaintiff in the case, said that Internet businesses had to feel that their intellectual property was protected on-line or they would have no incentive to post valuable content. …