IAB Accuses Gator.com Of Illegal Business Practices

Posted on August 29, 2001

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), an interactive advertising industry organization, believes that the business practices of Gator.com substantially infringe on the trademark, copyright and intellectual property rights of Web publishers and advertisers, and do not adequately protect consumers from unauthorized content. The IAB intends to immediately pursue options on behalf of its members with the appropriate federal agencies to stop Gator.com's software which covers up banner ads.

The software IAB is targeting is Gator.com's Companion Pop-up Banner, which obscures advertising and/or editorial content on websites through the use of specially designed pop-up windows and without the consent of websites or third party advertisers. The software is included with the download of Gator.com's application which allows users to manage online usernames and passwords. Critics have also argued that Gator.com's Companion Pop-up Banner software is difficult to remove and is secretly bundled with other software so users don't realize they have downloaded it.

Similar software exists such as TopText which changes the text on webpages (on any website) to highlighted yellow links that advertisers have purchased from eZula, the producer of TopText. Microsoft was recently planning to launch its Smart Tags service as part of the next release of its Internet Explorer (IE) browser. Smart Tags also changed the text on webpages, without the website publisher's consent. Because of negative feedback Microsoft removed Smart Tags from the latest release of the IE browser but said it still planned to launch Smart Tags at a later date. Websites have emerged to combat the recent outbreak of banner and text changing software.

In response to the IAB's complaints Gator filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court against the IAB in an attempt to protect its Companion Pop-up Banner software. The lawsuit seeks the federal court's declaration that the IAB's complaints concerning the company's Companion Pop-up Banner Windows are unfounded.

``I can understand why the IAB, who represents our competitors, doesn't like our Pop-up Banner Windows, but their claims about its legality are utterly baseless,'' said Gator CEO Jeff McFadden. ``As a leading web property representing over eight million users and 200 advertisers, we have a responsibility to aggressively defend the rights of all concerned. We will vigorously defend our new Pop-up Banner vehicle, just as we have in the past year successfully defended our other ad vehicles.''

``Consumers who choose to use the Gator.com software for various services may not be aware that in return for these services, they are allowing Gator.com to cover up advertising sold by the website with advertising sold by Gator.com. The consumer has not replaced the advertising by him or herself. Gator.com has done it, and is thus presenting a false and misleading business relationship between the sites and the substituted advertisers,'' said IAB President & CEO Robin Webster. ``Additionally, they are combining sites' copyrighted content with advertising which may not meet the quality and content requirements of particular sites. We also believe that this service illegally interferes with valid contractual business relationships.''

``Gator.com's practice of visually altering publishers' content and obscuring the advertisements of unsuspecting advertisers, without notice, substantially interferes with the contractual relationships between Web publishers and advertisers,'' Ms. Webster continued. ``In effect, Gator.com is falsely implying relationships that do not exist. Publishers and advertisers who have chosen to be associated with one another are having those relationships damaged and are suffering grave financial harm by losing business opportunities. Consumers are similarly being deceived by the company and are being denied the full experience of the websites as intended by the publishers.''