Link to me and I'll sue!

"The new web is all about commerce, and there are new rules that have to be developed." --
Alan Citron, VP of multimedia for Ticketmaster, quoted in Interactive Week last week.

The biggest fight over the past few weeks has been Ticketmaster vs. Microsoft's Sidewalk. To get the proper perspective, I've asked Dwight Silverman, the computing columnist for the Houston Chronicle, to weigh in with his views. His home page may be found here and he promises me that he won't sue me for publishing this link. Take it away Dwight.

You'll have to forgive this silly grin on my face, but I've been giggling non-stop since April 28. That's the date that Ticketmaster filed suit in a federal district court in Los Angeles against Microsoft.

Normally, a lawsuit (even one with Microsoft as plaintiff) would not inspire non-stop hilarity, but this one is, well, special. Ticketmaster is suing because it wants Microsoft to stop providing links from its Seattle Sidewalk Web site back to Ticketmaster.

Sidewalk, you see, is Microsoft's arts-and-entertainment offering. It presents listings of events, just like a newspaper's entertainment section, complete with all the information you need to attend the event.

That includes how to get tickets to the events. And hey! Because it's the Web, you can actually click on over to Ticketmaster's Web site from a link at Sidewalk and buy those tickets. Ticketmaster doesn't like this. Microsoft doesn't have permission to provide that link. Ticketmaster wants Microsoft to stop.

In other words, Ticketmaster -- which is in the business of selling tickets to people who visit its Web site -- is saying: "You bastards! You're sending us customers! Stop that!"

I tell ya, it's a laff riot. Serious comedy. "Dumb and Dumber, Part 2." Or, as they say on AOL: LOL. (laughing out loud)

Some folks who think the Web is the greatest thing since New York cheesecake fear that, if Ticketmaster prevails, the future of the Web is in doubt. I'm not too worried -- unless, of course, Ticketmaster scores a judge with no sense of humor. Not too many of those around. Are there?

On the off chance that a judge or jury were to not get this little joke, the theory goes, big companies with lots of money and lawyers would be able to force Web site owners to pay up for the right to link to the big boys' pages - or, at the very least, control the look-and-feel of those links. Adios, creative freedom. Sayonara, Everyman-as- publisher. Goodbye, cool World Wide Web.

That's a bit dire. Even if Ticketmaster pulls this one off, I'd hope that most operators of big commercial sites would understand something that has gotten past Ticketmaster. There is value in being a good netizen and that, combined with the revenue produced from many incoming links, would far override any revenues that Ticketmaster would have snagged in a deal with Microsoft. Or in the cost of the lawsuits.

Instead, Ticketmaster comes off as quite the churlish buffoon, drawing scorn and snickers. And here's a side- effect that's good for an extra chuckle or two: Microsoft, the computer industry's Evil Empire, comes off looking like the defender of the Internet flame. Who would have thought it possible?

Ticketmaster recently escalated its folly by erecting a rejection page for those who click on Sidewalk's Ticketmaster links. If you try to get there from here, you'll get a page declaring that "This is an unauthorized link and a dead end for Sidewalk." The page invites Sidewalk visitors to manually enter the Ticketmaster URL, and includes a rant announcing that Sidewalk wants to "traffic on our good name and your desire for information on live entertainment events to sell advertising for their sole benefit, while offering nothing in return."

Nothing in return? What about PAYING CUSTOMERS?

Thanks Dwight. This suit raises another interesting issue: As someone who maintains lots o' links to pages deep within many sites, is it my obligation to keep them up when the webmaster reorganizes the site? Or should I just give up trying to point my visitors to the appropriate spot and cop out by pointing to the top or home page?

I thought I was doing my visitors a service by finding the right spot on the other guy's web site with the information of interest, thereby saving time and being a good netizen, as you said. But now, I don't know.

The true measure of success of a web site is how many people point to you. The more the better - whether they come in the front door (and increment that all-important ad counter) or meander around the back 40 where the real meat of things may be. Piss them off at your own peril, either by changing the pages these inbound links refer to or by hauling them into court.

For some other thoughts on this matter, check out what Brad Templeton of ClariNet has to say.

David Strom
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entire contents copyright 1997 by David Strom, Inc.