Transcript of National Public Radio (NPR) WEEKEND EDITION SATURDAY (1:00 PM ET)

December 18, 1999, Saturday






An Internet art name dispute is simmering between an avant-garde European art group and an online toy retailer, eToys. The toy retailer went to court and a California judge has barred the group from using the name eToy even though the arts commune was registered to use the name first. The company that registers Internet domain names has also pulled the arts group Internet mailing address and now some online activists have launched a campaign in support of the artists.

JACK SPEER reporting:

The political activists at RTMark want to publicize what they say are corporate abuses of power. Formed eight years ago, RTMark projects have including going after toymaker Mattel. Activists put GI Joe voice boxes in talking Barbie dolls to highlight gender stereotyping in the toy business. The group has also put up Internet sites attacking fast-food chain McDonald's and Royal Dutch/Shell. Now the group is targeting online retailer eToys during the company's busiest time of the year. Groups members are angry at what they saw are eToys' heavy-handed tactics which succeeded in getting the arts group site knocked off the Web.

An RTMark member who uses the pseudonym Ray Thomas says they're urging people to use software that will bombard eToys' Web site with phony shopping traffic.

Mr. RAY THOMAS (RTMark Member): We have noticed that the server is slower, certainly it's not preventing anyone entirely from using the service, but it is slower and noticeably so. And that's the idea of the attack. It's to let people understand that something is going on and that a great number of people are very upset.

SPEER: RTMark admits its efforts probably won't knock eToys off line. The company, like most other e-commerce firms, is experiencing a huge increase in the number of shoppers it's seeing this year and has taken steps to make sure it can handle the extra volume. Cameron Meierhoefer is with PC Data Online, an Internet marketing research firm.

Mr. CAMERON MEIERHOEFER (PC Data Online): It doesn't appear that it's had any staggering impact. EToys had their traffic peak in the beginning, about the first week of this month, and their systems were optimized to handle loads that are much larger than what they're getting now. It appears that the RTMark campaign is a little late. The peak shopping on the Internet has probably past, as some of the shipping deadlines for the holiday have approached.

SPEER: While not sympathizing with the hackers, some Internet experts do say eToy may have gotten a bad deal. Rory O'Connor is editor of Technology Daily, a Web-based publication that deals with the politics and policy of information technology. He says it's clear eToy had the name first.

Mr. RORY O'CONNOR (Technology Daily): EToy turned down a large sum of money to give up its domain name and they did not want to. And so eToys decided that it wanted to go to court, instead, to get it back.

SPEER: However, he says, legally the subject of Internet naming rights remains something of a gray area which ultimately is why the courts are getting involved.

Mr. O'CONNOR: It's still very new. Everything about this situation is very new and you do have a lot of companies that have been held hostage and sort of gone to the Congress and gone to the courts and gone to international bodies like ICan(ph), which is sort of managing this piece of the Internet and said, 'You've got to help us out here.'

SPEER: As for eToys, the Santa Monica, California-based company, declined to be interviewed on tape. However, the company has claimed that it objected more to the nature of the artwork and imagery on the eToy site than to anything else, that included pictures of the Oklahoma City bombing, pushpins in bare breasts and what eToys describes as obscene imagery and hateful rhetoric. A spokesman with eToys says the online sit-in hasn't worked. It would only say the eToys site has, quote, "been extremely reliable with the capacity to welcome millions and millions of people." RTMark has vowed to continue its campaign against eToys right up until Christmas. The next court hearing in the trademark infringement case is set for later this month. Jack Speer, NPR News, Washington.

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