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About the "Hoax du Jour"

The "Hoax du Jour" is a recurring column providing updated information and commentary on the Internet community. It is a feature of Korova Multimedia's "e-v-mail" page.

What is a "hoax du jour?" With the advent of widespread use of the Internet as a medium for sharing information, the phenomenon of sharing misinformation has exploded. Conventional urban folklore and propaganda have blossomed on the Internet. Intentionally misleading information is broadcast on a professional and personal level.

On the Web, misinformation wants to be free. It also likes to be free of authenticity and corroboration, when such grounding deflates the credibility of the content.

The result? Naive users of the Internet are subjected to a daily barrage of data that are erroneous, slanderous, and sometimes even destructive. This page is dedicated to discussing intentional misinformation, or 'Net hoaxes.

Disclaimer The opinions expressed here are entirely my own, and do not reflect policy or intentions of any persons, groups or companies referred to or linked from this site. I, my guest writers, or Korova Multimedia are not responsible for content or sites linked to from the "Hoax du Jour" column.

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December 21, 1999     

The Grinch is real.

We interrupt our previously scheduled "Hoax du Jour" for this news flash.

The Grinch is real.

No kidding. If you thought that this was the season of good will, and charity towards our fellows, you haven't heard about eToys.com.

In fact, if you rely upon CNN.com and c¦net for your online news, you might never have heard. Inexplicably, they seem to be ignoring this story.

The Story so far....

This Christmas is the season in which e-commerce firms have been ramping up for a big blowout. Companies like Amazon.com and eToys have been preparing for a huge online sales volume. As reported in c¦net, eToys increased its 3rd quarter expenditures for sales and marketing alone to US$60 million.

According to a story in Salon, eToys decided to sue the German art group etoy in September for trademark infringement, trademark dilution and unfair competition, after two customers complained about the site. What's puzzling is that eToys formed, and registered their domain name, well after etoy.


Etoy is an art group which was formed in 1995; the group registered their etoy.com web site in 1996; their U.S. trademark application is pending. The site has garnered awards and notoriety every since (including the 1996 Golden Nica award at Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria). Their projects usually involve mocking corporate behavior, and the web site has reported "share value" performance for their various endeavors.

eToys logo

EToys.com formed in 1996, and registered their domain name in 1997. Since then they've made lots of money.

EToys Lawsuit Is No Fun For Artist Group
New York Times, December 9, 1999

A. Michael Froomkin, a University of Miami law professor, said: "In the case of a regular old garden-variety trademark, it is pretty much an ironclad rule that, if you're using it legally before the trademark owner creates his business and trademarks his use, then all those uses you were making up to the time the trademark was filed, you may continue to make."

On September 29, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John B. Shook ordered a preliminary injunction prohibiting the artists from using their web address www.etoy.com. Etoy shut down the address for fear of incurring $10,000 per day fines; the site is still available by IP address. A subsequent appearance by the two parties is scheduled for December 27.

According to the New York Times piece, this was not eToys' only gambit. They had offered up to US$400,000 and stock options to the art group for the domain name. Was the lawsuit a friendly bargaining tool? Not according to "zai," an etoy spokesperson. ""We are not against selling," he said, "but at the moment we see how they treat us, like we're some kind of thing you can manipulate. We don't sell art under this pressure. You cannot force us to sell you this site just because you need it.""

Subsequent to the decision, Network Solutions blocked e-mail services for the domain, an unprecedented action -- particularly because the injunction didn't call for this. This is unprecedented because ICANN rules that were adopted in October don't call for suspending a domain while it's being disputed. If that were the case, malicious complaints to ICANN or Network Solutions would effectively prevent domain holders from using their registered domain name.

As the story progressed, reported primarily on ZDnet and Wired, the eToys rhetoric got deeper and deeper. "We absolutely respect their freedom and their points of view," said Ken Ross, eToys' vice president of communications. EToys.com claims that the etoy site contained obscenity and sadomasochistic images, but Wired noted that nothing of that nature appeared this past summer, when the legal rumble was brewing. In fact, a trademark lawyer told NPR's Madeleine Brand that trademark disputes for companies with similar trademarks but dissimilar services are generally groundless.

As Mark K. Anderson pointed out in The Standard, the etoy site "is about as different from the toy retailer as is a SoHo gallery from Toys 'R' Us." A week ago, an etoy representative discovered that the eToys.com trademark had been rejected by the U.S. trademark office.

No Toying Around
The Standard, December 15, 1999

"This is a terrible situation that you can take away something from an earlier bona fide user and owner simply by putting a lot of money into a new domain name or a new trademark," notes Peter Wild, the Zurich-based lawyer for etoy. "This is not how it's supposed to be."

"Shame on eToys"

Since the court decision, there has been a groundswell, if not an online riot, of support for the etoy group. Private sites and administrators have hosted virtual sit-ins, firewall blacklists (preventing users from accessing eToys.com), discussion areas, and news bulletins. What hooligans did wrong in Seattle during the WTO conference, netizens are doing right on the Internet. They're mobilizing.

No similar wave of affirmation has come to the aid of eToys, the plastic toy company hiding behind the icons of Santa Claus and the almighty dollar. No surprise there. It could be because no previous battle over identity or intellectual property has been so clearly delineated, and so emotionally charged. Etoy represents no real threat to eToys.com. EToys.com has chosen to be a very real threat to the art group, and in so doing, has brought to the public eye the first large-scale battle over commerce and free speech on the Internet.

Everything about this story is polarized. Business versus free speech. Lawyers versus artisans. Americans versus Europeans. Dot.com newbies versus Internet pioneers. How could a toy company, admittedly targeting young children and adult mothers, make such a mean-spirited move in the weeks before Christmas? Are they daft?

'Be Grateful for Etoy'
Wired, December 17, 1999

"Shame on eToys for misusing the law in this way."
Shari Steele, EFF Director of Legal Services

"Human nature will assert itself, and I'd very much like to see certain behavior curtailed. EToys is engaging in that sort of behavior here. What they are doing is extremely predatory and wrong."
John Perry Barlow

Boycott the Grinch.

In the "Hoax du Jour" column, I usually encourage thoughtful regard; "think before you click." I ask you, the reader, to make up your own mind. To weigh all the facts, hear out the opinions, and act on your own sensibilities.

On this occasion, I break with policy. This Christmas, I ask you to boycott eToys.com. Don't click, don't visit, don't buy; and tell your friends to do the same. If you bought something from eToys, I suggest that you return the purchase.

Why? eToys.com has chosen to use legal bullying to stifle free speech on the Internet, and to steal (yes, steal) a domain name that is not theirs. Their stated excuse is to "protect consumers," but in fact their action is aimed at denying choice to Internet users, and denying the use of a legally owned domain name to the rightful owners. This is truly anti-user, anti-consumer, and anti-Internet behavior. It's despicable.

I hope that you'll agree with me, and join the growing Internet movement to shun eToys.com.


February 5, 2001     

After a dismal Christmas, 2000, e-tail season, and ceasing shipments to Canada, eToys.com announced that it is laying off all remaining employees ceasing operations during spring, 2001.

eToys anticipates shutting down in April
C|net, February 5, 2001

"With today's action, the company has now issued job elimination notices to all of its employees, with service dates continuing up to April 6," eToys said in a statement.

"In order to continue operations in 2001, the company will require an additional, substantial capital infusion," the company said, adding that it "does not believe that additional capital will be available to the company."

There is justice. God bless all who boycotted eToys.com during the 1999 and 2000 Christmas seasons, and throughout the year.


May 20, 2001     

The wake for eToys.com is complete. KB Toys, a great place to buy toys at bargain prices (my testamonial), has acquired what's left of eToys. See below. :)

KB Toys Gets eToys Web Site
Wired, May 17, 2001

KB Toys, which operates 1,300 stores nationwide, scooped up the rights to the name and well-known website of defunct e-tailer eToys at a bankruptcy auction Thursday.

KB successfully bid nearly $3.4 million for eToys' intellectual assets during eToys bankruptcy proceedings in Delaware, company officials said.

... Visitors to the eToys website will be kicked to KB's own KBkids.com site.

The deal also includes valuable eToys software, which Byrne said would boost KB's site. Last month, KB paid $5.4 million for eToys' unsold inventory.

David Spalding

(Disclaimers: "The Grinch" is a creation of Dr. Seuss and is not a real personage. eToys.com's CEO Toby Lenk is a real person, and, in my view, a very real grinch. You may've guessed that this web site is an Amazon.com Associate. You can read all the pages for free; if you buy something from one of the Amazon links, a small referral fee is paid to Korova.com. It's a small dividend to offset the real expenses of hosting a web site.)

© Copyright 1999 D.B. Spalding/Korova Multimedia. All rights reserved.







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