WordPress, Themes and the GPLv2


by Rob Hassett and Mike Schinkel


There has been a long brewing debate in the software world regarding whether commercial developers who write and distribute their own separate code to work with software licensed using version 2 of the GNU General Public License must license their software under that version of the GPL.

In the summer of 2010 a debate emerged on blog posts and via Twitter regarding this issue between Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, Automattic and the WordPress Foundation, and Chris Pearson founder and CEO of DIYThemes. Mr. Mullenweg and Mr. Pearson resolved their differences. However the question they addressed remains unanswered.

We read many of the postings on this topic, most of which were very informative and for which we are grateful. Our goal is to provide an objective and dispassionate view of the relevant license in hopes to establish some clarity regarding the issue.

This article does not constitute legal advice and is general information only.


WordPress is software that is used to create blogs and websites, including the website on which this article is posted: www.internetlegals.com. It is open source and is licensed to others under Version 2 of the General Public License, administered by the Free Software Foundation (the “GPLv2“). To operate WordPress must have what is referred to as a “Theme” which is a collection of scripts, images, and other files that collectively establish the look and some of the functionality for a website based on WordPress and WordPress itself currently includes one default Theme. Many developers, including commercial developers, offer other Themes, Plugins and other software and services for use with WordPress.

A user may separately download and install WordPress and a Theme. The user then separately opens the programs and activates the Theme, which interacts with WordPress to create websites and/or blogs.

Chris Pearson created a Theme named “Thesis “which became a popular Theme for use with WordPress. Matt Mullenweg contended that Thesis was a “work based on WordPress,” under the GPLv2, which, if true, would have serious legal consequences discussed below. Chris Pearson said it was not.

There is some indication that at some point in the past and maybe currently some of the Thesis code was copied from WordPress code. If that was true at the time of the dispute, there is no question that Thesis was subject to the requirements of the GPLv2, but that possibility is not the subject of the debate. The debate, and the focus of our analysis, is over whether add-on software, such as Theme software, that does not incorporate any code from a prior “Program,” licensed under the GPLv2, may be subject to the requirements of the GPLv2. We are not aware of any court decision that has clearly answered this question.

Requirements of the GPLv2

A developer may choose whether or not to comply with the GPLv2 with respect to a particular Program. However, if the developer copies, prepares derivative works of or distributes that Program without complying with the terms of the GPLv2, the developer would be liable for copyright infringement. If all the developer does is copy, use, study and modify the Program, without distributing it, the GPLv2 license does not require the developer to do anything.

However, if the developer distributes either the Program or a “work based on the Program,” the developer is required to meet certain requirements including, but not limited to, licensing the Program, and any “work based on the Program,” under the GPLv2 and making the source code available. So if a developer creates a “work based on the Program”, that developer may sell copies of it, but is required to provide the source code, if asked, and the purchaser is entitled to make and distribute copies of such new work in competition with the developer. It is the authors’ understanding, based on hearing Mr. Pearson’s comments on the audio interview where he discusses this issue with Mr. Mullenweg, that Mr. Pearson did not want to enable his customers to sell copies of Thesis in competition with him.

The relevant legal question then is whether a Theme that does not include code from WordPress, but works together with WordPress, will constitute a “work based on the Program” under GPLv2. If so, its distribution without compliance with the GPLv2 constitutes copyright infringement. If it is not, its distribution without compliance is permitted.

GNU and WordPress Views

Attorneys who are associated with the open source movement say that a portion of most Themes constitute “works based on WordPress.”

The following is posted on the GNU website under “Frequently Asked Questions” relating to GPLv2:

If a program released under the GPL uses plug-ins, what are the requirements for the licenses of a plug-in?

It depends on how the program invokes its plug-ins. If the program uses fork and exec to invoke plug-ins, then the plug-ins are separate programs, so the license for the main program makes no requirements for them.

If the program dynamically links plug-ins, and they make function calls to each other and share data structures, we believe they form a single program, which must be treated as an extension of both the main program and the plug-ins. This means the plug-ins must be released under the GPL or a GPL-compatible free software license, and that the terms of the GPL must be followed when those plug-ins are distributed.

If the program dynamically links plug-ins, but the communication between them is limited to invoking the ‘main’ function of the plug-in with some options and waiting for it to return, that is a borderline case.

The following are portions of an opinion of James Vasile of the Software Freedom Law Center, which was posted by Matt Mullenweg on the WordPress website:

You asked the Software Freedom Law Center to clarify the status of themes as derivative works of WordPress, a content management software package written in PHP and licensed under version 2 of the GNU General Public License.

On the basis of that version of WordPress, and considering those themes as if they had been added to WordPress by a third party, it is our opinion that the themes presented, and any that are substantially similar, contain elements that are derivative works of the WordPress software as well as elements that are potentially separate works. Specifically, the CSS files and material contained in the images directory of the “default” theme are works separate from the WordPress code. On the other hand, the PHP and HTML code that is intermingled with and operated on by PHP code derives from the WordPress code.

The PHP elements, taken together, are clearly derivative of WordPress code. The template is loaded via the include() function. Its contents are combined with the WordPress code in memory to be processed by PHP along with (and completely indistinguishable from) the rest of WordPress. The PHP code consists largely of calls to WordPress functions and sparse, minimal logic to control which WordPress functions are accessed and how many times they will be called. They are derivative of WordPress because every part of them is determined by the content of the WordPress functions they call. As works of authorship, they are designed only to be combined with WordPress into a larger work.

HTML elements are intermingled with PHP in the two themes presented. These snippets of HTML interspersed with PHP throughout the theme PHP files together form a work whose form is highly dependent on the PHP and thus derivative of it.

These writers focus on one or both of the following:

(1) the fact that the PHP that is incorporated into the Theme has to correspond with the PHP in WordPress, and

(2) the fact that there is heavy and extensive interaction between the Word Press and the Theme software.


“A work based on the Program” is defined in the GPLv2 as follows:

 A “work based on the Program” means either the Program or any derivative work under copyright law: that is to say, a work containing the Program or a portion of it, either verbatim or with modifications and/or translated into another language.

If this definition had ended with “any derivative work under copyright law,” it would be necessary to determine the meaning of the term “derivative work” under the Copyright Act. Instead the GPLv2 defines the term for us. To the extent important here the phrase is defined as:

a work containing the Program or a portion of it, either verbatim or with modifications

Any developer creating Themes for WordPress would generally need to either examine the WordPress software, or material about that software, to be able to understand how to create the Theme. The Theme would need to be able to communicate with, provide instructions to and receive instructions from the WordPress software. However the Theme would not need to contain any part of the WordPress software or a portion of it, either verbatim or with modifications. Therefore what is distributed would not need to be the “WordPress software or any work based on the WordPress software.”

The fact that PHP in the Theme software has to correspond with the PHP in the WordPress software is not legally relevant to whether the Theme software that is distributed contains all or portions of the WordPress software. Likewise, the fact that a lot of interaction happens between WordPress and the current active Theme after that Theme is distributed to an end user is also legally irrelevant to whether the Theme itself contains all or any part of the WordPress software.

Therefore, inasmuch as the commercial vendors of Themes, including Thesis, are able to avoid including any of the WordPress source code in those Themes, such vendors should be able to avoid being required to take any action to be in compliance with the GPLv2 .


Under the totally different language of the GPLv3, which was first made available for use in 2007, a provider of software, such as WordPress, would have a much stronger claim that distributing Themes without making the source code available to potential competitors was an infringement.

The revisions in the GPLv3 will not help WordPress require Themes to be licensed via GPL. WordPress, and its revisions, were licensed under the GPLv2, without any language permitting licensees to use a later version, and as such there is no actions its controllers could take that would cause future versions of WordPress to be subject to the GPLv3.

Advocacy of GPL-licensing of Themes

Even though our analysis tells us there is no legal requirement for commercial Theme vendors to license Themes for WordPress using GPLv2 we expect there will still be a strong interest on the part of “the WordPress community” to see that most if not all Themes are and/or continue to be licensed via GPLv2. One of the authors, the one who is a participant in the WordPress community, actively supports this ideal.

As such we suggest to Automattic, to WordPress and its foundation, and to the WordPress community at large that they collectively work to continue to encourage Theme vendors to license their offerings via GPL, and that they proactive look for ways to help ensure those who would otherwise choose not to license via GPL are enticed to do so because of the collective benefits they gain from the supportive community.

Or said more simply, without the GPLv2 to require Themes to be licensed via GPL it becomes an “unregulated market” and the WordPress community should employ classic market incentives to encourage adoption of the GPL.

Advisability of Settling Dispute

As far as whether Mr. Pearson’s settling was a smart move, it very likely was. First, if any of the WordPress code was copied into Thesis, his application was governed by the GPLv2 regardless of whether a court agreed with our analysis. Second, litigation is very exhausting and expensive and regardless how sure anyone is about what is the correct answer to a legal question, it is not possible to know how a court will rule. All that a lawyer can provide is an opinion. Third, he was having to deal with marketing and public relations pressure from the WordPress community that likely outweighed the value of not complying.

Rob Hassett is an attorney in technology, entertainment and corporate law with Casey Gilson P.C. in Atlanta, Georgia. He also is a co-author of volume 5, on Internet and Interactive Media law, of the ten volume publication entitled “Entertainment Industry Contracts,” published by Lexis/Nexis and has, on many occasions, taught in the Professional Education Program at Georgia Tech. Mr. Hassett is the founder, editor and publisher of this website: TellMeSomethingIDontAlreadyKnow.com

Mike Schinkel is an entrepreneur in Atlanta, Ga. He was founder and CEO of catalog mail order retailer Xtras, Inc that was recognized in 1999 by the Inc 500 as #123 fastest growing private company in the USA. Today Mike is an active participant in the WordPress developer community, a consultant advising companies on their WordPress Business Strategies, a software developer building WordPress plugins for those companies, and a co-founder of and partner in The Business Of WordPress Conference.

Online Contracting

by Rob Hassett

This article was prepared for the seminar on Advanced Internet and Computer Law sponsored by the National Business Institute scheduled for October 29, 1998 in Atlanta. This advanced level and lengthy article addresses legal issues relating to online contracting. (43 pages)


The writer wishes to thank Robert Port, who is of counsel to the writer’s law firm, for his help in preparing this section of these materials.


Online contracting takes place over the Internet, over online services such as America Online and through private networks such as has traditionally been the case with electronic data interchange.(1) Online contracting can be broken down into four (4) categories:

(1)  The online ordering of software, books, parts and other products with shipment by common carrier;

(2)  The online ordering of digitally formatted products such as computer software and sound recordings followed by transmission of the products to the customer;

(3)  The online ordering of, followed by access to, databases, encyclopedias and other similar services; and

(4)  Any other agreements which are negotiated or confirmed online, including real estate purchases, development agreements and joint venture agreements.

The law governing online contracting is unsettled. Model acts have been proposed to clarify that law and to conform it to current commercial practices.

The subject of online contracting is addressed in this article as follows:

Section II – current and proposed laws;

Section III – requirements for a binding agreement;

Section IV – determination of terms included in any agreement

Section V – requirement that agreement be in writing and/or signed and satisfaction of those requirements; and

Section VI – applicability of implied warranties.


A. Current Law.

In determining what body of law governs an online transaction, the first question is whether or not the transaction is governed by Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). The UCC has been adopted in every state other than Louisiana.(2) Different rules apply to transactions governed by the UCC than to those outside its scope. Differences include whether or not the parties are required to agree to all of the essential terms of the agreement in order to have a binding contract, the circumstances under which the contract is required to be in writing and what, if any, implied warranties are applicable.

Article 2 is entitled “sales” and expressly covers “transactions in goods.”(3) Determining whether some transactions are covered is easy. An online agreement for the providing of services is not governed by Article 2, whereas an online contract for the sale of hardware is governed by Article 2.

What if the transaction involves the providing of both goods and services? Most courts that have addressed the issue, including the Georgia courts, apply the “predominant nature” test. Applying this test, the courts determine whether the transaction predominantly involves goods or services. If it predominantly involves a sale of goods, Article 2 applies. If services are the predominant feature of the transaction, traditional common law rules on contract interpretation govern.(4)

What about an online contract for a license for computer software? Must the transaction be a “sale” to be governed by Article 2 or is any “transaction” covered? There is no definition of “transaction” in the Uniform Commercial Code. The Uniform Commercial Code defines “goods” in pertinent part as follows:

“Goods” means all things (including specially manufactured goods) which are movable at the time of identification to the contract for sale other than the money in which the price is to be paid, investment securities …. and things in action.(5)

Most courts that have decided the issue have held that licenses of computer software are governed by Article 2.(6) A few courts have held to the contrary.(7)

Another question is how to treat computer software, movies and music that are ordered and transmitted online. If these products were placed on a compact disk, CD ROM or tape and shipped, they would be subject to Article 2. However, when downloaded from a web site, the answer is not clear. The writer was not able to find any case on point. There are a few cases that are somewhat analogous. An Ohio court held that the sale of metered amounts of electricity was governed by Article 2.(8) A Pennsylvania court held that the supplying of water was governed by Article 2.(9)

On the other hand, a New York court held that electricity is not governed by Article 2.(10) A Pennsylvania court held that the providing of cable television programming was not governed by Article 2.(11)

Interestingly, the United States Patent & Trademark Office views a mark associated with software transmitted over the Internet as a service mark rather than a trademark. This supports the argument that products delivered by online transmission are outside Article 2. In spite of this, the writer believes that applying current law most courts would hold that such transactions were governed by Article 2. The reason is that whether transmitted or shipped, these products are still moveable and therefore constitute goods and there is no reason to apply different rules to products that provide the same function because of the manner in which they are delivered.

What law applies to the online accessing of databases and other information? Again, there are no cases directly on point. The only somewhat analogous case is one in which an Illinois court held that demographic information and mailing lists provided to a publisher of a magazine would be covered by Article 2.(12) The writer believes that most courts would not apply Article 2 to these transactions simply because accessing information from databases is just too far removed from the definition of “goods.” It does not create an inconsistency to treat accessing of databases differently from the purchase of goods as the purposes are completely different.

There is one other Georgia Act that applies. The Georgia Electronics Records and Signatures Act was enacted in 1997. This Act defines “an electronic signature” and a “record” and provides for when an “electronic signature” and/or a “record” can substitute for a signature and/or a writing.(13)

B. Proposed New Laws.

1.  Introduction. There are two model codes currently subject to review and revision which will, in some form, eventually be recommended for adoption by the states. Each would have a major impact on online contracting. One is proposed Article 2B to the UCC. The other is the Electronic Transactions Act. The scope and purpose of each are discussed below. The impact on various issues important to online contracting are discussed in later sections.

2.  Article 2B. The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) and the American Law Institute (ALI) are responsible for overseeing updates to the Uniform Commercial Code. In 1995 a committee was formed to draft a separate UCC article to specifically address software licensing and electronic commerce. Various versions have been proposed and debated. The goal is to propose a version that most, if not all, of the state legislatures will adopt. The latest version was reported on August 1, 1998, which is the version referred to in this paper.(14)

Section 2B-103 of proposed Article 2B governs the scope of the Article and reads in pertinent part:

Except as otherwise provided in Section 2B-104 on excluded transactions and in subsection (b), this article applies to:

(1)  Any transaction that creates a software contract, access contract, or license; and

(2)  Any agreement to provide support for, maintain, or modify information related to a contract within the scope of this article.

Section 2B-102 of Article 2B provides the following definitions important to Section 2B-103:

(1)  “Access contract” means a contract to electronically obtain access to, or information in electronic form from, an information processing system. ….

(24) “Information” means data, text, images, sounds, mask works, or works of authorship. (Regarding this definition, the reporter’s notes show that “works of authorship” is based on the definition set forth in Section 102 of the Copyright Act.(15) Copyright law protects work of authorship which include literary works, musical works (i.e., songs), pictorial and graphic works, motion pictures and other audiovisual works and sound recordings. Literary works have been defined to include computer programs.)

(44)  “Software” means a computer program, any informational content included in the program, and any supporting information provided by licensor as a part of an agreement.

(28) “License” means a contract that authorizes access to or use of information or of informational rights and expressly limits the contractual rights or permissions granted … “License” includes an access contract …

(27) “Informational rights” include all rights and information created under laws governing, patents, copyrights, mask works, trade secrets, trademarks, publicity rights, or any other law that permits a person, independently of contract, to control or preclude another person’s use of the information on the basis of the right holder’s interest in the information.

(25) “Information processing system” means an electronic system or facility for generating, sending, receiving, storing, displaying, or processing electronic information.

Section 2B-104 of Article 2B sets forth transactions excluded from the Article, providing in pertinent part:

This article does not apply to the extent that a transaction:


(8)  is a license of a linear motion picture or sound recording or of information to be included therein, except in connection with providing access to such motion picture or sound recording under an access contract covered by this article.

With respect to online transactions, to the extent Article 2B is enacted as currently configured:

(1)  The online purchase of goods (other than computer software) followed by the shipment of the goods by common carrier would not be covered;

(2)  The online placement of an order for computer software followed by a shipment or transmission of that computer software would be covered;

(3)  The online ordering of audio recordings and videos would not be covered when recorded on CD ROM or by other media and shipped by common carrier;

(4)  The online ordering of audio recordings and videos followed by transmission appears to be covered as it would be a “contract to electronically obtain …. Information” and is therefore an “access contract;”

(5)  The online ordering and transmission of any interactive media products and any licensing of interactive media products would be covered; and

(6)  The online ordering and obtaining of information over private lines, through access to web sites, through email or in any other online manner would be covered.

2. Uniform Electronic Transactions Act. In 1996 the NCCUSL approved a Drafting Committee to “draft an act consistent with but not duplicative of the Uniform Commercial Code, relating to the use of electronic communications and records in contractual transactions.”(16) The proposed Act is entitled the “Electronic Transactions Act” (ETA).

Under Section 103, the scope of the ETA would be as follows:

Except as otherwise provided in Section 104, this Act applies to electronic records and electronic signatures that relate to any transaction.

Section 104(b) provides that any transaction subject to the ETA that is also subject to the UCC or any other applicable law is to be construed consistent with that other substantive law and, where such construction is unreasonable, that the UCC or other substantive law will control.


A. Current Law.

1.  General Law. Under common law there is no agreement, even where the parties agree that there is an agreement, unless the parties have agreed to all of the terms. Georgia has adopted this principal in O.C.G.A. §13-3-1 as follows:

Essentials of Contracts Generally.

To constitute a valid contract, there must be parties able to contract, a consideration moving to the contract, the assent of the parties to the terms of the contract, and a subject matter upon which the contract can operate. Any acceptance of an offer must be unconditional, unequivocal, and without variance of any sort.(17)

O.C.G.A. §13-3-2 reiterates the above as follows:

Contract incomplete without assent of parties to terms thereof; withdrawal of bid or proposition by party

The consent of the parties being essential to a contract, until each has assented to all the terms, there is no binding contract; until assented to, each party may withdraw his bid or proposition.

2.  Article of the Uniform Commerical Code. With regard to transactions and goods covered under the scope of Article 2 of the UCC, assent to all of the terms is not required for the parties to be bound by a contract. All that is required is that the parties agree, either expressly or by their conduct, that they have an agreement and agree to the quantity of goods being purchased. Section 204 of Article 2 of the UCC reads in pertinent part:

Formation in General

(1)  A contract for sale of goods may be made in any manner sufficient to show agreement, including conduct by both parties which recognizes the existence of such a contract.

(2)  An agreement sufficient to constitute a contract for sale may be found even though the moment of its making is undetermined.

(3)  Even though one or more terms are left open, a contract for sale does not fail for indefiniteness if the parties have intended to make a contract and there is a reasonably certain basis for giving an appropriate remedy.

B.  Proposed Laws.

1.  Article 2 B.

The currently proposed version of Section 2B – 202 is composed of five provisions, three of which are the same as the three provisions of Section 204 of Article 2 except that the first provision of Article 2B Section 202 expressly provides that a contract may be formed by the “operations of electronic agents which recognize the existence of a contract.” Section 2B – 202 goes further to provide:

(d) In the absence of conduct or performance by both parties to the contrary, a contract is not formed if there is a material disagreement about a material term, including scope.

The reporter’s note to this section states that the addition of (d) emphasizes that if there is a material disagreement about a material term, and the parties’ conduct does not indicate otherwise, there is no agreement. It is likely that if there was a material disagreement about a material term in a licensing transaction, it would involve the scope of the license and make it impossible to determine a remedy. A court construing a license under Article 2 would likely treat a disagreement about the scope of a license in the same way as Article 2 treats a disagreement about quantity — determine that there was insufficient information to fashion a remedy and therefore that there was no enforceable licensing agreement.


A.  Current Law.

1.  General Law. Inasmuch as outside the UCC the parties must agree to all material terms of the agreement in order to have an agreement, if the agreement is enforceable, all the material terms have been agreed upon. These are the terms included in the agreement.

2.  Article 2. Under Article 2 of the UCC, the parties have a contract whenever they agree they have a contract or their conduct indicates that they have a contract. This is true even if they have not agreed to all the terms, provided they have agreed to sufficient terms for the court to fashion a remedy, i.e., the quantity of the goods involved. So what happens when the forms sent by each of the parties, or the parties’ conduct, show that the parties have agreed that they have a contract and agree on the quantity of goods to be purchased but have a conflict about the other terms? This is answered by Section 2-207 of the UCC. That section reads as follows:

Additional terms in acceptance or confirmation.

(1)  A definite and seasonable expression of acceptance or a written confirmation which is sent within a reasonable time operates as an acceptance even though it states terms additional to or different from those offered or agreed upon, unless acceptance is expressly made conditional on assent to the additional or different terms.

(2)  The additional terms are to be construed as proposals for addition to the contract. Between merchants such terms become part of the contract unless,

(a)  The offer expressly limits acceptance to the terms of the offer;

(b)  They materially alter it; or

(c)  Notification of objection to them has already been given or is given within a reasonable time after notice of the additional terms is received.

(3)  Conduct by both parties which recognizes the existence of a contract is sufficient to establish a contract for sale although the writings of the parties do not otherwise establish a contract. In such case the terms of the particular contract consist of those terms on which the writings of the parties agree, together with any supplementary terms incorporated under any other provisions of this title.

The terms “merchants” and “between merchants” are defined in Section 2-104 of the UCC as follows:

(1)  “Merchant” means a person who deals in goods of the kind or otherwise by his occupation holds himself out as having knowledge or skill peculiar to the practices or goods involved in the transaction or to whom such knowledge or skill may be attributed by his employment of an agent or broker or other intermediary who by his occupation holds himself out as having such knowledge or skill.

(3)  “Between merchants” means any transaction with respect to which both parties are chargeable with the knowledge or skill of merchants.

Under 2-207(2) where the transaction is “between merchants” (in other words where the online customer “is chargeable with the knowledge or skill of a merchant”) then the proposed additions by the online customer could end up being additions to the contract. To avoid this kind of situation from arising, anyone selling goods over the Internet should include a clause expressly limiting acceptance to the terms of the offer and not ship where different terms are proposed by a customer.

The more interesting provision is 2-207(3), which provides that where the parties’ conduct recognizes the existence of a contract and the parties have in fact agreed on a quantity term, the terms of the contract are those on which the parties agree “together with any supplementary terms incorporated under any other provisions of this title.” This is what as known as the “Battle of the Forms” or the “knockout” clause in that the terms on which the forms of the parties “disagree” are “knocked out.” The courts are not clear as to how the battle of the forms should apply. In American Aluminum Products Co., Inc. v. Binswanger Glass Co., 194 Ga. App. 703, 391 S.E.2d 688 (1990) regarding whether specifications in a proposal were part of the contract, the court held that the counter-proposal constituted the contract and did not apply O.C.G.A. §11-2-207(3) to knock out any conflicting terms. A New York court has also held that the terms of a counter-proposal constituted the entire contract and the “knockout” rules wouldn’t apply.(18) However, there are many situations in which the “knockout” provisions have been held to apply.(19) The trick is that the rule applies only if the forms sent by each of the parties are all part of the agreement. An example would be Party A emails its proposal with its terms and conditions to Party B. Party B emails back that the proposal is accepted including its own different terms and conditions. Then Party A ships the goods. The “knockout” rule would apply. On the other hand, if Party B does not indicate acceptance of Party A’s proposal and sends a counterproposal and then Party A ships the goods then the “knockout” rule wouldn’t apply. This is because by shipping the goods, A has accepted B’s counterproposal. As can be seen from reading the cases, the actual application of all of these rules is more difficult than the discussion of the rules themselves.

The lesson here is that for mass market online transactions, the seller should make sure that goods are shipped only following express and unqualified acceptance of the seller’s terms. Those online sellers that are not involved in mass market transactions have to make sure there is a procedure to examine all messages received to avoid a “battle of the forms” surprise. Even where a seller’s proposal provides that “no change in terms is allowed,” shipping goods in response to a counterproposal that does change the terms is going to be construed by a court either to be an acceptance of the counter-proposal or as an agreement to which the “knock out” rule should apply. Note that when warranty disclaimers are “knocked out” the agreement is going to be governed by the default terms of the code which include such terms as implied warranty provisions – in other words the buyer wins.

B. Proposed Laws.

If enacted as presently proposed, Article 2B would cover online transactions involving:

(a) The online ordering and shipment or transmission of computer software, whether copies are sold or licensed;

(b) Computer software development agreements entered into online;

(c) The online ordering of “linear” movies and sound recordings followed by transmission;

(d) The online ordering and transmission of interactive media including educational CD ROM titles and computer games; and

(e) The online access to databases and/or other information.

Where Article 2B applies the following sections would be relevant to determining the terms of the agreement:







Section 2B-102. DEFINITIONS.

Section 33. MERCHANT

Section 11. CONSUMER


Applying these provisions, the terms of an agreement would be determined as follows:

(1)  If the terms proposed by each of the parties agree, the parties are governed by those terms, except to the extent that the court considers any of such terms to be unconscionable.

(2)  The new scheme will permit sellers other than in mass-market transactions to obtain an agreement that certain terms will be subject to later agreement with minimal risk if agreement is not reached, but impose substantial costs on sellers who do not provide all the terms of the agreement to mass-market purchasers prior to purchase. In any transaction, other than a mass-market transaction, where a term is to be fixed by later agreement and the parties intend not to be bound until the term is so fixed, if the parties are not able to reach agreement on that term, each party must return all copies of information and other materials already received and return any sums paid for performance which has not been received. Contractual use restrictions will continue to apply. For mass-market transactions, terms that were not available when the purchaser obtained the software or information and to which the purchaser is not willing to later agree, entitle the purchaser to a refund, reimbursement of any reasonable expenses incurred relating to the return, and compensation for any foreseeable loss caused by the installation.(20)

(3) An acceptance which contains terms that vary, but not materially, from the terms of the offer results in the terms of the contract being those of the offer except that, between merchants, the proposed non-material additional terms become part of the contract unless notice of objection has been given or is given within a reasonable time.

(4) Where the terms that vary result in a material conflict, a contract is not formed unless all of the other circumstances, including the conduct of the parties, indicate that an agreement existed. If neither party agrees to the other party’s terms and the parties go ahead and act as though they have a contract anyway, the contract is considered to be formed by “conduct” and, rather than apply the “knockout” rules of the current Article 2, the court is supposed to take into account all relevant circumstances to determine the intent of the parties.

(5) Where either of the parties to an online transaction include in their standard form language that any agreement is conditioned on acceptance of their terms, such conditional language will have no effect unless the party using such form acts in a manner consistent with the language such as refusing to perform when its terms are not accepted.

With respect to most issues, Article 2B would simply clarify ambiguities in current law by codifying the law that the courts would likely apply anyway. There are a few differences in determining what terms would apply including:

(1) The knockout rule under 2-207 would be replaced by a sort of “all of the circumstances” determination by a court of the intent of the parties;

(2) Clickwrap licenses(21) would be enforceable but only to the extent they were accepted by the purchaser after the purchaser had an opportunity to review all of the terms. However, there would not be a lack of certainty about whether they would be enforceable at all. (Clickwrap licenses in the mass-market context would require reimbursement to the purchaser of all costs and expenses associated with a purchase if the purchaser did not accept the license after having an opportunity to review all of the terms.)

(3) With regard to access to databases which is currently governed by general common and statutory law outside of the UCC, the major difference is that where the parties make it clear that they believe they have an agreement, even if they haven’t agreed to all of the terms, they would have an agreement.

Also, it should be noted that Article 2B encourages, but does not require, that the parties set up commercially reasonable procedures for determining the authenticity of orders and provides that where one of the parties requires that a procedure be followed that is not commercially reasonable, the risk of loss falls on the party requiring such unreasonable procedure.(22)

C. Clickwrap Licenses.

Except where there may be a statute of frauds issue (requirements of writings and signatures are discussed later in this paper), clickwrap licenses are as likely to be enforceable to the same extent as agreements in any other form.(23) The writer is aware of only one case that apparently involved the enforceability of clickwrap licenses.(24) In that case, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California granted a preliminary injunction relying in part upon a claim for breach of contract for the defendant’s allegedly breaching the terms of service for using its e-mail service. The court did not discuss how the agreement was entered into and just assumed it was enforceable; however, agreements with “Hotmail” are clickwrap agreements.

Although there are no cases directly addressing the issue of enforceability of clickwrap licenses, there have been cases addressing the enforceability of shrinkwrap licenses. (Shrinkwrap licenses are licenses included with computer software that provide that the purchaser manifests assent by opening the package.) The 5th Circuit, applying Louisiana law (Louisiana is the only state that has never enacted Article 2 of the UCC), in the first case considering the enforceability of a shrinkwrap license, held that it was unenforceable.(25) In that case, the Plaintiff, Vault Corporation, had developed software which Vault’s software developer customers embedded in their software to prevent their end user customers from using the software on more than one computer. When the Vault Corporation sold its software, it included a shrinkwrap license that was expressly authorized by a Louisiana statute and prohibited reverse engineering of the software. The defendant, Quaid, had purchased the software and reversed engineered it. The 5th Circuit held that the shrinkwrap license and the related statute were unenforceable because they were “preempted” by copyright law.(26)

In Step-Saver Systems v. Wyse Technology and The Software Link, 939 F.2d 91 (3rd Cir. 1991), The Software Link had provided an operating system for Step-Saver to use for its professional office customers. The operating system did not work properly. Step-Saver had ordered many copies of the package. Step-Saver would telephone The Software Link and place an order for a number of copies. The Software Link would accept the order and promise, on the telephone, to ship the goods promptly. After the telephone order, Step-Saver would send a purchase order, detailing the items to be purchased, their price and shipping and payment terms. The Software Link would ship the order promptly along with an invoice. The invoice would contain terms essentially the same as the purchase order. No reference was made during the telephone calls or on the purchase orders or in the invoices to any disclaimer of warranties. There was a shrinkwrap license enclosed with the software packages that disclaimed all warranties and limited damages. The shrinkwrap license did provide that the customer could return the software for a full refund if the customer didn’t accept the shrinkwrap license. The court applied the “battle of the forms” rules and determined that the agreement was complete with the telephone conversation when the goods were ordered coupled with the purchase order. The court held that the shrinkwrap license was sent after the fact and therefore could have no effect under the circumstances. The Software Link’s shrinkwrap license was also held unenforceable for the same reasons in Arizona Retail Systems, Inc. v. The Software Link, 831 F.Supp. 759 (D. Ariz. 1993).

In ProCD, Inc., v. Matthew Zeidenberg and Silken Mountain Web Services, Inc., 86 F.3rd 1447 (7th Cir. 1996), ProCD had developed and was selling copies of a CD ROM with a database of telephone numbers. Zeidenberg purchased the CD ROM at a store. The box showed that inside there was a shrinkwrap license. The shrinkwrap license provided that the purchaser was only receiving a license and that the purchaser was not to make copies of the product. Zeidenberg then made copies of the database onto his own web site and was providing access to the database to customers for a fee. There was no “battle of the forms” issue because the outside of the box gave notice to Zeidenberg at the time of purchase that the purchase would be subject to a license contained inside the box. The court rejected the preemption decision of Vault Corporation, supra, and held that the shrinkwrap license was enforceable. The court thus provided a way for database developers to protect their databases (by contract) even though the database here was probably not protectable under copyright law.(27) A district court for the Southern District of California in a case involving copying from a computer game,(28) the 7th Circuit again in a case involving a shrinkwrap license sent with a Gateway computer,(29) and an appellate court in New York state which allowed Gateway 2000 to require that any disputes be resolved by arbitration in Chicago, Illinois(30) have all approved and followed the decision in ProCD, supra.

Note that as discussed in end note 24, Article 2B, Section 2B-208 would modify the ProCD case somewhat in that where a mass-market purchaser could not view the terms of the license until the mass-market purchaser had taken the package home, the mass-market purchaser would also be entitled to reimbursement of all related expenses.


A. When is a writing and/or signature required?

1. Current law.

(a) General.

Every state of which the writer is aware, including Georgia, has a “statute of frauds” that requires certain agreements to be in writing and signed by the party to be charged in order to be enforceable. The Georgia statute reads in pertinent part:

To make the following obligations binding on the promisor, the promise must be in writing and signed by the party to be charged therewith or some person lawfully authorized by him:

(1) A promise by an executor, administrator, guardian, or trustee [to be personally liable for the debts of the estate, etc.];

(2) A promise to answer for the debt … of another;

(3) Any agreement made upon consideration of marriage …;

(4) Any contract for sale of lands, or any interest in, or concerning land;

(5) Any agreement that is not be performed within one year from the making thereof;

(6) Any promise to revive a debt barred by a statute of limitations; and

(7) Any commitment to lend money.(31)

Every state of which the author is aware will enforce agreements that are covered by the statute of frauds, even if not in writing or not signed, under certain specified circumstances. Those exceptions are:

(1) When the contract has been fully executed;

(2) Where there has been performance on one side, accepted by the other in accordance with the contract; or

(3) Where there has been such part performance of the contract as would render it a fraud by the party refusing to comply if the court did not compel a performance.(32)

The only sections of the general statute of frauds that are likely to have much effect on online transactions are the ones relating to sales of interests in land and to agreements not to be performed within one (1) year. Where the transaction is governed by Article 2 of the UCC, there is some controversy about whether courts would still also apply the general statute of frauds. The courts of which the writer is aware have held that if Article 2 applies, the general statute does not apply.(33) That leaves at least transactions involving an interest in land and agreements providing access to databases for more than a year subject to the general statute.

Can a transaction that takes place purely over the Internet result in a writing signed by the person to be charged? The answer to this question is likely to vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In Department of Transportation v. Norris, 222 Ga. App. 361; 474 S.E.2d 216 (1996) the Georgia Court of Appeals held that the plaintiff’s claim was subject to dismissal because the plaintiff had not timely provided an “ante litem” notice. The requirement was that notice of any claim against the state must be given in writing within twelve (12) months of the date the loss was discovered or should have been discovered. The plaintiff had mailed and faxed the notice within the requisite period but the mailed notice was received after the expiration of the twelve months. The court decided that the facsimile transmission did not satisfy the statutory requirement that notice be given in writing stating in pertinent part:

Such a transmission is an audio signal via a telephone line containing information from which a writing may be accurately duplicated, but the transmission of beeps and chirps along a telephone line is not a writing, as that term is customarily used.

On certiorari, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision holding that the mailing of the notice was sufficient and left open the question of whether the sending of a facsimile constitutes notice in “writing.”(34)

In considering what constitutes a writing, it is also necessary to consider what constitutes a signature. In Troutt v. Nash AMC/Jeep, Inc., 157 Ga. App. 399, 278 S.E.2d 54 (1981), Troutt argued, among other things, that an automobile dealer was liable for failure to “sign the installment agreement” as required by the Georgia Motor Vehicle Sales Finance Act. The Act at that time provided in pertinent part:

A retail installment contract shall be in writing, shall be signed by both the buyer and the seller …

The installment agreement was fully typed out and filled in and the name of the dealer was on the paperwork. However, no one had signed on behalf of the dealer. Even though the Georgia Motor Vehicle Sales Finance Act is separate from the Uniform Commercial Code, the court applied the definition provided under the Uniform Commercial Code which reads:

“Signed” includes any symbol executed or adopted by a party with present intention to authenticate a writing,

in holding that the printed name of the dealership on the form was sufficient to constitute a signature. If definitions under the Uniform Commercial Code are going to be applied outside the code, then it is appropriate to apply the definition of “written” or “writing” in O.C.G.A. §11-1-201 (46) which reads:

“Written” or “writing” includes printing, typewriting, or any other intentional reduction to tangible form.

Does the completion and online transmission of an order form, or other online communication such as an email message, constitute a “reduction to tangible form”? When an order or email is transmitted with the intention of entering into an agreement, it is certainly expected that the recipient will save the order or message in some way such as on the hard drive of a server. That is sufficient to meet the definition of “fixed in a tangible medium of expression” under the Copyright Act which reads in pertinent part:

A work is “fixed” in a tangible medium of expression when its embodiment in a copy or phonorecord, by or under the authority of the author, is sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration.(35)

Under this analysis, it would be helpful for the parties to an agreement subject to the general statute of frauds to type in their name next to or with the addition of language substantially the same as:

I intend this to be my signature and for this document to be considered a writing.

Even assuming the Georgia appellate courts do not resurrect the rule that electronic transmissions, such as faxes, are not writings, there is a problem with the above analysis. Since the decision in Troutt v. Nash AMC/Jeep, Inc., supra, the Georgia Legislature enacted the “Georgia Electronic Records and Signatures Act” which became effective April 22, 1997.(36) Section 10-12-4. Agreement to Electronic Record or Signature reads in pertinent part:

Any person may, but shall not be required to, accept or agree to be bound by an electronic record which is executed or adopted with an electronic signature and, where that acceptance or agreement is otherwise required to be witnessed or notarized, which is witnessed or notarized, using an electronic signature. Where a person or other entity accepts or agrees to be bound by an electronic record as provided in this Code section, then:

(1) Any rule of law which requires a record of that type to be in writing shall be deemed satisfied;

(2) Any rule of law which requires a signature shall be deemed satisfied, and

(3) Any rule of law which requires a witness or notary shall be deemed satisfied by the electronic signature of such witness or notary.

“Electronic signature” is defined as:

an electronic or digital method executed or adopted by a party with the intent to be bound by or to authenticate a record, which is unique to the person using it, is capable of verification, is under the sole control of the person using it, and is linked to data in such a manner that if the data are changed, the electronic signature is invalidated.(37)

The term “Record” is defined as:

information that is inscribed on a tangible medium or that is stored in an electronic or other medium and is retrievable in perceivable form. “Record” includes both electronic records and printed, typewritten and tangible records.(38)

Section 10-12-2 of the Act relating to construction reads:

The provisions of this chapter shall be construed to promote the development of electronic government and electronic commerce.

So here we have a statute that was designed to promote electronic commerce but seems to provide that at least where the statute of frauds is applicable to be effective an electronic signature must be “unique to the person using it,” “capable of verification,” under the “sole control” of the person using it and be “linked to data in such a manner that if the data are changed the electronic signature is invalidated.”

Although it is by no means clear, without a new statute, it was reasonably likely that a court would have held that a clickwrap agreement or email with language showing that the parties intended that what they were transmitting be a signed writing would be held to constitute a signed agreement. With this statute, that proposition is very questionable and anyone needing to meet the requirements of the statute of frauds should assure that both parties are utilizing an encryption methodology to accomplish the requirements of the statute. It should be noted that the Georgia Electronic Signature Act is as liberal as any that have been enacted and other electronic signature statutes, such the Utah statute, require that much more elaborate procedures be followed, such as requiring the use of certification authorities.(39)

B. Uniform Commercial Code.

Although the above discussion regarding what constitutes a “writing” and/or “signature” also applies to any online transactions governed by the Uniform Commercial Code, there is more to consider with respect to transactions governed by the UCC.

2-201 of the Uniform Commercial Code entitled “Formal Requirements; Statute of Frauds” reads in pertinent part:

(1) Except as otherwise provided in this Code section, a contract for the sale of goods for the price of $500 or more is not enforceable by way of action or defense unless there is some writing sufficient to indicate that a contract for sale has been made between the parties and signed by the party against whom enforcement is sought or by his authorized agent or broker. A writing is not insufficient because it omits or incorrectly states a term agreed upon but the contract is not enforceable under this paragraph beyond the quantity of goods shown in such writing.

(2) Between merchants if within a reasonable time a writing in confirmation of the contract and sufficient against the sender is received and the party receiving it has reason to know its contents, it satisfies the requirements of subsection (1) of this code section against such party unless written notice of objection to its contents is given within ten days after it is received.

(3) A contract which does not satisfy the requirements of subsection (1) of this Code section but which is valid in other respects is enforceable:

(a) If the goods are to be specially manufactured for the buyer and are not suitable for sale to others in the ordinary course of the seller’s business and the seller, before notice of repudiation is received and under circumstances which reasonably indicate the goods are for the buyer, has made either a substantial beginning of their manufacturer or commitments for their procurement; or

(b) If the party against whom enforcement is sought admits in his pleading, testimony or otherwise in court that a contract for sale was made, but the contract is not enforceable under this provision beyond the quantity of goods admitted; or

(c) With respect to goods for which payment has been received, made and accepted or which have been received and accepted.

Under the Uniform Commercial Code where the price equals or exceeds $500, a signed writing is required subject to the exceptions set forth above. However, the only term that must be in writing under Article 2 is the quantity of goods shown. Where the transaction is between merchants, all that is needed is a ” writing in confirmation” that is “sufficient against the sender” sent to the other party unless written notice of objection is given within ten (10) days after the writing is received.

When a transaction is between merchants, there still must be proof that a confirmation was sent.(40) The question remains in connection with an online transaction, even when the transaction is between merchants, whether the transmission of an order form and/or sending of an email constitutes a “writing” in Georgia unless it meets the requirements of The “Electronic Signatures Act” and, in other states, unless it meets requirements of other statutes of that nature.

C. Transfer of Copyrights

The Copyright Act provides that a voluntary “transfer of copyright ownership” is not valid unless made in a signed writing. The courts have interpreted this provision to also apply to exclusive licenses.(41) In order to protect one’s ownership of a copyright, or exclusive rights therein, it is necessary to record the transfer.(42) The words “writing” and “signed” are not defined in the Copyright Act. There is an open question whether interpretations of these terms under State law including construction under proposed acts would be accepted by Federal courts in construing the Copyright Act.

2. Proposed Laws

A. Article 2B. Section 2B-201 entitled “FORMAL REQUIREMENTS” provides that agreements requiring the payment of $5,000 or more are not enforceable unless there is a “record” which is “authenticated” by the party against which enforcement is sought or unless the contract involves a license with an agreed duration of less than one year. These requirements also do not apply if performance is provided and accepted or to the extent that the party against whom enforcement is sought admits the agreement. Additionally, like the Article 2 provision relating to “merchants,” Article 2B provides that between merchants where one merchant sends an authenticated record to the other merchant confirming an agreement and the other merchant does not respond within ten (10) days, such confirmation satisfies the statute of frauds with respect to both merchants. This section further provides that no other statute of frauds is applicable which has been assumed, but not expressly stated, with regard to the writing and signature requirements stated in Article 2.

Section 2B-113 entitled “LEGAL RECOGNITION OF ELECTRONIC RECORDS AND AUTHENTICATION” provides that a record or authentication may not be denied legal effect solely on the grounds that it is in electronic form.

So Article 2B, in order to avoid the technicalities that may be implied by the words “writing” and “signature,” uses the term “record” and “authentication” and expressly provides that electronic form is acceptable. To the extent Article 2B is enacted, it would be a simple matter to add language to order forms and emails so as to comply with the Article 2B statute of frauds. The problem is that even if enacted, Article 2B would not affect a substantial portion of online transactions including those involving the sale of goods, other than computer software, which are not transmitted in the online transaction.

In light of the requirements of the Georgia Electronic Records and Signatures Act, it is likely that even if Article 2B were enacted in Georgia, those transactions which are not covered by Article 2B would still be subject to unenforceability not expected by the parties acting in the ordinary course of business. Even if that statute were changed, the same risk would continue from similar and, in many cases, far stricter electronic signature statutes that have been enacted in many other states.

B. Electronic Transactions Act.

Under the proposed Electronic Transactions Act, if enacted in its current form, all online transactions in which the parties show that they intended the transmission to constitute a writing and to incorporate their signature would satisfy the statute of frauds in those states that passed that statute. Even if enacted in every state, the Electronic Transactions Act would not directly affect Section 204 of the Copyright Act and therefore would not directly apply to the transfer of copyrights.


A major reason that licensees of software have tried to avoid application of the Uniform Commercial Code is to avoid imposition of implied warranties and the other warranty provisions of Article 2. Under common law, warranties were not implied. However, in light of the Uniform Commercial Code courts have, from time to time, applied Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code by analogy and held that implied warranties were applicable other than in connection just with the sale of goods.(43) The 5th Circuit in 1964 held that under Florida law implied warranties apply under common law.(44) On the other hand, there have been many cases in which the courts have held that implied warranties were not applicable outside of Article 2. With respect to online transactions, the implied warranties of Section 2-314 would apply to any purchases of goods and likely licenses of computer software and other goods, whether obtained through shipment or by transmissions. Although an implied warranty relating to accuracy of a database probably should not be governed by Article 2, any company offering information in a database would be taking an unreasonable risk not to include a disclaimer since, as stated above, courts might, by analogy, apply implied warranties to transactions that are not covered by Article 2. For example the Restatement of Torts 2d Section 552 provides that a provider of information is liable for failure to exercise care in obtaining or communicating information.

Proposed Article 2B-404 would provide that ordinarily there is no implied warranty of the accuracy of databases. Article 2B would apply the warranty only where the provider of information is a merchant in a “special relationship of reliance” with the purchaser of the information.(45)


1 Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is the process whereby standardized forms or documents are transferred online for placing orders, billing, etc. See, Harry Newton, Newton’s Telecom Dictionary, Flatiron Publishing,1998. The ABA offers a form trading partner agreement for use in ongoing EDI transactions between the same parties.

2 Benjamin Wright and Jane K. Winn, The Law of Electronic Commerce, Aspen Law & Business, 3rd Ed. (1998)

3 See, e.g., O.C.G.A. §11-2-102.

4 See, Corporate Counsel’s Guide To The Uniform Commercial Code, Business Laws, Inc. at pp. 2.001 – 2.002 (1997) and J. Lee Gregory, Inc. v. Scandinavian House, L.P., 209 Ga. App. 285, 433 S.E.2d 687 (1993).

5 See, e.g., O.C.G.A. §11-2-105.

6 Validity, Construction and Application of Computer Software Licensing Agreements, 38 ALR 5th 1 and see, Schroeders, Inc. v. Hogan Systems, Inc., 522 N.Y.S.2d 404 (N.Y. Supp. Ct. 1987, Colonial Life Ins. Co. v. Electronic Data Systems Corporation, 817 F.Supp. 235 (D.N.H. 1993), Advent Systems v. Unisys Corp., 925 F.2d 670 (3rd Cir. 1991), and NMP Corporation v. Parametric Technology Corporation, 958 F.Supp. 1536 (N.D. Okla., 1997).

7 See, Michael D. Scott, Scott On Computer Law, 2nd Edition, Section 7.09[B].

8 See, Cincinnati Gas & Electric Co. v. Goebel, 28 Ohio Misc. 2d, 502 N.E.2d 713 (1986).

9 See, Gall v. Allegheny County Health Department, 555 A.2d 786 (Penn. 1989).

10 See, Farina v. Mohawk Power Corp., 438 N.Y. Sub. 2d 645 (1981).

11 See, Kaplan v. Cablevision of Pa., Inc., 671 A.2d 716 (1996).

12 See, Colonial Life Ins. Co. v. Electronic Data Systems Corporation, 817 F.Supp. 235 (D.N.H. 1993).

13 O.C.G.A. §10-12-1 et. seq.

14The latest versions may be downloaded from http://www.SoftwareIndustry.org and from http://www.law.upenn.edu/library/ulc/ulc.htm.

15 See, 17 U.S.C. §102.

16 See, Prefatory Note to Uniform Electronic Transactions Act. The Act is available at http://www.law.upenn.edu/bll/ulc/uecicta/98am.htm. Copies may also be obtained from the National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws, 211 East Ontario Street, Suite 1300, Chicago, IL 60611. The most recent draft of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (ETA) was prepared for the July 24-31, 1998 meeting of the National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State laws.

17 See, Panfel v. Boyd, 187 Ga. App. 639, 371 S.E.2d 222 (1988).

18 See, CVS, Inc. v. Auburn Plastics, Inc., 67 A.D.2d 811, 413 N.Y.Supp.2d 50 (1979).

19 See, Corporate Counsel’s Guide To The Uniform Commercial Code, supra, pp. 2.088 and 2.089 and Diamond Fruit Growers, Inc., 794 F.2d at 1444 (9th Cir. 1986)

20 Contrary to ProCD, Inc. v. Zeidenberg and Silk & Mountain Web Services, Inc., 86 F.3rd 1147 (7th Cir. 1996), and other recent cases, a shrinkwrap license in connection with a license for computer software enclosed in a box in connection with a retail (mass market) sale where the purchaser is only notified that there is a license and for which the terms are not available until the purchaser has opened the box and/or installed the software would be subject, under Article 2B, not only to the right of refund; but also, to reimbursement of reasonable expenses and costs.

21 A clickwrap license is a license agreed to by a purchaser using a mouse to click an on-screen button to indicate assent to an agreement.`

22 Sections 2B-114, 2B-115 and 2B-116.

23 See, CompuServe, Inc. v. Richard S. Patterson, 89 F.3d 1257 (6th Cir. 1996). The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held that an attorney who entered into a “shareware registration agreement” which required that the attorney type “agree” at various points in the document was bound by its terms including being subject to jurisdiction in the State of Ohio on any dispute regarding the agreement.

24 See, Hotmail Corporation v. Van Money Pie, Inc., 47 U.S.P.Q. 2nd (BNA) 1020 (1998); 1998 U.S.Dis. Lexis 10729 (April 16, 1998).

25 See, Vault Corporation v. Quaid Software Limited, 847 F.2d 255 (5th Cir. 1988).

26 Of course the court’s holding would imply that if preemption didn’t apply that the shrinkwrap license would be enforceable. Most courts that have decided the issue have held that agreements prohibiting reverse engineering and disclosure of confidential information are not preempted by the Copyright Act because they involve an agreement between consenting parties, and therefore are different from copyright which is imposed by law. See, e.g., Computer Associates v. Altai, 982 F2d 693 (2nd Cir. 1992).

27 See, e.g., Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Company Service, 499 U.S. 340 (1991). See also the section on copyright law being provided with this manual. For additional materials on copyright law, see the writer’s law firm web site at http://www.internetlegal.com. There is some concern among commentators that to allow unlimited use of shrinkwrap and clickwrap licenses to protect material not otherwise protected by copyright law could vitiate the copyright fair use doctrine.

28 See, Microstar v. Formgen, Inc., 942 F.Supp. 1312 (S.D. Cal. 1996).

29 See, Rich Hill and Enza Hill v. Gateway 2000, Inc., 105 F.3rd 1147 (7th Cir. 1997).

30 1998 N.Y. App. Div. Lexis 8872.

31 O.C.G.A. §13-5-30.

32 See, e.g., O.C.G.A § 13-5-31.

33 Corporate Counsel’s Guide To The Uniform Commercial Code, supra, at pp. 2.058 – 2.060.

34 See, Norris v. Department of Transportation, 268 Ga. 192, 486 S.E.2d 826 (1997).

35 See, 17 U.S.C. §101.

36 O.C.G.A. §10-12-1, et. seq.

37 See, O.C.G.A. §10-12-3.

38 O.C.G.A. §10-12-3.

39 See, Utah Digital Signatures Act, Utah Code Ann. §46-3-101, et. seq. (Supp. 1996).

40 See, Entertainment Sales Co. v. SNK, Inc., 232 Ga. App. 669, 1998 Ga. App. Lexis 641 (April 15, 1998).

41 See, 17 U.S.C.A. §§101 and 204.

42 See, 17 U.S.C.A. §205.

43 See, e.g., Holmes v. Worthey, 159 Ga. App. 262, 282 S.E.2d 919 (Ga. App. 1981) in which the court held that although ordinarily implied warranties wouldn’t apply, where a seller/builder is in direct privity with the buyer, the buyer has an implied warranty .

44 Sperry Rand Corp v. Industrial Supply Corp., 337 F.2d 363 (5th Cir. 1964).

45 Section 2B-404.

Rob Hassett is an attorney who practices in technology, entertainment and corporate law with Casey Gilson P.C. in Atlanta, Georgia.

The information above is provided for general educational purposes and not as legal advice. Laws in areas in which we practice change continually and also vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Therefore no visitor to our site should rely on any of the articles provided for legal advice, but should always consult their own attorney regarding legal matters.

© 1998, Rob Hassett, Atlanta, Georgia. All Right Reserved

Recent Developments in Internet Law

Rob Hassett and Suellen W. Bergman

Hassett Cohen Goldstein & Port, LLP

990 Hammond Drive, Suite 990 Atlanta, GA 30328

(770) 393-0990




The writers wish to thank Robert Port, a partner in the above law firm, and Lori Brill, an associate in the above law firm, for their help in preparing these materials.

I.       Introduction

Over the past year, courts, Congress, and state legislatures have dealt with a number of different issues concerning the Internet, including:

1.         The enforceability of agreements entered into over the Internet;

2.         Spam;

3.         Under what circumstances is there liability for copying?

4.         How far will the courts go to restrict the use of marks as domain names, metatags and other uses on the Internet?

5.         What privacy rules apply?

6.         What is a Web site operator’s liability for a Web site which involves activity that is legitimate in some jurisdictions, but illegal in others?

These and other recent developments are discussed in this paper.

II.      What constitutes an enforceable agreement entered into over the Internet?

Agreements entered into over the Internet generally take one of two forms, either an exchange of  e-mail or clickwrap. Clickwrap agreements are agreements formed by a purchaser manifesting assent to the terms of an agreement online by pointing and clicking a mouse. An agreement based on an exchange of e-mails relating to subject matter which does not require a signed writing to be enforceable has been held to be effective. See, e.g., CompuServe, Inc. v. Richard S. Patterson, 89 F.3d 1257 (6th Cir. 1996). The controversies regarding the enforceability of agreements entered into over the Internet involve the enforceability of clickwrap agreements and whether agreements entered into over the Internet constitute signed writings.

A.        Clickwrap Agreements

The authors are not aware of any cases to date that directly address the issue of whether clickwrap agreements are enforceable. There is one case that implicitly holds that they are enforceable. A number of cases deal with whether shrinkwrap agreements (which we believe provide a useful legal analogy) are enforceable. The most important issue addressed by courts today regarding the enforceability of shrinkwrap agreements is whether or not shrinkwrap agreements are pre-empted by copyright law.

1.         The case that implicitly held that clickwrap licenses are enforceable is Hotmail Corp. v. Van Money Pie, Inc., (N.D. Cal. 1998) 47 U.S.P.Q. 2d (BNA) 1020 (1998); 1998 U.S. Dist. Lexis 10729 (April 16, 1998). In that case, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California granted the plaintiff a preliminary injunction in a case alleging that the defendants breached the terms of a service contract for using the plaintiff’s e-mail service. Without discussing the issue, the Court in that case implicitly held that the defendants were obligated to the terms of service on the Hotmail Web site. Users of that service agreed to those terms by clicking the “I agree” button.

2.         In ProCD, Inc., v. Zeidenberg, 86 F.3rd 1447 (7th Cir. 1996), ProCD developed and sold copies of a CD ROM containing a database of telephone numbers. The CD ROM box informed the consumers there was a shrinkwrap license inside the box. The shrinkwrap license provided that the purchaser was only receiving a license and the purchaser could not make copies of the product. Zeidenberg copied the database onto his own Web site and then provided access to the database via his Web site to customers for a fee. The Court rejected the holding of Vault Corp. v. Quaid Software Ltd., 847 F.2d 255 (5th Cir. 1988), that shrinkwrap licenses are pre-empted by copyright law, and held that the ProCD shrinkwrap license was enforceable.(1) The Court thus provided a way for database developers to protect their databases (by contract) even though copyright law would probably not protect the database here. (2)

a.         Several courts have followed the ProCD decision: Microstar v. Formgen, Inc., 942 F. Supp. 1312 (S.D. Cal. 1996) (copying from a computer game); Hill v. Gateway 2000, Inc., 105 F.3rd 1147 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 808, 118 S.Ct. 47, 139 L.Ed.2d 13 (1997) (shrinkwrap license sent with a Gateway computer); Brower v. Gateway 2000, Inc., 246 A.D.2d 246, 676 N.Y.S.2d 569, 37 U.C.C. Rep. Serv. 2d (CBC) 54 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dep’t 1998) (allowed Gateway 2000 to require that any disputes be resolved by arbitration in Chicago, Illinois); and Mortenson Co., Inc. v. Timberline Software Corp., 93 Wash. App. 819, 831, 970 P.2d 803, 809 (1999) (upheld a shrinkwrap license agreement, included in the software, which was fairly standard and contained an “accept-or-return” provision).(3)

b.         Note that Section 112 of the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA), discussed infra, would modify ProCD somewhat because UCITA provides that where a mass-market purchaser licensee does not have an opportunity to review a mass-market license or a copy of it before becoming obligated to pay and does not agree, to the license after having the opportunity to review it, the licensee is entitled to return the product and (1) is entitled to reimbursement of any reasonable expenses incurred in complying with the licensor’s instructions for return or destruction of the computer information or, in the absence of instructions, incurred for return postage or similar reasonable expense in returning it; and, in some circumstances, (2) is entitled to compensation for any reasonable and foreseeable costs of restoring the licensee’s system. See UCITA Section 112.

A case which tangentially addressed the shrinkwrap issue is Step-Saver Sys. v. Wyse Tech. and The Software Link, 939 F.2d 91 (3rd Cir. 1991), where the Court applied the “battle of the forms” rules and determined that the parties’ agreement was complete when the goods were ordered via telephone coupled with the purchase order. The Court held that the shrinkwrap license was sent after the fact and thus had no effect. The Software Link’s shrinkwrap license was also held unenforceable for the same reason in Arizona Retail Sys., Inc. v. The Software Link, 831 F. Supp. 759 (D. Ariz. 1993).

3.       Generally, it appeared that the copyright pre-emption barrier raised in Vault Corp., supra, had been buried by ProCD and its progeny. However, in a case involving claims relating to the pitching of a marketing concept (which did not involve any kind of online agreement but could have repercussions in the online context), the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan held that the claim was pre-empted by copyright law. See Wrench, LLC v. Taco Bell Corp., 51 F. Supp. 2d 840 (W.D. Mich. 1999), 51 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1238. The Court denied the claim of a company that had pitched the Chihuahua concept to Taco Bell and claimed Taco Bell used the concept without paying for it. The Court held that any implied contract was pre-empted by copyright law. The Court distinguished ProCD on the somewhat nebulous grounds that the ProCD agreement was in effect at the time of purchase (i.e. before use of the product) whereas the Taco Bell agreement was not supposed to take effect unless Taco Bell started using the Chihuahua concept (i.e. after use of the concept). Note that use or copying of a product (i.e. a copyrighted item) is the same action which triggers liability under copyright law. This case is in line with an earlier Louisiana case regarding shrinkwrap licenses: Vault Corp., supra.

B.      Signed Writings

Both clickwrap agreements and e-mail exchanges may cover transactions where signed writings are required under the applicable statute of frauds. A number of states now have some kind of a digital signature act. Most of these acts require that, to satisfy any statute of frauds, the electronic signature must be:

1.       Unique to the person using it,

2.       Capable of verification, and

3.       Under the sole control of the person using it.

See, e.g., Georgia Electronic and Signatures Act at O.C.G.A. §10-12-3 et seq. as originally enacted; the Utah Digital Signatures Act, Utah Code Ann. §46-3-101, et seq. (Supp. 1996). Before the enactment of O.C.G.A. §10-12-3 et seq., an argument could be made in Georgia that anything intended to be a signature would constitute a signature. See, e.g., Troutt v. Nash AMC-Jeep, Inc., 157 Ga. App. 399, 278 S.E.2d 54 (1981), which held that the printing of a company name at the bottom of a form constituted a signature, permitting a car dealer to meet certain state law requirements of providing a signed form. The latest developments in this area are discussed below.

1.       The newest version of Georgia’s statute, (4) Electronic Records and Signatures, which provides for broad acceptance of electronic signatures, reads, in pertinent part, as follows:

(a)        Records and signatures shall not be denied legal effect or validity solely on the grounds that they are electronic.

(b)        In any legal proceeding, an electronic record or electronic signature shall not be inadmissible as evidence solely on the basis that it is electronic.

(c)        When a rule of law requires a writing, an electronic record satisfies that rule of law.

(d)       When a rule of law requires a signature, an electronic signature satisfies that rule of law.

(e)        When a rule of law requires an original record or signature, an electronic record or electronic signature shall satisfy such rule of law.

(f)        Nothing in this Code section shall prevent a party from contesting an electronic record or signature on the basis of fraud.

O.C.G.A. §10-12-4 provides further as follows:

The term “electronic signature” is defined as “a signature created, transmitted, received, or stored by electronic means and includes but is not limited to a secure electronic signature.”(5) O.C.G.A. §10-12-3. The term “record” is defined as “information created, transmitted, received, or stored either in human perceivable form or in a form that is retrievable in human perceivable form.” O.C.G.A. §10-12-3.

2.       The proposed Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), which provides that “an electronic record or signature may not be denied legal effect or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form” and that “if a law requires a record to be in writing, an electronic record satisfies the law”(6) has been approved by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, and the Conference has voted to present the Act to states for adoption. (7)

The Electronic Transactions Act has been passed in California. California’s Governor signed the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act on September 16, 1999, and it was chaptered (Chapter No. 428) by the Secretary of State on the same date. See CA S.B. 820.

3.       The Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (former proposed UCC Article 2B). The legal rules for computer information transactions which was to be promulgated by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (8) as Article 2B of the Uniform Commercial Code, instead is being proposed as the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA).(9) The Act is the first general commercial statute to provide comprehensive procedures and rules for computer software licensing. Most of those rules would also be appropriate for a broad range of transactions outside UCITA’s scope, and it is expected that they will form the model for several future articles of the UCC as they did for the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), which was approved at the same time.(10) The provisions include:

an express recognition of electronic records as the equivalent of writings, rules for attribution of electronically generated messages, methods for establishing authentication, rules for allocating losses caused by electronic errors, and rules for determining when electronic messages are deemed to be effective. A particularly noteworthy provision recognizes the enforceability of agreements made by the interaction of “electronic agents,” even if no human was directly involved in either or both sides of the “negotiation.” (11)

Software publishers and computer manufacturers strongly support UCITA, but it is as strongly opposed by a wide range of groups. UCITA is controversial because:

UCITA represents a movement toward licensing of information in its many forms and away from the sale of copies as traditionally understood under copyright law. UCITA would enforce the broad [consumer] use of “shrink-wrap” and computer “click-on” licenses (called “mass-market licenses” in UCITA). By licensing rather than selling something, a vendor can wield more control of the downstream use of the product. Placing new constraints on the use of information in mass-market transactions can, in turn, constrain the use of information for important public purposes such as democratic speech, education, scientific research, and cultural exchange. Many believe that UCITA fails to appreciate the strong public interest in prohibiting new restrictions on information exchange.

The scope of UCITA is extremely broad. “Computer information,” under UCITA, includes everything from copyrighted expression, such as stories, computer programs, images, music and Web pages; to other traditional forms of intellectual property such as patents, trade secrets, and trademarks; to newer digital creations such as online databases and interactive games. Although the statute claims to be limited to information in electronic form, it allows other transactions to “opt-in” to being governed by UCITA.

Many legal community commentators are of the opinion that UCITA (or something like it) is not necessary or, at least, it is premature. This view is based on the opinion that existing common law and copyright law are developing appropriately to handle the new types of information-based transactions emerging in the information economy.

The American Law Institute (ALI), consumer advocacy groups, libraries, and the Federal Trade Commission have continued to criticize and/or oppose the UCITA proposal and prior UCC 2B drafts, yet their concerns have not been addressed. Instead, NCCUSL intends to push the UCITA proposal as quickly as possible to state legislatures.

A Quick Look at the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA), American Association of Law Libraries: Washington Affairs, July 15, 1999.(12)

4.         Ballas v. Tedesco, 41 F.Supp. 2d 531 (D.N.J. 1999). This case addresses the issue of whether an exchange of e-mails can satisfy the requirement that assignments of copyrights are not effective unless they are in writing and signed by the transferor. See, Copyright Act §201(d). In this case, Tedesco wanted to produce a CD of dance music for Ballas. Ballas would pay Tedesco a fee for the musical arrangements and production of the CD, and Ballas would have the exclusive right to manufacture copies of the CD for sale. Negotiations, via e-mail, were unsuccessful, and the parties did not agree on terms of the arrangement. The parties agreed that the music content copyright belonged to the Defendant. The Court enjoined the Plaintiff from making or selling the music on the CD because the Court found that there was no valid assignment of the copyright since there was no written assignment.

III.    Spam (13)

A.        Spam cases

1.         Hartford House, Ltd. d/b/a/ Blue Mountain Arts v. Microsoft Corp., CV 778550, Sup. Ct. Cal. Santa Clara County, 1998. Blue Mountain creates and sends electronic greeting cards. In this lawsuit, Blue Mountain charged that (1) Microsoft has a competing electronic greeting card Internet site and (2) Microsoft distributed a trial version of Internet Explorer which includes an e-mail filter that identifies Blue Mountain’s cards as spam and sends them into a junk mail folder instead of sending them to the intended recipient. On December 17, 1998, Judge Robert Baines ordered Microsoft to provide Blue Mountain with the necessary information to enable Blue Mountain to alter its e-mail notification messages and greeting cards to ensure that they pass through Microsoft’s anti-spam filtering tool in the beta version of Internet Explorer 5.0. (14)

2.         Intel v. Hamidi, Superior Court of California, County of Sacramento, Judge John R. Lewis, April, 1999. Ken Hamidi was dismissed from Intel in 1995. On six occasions between 1996 and 1998, he sent e-mail messages to over 30,000 Intel employees, which detailed his opinion of the company’s abusive and discriminatory employment practices. In April, 1999, Judge Lewis granted summary judgment to Intel, finding that Hamidi’s messages trespassed on Intel’s proprietary computer system and caused harm. This decision has been criticized (15) because (1) although there was arguably no state action,(16) Judge Lewis did not engage in any First Amendment analysis and (2) given the serious purpose of Hamidi’s messages and the minimal harm they caused to Intel’s computers, Hamidi’s free speech rights should prevail over Intel’s property rights in a fair balancing test.

3.         The Tenth Circuit, in U.S. West v. FCC, 182 F.3d 1224 (10th Cir. 1999), held that U.S. West could not be blocked by an FCC rule from using information obtained from customers regarding who the customers called, and other similar data, for marketing to those individuals because such prohibition was “a violation of the First Amendment.” The Court reasoned that such use constituted commercial speech, applied the First Amendment commercial speech analysis, and held that the proposed FCC rule was unconstitutional. The test (17) was as follows:

First, determine whether the commercial speech concerns lawful activity and is not misleading. If so, the speech can only be restricted if:

(1)        the government has a substantial state interest in regulating the speech;

(2)        the regulation directly and materially advances that interest; and

(3)        the regulation is no more extensive than necessary to serve the governmental interests.

Surprisingly, the Court found that the rule was not narrowly tailored because it did not do such things as allow phone customers to opt in or opt out (assuming that there is a serious desire by telephone company customers to have their personal calls tracked and used for marketing purposes). This indicates that some anti-spam statutes may violate free speech if they completely prohibit spam without considering other alternatives.

This case is troubling because:

(1)        it allows telephone companies that track customer calls to use that information to market to those customers, and

(2)        this analysis could support a First Amendment right to send spam.

As in other spam cases, U.S. West involves a “captive,” as opposed to a “voluntary,” audience. (18)

To date, the cases that have held spam to be illegal involved claims of Internet Service Providers and Intel,(19) that spam is a form of trespass. This analysis of spam as a trespass is not as vulnerable to a First Amendment attack as a state or federal statute prohibiting spam. See, e.g., CompuServe, Inc. v. Cyber Promotions, Inc., 962 F. Supp. 1015 (S.D. Ohio 1997) (holding that a private company’s motion seeking a court to enjoin “spam trespass” did not constitute state action subject to a First Amendment attack).(20)

B.        Federal Legislation

A proposed federal statute regarding unsolicited bulk e-mail was introduced in the House on May 5, 1999: Internet Freedom Act, 106 H.R. 1686. (21) This Act, in proposed Section 104, entitled “Protection from Fraudulent Unsolicited E-Mail,” would amend 18 U.S.C. § 1030 such that, inter alia, it would be a violation of the Act to “intentionally and without authorization initiate the transmission of a bulk unsolicited electronic mail message to a protected computer with knowledge that such message falsifies an Internet domain,(22) header information, date or time stamp, originating e-mail address or other identifier” or to sell or distribute a computer program which (a) “is designed or produced primarily for the purpose of concealing the source or routing information of bulk unsolicited electronic mail messages (23) in a manner prohibited by” the Act, (b) “has only limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to conceal such source or routing information,” or (c) “is marketed by the violator or another person acting in concert with the violator and with the violator’s knowledge for use in concealing the source or routing information of such messages.” The Act provides for the following potential damages for various offenses: injunctive relief and other equitable relief, actual monetary losses, statutory damages of $15,000 per violation or an amount of up to $10 per message per violation, whichever is greater; reasonable attorneys’ fees, and other litigation costs.

C.        State Legislation

Some states have passed laws regarding unsolicited e-mail.

1.         Washington State: Wash. Rev. Code § 19.190.020 (1999), entitled “Unsolicited or Misleading Electronic Mail — Prohibition,” provides as follows:

(1)        No person, corporation, partnership, or association may initiate the transmission of a commercial electronic mail message from a computer located in Washington or to an electronic mail address that the sender knows, or has reason to know, is held by a Washington resident that:

(a)        Uses a third party’s Internet domain name without permission of the third party, or otherwise misrepresents any information in identifying the point of origin or the transmission path of a commercial electronic mail message; or

(b)        Contains false or misleading information in the subject line.

(2)        For purposes of this section, a person, corporation, partnership, or association knows that the intended recipient of a commercial electronic mail message is a Washington resident if that information is available, upon request, from the registrant of the Internet domain name contained in the recipient’s electronic mail address.

2.         Nevada’s statute focuses on spam which contains advertisements. Nev. Rev. Stat. 41.730, entitled “Liability of Persons Who Transmit Items of Electronic Mail That Include Advertisements,” provides:

1.         Except as otherwise provided in Nev. Rev. Stat. 41.735, (24) if a person transmits or causes to be transmitted to a recipient an item of electronic mail (25) that includes an advertisement, the person is liable to the recipient for civil damages unless:

(a)        The person has a preexisting business or personal relationship with the recipient;

(b)        The recipient has expressly consented to receive the item of electronic mail from the person; or

(c)        The advertisement is readily identifiable as promotional, or contains a statement providing that it is an advertisement, and clearly and conspicuously provides:

(1)        The legal name, complete street address and electronic mail address of the person transmitting the electronic mail; and

(2)        A notice that the recipient may decline to receive additional electronic mail that includes an advertisement from the person transmitting the electronic mail and the procedures for declining such electronic mail.

2.         If a person is liable to a recipient pursuant to subsection 1, the recipient may recover from the person:

(a)        Actual damages or damages of $10 per item of electronic mail received, whichever is greater; and

(b)        Attorney’s fees and costs.

3.         In addition to any other recovery that is allowed pursuant to subsection 2, the recipient may apply to the district court of the county in which the recipient resides for an order enjoining the person from transmitting to the recipient any other item of electronic mail that includes an advertisement.

3.         California has also passed a law dealing with unsolicited bulk e-mail (which also applies to unsolicited faxes). This California Statute requires that the sender of unsolicited advertisements advise the e-mail recipient that the e-mail is an advertisement by placing the characters “ADV:” first in the subject line and also requires that the sender provide the recipient a return address or a toll-free number where the recipient can request that the sender refrain from sending additional unsolicited e-mail. See Cal. Business & Professions Code §17538.4. (Division 7, Part 3, Chapter 1) (Deering 1999), entitled “Unsolicited fax or e-mail.”(26)

IV.     Copyright

Several recent Internet related cases and statutes involve copyright issues, including the rights to sound recordings, distribution and derivative rights, and copyright term.

A.        Legislation

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (105 P.L. 304; 112 Stat. 2860)

1.         Exempts Internet service providers from liability for copyright infringement under certain circumstances;

2.         Makes it illegal to circumvent technology used to prevent copyright infringement(27) and, inter alia (this provision is to take effect two (2) years from October 28, 1998);

3.         Expands the rights of owners of sound recordings to restrict performance (or in some cases receive set royalties for) of their sound recordings from what was covered by the Digital Sound Recording Act of 1995 (28) to any sound recordings provided over the Internet whether or not it is via subscription or interactive (this provision is effective as of the date of enactment).

B.        RIAA v. Diamond Multimedia Sys., Inc., 29 F. Supp. 2d 624 (C.D. Cal. 1998) aff’d, 180 F.3d 1072 (9th Cir. 1999), 51 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1115.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction finding that Diamond Multimedia, the maker of Rio,(29) had not violated the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 (30) with the Rio because the Rio could not make copies except from a hard drive. The Court found that such copying was not covered by the Act. However, on August 4, 1999, Diamond Multimedia and the RIAA announced that they entered into a settlement agreement. RIAA’s general counsel and senior executive vice president, Cary Sherman, stated that this “announcement makes clear that the future of the digital music marketplace will be created in the marketplace itself, enabled by initiatives like SDMI [Secure Digital Music Initiative].”(31) While the authors have not been able to obtain details of the settlement reached between RIAA and Diamond Multimedia, one can infer from what has been published that the terms probably include a requirement that Diamond incorporate technology which prevents serial copying.

C. Tasini v. New York Times Co., 1999 U.S. App. LEXIS 23360 (2d Cir. 1999).

A federal district court in New York held that making publication information accessible on Lexis-Nexis and other similar data bases “constitutes reproduction and distribution of freelance contributions as part of that particular collective work.” Tasini v. The New York Times Co., 972 F.Supp. 804 (S.D.N.Y. 1997), 43 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1801. The District Court held that the publishers were protected by a privilege afforded to publishers of “collective works” under Section 201(c) of the Copyright Act, but the Second Circuit reversed this decision in Tasini v. New York Times Co., 1999 U.S. App. LEXIS 23360 (2d Cir. 1999). The Second Circuit concluded that “the Publishers’ licensing of Authors’ works to UMI for inclusion in these databases is not within the Section 201(c) revision privilege.” Id. at *22. The Court continued:

The relevant inquiry under Section 201(c), is . . . whether the republication or redistribution of the copyrighted piece is as part of a collective work that constitutes a “revision” of the previous collective work, or even a “later collective work in the same series.” If the republication is a “new anthology” or a different collective work, it is not within the privilege. H.R. Rep. No. 94-1476, at 122-23 (1976), reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.A.A.N. 5659, 5738. Because NYTO is for present purposes at best a new anthology of innumerable editions of the Times, and at worst a new anthology of innumerable articles from these editions, it cannot be said to be a “revision” of any (or all) particular editions or to be a “later collective work in the same series.”

Id. at *22-23. Accord Ryan v. Carl Corp., 23 F. Supp. 2d 1146, 1150 (N.D. Cal. 1998), 48 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1626 (commenting that “calling the reproduction of a single article a “revision” of a collected work, however, is more strained than even a flexible interpretation can withstand” and construing Section 201(c) of the Copyright Act in the authors’ favor).

D.        Challenging the constitutionality of Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 (CTEA).(32)

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 has been criticized as copyright overprotection, rather than copyright extension. This Act is important to the Internet because it reduces the benefits of those Internet sites that provide digital copies of public domain works.

Some have criticized the CTEA because it offers an extension of the term of copyrights for an author or creator without any reciprocal requirement of the author or creator. Also, the CTEA delays works from entering the public domain, without any corresponding benefit to society. One such critic of the CTEA, Lawrence Lessig, the Berkman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Eldritch Press,(33) a non-profit organization that posts literary works on the Internet when they have entered the public domain.(34)

Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution states that Congress may “promote the Progress of Science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries” (emphasis added). In 1790, this limited time period of copyright was twenty-eight years. Subsequently, Congress enacted a series of extensions, which provide for copyright terms of up to seventy-five years. These extensions retroactively extended the copyright for works which were written many years ago that would otherwise soon enter the public domain.(35) The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 has again retroactively extended the copyright terms; this extension is challenged in the Eldritch lawsuit. The plaintiffs argue that (1) the retroactive extension in the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act violates the constitutional “limited times” requirement for constitutional exclusive rights to “writings and discoveries” and (2) the retroactive and prospective extensions violate the First Amendment because they suppress speech without promoting any respective governmental interests. The Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act has also been criticized by some as merely a vehicle which Disney (which lobbied for the Act) will benefit from, because Mickey Mouse would have entered the public domain in 2004. Under the Sonny Bono Act, however, Mickey will remain Disney’s copyright until 2023.(36)

V.      Domain Names and Marks

Domain names give an entity an Internet identity and enable the public to locate an entity on the Internet.

A.        Case law Registration of a competitor’s mark as a domain name (hijacking) was held to be legal in Juno Online Servs., L.P. v. Juno Lighting, Inc., 979 F.Supp. 684 (N.D. Ill. 1997), 44 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1913.

B.        Playboy Enters., Inc. v. Welles, 7 F.Supp.2d 1098 (S.D. Ca. 1998), 47 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1186, aff’d, 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 27739 (9th Cir. 1998). A former playmate was permitted to state her association with Playboy (PEI)(37) on her own Web site. The heading of the defendant’s Web site is “Terri Welles–Playmate of the Year 1981,” and title of the link page is “Terri Welles–Playboy Playmate of the Year 1981.” Each of the pages uses “PMOY ’81” as a repeating watermark in the background. According to defendant, eleven of the fifteen free Web pages include a disclaimer at the bottom of the pages which indicates that the Web site is not endorsed by Playboy. Id. at 1100. Playboy moved for a preliminary injunction which would enjoin defendant from (1) using the trademarked term “Playmate of the Year” in the title of the home page and the link page; (2) from using the watermark “PMOY ’81” in the background; and (3) from using the trademarked terms “Playboy’ and ‘Playmate” in the meta-tagging of defendant’s site. The Court denied a preliminary injunction because the trademarks that defendant uses, and the manner in which she uses them, describe her and identify her. Therefore the Court held that the defendant has made a “fair use” of these marks(38) and her site was not confusingly similar to Playboy’s site.

C.        Playboy Enters., Inc. v. Netscape Communications Corp., 55 F. Supp. 2d 1070 (C.D. Ca. 1999). This case involves the sale of online banner ads keyed to specific search terms: “playboy” and “playmate.” The Court ruled that the terms “playboy” and “playmate” are generic and that Playboy has no monopoly on those words in all forms. Consequently, the Court denied Playboy’s request for a preliminary injunction against Excite, Inc. and Netscape Communications Corporation finding that the sale of those search keywords to third-party advertisers which operate adult entertainment sites does not constitute trademark infringement or dilution.

D. Avery Dennison Corp. v. Sumpton, 1999
U.S. App. LEXIS 19954 (9th Cir. 1999) 51 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1801. This was an appeal of a case in which an entity which maintained domain registrations for individual names that included among other surnames, “Avery.net” and “Dennison.net” was held not to have diluted the “Avery Dennison” mark. The Ninth Circuit reversed the District Court’s holding that there was dilution. The Ninth Circuit held that:

1.         The Avery Dennison mark was not famous because it was not “truly prominent and renowned” so that even marks “with such powerful consumer associations and even non-competing users can impinge on their value.” Avery, 1999 U.S. App. LEXIS 19954, *13. The Court pointed out that there were many registrations of marks and uses of the marks “Avery” and “Dennison” by others, and this factor weighs against those being famous marks.

2.         The Court also said that although “an intent to arbitrage” constituted a commercial use, an intent to “capitalize on the surname status of ‘Avery’ and ‘Dennison’ did not constitute a commercial use of a mark.” Id. at *30.

E.        Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act

The United States Senate has passed a proposed act, entitled the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (S. 1255), which would:

1.         Allow the bringing of an in rem action(39) against the domain name that had been registered in violation of the Act; and

2.         Permit recovery for cybersquatting, i.e. allow trademark holders to obtain civil damages from those who register domain name identifiers which are identical or similar to their mark: the trademark holder can recover damages of at least $1,000.00, but not more than $100,000.000 per domain name identifier.

F.         Ringling Bros.-Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows v. Utah Div. of Travel Dev., 170 F.3d 449 (4th Cir. 1999), 50 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1065, held that Ringling Brothers could not prevent Utah from using “The Greatest Snow on Earth” as a slogan for Utah’s winter sports attractions because the Federal Anti-Dilution law was held to require a showing of “actual economic harm” to the famous marks’ economic value by lessening its former selling power as an advertising agent for its goods or services. Proof of this harm should be demonstrated by surveys and showing actual loss.

G.        The First Circuit, in I.P. Lund Trading A.P.S. v. Kohler Co., 163 F.3d 27, 49 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1225 (1st Cir. 1998), specifically rejected the “lessening of demand for the product” test that had been applied by the Fourth Circuit in the Ringling Brothers case.

H.        ICANN

ICANN is the new non-profit body responsible for domain name system management, IP address allocation, and related functions. ICANN was established last year to (a) phase out the government’s involvement in the domain name system and (b) to end the monopoly held by Network Solutions Inc. (Nasdaq: NSOL), by opening up the registration of such popular domains as “.com” and “.net” to additional companies. In the past year:

1.         An Internet tax ICANN sought to impose was rejected. ICANN had funding problems and sought to impose a charge on all new Internet domain names payable to ICANN. A Congressional committee started an investigation and ICANN backed down on this.

2.         Open meetings were initiated. ICANN was originally holding closed-door meetings. Criticisms erupted and ICANN appears to have changed its procedures and now holds open meetings.

3.         Criticism by Ralph Nadar’s organization:

Ralph Nader, a consumer rights advocate, challenges how ICANN’s power is controlled and proposes “that the group’s authority should be based on a multilateral government charter that clearly defines and limits the organization’s authority.” He has previously criticized the “beleaguered organization for catering to corporate interests and overextending its authority.”(40)

a.         Nader argues that the right to have an Internet domain name should be considered on par with the right to have a street address, a phone number, or a name.

b.         Nader wants ICANN’s internal documents and budget available to the public.

c.         Nader invites public comment to his thirteen point proposal(41) at mailto:ralph@essential.

4.         An additional controversy exists regarding the registration of domain names. A number of entrepreneurs have also tried to change the organization of the domain naming systems by allowing for the private ownership of new top level domain names. Their proposal is that private companies that create a top level domain name and are able to obtain market acceptance of it should own the rights to register and run the registry of those domain names. Although the White House at one time appeared to favor this approach, ICANN has, to date, rejected any such proposal.

5.         The U.S.P.T.O. weighs in. The “Green Paper” and the “White Paper” were drafted under Ira Magaziner’s direction when he was in the White House. Mr. Magaziner appeared to be somewhat sympathetic to the proposed market-oriented approach for adding top level domain names. Becky Burr,(42) at the Department of Commerce, now appears to be in charge of policies regarding these issues and seems opposed to the marketing approach of adding top level domain names.

The U.S.P.T.O., as of May 18, 1999, allows the registration of second level domain names stating on its Web site at http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/tac/domain/tmdomain.htm:

An Internet domain name that is used to identify and distinguish the goods and/or services of one person, from the goods of and/or services of others, and to indicate the source of the goods and/or services may be registered as a trademark in the U.S.P.T.O.

On the other hand, the U.S.P.T.O. is hostile to the registration of top level domain names stating in its policy dated September 29, 1999 in Guide No. 2-99 available at http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/tac/notices/guide299.htm:

If a mark is composed solely of a TLD for “domain name registry services” (e.g., the services currently provided by Network Solutions, Inc. of registering .com domain names), registration should be refused under Trademark Act §§1, 2, 3 and 45, 15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, 1053 and 1127, on the ground that it the TLD would not be perceived as a mark. The examining attorney should include evidence from the NEXIS® database, the Internet, or other sources to show that the proposed mark is currently used as a TLD or is under consideration as a new TLD.

If the TLD merely describes the subject or user of the domain space, registration should be refused under Trademark Act §2(e)(1), 15 U.S.C. §2(e)(1), on the ground that the TLD is merely descriptive of the registry services.

The U.S.P.T.O. has also rejected applications to register proposed top level domain names for services other than just “domain name registry services.” The writers are unaware of the U.S.P.T.O. granting any registrations of proposed top level domain names to date regardless of the services with which those proposed domain names are associated.

VI.     Privacy

The latest developments concerning privacy on the Internet relate to the passage of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 and the effect of the European Privacy Directive.

A.        Legislation

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), 64 Fed. Reg. 22750 (April 27, 1999), forbids the collection and distribution of minors’ personal information(43) without parental consent and restricts distribution and use of that information. This Act is intended to provide protection to the individually identifiable data of children as collected by Internet Service Providers or Web site operators. The Act is supposed to be implemented by FTC rules which should be in place between eighteen and thirty months from COPPA’s enactment. The FTC has not yet issued any final rules, but interim rules were proposed on April 20, 1999:

Of particular importance is the COPPA requirement that, with certain exceptions, Web sites obtain “verifiable parental consent” before collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children. Section 312.5 of the proposed rule sets forth this requirement along with the following performance standard:

An operator must make reasonable efforts to obtain verifiable parental consent, taking into consideration available technology. Any method to obtain verifiable consent must be reasonably calculated, in light of available technology, to ensure that the person providing consent is the child’s parent. (64 Fed. Reg. 22756)

In its discussion of this section, the Commission identified a number of methods an operator might use to obtain verifiable parental consent, including a print-and-send form signed by the parent and mailed or faxed to the Web site; a credit-card transaction initiated by the parent; a call made by the parent to a toll-free number; or an e-mail accompanied by the parent’s valid digital signature. The Commission also solicited comment on whether there are other e-mail based mechanisms that could provide sufficient assurance that the person providing consent is the child’s parent. (64 Fed. Reg. 22756, 22762) (44)

B.        European Union Privacy Directive

The European Union (EU), in its European Union Privacy Directive,(45) has granted broad rights to individuals about whom personal information is collected and stored in databases. This EU position, based on the idea that privacy is a fundamental human right, is more rigorous than the United States’ position, which does not provide as extensive access to individuals to review this kind of information and has relatively few restrictions on the use of such personal information.(46) This conflict between the EU position and the US position has threatened international electronic commerce.(47) Therefore, the US Department of Commerce negotiated with EU representatives and proposed safe harbor principles for American companies to use in determining whether they comply with EU data protection laws.(48) The “safe harbor” arrangement is expected to be finalized in the fall of 1999. (49)

Major companies are now requiring sites in which they advertise to meet these standards and the proposed safe harbor provision. For example, IBM’s policy(50) on personal information states that it will inform the consumer how it will use the personal information collected:

At IBM, we intend to give you as much control as possible over your personal information. In general, you can visit IBM on the Web without telling us who you are or revealing any information about yourself. There are times, however, when we may need information from you, such as your name and address. It is our intent to let you know before we collect personal information from you on the Internet.

If you choose to give us personal information via the Internet that we or our business partners may need — to correspond with you, process an order or provide you with a subscription, for example – it is our intent to let you know how we will use such information. If you tell us that you do not wish to have this information used as a basis for further contact with you, we will respect your wishes. We do keep track of the domains from which people visit us. We analyze this data for trends and statistics, and then we discard it.

VII.        First Amendment: Child Online Protection Act

The Child Online Protection Act was held unconstitutional in ACLU v. Reno, 1998 U.S. District Lexis 18546 (E.D. Pa. 1998) and ACLU v. Reno, 31 F.Supp. 2d 473 (E.D. Pa. 1999), but there have not been any decisions from the appellate level yet.

VIII.      Jurisdictional Issues

A.        There have also been some interesting recent cases relating to jurisdiction. First, according to the Internet Newsletter, August 1999, a New York trial court has held that a gambling site in Antigua that would not allow gambling on the site if anyone gave an address in a state that prohibited gambling but did not take any other further steps to verify the address’ accuracy constituted a violation of New York State’s prohibitions on gambling and the Federal Wire Act, the Travel Act, and the Interstate Transportation of Wagering Paraphernalia Act. People v. World Interactive Gaming Corp., N.Y. Sup. Ct., N.Y. Co. (July 24, 1999).

B.        Coastal Video Communications Corp. v. Staywell Corp., 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11827 (E.D. Va. 1999). In a copyright case where one company alleged that its employee handbook had been infringed by another company, the District Court held that whether there was long-arm statute jurisdiction depended on whether the defendant had actually sold its publication, not just attempted to sell its publication, in Virginia. The Court also said that even if such copies were sold in Virginia, that would not be enough to grant specific jurisdiction in that case because the declaratory judgment action that had been filed does not “arise from the sale of the defendant’s publication” but rather from its very existence. Perhaps the lesson from this case, if you desire to get jurisdiction, is to file an infringement action in a copyright case instead of a declaratory judgment.

C.        Where a Virginia resident sued out of state defendants for posting allegedly defamatory material (one defendant posted the material on servers in Virginia via “AOL” and the other defendant posted the material on servers outside Virginia but was held by the Court to be doing business in Virginia from its Web site), a District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia held that there was a tort in the State of Virginia, and there were sufficient minimum contacts to allow for jurisdiction. Bochan v. LaFontaine, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8253 (E.D. Va. 1999).

D.        In a similar case, Melvin v. Doe, Cir. Ct. of Loudoun County, Civil No. 21942 (June 24, 1999), a Virginia Court held that where both the plaintiff and the defendant were Pennsylvania residents, even though a tort may have occurred in Virginia by defamatory material being placed on the AOL server in Virginia, there were not sufficient minimum contacts to meet the jurisdiction requirements for personal jurisdiction.

E.         In Mink v. AAAA Dev., 1999 U.S. App. LEXIS 22783 (5th Cir. 1999), the Fifth Circuit articulated a structure for determining when a court can assume jurisdiction of a company with a presence in cyberspace.

1.         The Fifth Circuit followed the sliding scale in Zippos Mfg. Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, 952 F. Supp. 1119, 1124 (W.D. Pa. 1997), setting out three levels of Internet business. (51)

a.         First, companies which merely advertise or post information about their business on the Internet with “passive” Web sites cannot be sued out of state simply because they maintain the Web site. In Mink, the company’s Web site “provides users with a printable mail-in order form, AAAA’s toll-free telephone number, a mailing address, and an electronic mail (“e-mail”) address, [and] orders are not taken through AAAA’s website [sic]. This does not classify the website [sic] as anything more than a passive advertisement.” Mink at *7.

b.         The second category consists of companies whose Web site allows a user to exchange information with a host computer. Citing Zippos, the Court reasoned that “the exercise of jurisdiction is determined by the level of interactivity.” Mink at *7 – *8.

c.         The companies which enter into contracts with out-of-state residents that involve the “knowing and repeated transmission of computer files over the Internet,” can be sued in the home state of the out of state residents. Mink at *8 -*9.

IX.     Conclusion

We are now at the point where there are judicial precedents and/or proposed statutes resolving many previously troubling Internet issues. Future cases are likely to focus more on reconciling the conflicts between intellectual property rights and/or privacy rights, on one hand, and free speech rights, on the other hand.


(1) In Vault Corp. v. Quaid Software Ltd., 847 F.2d 255 (5th Cir. 1988), the Fifth Circuit, applying Louisiana law, held that the shrinkwrap license was unenforceable. In this case, the Plaintiff, Vault Corporation, developed software for Vault Corp.’s software developer customers to embed in their software to prevent their end user customers from using the software on more than one computer. When the Vault Corporation sold its software, it included a shrinkwrap license which was expressly authorized by a Louisiana statute and prohibited reverse engineering of the software. The defendant, Quaid, purchased the software and reversed engineered it. The Fifth Circuit held that the shrinkwrap license and the related statute were unenforceable because they were “pre-empted” by copyright law. The Court’s holding implies that if pre-emption does not apply, then the shrinkwrap license is enforceable. Most courts that have decided the issue have held that agreements prohibiting reverse engineering and disclosure of confidential information are not pre-empted by the Copyright Act because they involve an agreement between private consenting parties, and therefore are different from copyright which is imposed by statute. See, e.g., Computer Associates v. Altai, 982 F.2d 693 (2nd Cir. 1992).

(2) See, e.g., Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Company Service, 499 U.S. 340, 111 S. Ct. 1282, 113 L.Ed. 2d 358 (1991). For additional materials on copyright law, see the writers’ law firm Web site at http://www.internetlegal.com. There is some concern among commentators that to allow unlimited use of shrinkwrap and clickwrap licenses to protect material not otherwise protected by copyright law could vitiate the copyright fair use doctrine.

(3) This case also dealt with the enforceability of a limitations of remedies clause contained in a shrinkwrap license.

(4) See O.C.G.A. §10-12-2.

(5) A “secure electronic signature” is defined as “an electronic or digital method executed or adopted by a party with the intent to be bound by or to authenticate a record, which is unique to the person using it, is capable of verification, is under the sole control of the person using it, and is linked to data in such a manner that if the data are changed the electronic signature is invalidated.” O.C.G.A. §10-12-3.

(6) The Act provides, in Section 106, Legal Recognition of Electronic Records, Electronic Signatures, and Electronic Contracts

(a)        A record or signature may not be denied legal effect or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form.

(b)        A contract may not be denied legal effect or enforceability solely because an electronic record was used in its formation.

(c)        If a law requires a record to be in writing, or provides consequences if it is not, an electronic record satisfies the law.

(d)       If a law requires a signature, or provides consequences in the absence of a signature, the law is satisfied with respect to an electronic record if the electronic record includes an electronic signature.

See UETA Sections 201, 301, and 401(a) (1998 Annual Meeting Draft); Uncitral Model Articles 5, 6, and 7.

(7) A copy of the proposed Act is available online at www.law.upenn.edu/library/ulc/ulc.htm

(8) The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) and the American Law Institute (ALI) are responsible for overseeing updates to the Uniform Commercial Code. In 1995, a committee was formed to draft a separate UCC article to specifically address software licensing and electronic commerce. Various versions have been proposed and debated. The goal is to propose a version that most, if not all, of the state legislatures will adopt.

(9) UCITA was approved by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) at its annual meeting in Denver at the end of July, 1999. Foster, Ed, UCITA Author Does Some Moonlighting for Money, Courtesy of Microsoft, InfoWorld: The Gripe Line, Oct. 11, 1999.

(10) Graff, George L., Controversial Computer Act Offers Major Innovations: Proposed Uniform Statute for The Information Age Is Approved, Computer Law Strategist, Aug. 1999, Vol. XVI, No. 4.

(11) Id.

(12) See also http://www.ll.georgetown.edu/allwash/UCITA2html

(13) Spam is the name given for unsolicited e-mail messages which flood the Internet. Spam generally consists of commercial advertising (sometimes for adult oriented Web sites or get-rich-quick schemes).

(14) A copy of this Order is attached as Appendix A.

(15) See William M. McSwain, The Long Arm of Cyber-Reach, 112 Harv. L. Rev. ___ (Issue 7, May, 1999).

(16) See, CompuServe, Inc. v. Cyber Promotions, Inc., 962 F.Supp. 1015 (S.D. Ohio 1997) in which the court held that enjoining the sending of spam to CompuServe’s customers was based on a trespass action that didn’t involve First Amendment considerations.

(17) See Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Public Serv. Comm’n of N.Y., 447 U.S. 557, 562-563, 65 L.Ed.2d 341, 100 S.Ct. 2343 (1980).

(18) Cf. Sable Communications v. FCC, 492 U.S. 115, 127-128, 109 S.Ct. 2829, 2837, 106 L.Ed.2d 93 (1989) (there is no captive audience problem where the listener of dial-a-porn must take affirmative steps to receive the communication).

(19) See Intel v. Hamidi, supra.

(20) In similar cases, the First Amendment issue was not raised. See, e.g., America Online v. IMS, 24 F. Supp. 2d 548 (E.D. Va. 1998); America Online v. Prime Data Sys., Inc., 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20226 (E.D. Va. 1998); America Online v. LCGM, Inc., 46 F. Supp. 2d 444 (E.D. Va 1998).

(21) The text is attached as Appendix B.

(22) Because this language is written broadly enough to prevent noncommercial anonymous bulk e-mailings, it arguably violates the First Amendment. See, ACLU of Georgia v. Miller, 977 F.Supp. 1228 (N.D. Ga. 1997).

(23) The Act defines the term “unsolicited electronic mail message” as “any substantially identical electronic mail message other than electronic mail initiated by any person to others with whom such person has a prior relationship, including prior business relationship, or electronic mail sent by a source to recipients where such recipients, or their designees, have at any time affirmatively requested to receive communications from that source.”

(24) Nev. Rev. Stat. 41.735 provides immunity for persons who provide users with access to a network and applies to items of electronic mail obtained voluntarily.

(25) Nev. Rev. Stat. 41.715 defines “electronic mail” as a message, a file or other information that is transmitted through a local, regional or global network, regardless of whether the message, file or other information is:

1. Viewed;

2. Stored for retrieval at a later time;

3. Printed onto paper or other similar material; or

4. Filtered or screened by a computer program that is designed or intended to filter or screen items of electronic mail.

(26) Cal. Business & Professions Code §17538.4 provides as follows:

(a) No person or entity conducting business in this state shall facsimile (fax) or cause to be faxed, or electronically mail (e-mail) or cause to be e-mailed, documents consisting of unsolicited advertising material for the lease, sale, rental, gift offer, or other disposition of any realty, goods, services, or extension of credit unless:

(1) In the case of a fax, that person or entity establishes a toll-free telephone number that a recipient of the unsolicited faxed documents may call to notify the sender not to fax the recipient any further unsolicited documents.

(2) In the case of e-mail, that person or entity establishes a toll-free telephone number or valid sender operated return e-mail address that the recipient of the unsolicited documents may call or e-mail to notify the sender not to e-mail any further unsolicited documents.

(b) All unsolicited faxed or e-mailed documents subject to this section shall include a statement informing the recipient of the toll-free telephone number that the recipient may call, or a valid return address to which the recipient may write or e-mail, as the case may be, notifying the sender not to fax or e-mail the recipient any further unsolicited documents to the fax number, or numbers, or e-mail address, or addresses, specified by the recipient.

In the case of faxed material, the statement shall be in at least nine-point type. In the case of e-mail, the statement shall be the first text in the body of the message and shall be of the same size as the majority of the text of the message.

(c) Upon notification by a recipient of his or her request not to receive any further unsolicited faxed or e-mailed documents, no person or entity conducting business in this state shall fax or cause to be faxed or e-mail or cause to be e-mailed any unsolicited documents to that recipient.

(d) In the case of e-mail, this section shall apply when the unsolicited e-mailed documents are delivered to a California resident via an electronic mail service provider’s service or equipment located in this state. For these purposes “electronic mail service provider” means any business or organization qualified to do business in this state that provides individuals, corporations, or other entities the ability to send or receive electronic mail through equipment located in this state and that is an intermediary in sending or receiving electronic mail.

(e) As used in this section, “unsolicited e-mailed documents” means any e-mailed document or documents consisting of advertising material for the lease, sale, rental, gift offer, or other disposition of any realty, goods, services, or extension of credit that meet both of the following requirements:

(1) The documents are addressed to a recipient with whom the initiator does not have an existing business or personal relationship.

(2) The documents are not sent at the request of, or with the express consent of, the recipient.

(f) As used in this section, “fax” or “cause to be faxed” or ” e-mail” or “cause to be e-mailed” does not include or refer to the transmission of any documents by a telecommunications utility or Internet service provider to the extent that the telecommunications utility or Internet service provider merely carries that transmission over its network.

(g) In the case of e-mail that consists of unsolicited advertising material for the lease, sale, rental, gift offer, or other disposition of any realty, goods, services, or extension of credit, the subject line of each and every message shall include “ADV:” as the first four characters. If these messages contain information that consists of unsolicited advertising material for the lease, sale, rental, gift offer, or other disposition of any realty, goods, services, or extension of credit, that may only be viewed, purchased, rented, leased, or held in possession by an individual 18 years of age and older, the subject line of each and every message shall include “ADV:ADLT” as the first eight characters.

(h) An employer who is the registered owner of more than one e-mail address may notify the person or entity conducting business in this state e-mailing or causing to be e-mailed, documents consisting of unsolicited advertising material for the lease, sale, rental, gift offer, or other disposition of any realty, goods, services, or extension of credit of the desire to cease e-mailing on behalf of all of the employees who may use employer-provided and employer-controlled e-mail addresses.

(i) This section, or any part of this section, shall become inoperative on and after the date that federal law is enacted that prohibits or otherwise regulates the transmission of unsolicited advertising by electronic mail (e-mail).

(27) See Digital Millenium Copyright Act, Sec. 1201. Circumvention of copyright protection systems.

(28) Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995 (Public Law 104-39).

(29) The Rio portable music player is a digital audio recording device. The Rio is a small device (roughly the size of an audio cassette) with headphones that allows a user to download MP3 audio files from a computer and to listen to them elsewhere.

(30) See 17 U.S.C. §1001 et seq. (P.L. 102-563, at 4, 106 Stat. 4248).

(31) Discord Surrounding Diamond Multimedia’s Rio Player is Ended Through Settlement Agreement, The Intellectual Property Strategist, Sept. 1999, Volume 1, Number 12, at 4.

(32) See P.L. 105-298, 112 Stat. 2827.

(33) Eric Eldred founded Eldritch Press in late 1995, and initially, Eldritch Press posted works of American literature by authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry James. Now, Eldritch Press posts new works the moment they enter the public domain. Some of the works Eldritch Press posts are out of print or are not included in library collections, and therefore they are not obtainable by the public in any other way. See How Long is Too Long? Recent Congressional Copyright Giveaway Claimed Unconstitutional at http://eldred.ne.mediaone.net/pr-1999-01-12.txt.

(34) See Eldred v. Reno, United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Case No. 1:99CV00065 JLG (filed January 11, 1999). Visit this Web site to view the pleadings in this case: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/eldredvreno/legaldocs.html.

(35) See http://www.kingkong.demon.co.uk/ccer/ccer.htm, a site that documents all renewals of 1923 book copyrights, representing works that the Copyright Term Extension Act keeps from the public domain.

(36) Slotek, Jim, M-I-C . . . © you real soon . . . k-e-y . . ., Toronto Sun Times, Nov. 1, 1998; see also Naughton, John, Mickey Mouse Saved for Disney? Phew. What a Narrow Squeak, Guardian Unlimited, May 2, 1999.

(37) As found by the Court, Playboy Enterprises (PEI):

owns federally registered trademarks for the terms Playboy, Playmate, Playmate of the Month, and Playmate of the Year. The term Playmate of the Year is sometimes abbreviated “PMOY.” PEI does not have a federally registered trademark in the abbreviation “PMOY,” although PEI argues that “PMOY” is worthy of trademark protection because it is a well-known abbreviation for the trademark Playmate of the Year.

Playboy Enterprises, 7 F.Supp.2d 1098, 1100.

(38) The Court also found that, with respect to the meta tags, there is no trademark infringement where defendant has used Playboy’s trademarks in good faith to index the content of her Web site.

(39) This statute would allow a court to order the cancellation or forfeiture of the domain name or the transfer of the name to the owner of the trademark. It will make it possible for plaintiffs to go after domain names as a group rather than being forced to sue each of the registrants individually. See Porsche Cars North America, Inc. v. porsch.com, 51 F. Supp. 2d 707 (E.D. Va. 1999), 51 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA)1461, in which the Court rejected Porsche’s “in rem” claim to grab control of domain names incorporating versions of the “Porsche” name to avoid having to individually sue hundreds of registrants that had registered those domain names.

(40) Mack, Jennifer, Nader Proposes Limits to ICANN, ZDNet News, Sept. 27, 1999.

(41) A framework for ICANN and DNS Management

Initial Proposals (comments welcome)

version 1.02 September 25, 1999

1. ICANN’s authority should be based upon a multilateral government charter. That Charter should define and limit ICANN’s authority.

2. The charter should be based upon a limited purpose sui generis agreement among countries that express interest in working together, and that agree that ICANN’s role should be limited to tasks essential to maintaining an efficient and reliable DNS management, and that ICANN will not be used as an instrument to promote policies relating to conduct or content on the Internet. (Additional multilateral institutions may be desired to address electronic commerce issues, but ICANN itself should not become the foundation for a vast Internet governance institution. See http://www.cptech.org/ecom/cpt-wcpo.html)

3. ICANN should not use its power over domain registration policy to exclude persons from the use of a domain on issues that are not germane to managing the DNS system of mapping IP addresses into domain names. The right to have a domain on the Internet should be considered the same as the right to have a street address, a telephone number or a person’s name.

4. ICANN should identify a membership and elect its board of directors from its membership before it makes additional policy decisions (in those areas appropriate for action by ICANN).

5. Membership should be open to anyone who uses the Internet. There should be no fee associated with membership or voting rights.

6. The records of ICANN should be open to the public. The public should have rights to documents as, similar to rights provided in the US Freedom of Information Act.

7. The meetings of ICANN should be open to the public.

8. The public should be given an annual opportunity to review and comment on the ICANN budget.

9. The budget of ICANN should be subject to review by the countries that provide the ICANN charter. Fees associated with domain registration should only be spent on activities essential to the management of the DNS system.

10. National governments should be permitted to exercise discretion over policies relating to the use of country top level domains (.fr, .uk, .us, etc.).

11. For generic top level domains (.com, .org, .net, and new gTLDs), the domain space should be declared a public resource. The registrar or registries perform services on behalf of the users of the domains, and will not own the domain space. It should be possible to replace firms engaged in registration services and DNS management, without risking the stability of the Internet.

12. On matters of public interest (in the narrow areas where ICANN will operate), such as policies regarding the use of trademarks or the privacy of domain registration information, ICANN should make recommendations to the sui generis multinational body created to manage ICANN, and the multinational body should accept, reject or modify the recommendations, after giving the public a fully adequate opportunity to review and comment on the proposals.

13. On the issue of trademarks, the Charter should explicitly protect the public’s rights to parody, criticism and free speech. For example, domain names like GM-sucks.com, which would not be confused with GM.com, should be permitted.

(42) Becky Burr is the Associate Administrator of the National Telecommunication and Information Administration, Office of International Affairs.

(43) The Act defines “personal information” to include an individual’s first and last name, home and other physical address, e-mail address, social security number, and telephone number. 1999 S. 809; 106 S. 809.

(44) See Benjamin I. Berman, Acting Secretary of the Federal Trade Commission, Federal Register Notice announcing Public Workshop on Proposed Regulations Implementing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, Supplementary Information, June 23, 1999, 16 C.F.R. Part 312, Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule at http://www.ftc.gov/os/1999/9906/kidsprivacy.htm.

(45) For the official text of the European Union Privacy Directive, see Official Journal of the European Communities of 23 November 1995 No L. 281 p. 31. For an unofficial version, visit http://www.cdt.org/privacy/eudirective/EU_Directive_.html.

(46) See, e.g., Mosceyunas, Anne K., On-Line Privacy: The Push and Pull of Self-Regulation and Law, Computer Law Section Newsletter, State Bar of Georgia, July, August, September, 1999, pp. 13-15; Cranman, Kevin A., Internet and Electronic Communication Privacy Issues: An Overview and Legislative Update, 14th Annual Computer Law Institute, Program Materials 1999, Part 10.

(47) Winn, Jane K., Digital Signatures, Smart Cards, and Electronic Payment Systems, ICLE Fourteenth Annual Computer Law Institute, Sept. 24, 1999, p. 22.

(48) See Joint Report on Data Protection Dialogue to the EU/US Summit, June 21, 1999, which is attached as Appendix C.

(49) Id.

(50) See http://www.ibm.com/privacy/.

(51) For further analysis, see Koppel, Nathan, Cyber-Ad Jurisdiction Isn’t Automatic, Texas Lawyer, Sept. 27, 1999.

The information above is provided for general educational purposes and not as legal advice. Laws in areas in which we practice change continually and also vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Therefore no visitor to our site should rely on any of the articles provided for legal advice, but should always consult their own attorney regarding legal matters.

© 1999, Rob Hassett, Atlanta, Georgia. All Right Reserved.