Judge bars California firm from placing pop-up ads at unauthorized Web sites

By Michael Buettner, The Associated Press
Tuesday July 16, 2002

Firm considers appeal and
trial involving 10 media
companies opposing ads


RICHMOND, Va. — A California software company must stop delivering ads that pop up unauthorized when surfers visit the Web sites of several prominent media companies, a federal judge has ruled. 

U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton in Alexandria, Va., issued the preliminary injunction Friday in a lawsuit that 10 media companies filed last month against Gator Corp. of Redwood City, Calif. 

The plaintiffs, including parents of The Washington Post, The New York Times and USA Today, accused Gator of parasitic behavior. 

No date has been set for trial. 

Janet Collum, an attorney for Gator, said company officials were considering an appeal of the injunction, confident it will win the case at trial. “We believe strongly that the facts and the law are on our side,” she said. 

Gator, which runs an ad network that claims 22 million active users and 400 advertisers, produces pop-up ads that appear when computer owners with its software browse Web sites targeted by Gator’s advertisers. 

Internet users get Gator advertising software when they install a separate product for filling out online forms and remembering passwords. Gator also comes hitched with free software from other companies, including games and file-sharing programs. 

As users surf the Web, Gator runs in the background and delivers advertisements on top of what the surfer would normally get at a site. 

Terence P. Ross, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the court injunction “is an indication that the judge thinks our case does have merit.” 

The publishers claim Gator’s practices lower their advertising revenue by directing Web surfers to competitors’ sites, hiding legitimate ads and offering deals that directly compete with those of the site’s paid advertisers. 

Ross said Gator’s practice also “causes a loss of content control,” noting that Gator ads might conflict with stories on Web sites and potentially create an appearance of journalistic bias or incompetence. 

But Gator likens its practice with having multiple windows from multiple applications open at once: To ban its ads would be to ban running instant messaging and a Web browser at the same time. 

Last year, the Interactive Advertising Bureau threatened to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over Gator’s selling of ads that block out the banner ads displayed on other Web sites. 

Gator responded with a federal suit in California against the trade group, seeking the court’s declaration that the practice was legal. Gator ultimately agreed to stop the practice, and the lawsuit was dismissed.