Publishers, TotalNews settle framing suit

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Six major media companies on Thursday settled their lawsuit against the five-person Internet company TotalNews over the concept of framing. Under terms of the agreement, Total News will no longer display the Web sites belonging to the media companies--CNN, Dow Jones & Co., Reuters New Media, Time Inc., Times Mirror Co. and Washington Post Co.--within a frame on its site. No money was awarded in the settlement.

The media companies filed suit against TotalNews in February, charging that the company's Web site, which provides links to news and information sites, was infringing on the media companies' trademarks and livelihoods by displaying their sites within a frame and then selling TotalNews advertising slots in the area below the frame. The case caused an outcry among Internet users, some of whom sided with the media companies, but many more of whom thought that TotalNews was using the Web's natural linking capability.

Under terms of the settlement, Total News can still link to the publishers' sites, but clicking on the links leads directly to the publishers' home pages, rather than the pages being displayed in a frame.

The settlement seems something of a hollow victory for the media giants; they had sought to receive a share of profits from TotalNews' display of their material as well as damage awards for copyright infringement. The case was also seen by some as a test of the limits of copyright on the Web, but the settlement doesn't provide much relief for copyright holders.

The settlement also leaves the door open for other publishers to challenge TotalNews' use of their material. Although links to CNN, Time Inc. magazines and others, go directly to those home pages, material belonging to several dozen other publishers, including Starwave Corp., USA Today and the Boston Globe, still appears within a frame.

Copyright June 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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