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Dixons sues AOL, claiming slander from CIS staff

The embattled paid-for service is alleged to have been verballing Freeserve

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UK retail chain Dixon's has issued a High Court writ against AOL for slander because, allegedly, CompuServe customer support staff told callers cancelling their CompuServe subscriptions that Dixons' Freeserve would be charging in the future. Dixons said this began to happen in December 1998, and the CompuServe statement was "blatantly untrue". Dixons complained to AOL in January 1999, it says, and CompuServe claims to have investigated the allegation and given Dixons an undertaking that its staff would not to make any defamatory statements. AOL is suggesting that the dispute will be settled out of court. With many media organisations offering "free" access, it is understandable that CompuServe finds itself being squeezed. However, the professional audience which CompuServe aspires to serve has found that important services offered through CompuServe have been dropped. Dialog's Knowledge Index, now owned by Maid PLC, was withdrawn last year, supposedly because there were Y2K problems, but this did not sound very convincing. Another service that has gone is Computer Database Plus, a bibliographical database run by ZD. Freeserve is said to have 1.1 million subscribers, and is being assessed for partial floatation by Credit Suisse First Boston and Cazenove. Could Freeserve really be worth £2.5 billion, as is being suggested? We have our doubts. ®

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