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eToys softens under grassroots pressure

Will drop cybersquatting suit if etoy drops theirs

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Online toy mega-merchant eToys conceded that popular support for the Swiss art group etoy encouraged it to offer a settlement to an old domain-name contest. The company offered to withdraw its suit if etoy withdraws its counter suit. eToys reportedly offered the Swiss artistes as much as US $1 million for the right to their domain name, etoy.com, but was spurned.

The dispute reached an impasse, and eToys filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against etoy in September. In November, eToys won an injunction against the art group, forcing it to shut down its site. For its part, etoy say it has been around longer, and that this is a case of reverse hijacking.

But now things appear to be moving towards co-existence, with one remaining sticky bit: the company has requested that etoy remove the more vulgar examples of its fine-arts offerings to a different site if it should keep the disputed domain name, so as to preserve the virtue of innocent women and children who might otherwise stumble upon an obscenity in their quest of such wholesome toys as the "Psycho Mantis" action figure, of which the company says: "This horrific former KGB agent has a face that only a mother could love. However, she died during childbirth so that would explain why Psycho Mantis is devoid of any emotion. His accessories include an NBC (Nuclear/Biological/Chemical) gas mask used to hide his grotesque visage and to focus his deadly psycho-kinetic powers."

Or the "Quake Series Iron Maiden," advertised thus: "This may not be the kind of girl you take home to meet the parents, but hey, she does have the distinction of being a Strogg alien bent on destroying the human race. Her interchangeable limbs include a machine gun arm to rip holes in marine's armour and a cybernetic blade arm to shred what remains."

Both toys are recommended for children aged nine and over. Support for the artsy group has increased as a result of the suit, and probably comes from people more concerned with checking the power of commercial entities on the Web than with the artistic message of this particular underdog. But regardless of its motives, etoy has mounted an effective shame-campaign to which the upstart retailer has responded. It all makes for a most intriguing precedent, one which, we are sure, will be watched with great interest by a number of companies whose names might be in dispute. ®

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