No associating permitted?

Network World, 02/22/99

If you own a Web search engine and associate Playboy with sex, it
could get you sued.

Playboy Enterprises just sued Internet search engine companies
Excite and Netscape for telling their users about non-Playboy sites
offering adult content when a user asks the search engine to search
for "playboy" or "playmate." The inference that can be drawn from
this action seems to be that either Playboy does not think that its
readers are interested in sex or that the company thinks it offers its
readers all the sex they could possibly want.

The practice behind the suit involves operators of Internet search
engines selling words - something they've done for quite a while. Sort
of like Vanna White selling letters. You can display a banner ad for a
user who has searched for a particular word, such as "auto." Excite
displays banner ads for or if you
search for the word "auto." Autobytel and autoconnect pay for this
feature, and the revenue from this sort of thing can represent a
significant part of a search engine's revenue stream.

According to the Playboy suit, it's one thing to sell a service that
displays banner ads triggered by generic word searches, but it's
another thing altogether to sell such a service based on trademarks.
Playboy claims that Web users may get confused and think that
Playboy somehow endorses any adult entertainment sites that get
advertised when the user searches for the word "playboy."

This seems a bit of a stretch given that such juxtapositions are part of
everyday life. For instance, Playboy Enterprises cannot force a retailer
through a lawsuit to display Playboy magazine away from hard-core
pornographic magazines in a rack. It does not seem like Playboy's
suit has much of a chance, but it illustrates the growing legal
complexities of the Internet.

As an aside, I'm no fan of the type of ads that tend to show up on the
Web anyway. Not because of the content or because they may be for
a company other than the one I searched for, but because most of the
ads tend to be too damn active. I find the blinking, jumping, spinning,
scrolling, exploding and otherwise eye-catching ads very distracting
and tend to switch to a static Web page as soon as I can.

I even print out copies of many Web pages with these intrusive
in-your-face ads just so I do not have to have the things flashing at
me from the computer screen when I'm trying to read the text on the
same page. I may not be a typical consumer, but this type of ad is
counterproductive if a vendor wants to tell me something about a
product. I will not stay around long enough to read the advertisement.

Disclaimer: Harvard's home page is nice and static, even when you
search for "playboy." But the above are my observations.