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UPS Joins Firms Suing Gator

United Parcel Service has joined the roster of heavy-hitter companies suing online ad services firm The Gator Corp., saying its ads appear on the UPS Web site without the parcel carrier's permission.

Moreover, UPS claims some of the ads were for rival FedEx. UPS did not immediately return a call for comment. A Gator representative said the company is talking with UPS but declined comment.

UPS filed its suit Sept. 26 in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. UPS does not run outside advertising on UPS.com and claims that Gator's ads caused customer confusion and complaints.

It joins a suit filed June 25 by The Washington Post Co., The New York Times Co., Dow Jones & Co., Gannett Inc., Condenet Inc., Tribune Interactive Inc., Knight Ridder Digital and three other publishers. The publishers claim that by serving unauthorized pop-ups, Gator infringes on their copyrights and trademarks, depriving them of revenue.

Prompting the publishers' suit was marketing literature Gator issued that claimed it could place ads for competitors on those publishers' sites, according to the plaintiffs.

Gator claims that the main reason the publishers are suing is that they can't compete with Gator's ad targeting capabilities. The publishers claim, however, that they can't compete with Gator on price because Gator doesn't have to invest in content creation, yet capitalizes on the audiences these publishers draw with their content. The publishers claim Gator is a “parasite.”

Gator claims that The New York Times has hired it to deliver just the type of advertising for which it is suing Gator.

“Specifically, the New York Times asked Gator to run its advertisements to consumers who viewed the WallStreetJournal.com, WashingtonPost.com, USAToday.com and many other Web sites operated by most of the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit,” a statement said.

In court documents, however, the Times claims it used Gator unknowingly and only twice. In one instance, Gator signed up for the Times' home delivery affiliate advertising program, an open program under which any site can apply to market subscriptions and collect a bounty on them. In the second, Times ads were placed by Gator as part of a media plan created by ad agency Digitas, the Times claims. In both cases, according to the Times, as soon as it learned pop-ups were being placed on competitors' sites, it took steps to get them stopped.

In July, Judge Claude Hilton in federal court in Alexandria, VA, ordered Redwood City, CA-based Gator from advertising on 16 Web sites owned by the plaintiffs until the suit is resolved. The plaintiffs seek a permanent injunction and unspecified monetary damages.

The publishers' suit reportedly will go to trial by the end of the year.

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