December 25, 1999
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
THE BRENT SPAR OF E-COMMERCE: ETOYS VS ETOY POST-HEARING PRESS CONFERENCE
December 27 following 8:30 a.m. hearing, 111 North Hill Street, Los Angeles
More information: http://rtmark.com/etoy/,
Press reports: http://rtmark.com/etoypress.html,
In a press conference to be held Monday, December 27th, RTMark and partners will announce two bold, unprecedented initiatives aimed against e-commerce giant eToys. The initiatives are designed to inflict further damage on the ailing company, and thus provide a lasting warning to e-commerce corporations against behaving unethically on the Web. (Protests so far have contributed to eToys' four-week stock fall of over 50%, according to Yahoo! Finance reports, and have prompted FBI action against protest websites.)
The press conference will be held in front of the Los Angeles Central District County Courthouse immediately following the 8:30 a.m. hearing in room 513, about whether etoy, an internationally acclaimed Internet art group two years older than e-commerce giant eToys, will be allowed to use its domain name, etoy.com, which is also older than eToys.com. (eToys successfully blocked etoy from using etoy.com in a November 29 preliminary injunction; Network Solutions has blocked e-mail access as well, although this was not required by the injunction.)
The outcome of this case has enormous implications for free speech on the Internet and could set a precedent determining whether the Internet will be governed by the brute force of multinational corporations or by individuals and democratic processes.
Confirmed speakers in Monday's press conference include Pete Franklin, a spokesperson for former eToys employees; Amy Alexander, internationally renowned Internet artist and faculty member of the California Institute of the Arts who will be speaking about artists censored by corporations on the Internet; Peter Lunenfeld, writer, critic and member of the Faculty at Pasadena Art Center and founder of The Southern California New Media Working Group; Santas and Mothers Against eToys (SMAT); and RTMark spokesperson Rita Margolis. A question and answer period will follow each speaker.
eToys stock has plummeted over 50% since Nov 29, the day that the e-commerce toy giant was granted a court injunction against the European online art collective etoy (no "s"), forcing the artists to stop using their much older domain name, and also the day that protests began and were first reported (in Salon Magazine). Before that day, eToys stock had been rising.
eToys CEO Toby Lenk had been hoping to keep etoy.com suspended and quiet until the December 27 court hearing, but activists from around the internet had different plans.
Many organizations saw eToys' abuse of the legal system as a threat to independent publishers and small business on the Web. On December 15, these organizations, which included the Electronic Disturbance Theatre and RTMark (http://www.rtmark.com/), came together to expand the anti-eToys protests into a full-fledged "information war" against eToys, with the aim of establishing a precedent in e-commerce similar to that of the Brent Spar in petroleum production.
The organizations' WWW "sit-in" had little effect on the first day, but massively overloaded eToys' server on Thursday, December 16 by filling its customer database with false information. Observers in both the US and Europe were unable to reach eToys.com at times, and online ordering was paralyzed. (See for example the CNN transcript.)
Although eToys officials had pooh-poohed the attack the day before, they now panicked. eToys filed a restraining order against the Electronic Disturbance Theatre, cutting it off the Web and, meanwhile, changed their site to resist the attack. (eToys soon used other means to make its voice heard. In a threatening letter sent from a Hotmail account, an eToys employee told one activist to "get the hell out of dodge.")
Having lost a peak day's worth of orders, eToys found itself with extra inventory on hand and had to extend its deadline for Christmas delivery until Saturday, the second slowest day on the web. Although eToys.com has claimed that it has added 900,000 new customers this season, any such figures are questionable because of false information entered by activists.
The "sit-in" is one of about 15 campaigns coordinated by RTMark, aimed at disrupting the internal and external communications of eToys.com, and targeting telephone and fax lines as well as behavior and morale of employees, management, and major investors. Although orders stopped on Dec 18, continuing activist actions--the two biggest of which are to be announced at the Los Angeles press conference--are aimed at making eToys.com an example the online world will never forget.
(eToys is having other problems as well. Since the November injunction, some eToys employees have threatened to quit, and eToys stockholders are calling on CEO Edward "Toby" Lenk to step down, due to his ineptitude in handling the crisis.)
RTMark, which is in no way associated with etoy, aims to publicize the
widespread corporate abuse of democratic institutions like courts and
elections. To this end it solicits and distributes funding for "sabotage
projects"; the groups of such projects are called "mutual funds" in order to
call attention to one way in which large numbers of people come to identify
corporate needs as their own. RTMark projects do not normally target specific
companies; the etoy Fund projects are an exception.
RTMark is no stranger to the hot topic of domain-name control. The World
Trade Organization's press release about http://gatt.org, accusing RTMark of
"illegal practices" in publishing information critical of the WTO at that
site, merely brought the WTO ridicule from the press; George W. Bush's and Microsoft's legal attacks
on GWBush.com and MicrosoftEdu.com failed to affect the domains. See also
this release for more on this issue.