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Totalnews Framing Controversy

The Totalnews "framing" controversy: Totalnews first appeared on the Web in October 1996, positioning itself as a centralized access point to a multitude of online news providers. The Totalnews site employs so-called "framing" technology, with a homepage divided into three discrete sections, or frames. One frame displays several hypertext icons marked with the names of prominent online news providers such as CNN, MSNBC and others. Another frame displays a graphical menu that categorizes the diversity of online news sources under a dozen or so topic headings designed to lead the user to specific news-related links. A third frame displays a continuous stream of banner advertisements.

The controversy surrounding Totalnews is due to the way in which it uses these frames. For example, when a user selects the link to CNN, the content of CNN's page is presented within a frame bounded by the Totalnews page. (Specifically, the CNN page replaces the graphical menu described above.) This practice has prompted a group of "framed" news providers to file a complaint in federal court alleging violations of various state and federal laws.

The complaint, dated February 20, 1997, contains five separate counts, including miappropriation and unfair competition, federal trademark dilution, and trademark and copyright infringement. The essence of the plaintiff's claims is that their websites, as they appear within the Totalnews frames, are substantially altered from the form in which the plaintiffs' intend them to appear to users, and that this is done solely for Totalnews' profit. It remains to be seen whether this argument will succeed in federal court, but the case has the potential to affect not only the use of frames, but also linking practices generally.

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