August 9, 1999 12:50 PM PDT

Amazon, New York Times resolve copyright suit

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Booksellers slash bestsellers

May 17, 1999
Amazon.com announced today that it has settled its dispute with The New York Times over use of the publication's bestseller list.

As part of the settlement, Amazon will be able to use the New York Times' bestseller list. In return, the online bookseller will supply the Times with its sales figures and will continue to post a disclaimer that the company is not affiliated with the publication.

Amazon also agreed to list the best-selling books in alphabetical order, rather than in order of their sales ranking, and to delay posting the list of books until the Times made it available to the general public.

The companies did not say whether there was any financial agreement as part of the settlement.

Amazon filed suit against the company in June, asking a federal court in Seattle for "declaratory relief" that would allow the company to continue to use the Times' bestseller list in its advertisements, and to promote its discounts on Times' bestsellers.

The dispute arose from Amazon's decision in May to sell Times' bestsellers at 50 percent off their list price, a move quickly matched by Amazon competitors Barnesandnoble.com and Borders. A week after making the announcement about its discounts, the company said it received a letter from the New York Times alleging that Amazon had infringed on its newspaper's copyright and trademark by using the bestseller list.

Amazon argued in its suit that the list was widely used in the book-selling industry. The Times has a promotional agreement with Barnesandnoble.com.

Amazon spokesman Bill Curry said that since the company filed suit against the Times, everything between the two companies has continued on a "business-as-usual" basis. In spite of the dispute, Amazon has continued to publish the bestseller list and to provide the newspaper with its sales figures, he said.

Curry said the agreement was a "win-win" situation for the two companies.

"The New York Times will continue to have an authoritative list that has sales figures from the largest online bookseller; and we will continue to be able to offer books that have a 50 percent discount," Curry said.

But Times spokeswoman Nancy Nielsen said the newspaper got several significant agreements out of Amazon. Prior to the lawsuit, Amazon published the bestseller list in order of sales, and it was posting the list on its site before the Times had made it public.

"They were scooping us," Nielsen said, adding that the settlement ratified changes the two companies had agreed to since Amazon filed suit.

Intellectual property attorney Rich Gray of Bergeson, Eliopoulos, Grady & Gray of San Jose, said neither side seemed to have given up a whole lot and the dispute was essentially "much ado about nothing."

"This is the way it should have been resolved right at the front end," Gray said.

 

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