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AOL Sues Over "You've Got Male" 173

A reader sent us today's stupid lawsuit. AOL is suing a Denver-area woman to get her to stop using the phrase "You've Got Male" in her book to online dating. *sigh* Put your own pithy comment about stupid lawsuits here.
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AOL Sues Over "You've Got Male"

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  • Yes, AT&T was using the phrase, and AOL sued them. AOL lost, because the phrase was ruled to be a common phrase (I think that was the reason).

    If the lawyer for this woman is any good he will reference the AT&T lawsuit, and possibly counter-sue AOL for a frivilous lawsuit
  • Standard "I'm not a lawyer" disclaimer here.

    Could the book title possibly fall under the protection of parody? I remember when 2 Live Crew took this to the supreme court. I don't know all the details, but since it's not derogetory of AOL, I'd think it has a chance.
  • 1) Unix has said "You have mail" for a long time.
    Unix states "You have mail" or "You have new mail". AOL says "You got mail" if you have new mail. "You got mail" is a catch phrase recognized by millions with AOL. I have used UNIX for the past 4+ years and it took some time to remember that association. I have never used AOL in my life and instantly think of AOL when I here the phrase "You got mail".

    2) AOL has never gone after the people who parody them on The Simpsons, etc.
    That is called freedon of speech. Simpsons are protected by the first amendment.

    3) As usual in these cases (such as WB against their FANS), AOL is trying to sue someone for parody
    This is not a case of parody. This is not making fun of AOL. This is using AOL's brand name to be able to obtain easier recognition so more books can be sold. If no disclaimer is by the phrase "You got male", believe it or not, one can believe there is an association with the AOL brand name. AOL is a highly recognized brand name among the general population. (General population, not the techies folks)

    To me this "small potatoes" bookwriter is not worth their time.
    It is if they are profiting off of a brand name. This is a book about internet dating. AOL is largest ISP in the World. Millions of people chat on AOL and people meet or discover new people using AOL.

  • Valid points, all, but I would respectfully disagree with you on the "successful business plan" idea. I think both of those companies have achieved their status not through their technology, dumb or not, but through their unbelievable, world-class marketing.

    Perhaps I'm splitting hairs here, but I believe there's a difference between "making usable" and "dumbing down". Companies like AOL are trying to convince people that computers are like toasters, just plug 'em in and they work! They aren't. There's a learning curve. Back in my desktop support days, AOL was the bane of my existence because of how it would intrusively whack a PC, all in the name of "ease".

    And, yeah, we're all dopey, me more than most. But when someone can't properly string together the phrase "America On Line", they've truly EARNED the moniker..........

  • Check a dictionary. The possessive form of "it" is "its", not "it's". It's weird, but no one ever said English was a sensible language. Correct English is most certainly NOT "obvious".
  • Actually, Apple's slogan is perfectly fine. They're not telling you *how* to think, they're telling you *what* to think. As in: "Think Big."

    As for AOL, their slogan doesn't break any hard rules, but it is awkward. "You have mail" would have been a lot better. A far superior slogan would have been none at all -- all one needs is a little bell or something. At the very least, they could have used a less anglo-saxon, white-aryian sounding male for the voice-over.
  • Hey, maybe the usual assertion that lawyers are stupid isn't the whole story.

    Maybe it's the judges that are stupid for entertaining these silly lawsuits, and the lawyers are clever enough to see that and know a profit when it's dangled in front of them.

    That makes lawyers merely amoral and antisocial, rather than stupid.
  • Are slashdotters just flame-a-holics, AOL bashers, or do they just not read the link?

    I usually only read comments scored 2 and higher, and as of this post there are 27 of those. Almost every one refers to this mythical lawsuit. (It's the fault of Hemos for getting the ball rolling)

    AOL sent a cease-and-desist letter. That is not a lawsuit. It is the common first round in a any trademark dispute. It basically says, "BOO! We don't like what you are doing and we want you to cut it out." I've recieved dozens of these over my lifetime, and I've sent a few out. It's a formal notification that you have been noticed doing something that irritates someone. It's never gone to court.

    Companies seldom start with a lawsuit because they are costly, drawn out, difficult to endure, and most non legal people are scared off by a formal looking letter from a lawyer (just look at how many web sites fold on a cease and desist).

    All she has to do is send a polite letter back telling them that she feels she is well within her rights, and that she isn't going to budge or give an inch. End of story.

    If they persist, then she offers to clean up the second printing by putting in a disclaimer that the book is not endorsed or affiliated with AOL. Again, End of story.

    If they still persist, then she points out why a lawsuit would be costly to them, require them to travel to CO to sue her, be a loss for them (no confusion, parody exemption, reasonable assumption exemption, similarity exemption, etc) or that it would endanger their trademark, or that it would generate bad press etc. Again, this is an end of story point where they come to an agreement

    Finally, you can drag it out until a change in management, validity of the trademark, work the politics in the company, etc, and they decide to go away. Again, endgame.

    It's also important for everyone to realize that when you are issued a trademark, you must defend or lose ownership. Defend doesn't mean sue, it means you just need to "care". A lot of these actions are merely for "show".

    I can asure you that if I decided to print the trademark, or something similar (news for Geeks, stuff that matters) on a shirt tommorow, and then flaunted it in front of Andover legal staff, I would recieve the same letter. It is the way the real world plays.

  • Umm the figures are true. Not on a per capita basis, but in absolute numbers, America has 50% of the worlds lawyers
  • AOL's BLOODY ANNOYING "Hello! You've got Mail!" chirp is one of the most annoying things in the world and I thank Tux I don't have to listen to it.

    Now we have a film using the BLOODY ANNOYING phrase and some lady using a modification of said BLOODY ANNOYING phrase.

    AOL: Don't be silly she isn't going to hurt you, honest.
    Lady: Think up something more original

    Film, I believe this was Tom Hanks who has been in some good films so I'll let him off this time ...:)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Companies that use common words or phrases for ad campaigns or products shouldn't be allowed to trademark the phrases in the first place. As far as I'm concerned, anyone ought to be able to use the phrase "you've got mail" without fear of being sued.
  • If you have ever seen the movie "a murder of crows" it tells a lot of interesting facts about lawyers.. My favorite quote from that movie is "If it wasn't for lawyers, we wouldn't need lawyers."
  • Break the contraction apart into it's component words, and the phrase becomes "You have got mail."

    Back in school we learned that "You have got [whatever]" indeed is the way to express possession. As in "You have got a nice car". Or is it in the context of mail not a case of possesion?

  • Are you sure? "You have a nice car" sounds more correct to me. I could be wrong, though. After all, there's 10 good years of beer drinking between me and my last English class. :)

  • /me -pedantic "you've got mail"

    "you've" is a contraction of "you have", so this statement evaluates to "you have got mail", which is poor english. the correct phrases are:

    you've gotten mail (you have recieved mail in the past)


    you've mail (you have mail)
  • You'd lose. You'd do better to register it as a trademark, since your phrase is not a created work.

    Even then, you'd lose. You can't show that your phrase would cause confusion among consumers in a common marketplace, or that you'd used it prior to AOL's use of the similar phrase "You've got mail."

    Not that AOL wouldn't fight you "tooth and nail", which sounds suspiciously similar to...

  • Exactly. Exactly! This is amazing coming from a company whose only claim to fame is setting up modems around the country and dumbing down technology to a point where even the previous kings in that arena, M$, could never compete. Most people I know who use AOL are so dopey that they can't even say the NAME right, calling it "American On Line". Then they buys a truly innovative company like Netscape and corrode it slowly from within. What's gone wrong with the world? I need sedation.

  • I have never used AOL in my life and instantly think of AOL when I here the phrase "You got mail"

    Weird, I use AOL all the time, and now when I hear "You got mail" I instantly say "Me too" :-)

    Seriously, I only realised the connection between AOL and "You got mail" when I started reading about their silly lawsuits. If anything, the two phrases I associate with AOL are: "Me too" and "I'm calling from AOL, give me your password."
  • Yes! Smear honey on their buttocks genitals, and face then release them in to a chamber of starved, angry bears and africanized honey bees.
  • I thought AOL had already lost its bid to protect the phrase "You've Got Mail"...?


    Zontar The Mindless,

  • Did you know that the US has like 4% of the world's population but over 50% of the world's lawyers? Everybody wants their chance to roll the dice.

    What is it with sue-happy americans?
    (Yes, I'm an american and I'm shamed by this garbage)
  • brennanw writes:
    Didn't the courts already rule that AOL can't own the phrase "You've got mail"? [snip] then there's no way they can sue someone for using a phrase that is derived from something they don't have the right to enforce as a trademark.

    Unfortunately, it's not that simple. The Judge who issued that ruling, Claude M. Hilton, is in the Eastern District of the Fourth Circuit. At this point, his ruling is only enforceable within that court district. AOL is free to sue anyone in any other district court in the country and hope they get a more favorable judge (in practice, this is rare, as judges tend to respect each other's reasoning -- but it keeps lawyers employed, and if all judges agreed in the first place, there would be no reason for appeals courts to exist).

    The Hilton ruling, according to this CNET article [], has been appealed to the Fourth District U.S. Court of Appeals. If and when a ruling is issued from them, that legal precedent will then hold throughout the entire .... Fourth District.

    Again, other judges are free to rule in concert with the Hilton precedent, or not if they feel strongly about it. Hilton's ruling is a legal ruling: it is not the law of the land.

    Presumably, ideally, AOL will also lose at the Fourth District level, and appeal to the Supreme Court. At that time, an individual Supreme Court justice will consider the appeal and whether to take it up. If he does, good for AOL: they get the entire U.S. Supreme Court to consider their case.

    At this point, the earlier paragraphs still hold: other judges are free to respect the Hilton decision, or not. It is not law, only a legal precedent that a judge may consider in making her decision.

    After the U.S. Supreme Court considers the case, they will decide whether to affirm the original decision. They may do so without taking arguments, usually indicating that they feel there is no new point of law to be discussed. They generally then simply affirm it without comment.

    If they take arguments, they will then (often after months of research and quiet haggling) issue their respective opinions. Generally there is a majority opinion and a minority opinion.

    Only at this point will the Hilton ruling become effective across the entire United States.

    But wait, there's more! Perhaps AOL's lawyers can creatively argue to another judge that the previous decision was flawed based on a different arcane point of law. Then, the entire process starts again at the Federal District court level.

    Whee! Ain't a federal democracy judiciary fun?!
  • by Zachary Kessin ( 1372 ) <> on Thursday September 23, 1999 @04:34AM (#1664749) Homepage Journal
    To be fair if you have a trademark you legaly
    have to defend it every time. Or it stops being a
    trademark. So it is atleast part the fault of a
    dumb system.
  • "We believe when people hear that phrase they think of AOL." -Jim Whitney, AOL

    Close, Jim. Now when people hear that phrase they will think "AOL sucks". Is that what you want? ;)
  • Will this 'trademark infringement' idea hold up in court?

    Probably not, as they found out in Virginia. But the Denver judge may be more sympathetic; we'll see.

    Besides, isn't 'You've Got Mail' as generic nowadays as 'Kotex' or 'Xerox' or 'Kleenex'?

    Careful. None of those trademarks is generic; to this day, they have all been successfully defended by their owners. You may ask, more accurately, "as generic as 'escalator' or aspirin'?" The owners of those trademarks did not have lawyers as good as AOL's, and they lost them. The fact that they lost, means that people like AOL realize they have to aggressively defend their marks.

    It's difficult, but not impossible, to claim a trademark on a common word or phrase. In this case, AOL is trying hard, but I think in the long run they are going to lose.
  • by rde ( 17364 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @04:34AM (#1664753)
    "When people hear that phrase we believe they think of AOL."
    Looks like we better all be careful about using the phrase 'frivolous lawsuit'.
  • I thought we've been throught this already-- wasn't there a ruling that says AOL doesn't own the phrase "You've Got Mail" or "Instant Messaging"? Correct me if i'm wrong, and fyi IANAL

    Patrick Barrett

  • I'm copyrighting you've got ale... I'm suing AOL.
  • I seem to recall a court case from business legal studies course, where Johnny Carson sued a port-a-potty company for calling the company "Here's Johnny!" (get it, ha ha) Well the port-a-potty company eventually lost, and had to change their name since the average person would think it's referring to Johnny Carson and think that he's endorsing the port-a-potty company.

    I think that should this go to court, that AOL has a chance of winning, on the same grounds. On the other hand, I'm just a computer geek, not a lawyer, so they could think up something totally different and AOL will lose (since they couldn't trademark their IM and "You've got Mail"...)
  • This should have been moderated as Informative with a 2 at least.

    Thanks for the info.

  • by Raul Acevedo ( 15878 ) <raul.cantara@com> on Thursday September 23, 1999 @04:36AM (#1664759) Homepage
    The concept of AOL suing someone over use of a trademark is not stupid. They have every right to do that. And yes, this includes something that closely resembles their trademark. In this case, the woman is purposefully using the phrase's association with AOL to sell her book, so from that point of view the lawsuit is completely with merit.

    What is stupid is the trademark over the phrase "You've got mail". That's such a common phrase---or at least close enough to the grammatically correct version---that it's amazing that AOL can have a trademark on it. Gee, why don't I just trademark "what's up" or "see you later"? Anyone more familiar with trademark law know about any possible restrictions on trademarking common terms?

    And oh yeah, how AOL can be so high on itself about protecting a phrase that is so grammatically incorrect is beyond me. We all make mistakes, but a company with AOL's millions should at least be able to have the grammar capacity of a ten year old.

  • by Didian ( 62340 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @05:23AM (#1664760)
    it's amazing that AOL can have a trademark on it.

    They don't. See: /08/16/1545204.shtml []
  • There's a different grammar between US and real English. 'You have' and 'You've got' are equivalent in real English, whereas Americans turn up their nose at it, which is a bit ironic considering the amount of language butchering that goes on in the USofA.. 'momentarily' and 'alternate' spring to mind
  • Since the phrase is so common(That's what the laur says anyway).

    LINUX stands for: Linux Inux Nux Ux X
  • The phrase You got mail is ok because it states that in the past you received mail. In fact You got mail is similar to You received mail. The phrase you have gotten is not a phrase of possesion, but a phrase stating that in the past you recieved mail. The correct way to express possesion is with "have". "Get" and "Got" express the present and past actions of retrieval, not possesion.
  • When I hear "You've got Mail" I think "Sleepless in Seattle", but then again I think all sorts of strange things.
  • "You're a freakin' moron"

    But hey, that's almost too obvious.
  • I think that this is probably a result of you being taught (this part of) the language the way it is spoken rather than the way prescriptive grammarians think it should be spoken. This is good - one of the problems with learning a foreign language is mastering the way it's casually spoken and not sounding too formal or proper, just because that's the only way you know how to say things.
  • "You've got mail" shouldn't be a registered trademark though. I was biffed by that every time I logged in to my university account on my unix cluster which predates AOL (not by much, but biff itself does).

  • > Break the contraction apart into it's component words...

    And you get:

    "Break the contraction apart into it is component words..."

    See also Those Pesky Apostrophe's []

    Funny how all grammar flames contain grammatical errors.
  • They basically steal because they know the law and cause the price of everything else to go up. They are the single biggest factor in limiting freedom in this (US) country, as well as representing the rich and repressing the poor. (if I can afford someone to bend the law for me and you can't, I win). Oh yeah, most politicians are lawyers, so there ya go.
  • Yes. They can defend their MARK in their TRADE. But WHAT THE HELL does this have to do with being an online service provider?

    People take dilution way to far these days. Domain names, etc.....what a bunch of crap.

  • by Tomahawk ( 1343 )
    Isn't there a film [] called "You've Got Mail" - why aren't AOL suing over that?
    (This film is also known in the US as "You Have Mail".)

    Maybe she was referring to the film, not AOL's coined phrase...?
  • Yeah... (When I see that phrase, it is usually when I login. Or, when I check my mail once in a while using Eudora. Hmmm, I guess Eudora has used `You've got male' for over 5 years now. Wonder if AOL even _is_ that new.) Next thing is that they'll try to add a tax on the movie tickets... (`You've got mail -- $x a ticket, including AOL tax.') /* Steinar */
  • 1. s/male/mail/
    2. Add a line or two before the signature.

    Sorry :-)

    /* Steinar */
  • Assuming that you're correct (which would shock me if true), it remains that to get that figure requires classifying most of the lawyers in the rest of the world as something else (or from a different angle, counting U.S. lawyers that wouldn't be counted as lawyers if they were in other countries).
  • Didn't AOL get paid for this? I think I recall reading that they either consulted on the film, or provided equipment, or something...weren't they at least named in the credits?

    Short answer: if they were in on it (the film), they have no cause to bitch.

    They might also take offense at the chick book.
  • > I have never used AOL in my life and instantly think of AOL when I here the phrase "You got mail".

    Interesting, considering the phrase they actually use is "You've got mail"...
  • Use "have" when you hold possession of something:

    "You have a red wagon."

    Use "got" when you gain possession of something:

    "You got a red wagon yesterday."

    Using this, it seems like the best phrase would be "You have mail." As in, "There is some mail in your inbox of which I would like you to be aware."

    But it could be argued that you don't "have" the mail until you login to AOL and read it. In this case, maybe it's best to use "You got mail." As in, "New mail has just arrived at in the inbox on your computer, by virtue of you logging in."

    If your mind assumes the mail's been there for a while, then hearing "You got mail" when you log in sounds like slang. ("Yeeeh boyeee, you gotz phat mailzzz!") AOL probably wanted to avoid that.

    I think that AOL just wanted a catchy, ambiguous phrase to make you happy that you decided to log in, but didn't assume much about the way you think about your e-mail. "You've got mail" does that pretty well, even if it is questionable grammar. Like the previous decade's "Think Different."

    Of course, they may have never thought about it at all.
  • by hawk ( 1151 ) <> on Thursday September 23, 1999 @05:45AM (#1664783) Journal
    >Did you know that the US has like 4% of the
    >world's population but over 50% of the world's

    This and similar figures just aren't true. To take one where I've seen the actual figures, it's commonly repeated and believed that there are less lawyers in Japan than the U.S. Maybe in absolute numbers, but not on a per capita bases. Japan has roughly the same proportion being trained as lawyers, but the majority do not become licensed for the courtroom and general practice, but instead work in-house. In the U.S., virtually all of us take bar examinations and receive general licenses, and work for ourselves, prosecuting authorities, or law firms. (But then, I knew one who graduated from Stanford and never took the bar, instead teaching high school math [independently wealthy, though], and two more who became housewives after a few years of practice. And I closed most of my practice and picked up a Ph.D.)

    hawk, esq.
  • Guess what? If you had heard that guy saying "You've Got Mail!" every time you used your computer in the past ten years, AOL would be the first thing you think of when you hear the phrase.

    Non-AOL users don't understand this, I think.

  • In Holland, KPN Telecom has trademarked the phrase 'Het Net'. Meaning: The Net. Yes, 'Het Net' is an ISP.

    They have won a lawsuit about this too. Not because they're right, but because they have virtually unlimited funds and more lawyers than some people have hairs on their head...

    On a side note: they have also trademarked their company color (the most ugly green you've ever seen) and gotten away with it. No company in Benelux can ever paint their vans that color any more. Sad, but true.
  • Surely 'Americans On Line', which, as an unreconstructed brit, I'd consider fair warning...;)

  • That case will NEVER stand up in a US court.

    If she's useing "You've Got Male", it is classed as a parody of AOL's "You've got Mail" trademark...and thus she is protected by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution.

    The Supreme Court has made rulings about this sort of thing...
  • I have to say aol goes WAY too far when it comes to far when it comes to lawsuits. For example if yahoo changed yahoo messenger to yahoo instant messenger would aol sue Yes would it make since No way
  • > Is there a way to defend yourself from a (at least frivolous) lawsuit without spending thousands of dollars you can't get back even when you win?

    If you're really confident that it's frivolous, you ask for it to be summarily thrown out of court. This usually doesn't happen, in which case, hope for a lawyer that does pro bono work or you're screwed. And you still get to miss a lot of work. Welcome to justice, American style.
  • I have never used AOL in my life and instantly think of AOL when I here the phrase "You got mail".

    I've never used AOL in my life and I instantly think of AOL when I hear the phrase "Stupid Lawsuit"
  • Thats punctuation :)

    Funny how punctuation flames have speelung errors.
  • But it could be argued that you don't "have" the mail until you login to AOL and read it. In this case, maybe it's best to use "You got mail." As in, "New mail has just arrived at in the inbox on your computer, by virtue of you logging in."

    Sounds like Schrödinger's Cat. Makes you wonder, does AOL not exist until you log on?
  • Actually, I have a friend in Hollywood whotold me that the original title of the movie was going to be "Uh oh", after the common ICQ sound effect, except that AOL offered 5.7 million if they would help give them some GOOD press for a change.
  • by Yarn ( 75 )
    ewe goat gnu male
    (I should put this in my mutt)
  • What's brown and black and looks good on a Lawyer?

    A pair of Dobermans

    Just for fun, Please don't moderate me down
  • This suit is about brand protection.

    Just like Apple suing anyone who sells a computer in blue/white translucent computers.

    Or if Corel releases binaries of GPLed code. The GPL contract *MUST* be defended.

    Otherwise, the contract becomes less enforceable. Just like the 'iMac look' or the phrase 'youve got mail'.

    Face it: As the economy changes from physical things like steel formulation, tool design, etc la to electronic information and products are 'the same' (except for the brand on the box), these kinds of lawsuits will continue.

    This is just one of the many problems of the electronic world we are forging. And, you, the consumer, are what give the brands power buy buying them and making them WORTH defending. So deal with it.
  • Actually, the AT&T case was over 'You Have Mail', 'Buddy List', and 'Instant Message'.

    'You've Got Mail'(Male) is a different usage, and must be protected sseparately.

    (Yes. I work at AOL, but I don't work in the legal department. I just make email work)

  • That icon on the desktop says it all. :-)



  • Disclaimer: I work for AOL, but not for AOL Legal. I just help keep the email moving.

    The AT&T Suit was over different wordings, 'You Have Mail' (which is what the AOL UI reads, though the voice is different), 'Buddy List', and 'Instant Message'.

    This one is regarding 'You've Got Mail (Male)', and has to be decided separately, because of the different wordings involved. Trademark law is the killer here, because it forces AOL to aggressively defend all possible dilutive references in order to retain the trademark's validity.

  • First, the fact that it's been used by postal carriers before AOL existed is part of what I mean when I say it such a common phrase that it surprises me AOL could trademark it in the first place.

    Second, postal carriers stamping it on mail is very different; that's not really a commercial branding use, it's just a label to inform the customer. It's not being used as advertising or as the name of a product. I am not a lawyer, but I'm guessing that means AOL has no basis for a lawsuit there, or in any other similar context where the phrase isn't being used in a true commercial or advertising sense.

    Third, the problem with this woman is that she is relying on association of "You've got mail" with AOL to get recognition for her book. The postal service is not relying on AOL for anything; they're just telling you that you have mail. There's a huge difference. This woman is clearly trying to piggy ride off of AOL's brand association with that phrase; hence the lawsuit.

  • Whenever I ask someone for their email address and they tell me it's "" I always repeat it while writing it down (almost muttering under my breath, but in a very serious manner.) "Ok, that's _______ (username) at "I'm an idiot dot com" and then I look up from my pad and say thanks. AOL is for tecno-fools. I was one once. It's department store network access. It belongs with Packard Bell computers. Hell, it should belong to Microsoft... "This is where you will go today."

    AOL just plain sucks!
  • by blizzard ( 22837 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @06:29AM (#1664815)
    I used to be a cab driver and I used the phrase "Where do you want to go Today?" a lot. Way before Microsoft started using it. If AOL can sue so can I.

    Cab drivers of the world unite. We could start a class action suit against Microsoft.
  • but
    Get \Get\ (g[e^]t), v. t. [imp. Got (g[o^]t) (Obs. Gat (g[a^]t)); p. p. Got (Obsolescent Gotten
    (g[o^]t"t'n)); p. pr. & vb. n. Getting.],
    so "you've got mail" is just as good/bad as "you've gotten mail"

    palop the superlurker
  • Since it's already been ruled that AOL has no right to the phrase "You've got mail," she should counter-sue for frivolous prosecution and demand punative damages of at least 10% of AOL's monthly income.
  • "Hello, you've got male-pattern-baldness!"
    I pretty much say this every morning
    when looking in the mirror. I'm suprised the
    peddlers of hair restorers haven't used
    the above slogan.
  • Uh-oh... looks like we've got a meta-flame war going on. Or should I say "We have a meta-flame war going on."

    I'm so confused....

  • Obviously, the title of the book is a parody! It is not a parody of AOL per se, but a parody of their retarded little catchphrase. In part or in whole, this is a parody of the "you got mail" not AOL(tm).

    I can see if aol would go after even AT&T for the "you have mail" if they had said "You've got mail" *and* just ripped off the WAV file. That much is obvious. They cannot, contest something that has prior art by saying "we copyrighted that". The prior art in this case is unix saying "you have mail" or "you have new mail" or "you have mail in /usr/spool/anrkngl" WHATEVER. This also strikes down to the heart of the matter of english words being copyrighted.. cough*windows*cough...

    To think my company didn't call a product "***** for Windows" because M!cr0s0f7 told us we couldn't.

    It's just words.
  • AOL's trying to ban someone from using a common phrase? Oh, please. Next thing you know we'll be seeing MP3s [] of the AOL catch phrase popping up everywhere.

    People have been using that phrase for longer than AOL has been in existance. It'd be interesting if they tried to trademark the phrase "AOL Sucks". At that point I guess we wouldn't be able to say that in public without getting sued, either.

  • oops, should have hit preview. I meant to say "trademarked" not "copyrighted"
  • I've always believed that languages should adapt themselves to common usage, not the other way around. A language that doesn't change fast becomes a dead language. Latin, anybody? I like the way that many languages today are becoming more tolerant of this, especially French and Japanese. The rate that these two languages import technical and business terms from other languages is very healthy in the long run.

    Sure, "You've got mail" is a really dumb catchphrase, but when you hear it you know exactly what it means. Meaning by context is far more important than some arbitrary ironclad description of "proper grammar".
  • I'm still waiting for the 'I wanna patent my daughter's virginity' lawsuit. Hillbillies of the world don't let me down!
    Your daughter's virginity is a state of affairs, so you can't patent that. You might be able to patent how she loses her virginity though. ;)
  • Excellent point... though you might be able to argue that "Think different" is correct gramatically. For example, don't think of "Think different" as an incorrect way of saying "Think differently". Think of it as saying "Think of the word `different' and what it means." In that context, I believe "Think different" is correct. Gramatically speaking, "different" becomes a noun, and is the object of the verb "think", i.e. what you're thinking of.

    P.S. Pardon my dangling preposition. :)

  • No it's correct. Compare e.g. with "You've lost mail"...

    No, actually. It would be "You've gotten mail." The only reason it works for lost is that the past participle form of "lost" is the same as the past tense form.
  • Well irregardless of what you think...
  • Dumbing down technology, if measured by your arbiters AOL & Microsoft, appears to be a successful business plan. Dumbing down technology, in and of itself, isn't a bad thing. I mean, not everyone needs to know hold to put together a Beowulf cluster. At some level we're all seen as dopey by someone else.

    I think exclusionary or proprietary technology is far more insedious.
  • What is it with sue-happy americans?

    Well, as a fellow American I share your shame, but the answer is simple...why work for a living when faking a back injury, or claiming someone caused your cat permanent psychological damage will bring in the money?

    It's another way for lazy-Americans (read: 95% of Americans that I know atleast...) to try avoiding work...
  • Oh wait doesn't that mean that the book is one big advertisement. Let's sue 'em.

  • Thankfully AOL is about the /last/ damn thing I think about when I hear the phrase "you've got mail".. Usually what comes to mind is a) I've got bills or b) I've got a letter from my favorite girl or c) something I ordered from Amazon just arrived. That's such a bland and generic "trademark" I want to scream at them for even thinking they could protect it, or register it, or anything else. I think we should go back to public beatings. Take the entire AOL legal department, their CEO, and all of their networking "gurus".. and beat them senseless. Well, no not really.. but I do wish Americans would stop using their horrible service and switch over to a /real/ ISP so we can be rid of these idiots.

  • The article says that this is SOP when they find someone infringing on their trademark. And that they think that whenever someone hears that phrase, they think of AOL. But I have to wonder -
    Yes, when I *hear* 'You've got mail(male)', I think of the silly AOL thingie that pops up to tell you that mail has just arrived in your in-box. However, this is a *book*. It is *obvious* that it is not 'mail', but 'male' (I mean, duh, it's right there in print). Yes, the woman is obviously making a play on a trademarked phrase, but she's *not* using the phrase! And instead of thinking, "Oh, this must be AOL!", people will think, "Wow, that's a cute turn of a phrase! I must have this book!" which is what I would assume is what she intended.

    Will this 'trademark infringement' idea hold up in court? If it was a look-and-feel copyright case (like the iMac clone idea which I personally don't think has much of a leg to stand on anyway if it doesn't actually run MacOS), I can see them having a case ("well, it's a homophone, and so it *sounds* the same, even if it's not the same word! Therefore it has the same 'look-and-feel' of our trademarked phrase!"). But in this case? I'm not a lawyer, but it sounds to me like AOL has no sense of humor.

    Besides, isn't 'You've Got Mail' as generic nowadays as 'Kotex' or 'Xerox' or 'Kleenex'? I mean, if I bring the snail mail in from the mailbox, I'd like to think I can call through the house, "Honey! You've got mail!' without AOL suing.
  • Didn't you know that AOL patented the phonemes for "you got mail"? So also out are the phrases "Ewe got male" and "U Gought Mehl." Sorry.
  • Why does /. fall into the same lame journalism that Television news does? There is no reason to bring out an inane lawsuit to the attention of the public with the assumption that its socialy important or is represtative of any sane person.

    There are probably 100 wacky lawsuits filed a day. Why? Mainly because there are too many lawyers from your local dim-witted law school dying to make SUV payments.

    This *MIGHT* have been news if AOL won the suit after losing its "You've got mail" rights. You guys even recognize it as being less than flame/troll bait but post it anyways.

    I'm still waiting for the 'I wanna patent my daughter's virginity' lawsuit. Hillbillies of the world don't let me down!

  • by angelo ( 21182 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @04:40AM (#1664841) Homepage
    This screams stupidity yet again. Do we remember this? []

    1) Unix has said "You have mail" for a long time.
    2) AOL has never gone after the people who parody them on The Simpsons, etc.
    3) As usual in these cases (such as WB against their FANS), AOL is trying to sue someone for parody.

    The problem isn't whether this woman meant it to cause harm to AOL or not, but whether AOL has a right to restrict the use of a phrase they don't even own! Since the words "mail" and "male" are completely different, and merely homonyms, this lends me to believe AOL's assertation will be this book serves to "confuse the public" or somesuch. Such confusion would be hard to find:

    1) The book will be in the "self help" section.
    2) Books about AOL are not.
    3) Any 1st grader knows the difference between "mail" and "male"

    To me this "small potatoes" bookwriter is not worth their time.
  • Ok, you have a trademark that more people then common sense should allow, hear on a daily basis. DUH, THEY ARE GOING TO MAKE FUN OF IT, OR CHANGE IT TO MEET WHAT EVER NEEDS THEY HAVE FOR IT TO BE USED FOR PROFIT~!

    Wait, they are AOL, they never learn...
  • "have got" is one of those grammatical constructions that is becoming "acceptable use" but hasn't quite arrived at that status yet. Give it a couple more generations, and english teachers won't even blink at it.

    The common its/it's confusion isn't likely to become acceptable for a long time, since the two spellings actually impart different meanings, as opposed to "have got" which is just redundant.
  • IANAL, but AFAIK, you can't countersue for frivolous lawsuits unless they constitute a pattern of harrassment. One suit don't do it. You can challenge the suit as being without merit, but that's for the judge to decide, and to the defendant, every suit is without merit.

  • Associated Press 9/24/99

    In todays news America Online Inc. announced they will be pressing suit against the United States of America. "The federal government knows that when people hear the word "America", they are really thinking of America's largest Internet Service Provider.", a company spokesman said. "We only ask that they never use "America" when they refer to anything having to do with technology or the internet. The use of "America" is easily confused with our operation and it makes us look bad when they say dumb things."

    Negotions broke down yesterday after a 24 hour run. AOL said they will be file an injunction tommorow unless the Justice Department yeilds to their demands. "If Columbus was still alive he would be entitled to the IP, but he's not."

    AOL(NYSE) was trading at 111 1/2 up 20 3/32 points in heavy trading following the anouncement.

  • Yeah, but a federal judge has already ruled that "You've Got Mail" is not a protected trademark. Of course, AOL is probably appealing this ruling, so they have to keep up appearances.
    ^. .^
    ( @ )
    ^. .^
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The American Lawers Association (ALA) is to sue AOL for making such a mockery of lawsuits filed in america. In this [] unprecedented comment, and ALA spokesperson said "We dont need AOL to demonstrate how far money-grabbing lawyers will go just to get their cut, we are quite capable of doing that ourselves."
  • Wasn't there a movie a little while ago called 'You've Got Mail'? Now, why is AOL going after this one little person when they can go for the real money and try to kick a major movie production company in the teeth? Hell, they can try going after all kinds of people in that regard... =) Wouldn't mind seeing that... -- - dom
    - dom
  • Reason?

    "News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters."

    Now, while whether or not it matters is open to debate, it is definitely "news for nerds". As for whether it matters, given that a lot of the stories are for fun, I would submit that while it's not as important as an earthquake or school shooting, it's probably something of interest to the average /.er. Including myself.
  • by brennanw ( 5761 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @04:51AM (#1664872) Homepage Journal
    Didn't the courts already rule that AOL can't own the phrase "You've got mail"? I seem to recall reading that here in /.

    If that's true, then there's no way they can sue someone for using a phrase that is derived from something they don't have the right to enforce as a trademark.

    So I think that in return, the lady being sued should countersue for a whopping big sum of money. Seems fair to me.
  • If I recall correctly, AOL pitched in a fair chunck of change to get that movie made.

    Besideds, a love story staring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan tends to give a bit better press to online relationships (i.e. people online - more ad revinue) than the tale of a woman who things didn't work out for.

  • Break the contraction apart into it's component words, and the phrase becomes "You have got mail."

    The correct grammar would be "You have mail."

    Actually, "You got mail" would also be correct in the right context, but not in the context of telling someone that they have mail waiting in their inbox.

    Or, "You have gotten mail" could work, but again, probably not the best choice for the context they're using it in.

    Any way you slice it, "You've got mail" is just plain wrong.

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire