December 22, 1999

E-art versus E-commerce. The controversy over the use of the "" domain name rages on this holiday season. For some, in a biblical frame of mind, it looks like a capitalist Goliath picking on an artistic David. Maybe it is. It's up to each of us to review the facts. But one thing is certain: on the cosmic baseball field the Davids are the giants and Goliath can't find home plate often enough.

The etoy are a group of artists formed in 1994 in Europe. The name "etoy" was created, according to one published report, by a perl script program that generated random names. The members of etoy are frequently physically dispersed and in 1994 they used the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) protocol to communicate with each other. When the name generation program produced the word "etoy" the IRC-connected members agreed that etoy would be the name of their group. Names are important to artists.

The name etoy was first used by the artists in October 1994. A year later in October 1995 etoy joined the World Wide Web (WWW) community when their website went online.

The group broke into the net's consciousness in 1996 when they performed their web-based "Digital Hijack." This project made use of meta tags embedded in hypertext markup language (HTML) documents that are widely used on the WWW. By manipulating the technology, etoy was able to virtually "hijack" individuals who used web-based search engines. Web users would be sent to instead of planned destinations. One estimate of the number of users kidnapped by the "Digital Hijack" goes as high as 600,000.

A consequence of this work of web performance art was etoy's selection to be the winner of the 1996 Golden Nica award given by the Ars Electronica organization.

It should be pointed out that not all of the digital-intelligentsia digs etoy's aesthetics. An observer of their performance at the 1996 Ars Electronica festival thought the etoy concept too arrogant. The observer wrote: "Dear etoy, you are conceited by now, so check out the next PR-agency to become fine art, too."

But etoy seems to be about more than just digital public relations. "We try to disturb conventional information channels...we are digital guides leaving the doors open behind us so others can follow." Well, the arrogance comes through loud and clear in these words from an interview with two members of the etoy digital collective called AGENTS. But underneath this arrogance is the basic insecurity of the artist in a culture pre-occupied with matters more pecuniary than visionary.

The etoy have developed a collective online persona that displaces the corporeal in favor of the intangible and digital. There are few physical meetings. According to etoy AGENTS, "The webserver is the place of our existence, the body is not important, it must be uniformed. From the physical point of view, it does not matter who is who. "

There were or are seven original members of the etoy art collective...two short of the regulation nine players needed for a personal cosmic baseball game. Two outspoken and active supporters of etoy, John Perry Barlow and Suzy Meszoly have been drafted to complete the etoy cosmic baseball team. Both are members of a newly formed etoy Advisory Committee.

It started out as a company called (a Delaware corporation) in November 1996. Its reason for being can be found in an online description of the company's founder and chief executive officer: in late 1996 Toby Lake had a was time to make buying toys fun again."

In May 1997 the company name changed to Inc. A month later another name change yielded eToys Inc. Names are important in the business world.

eToys Inc. is an e-company dealing in the e-trade business. Their marketing department wants you to think of eToys Inc. as a sort of helpful e-Santa Claus. As the name suggests, eToys Inc. sell toys.

The company went online in October 1997. By June 1998 the Wall Street Journal referred to the internet startup company as "little eToys" and portrayed the company as a David fighting a Goliath called Toys R Us.

In November 1998 Family Fun Magazine called eToys Inc. the "heavyweight champ" in the online retail business. In March 1999 PCWeek Online dubbed eToys Inc. the "wunderkind of the 1998 Christmas shopping season."

The company had net sales of US$30 million as of March 31, 1999 the end of its fiscal year. Its headquarters are located in Santa Monica, California and the company employs about 500 fulltime people. On May 23, 1999 the company completed its initial public (stock) offering (IPO) at a price of US$20 per share of stock. The company is a member of the NASDAQ stock market. Based on market data for December 20, 1999 its stock was trading for US$34 13/16 a share. During the year the price of eToys Inc. stock varied from a high of US$86 to a low of US$28 1/8.

The major figures involved in the running of eToys Inc. are described in the "Investor Relations" section of their website. Toby Lenk, founder and CEO, is also referred to rather cutely as the "Uncle of the Board." Before his "vision" Lenk was a former corporate vice president with the Walt Disney company. Here are the other members of the eToys Inc.senior management team:

  • Janine Bousquette - Senior Vice President of Marketing
  • Frank Han - Senior Vice President of Product Development
  • John Hnanicek - Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer
  • Steve Schoch - Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
  • Louis Zambello - Senior Vice President of Operations
  • Stephen Paul - Vice President of Business Development
  • Ruben Rodriguez - Vice President, Europe
  • Jane Saltzman - Vice President of Merchandising

  • Email message from etoy.BRAINHARD, May 11, 1995

    To prevent potential customers from becoming confused, the online retail company eToys Inc. ( wanted to prevent the international art collective etoy (formerly at from using the etoy dot com domain name on the internet. Apparently eToys Inc. offered money (US$50,000) and shares of stock to the artists but the answer was no, the artists of etoy would not sell their domain name (registered since 1996.)

    eToys Inc. took the matter to court and persuaded Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge John P. Shook (eToys Inc.'s headquarters is Santa Monica, CA) to issue a temporary injunction. On November 29, 1999 Judge Shook signed an order that prevented the etoy artists from using their own domain name.

    An eToys Inc. spokesman was quoted as saying, ""This is in no way, shape, or form an attempt on our part to say what is and what is not art. We absolutely respect their freedom and their points of view." The spokesman went on to remark that, "There was profanity [at the website], there were sadomasochistic images, there were images of terrorist activity. That's upsetting to many people. That's not a comment on whether it has artistic merit. It's about our responsibility to our customers, and our responsibility to address what was beginning to be confusion in the marketplace."

    The spokesman's invocation of "sadomasochism" and "terrorist activity" seems sensationalistic. But this is business.

    Despite the fact that the etoy artists were online using the domain name at least a full year before eToys Inc. doesn't seem to matter to the business people or the local judge.

    The director of legal services for the watchguard group called the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) described eToys Inc.'s shenanigans as "a clear-cut case of a business bullying a group of artists, just in time for the Christmas shopping rush." A technology observer wrote in a San Jose Mercury News column that this conflict " is part of an emerging disaster area on the Net. The rich and powerful are taking control of ``their'' names even when other people with equally good claims have already registered the domain names. The law, as so often happens, has been rewritten to favor the rich and powerful."

    While David and Goliath metaphors still attach themselves to this conflict, the situation is now perceived as a battle for the very soul of the internet. Will it be dominated by cyber-capitalists symbolized by the online retailer eToys Inc. or will the cyber-artists, symbolized by the bald, orange-uniformed etoy collective, lay claim to the new medium?

    The conflict is portrayed as a great cyber-battle between the forces of money and power against the forces of art and imagination: Artist-worker warriors fighting the captains of industry. But do these paradigms work anymore? Like the left and right political metaphors these models belong to the pre-digital age. The internet if nothing else has included a whole new population into our equations of contemporary life. These are neither artists nor captains. The captains want online alchemy to yield consumers; the artists use metaphors and digital aromas to create brave new world thinkers.

    Beware of the screaming masses screaming for a world that is safe for hypocrisy.

    Cyber-activists are marshalling support for the artists of A virtual protest designed to impact on the operations of eToys Inc. is underway. A real corporeal gathering of activists was held in New York City at the Museum of Modern Art on December 20. An advisory board has been formed that includes distinguished netizens like John Perry Barlow, a co-founder of the EFF. For their part eToys Inc. apparently will continue to use the legal system to achieve its goals.

    Is the soul of the internet at stake in this conflict? Are the souls of the great unaffiliated the booty in this war? Do the great-unwashed souls get tuned in to the great resources of the human creative spirit or do they get turned on to the seductions of money and materials?

    If etoy versus eToys Inc. is a symbolic battle for the millions of souls on the internet, we want to know the long-range outcome of the conflict. Who will prevail: the European digital artists or the Santa Monica capitalists? Art or money. Imagination or capital? The only reliable approach for getting the answers and divining the future was to generate a cosmic baseball game.

    The results speak for themselves.

    UPDATE: On Wednesday December 29, 1999 eToys Inc. offered to drop its lawsuit against the etoy artists. A spokesman for eToys Inc. said that "the e-mails we got overwhelmingly urged us to find a way to co-exist. The opinions from the art community and from Internet devotees were heartfelt. We have taken those sentiments to heart."

    From eToys Inc. Quarterly Report (10-Q) to the SEC, November 15, 1999


    Abbreviations & Symbols Key
    - single   = double   FO flyout   GO ground out   LO lineout   W walk   K strikeout   HR homerun   DP doubleplay   E error
    1b Firstbase   2b Secondbase   3b Thirdbase   Ss Shortstop   Lf Leftfield   Cf Centerfield   Rf Rightfield   C Catcher   P Pitcher

    Scoring Summary

    1st Inning
    etoy.AGENT_Brainhard leads off the game with a single to the leftside, just beyond the reach of's shortstop and CEO Toby Lenk. etoy.ADVISOR Suzy Meszoly draws a walk. etoy.AGENT_Goldstein singles up the middle. etoy.AGENT_Esposto smacks a double off the rightfield wall scoring Brainhard and Meszoly. etoy.AGENT_Udanty hits a single to the leftside scoring Goldstein. etoy.AGENT_Gamazio singles up the middle scoring Esposto. leads, 4-0.

    4th Inning
    etoy.ADVISOR John Barlow singles up the rightside. etoy.AGENT_Brainhard singles to the leftside. etoy.ADVISOR Meszoly walks. etoy.AGENT_Goldstein singles up the middle; Barlow and Brainhard score. etoy.AGENT_Kubli walks. etoy.AGENT_Esposto singles up the middle; Meszoly and Goldstein score. leads, 8-0.

    5th Inning
    etoy.AGENT_Gamazio singles up the leftside. etoy.ADVISOR Barlow hits a 2-run home run over the centerfield wall. leads, 10-0.

    7th Inning
    eToys Inc. founder Toby Lenk draws a leadoff walk. Sr. VP for Marketing, Janine Bousquette hits a single up the middle. VP of Merchandising Jane Salztman singles up the middle scoring Lenk and Bousquette. Wins Game, 10-2.


    IP Innings Pitched    H Hits    R Runs    ER Earned Runs    BB Walks    K Strikeouts;     W Won    L Lost


    AB At Bat    H Hit    HR Homerun    RBI Run Batted In    B AVE Batting Average

    Game Notes

    Homeruns   John Perry Barlow (    Triples  none
    Doubles  Esposto (; Suzy Meszoly (; Stephen Paul (

    Stolen Bases  none    Caught Stealing  none

    Double Plays

    Errors (Lenk, 9th inning throwing error)


    Umpires   Edward M. Kennedy; Kenneth L. Starr; Linda Tripp
    Game Time   2 hours, 51 minutes
    Attendance    2

    Game's Most Cosmic Player (MCP)   etoy.AGENT_Esposto

    Related Links

    Personal Cosmic Game Report- @
    Published: December 22, 1999
    Updated: December 29, 1999
    Copyright © 1999 by the Cosmic Baseball Association