Leaving Reality Behind: etoy vs. eToys.com and Other Battles to Control Cyberspace

Overview

In November 1999, at the height of the e-commerce gold rush, a hearing in a Los Angeles courtroom wrenched open the fault lines that ran through the Internet.

On one side was eToys.com, the billion-dollar darling of Wall Street and the brainchild of Toby Lenk, one of the hottest entrepreneurs of his generation. On the other side was etoy, a group of cutting-edge European artists, hungry for fame, who used the Internet as their canvas. The struggle between them became known as ...

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Overview

In November 1999, at the height of the e-commerce gold rush, a hearing in a Los Angeles courtroom wrenched open the fault lines that ran through the Internet.

On one side was eToys.com, the billion-dollar darling of Wall Street and the brainchild of Toby Lenk, one of the hottest entrepreneurs of his generation. On the other side was etoy, a group of cutting-edge European artists, hungry for fame, who used the Internet as their canvas. The struggle between them became known as the Toywar. At stake were liberty, justice, and the speedy delivery of toys.

Leaving Reality Behind is the definitive and gripping account of a battle that shook the Internet and sharply focused attention on the conflict at its very core: Was the Internet created as entertainment for the many or for the exponential profit of the few? This riveting case reveals the larger story behind the first decade of the Web — the conflict surrounding its creation; the invention of search engines; the battle over domain names, and the discovery of the glittering promise of online retailing — when the capital markets left reality behind.

As the real-life thriller of the Toywar came to its climax, the online world went into meltdown. There remained one crucial question: After the Internet crash of 2000, which would prove more enduring — an eight-billion-dollar corporation built by America's brightest businessmen or a chaotic art project created by a group of artsy rebels from Europe?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this penetrating examination of a seminal cyberspace turf war, Wishart and Bochsler tell a story about art imitating life and the artist being sued for trademark infringement. Documentary filmmaker Wishart and Swiss National TV reporter Bochsler recount the tale of etoy, a company of German-based avant-garde artists that held wild parties and issued stock to shareholders. It registered the name etoy.com to serve as an online gallery and virtual workspace. In September 1999, etoy was sued by the hugely popular online retailer Etoys.com, which at the time was valued at $8 billion, for trademark infringement. The authors thoroughly detail each volley in the "Toy War," including lawsuits, denial of service attacks and grassroots activism. More significantly, the battle serves as a case study for exploring the conflicting forces that have shaped the Internet's development. Backed by venture capitalists and led by CEO Toby Lenk, Etoys.com was out to make a profit by selling products. Etoy, on the other hand, was supported by a few wealthy patrons and run by media-savvy artists with shaved heads who went by code names and wanted to shake things up. The latter were much more successful. With extensive and entertaining firsthand accounts, Wishart and Bochsler reveal how the dot-com boom warped the perceptions of artist and corporate executive alike. Although Lenk was a seasoned executive, he was caught off guard by the collapse of Etoys.com, and despite etoy's subversive origins, it developed internal power struggles that rivaled those of a Fortune 500 company. Photos. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Filmmaker Wishart and reporter Bochsler throw light on the Internet’s evolution from fertile idea to commercial juggernaut as they look at a David-vs.-Goliath domain-name fight. In the early 1990s, a renegade group of artists in Europe launched an Internet site called etoy (the name was essentially pulled from a hat) to satirize the dot.com frenzy, a conceptual art project that spoke to the times and encouraged an anarchistic, altruistic, corporation-free Internet. The aim was "to turn on its head the behavior of big-brand corporations that ‘steal’ the cool rebel music and the elan of street fashion" and to provide a "parallel world somewhere in between Lego land, Internet training camp, virtual fairground, hypermedia test ground, sound and vision dump and Internet motel" that would also make forays into the forbidden—"pornography, violence and drug use"—in its critique of middle-class righteousness. On the other side was eToys.com, interested only in making lots of money selling toys online. The authors track the story of both sites as they explore the seamy world of domain-name control, deliver an astute history of search engines, and try to make sense of just what investors were thinking when they valued companies at such grossly inflated stock prices. They wear their convictions on their sleeves when they suggest—with data to back it up—that Internet users collectively turned against eToys when eToys turned predatory on etoy because it thought the latter, with its near-identical name, would besmirch the former’s squeaky clean, family-oriented reputation. The artists of etoy also had their own fallings-out, but not before having a lot of fun with digital hijacking, subversive art, anda rousing campaign for the democratic integrity of the Internet. The freedom and inclusivity of the Internet still has life, write Wishart and Bochsler, even as its economic side makes seismic shifts. (Photographs)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780066210766
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/1/2003
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 324
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.17 (d)

Meet the Author

Adam Wishart is an award-winning BBC documentary filmmaker. He was the director of a highly acclaimed documentary about the Millennium Dome, and he has written for New Statesman, New Scientist, The Guardian, and The Independent. He lives in London.

Regula Bochsler has worked for more than a decade as a reporter, producer, and anchor for Swiss National TV. She has a Ph.D. in modern history, teaches media history, and is the author of a dozen historical documentaries. She lives in Zürich.

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Table of Contents

Authors' note
Prologue 1
1 Discovering a new toy 5
2 Leaving reality behind 32
3 Kool-aid kings and castles in the air 56
4 "This is a digital hijack" 79
5 Young, fun and full of creative juices 105
6 Go west, young men 131
7 "To infinity...and beyond" 159
8 The phantom menace 187
9 A conviction or earn half a million dollars 204
10 Toywar 223
11 Game over 270
App.: share holdings 293
Bibliography 299
Acknowledgments 313
Index 315
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