. . . Got mail?

AOL suit: Why did Internet service want to legally protect its misuse of the language?

January 09, 1999

WHEN AMERICA Online sued for exclusive use of its e-mail slogan, it was lucky the case was tossed out by a federal judge and not an English teacher. Otherwise, AOL might have been sentenced to hours of banging erasers.

As the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan movie about a cyber-relationship, "You've Got Mail," became a hit, AOL sued to halt AT&T from telling its e-mail users, "You have mail."

That's because AOL subscribers who receive electronic mail are alerted by a computer voice that chirps "You've got mail" as the words "You have mail" appear on the screen. Attorneys for AT&T argued that common language can't be trademarked.

AOL must be unaware of the grammar controversy a few years ago that forced Pennsylvania to drop the popular tourism slogan "You've got a friend in Pennsylvania." Mavens pointed out that "you've a friend in Pennsylvania" is proper-- "you've" being the contraction for "you have" -- but "you've got" is slang. Or, as the judge might have advised AOL's attorneys: "You've got nuthin.' "

Pub Date: 1/09/99

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