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Sidewalk sidesteps Ticketmaster

Microsoft's Sidewalk develops a crafty way to skirt the blocks Ticketmaster put in place last week.

Ticketmaster (TKTM) found out today that Microsoft (MSFT) knows how to get its way.

Microsoft's new Seattle Sidewalk site has developed a crafty way to skirt the blocks Ticketmaster put in place last week to halt traffic from the entertainment guide's Seattle and New York sites.

Ticketmaster claims that the software giant is engaging in "electronic piracy" by placing links to its site. So the company filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on April 28, stating that Microsoft illegally used its Ticketmaster name and trademark by providing links to its site.

The lawsuit seeks a court order barring Microsoft from using the Ticketmaster name and its content on the Seattle Sidewalk sites, as well as unspecified damages and fees.

Microsoft is fighting the lawsuit.

In the meantime, instead of linking directly to Ticketmaster, Sidewalk is two clicks away. When visitors want to purchase tickets for an event listed on Sidewalk, they are referred to a page that links to a search engine's page for Ticketmaster.

"We felt it was important to take steps so that our customers don't have doors slammed in their face," said Frank Schott, general manager of Sidewalk. "So we decided to link to the search engines instead."

Ticketmaster scoffed and Sidewalk's latest move, and said it will wait for a court to decide if Microsoft can link for free.

"Technically they are not linking to us directly. But on the other hand they are still creating page after page of bogus content directed to our ticketing outlets and selling advertising on those pages," said Alan Citron, president of Ticketmaster multimedia.

"We view them as a competitor. We have live-event content and we don't want them to piggyback on us under the guise of community service," he added.

The companies weren't always competitors. In fact, before Sidewalk launched on April 3, Microsoft and Ticketmaster were working on a joint marketing program. But when the ticket seller wanted a cut of Sidewalk's revenue, Microsoft declined.

"We have a common demographic," Schott said. "We came up with a broad set of things we could do together, they wanted us to pay big bucks to be associated with Ticketmaster marketing programs. We didn't think it was worth paying for."

Ticketmaster instead cut a deal with another local entertainment guide, CitySearch, to provide online ticketing access and information about events.

Ticketmaster is mostly owned by Paul Allen, a Microsoft cofounder who still owns a 9 percent stake. Allen is also an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.