Mousetrapping and Pagejacking: Introduction

This isn't really Mousetrapping. It's more like Mousehindering. There are only a few alert boxes to grab your system and they stop before you become infuriated. Real Mousetrapping grabs control of a viewer's browser and won't let go. It grays out the BACK button, all Back lines of dialog boxes, and may take over the X box at the upper right corner of the viewer's screen. Any attempt to escape just brings up the same or another popup window or alert box. Sometimes a flurry of Alt-F4s permit escape by closing the browser; sometimes nothing but the three-finger salute (Ctl-Alt-Del) works; sometimes nothing but the Power-off switch lets you escape.

Some Definitions

Microsoft Press Computer Dictionary


n. A practice employed by some Web sites in which the back and exit buttons of a visitor's Web browser are disabled and attempts to leave the site are redirected to other pages on the site or to other sites against the visitor's will. Mousetrapping is most often associated with adult-oriented Web sites.


n. A deceptive practice that detours Web visitors from legitimate sites generated as search engine results to copycat Web pages, from which they will be redirected to pornographic or other unwanted sites. Page-jacking is accomplished by copying the contents and metatags of a Web page, altering its title and content so that, on search results, it displays before the original, and then submitting the copied page to search engines. When clicking on the link to the copied site, the visitor will instead be redirected to an unwanted and unrelated site. Marketing Dictionary



The use of browser tricks in an effort to keep a visitor captive at a site, often by disabling the "Back" button or generating repeated pop-up windows.


Mousetrapping is one of the most extreme marketing tactics on the Web. The goal is to extract maximum value from one-time visits, typically by bombarding visitors with a never-ending supply of traffic-exchange banners and pay-per-click links.

Extreme forms of mousetrapping are often found on the "red-light district" of the Web, where precious little consideration is given to repeat visitors. Since these sites cannot count on repeat visits from satisfied visitors, they often resort to deception to acquire new visitors.

Mousetrapping comes in many varieties. The most mild form of mousetrapping involves disabling the "Back" button. (Note - not all broken "Back" buttons are a result of intentional mousetrapping; some are the result of scripting routines used for other purposes.) More aggressive forms of mousetrapping include disabling of key browser features and continuous loading of pop-up ads.



Theft of a page from the original site and publication of a copy (or near-copy) at another site.


Pagejacking does not mean taking over a page on the original site. In fact, the original site can be completely unaware that the theft has occurred.

Pagejackers siphon off traffic indirectly though the search engines. The stolen pages are copies or near-copies of the original pages. The stolen pages are then submitted to the search engines in an attempt to duplicate the rankings of the original pages. After the pages are submitted, the stolen pages are switched in favor of pages which earn revenue for the thieves. To further complicate matters, sometimes cloaking is involved. Online Webopedia


A technique that forces a user to remain on a specific Web site by not allowing the user to leave the site. Whenever the user tries to leave the site by closing the browser window or going to a new URL, the site that is mousetrapping will automatically open a new browser window with its URL or not allow the browser to go to the new URL. Some mousetraps only will open a limited number of new browser windows and eventually will let the persevering user leave the site; other mousetraps will open new browser windows ad infinitum, and the only way to get out of the trap is to press "Ctrl+Alt+Del" to end the task or reboot the computer if that fails.

Mousetrapping as a legal issue has come to public attention through recent litigation that the Federal Trade Commission and enraged commercial victims have recently brought against several of the Internet kings of mousetrapping, notably John Zuccarini (sued for this practice over 60 times in recent years). The focus of these cases has largely been on trademark and unfair competition theories of wrongdoing, as well as simple literal and reproductive copying under copyright law (17 U.S.C. § 106(1)), because of the relation of mousetrapping to pagejacking (explained later). The present materials focus on possible copyright theories (mainly, unauthorized preparation of derivative works, 17 U.S.C. § 106(2)), based on actual and theoretical ways of commingling alien content with that of an unwilling copyright proprietor, which earlier Web pages in these materials on framing, linking, and similar acts of juxtaposition have addressed.

The Mousetrapping Demo

On the principle of legal pedagogy to which this non-case material for the course is dedicated--that showing you by demonstration is better than just trying to tell you--click on this link for my Javascript (JS) simulation of the mousetrapping about which the FTC complained in the Zuccarini/Cupcake case and similar cases. This full-page demo mousetraps you with Javascript more realistically than the alert box demo that greeted you on load of this page. The graphic content, however, is pale in comparison to that of Zuccarini's clients (setting up porno sites on the server is officially disapproved). If any of you have ideas for improving the coding (not the friskiness of the content!), they will be welcomed.

I have set up an interlinked system in which you enter an introductory page that transfers the viewer to a site page (Site Page 0) after a predetermined delay interval. . The back functions on all site pages are disabled. Viewer efforts to leave Site Page 0 by closing the browser window just transfer the viewer (using the onUnload function) to Site Page 1, the introductory page of another such site. By the same token, viewer efforts to leave Site Page 1 by closing the browser window just transfer the viewer to Site Page 2. Viewer efforts to leave Site Page 2 transfer the viewer to Site Page 0, and the cycle continues. Site Pages 1 and 2 are two of Zuccarini's own introductory ''Celebs'' site pages, which I downloaded before the FTC could shut him down. These introductory pages doubtless incense Zuccarini's detractors (I picked the least polictically incorrect ones that I could find). But most of the introductory pages are not actually obscene (in any Jacobellis v. Ohio ["I know it when I see it"] sense) or probably even indecent. Zuccarini saves that for the deeper links in his sites. My demo system, unlike Zuccarini's, consists of just three site pages, because I did not want to write and debug any more code than that. In a real system, such as Zuccarini's but not mine, users can leave any initial site page by clicking on a link to a page at a deeper level of the system, such as a page calling for payment to view its content. (I disabled those links.)

The pages of the demonstration, like Zuccarini's introductory pages, contain not only my mousetrapping code but also commented-out portions of his mousetrapping code, which I disabled to permit the demo to operate. These fossils will permit the curious to examine how the actual commercial system operated. You can observe the original Javascript source code, if you wish, by using one of the View Source Page functions of your system. The browser taskbar contains a View Source button. The mouse right-click context menu has a View Source line, and the Applications key (between the WIN and Ctl keys at the lower right of the keyboard duplicates the mouse right-click function.

While my code is a little unstable and does not work as well as his code does, it works enough to illustrate the operation and show its principle. To the extent necessary, I ask you to use your imagination, based on the earlier demonstrative material. Or else, do your own research. Based on the foregoing material, you are now able to appreciate the factual context in which this litigation has arisen. Consider yourselves certified as experts henceforth on mousetrapping technology. Let's turn to the FTC's case.

FTC's Zuccarini Suit

As explained in the FTC's complaint, FTC v. Zuccarini, 01-CV-4854, E.D. Pa., the agency challenged the defendant for following this modus operandi: He registers URLs with misspelled versions of the names of famous persons (say, "") or trademarks (say, his URL, "") or cartoon characters (he registered "" [with 2 L's]). A partial catalog of Zuccarini's misspelled-word URLs shows dozens of cybersquatting proceedings against him and his companies.

Thus, If someone seeking Microsoft mistyped "Microsotf," or someone seeking this institution mistyped "GeorgWashington," the person's browser might download a site with some unexpected content. In some cases (for example, a pagejacking and mousetrapping suit that the FTC brought in 1999, see FTC's Pereira memo), pagejacking causes search engines to direct browser users to one of these sites. Because the jacked page's metatags are copied along with the rest of the content of the pages, Google thinks it's just another site addressing the metatagged topics. (If that happens, no misspelling by the user is even needed.) Zuccarini has placed metatags naming film stars in his code, and also non-printing code where search engines will find it (for example, text color same as background color of screen), as can be ascertained by examining his page source code. The same names are at times spelled correctly and then incorrectly. One way or another, the viewer stumbles into a Zuccarini site.

Once the viewer is at the site, a Javascript or a click induced by promises of free samples redirects the viewer to a URL and regular site of the client advertiser. The client pays Zuccarini 10 to 25 cents for capturing and redirecting each potential customer. The site on which the Javascript capture and transfer occurs is retained by Zuccarini, so that it can be used for other clients if the present one moves on. Then, something like the demo linked above occurs. The viewer is offered porno samples and invitations to check more of the same, or solicitations for online gambling, lotteries, psychics, credit cards.... As the reader will have observed from the demo, just clicking on the BACK or X buttons will not release you. You are mousetrapped.

This is a link to a very obnoxious and dishonest page of this kind that I encountered in my research for this unit on mousetrapping. It will seriously antagonize many users. Why is that so? Does it have something to do with your (or their) personal expectations in relation to the Internet? In addition, the page's linked content is unsuitable. Don't click before you think. (The Back function of the page is not disabled.)

What Are Unfair Acts?

Still, it takes more than making people mad to make a businss practice "unfair" for purposes of federal trade regulation law. It certainly takes more than violating Netiquette. What made this conduct unlawful?

The FTC proceedings against Zuccarini and other mousetrappers differ from those brought by Dow Jones (Wall Street Journel), United Feature Syndicate (Dillbert), and other private IP litigants. The FTC is able to operate under a federal statute (FTC Act § 5) authorizing it to suppress "unfair" acts and practices, as well as deceptive acts and practices. The FTC has thus proceeded more broadly than trademark owners have.

As the FTC's complaint against Zuccarini and its legal memorandum in an earlier similar case indicate, the FTC considers pagejacking and mousetrapping to be both deceptive and unfair. They are deceptive for largely the same reasons that trademark owners' suits have been successful--confusion of the public as to the advertiser's association with or sponsorship by the trademark owner.

More important, a practice is unfair, for purposes of § 5 of the FTC Act, if: (1) the practice causes, or is likely to cause, substantial injury to members of the public; (2) the public cannot reasonably avoid that injury; and (3) substantial countervailing benefits to competition or consumers do not outweigh the injury. (We will return to the meaning of that language in the next Mousetrap page,)

According to the FTC's complaint against Zuccarini, the claim of unfairness rests on the following:

District Court Rules for FTC

The district court found there was good cause to believe that Zuccarini violated § 5 and that the FTC was therefore likely to prevail on the merits. It determined that entry of a TRO was in the public interest and entered the requested preliminary relief, which Zuccarini did not show up to oppose. (He is rumored to be hiding out in Florida, grumbling all the way to the bank where he counts up the $1 million per year that the FTC estimates that he has been making from his advertiser clients.)

The TRO orders the defendant to stop mousetrapping consumers and stop operating Web pages with URLs that are misspellings of other names or terms. In addition, he is ordered to close down speciic, named Web sites, unless and until he brings them into compliance with the requirements of the TRO that the district court issued against him at the FTC's request.

The order allows him to reopen and resume operations if he brings the sites into compliance with the order. But since that would destroy his business model it would seem to be quite a challenge for him to refurbish his operation in accordance with the order. (Presumably any final order would have similar provisions. The FTC also wants to compel payment of restitution as part of any final order.)

[End of Page 1. Link to Page 2 of Mousetrapping materials.]