U Try Being UTube! An Ohio equipment company says it's not easy having the same name as an Internet giant. And after a deluge of angry Web surfers stumbled on tube machinery instead of popular videos, UTube sued YouTube.
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U Try Being UTube!

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U Try Being UTube!

U Try Being UTube!

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YouTube's phenomenal popularity has generated lots of buzz, not to mention quite a bit of cash. Google bought the site for $1.6 billion last year. But YouTube's success is creating a major headache for a different company who's Web site is only a few keystrokes away.

NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

CHRIS ARNOLD: In a big warehouse outside of Toledo, Ohio, Ralph Girkins is walking through his heavy equipment refurbishing operation. Welders are working on 40-foot-long pipe-making machines. They look sort of like giant green tractor engines.

Mr. RALPH GIRKINS (President, UTube): Everything we're doing out here is machines that make tubes and pipes.

ARNOLD: Tube and pipe, and that's why Girkins' company is called Universal Tube, or UTube.

So this is, kind of, the other UTube. I mean, the first UTube, right?

Mr. GIRKINS: Yeah. This is the original UTube.

ARNOLD: That is UTube spelled with the letter U for Universal Tube, not Y-O-U, like the popular video site. Girkins has had his UTube.com Web site since 1996. It's a small company with just 15 employees, but over the past year, as the video YouTube site got popular, many Web surfers trying to go there type in the wrong address and wind up on this company's Web site.

Mr. GIRKINS: It's so (unintelligible) we thought we were doing a great marketing job. But they weren't really looking for us.

ARNOLD: Before Y-O-U-Tube came along, then how many monthly visitors were you getting, you know, before that?

Mr. GIRKINS: Oh, maybe a thousand a month.

ARNOLD: And those were like your real customers?

Mr. GIRKINS: Those were our real customers.

ARNOLD: Today, Girkins says there are about 150,000 people a day typing UTube the wrong way and ending up on his site.

Mr. GIRKINS: When we couldn't keep our server up, that's what happened.

ARNOLD: You might think that's such a big deal. This company is rebuilding industrial machinery. It's not exactly an Internet company. But Girkins says that 75 percent of his sales come in over the Web site. And with each one of these big tube-making machines costing a few hundred thousand dollars, he just can't have his Web site going down. And there's just the nuisance factor. Some confused people looking for the YouTube videos call the phone number on his company's Web site.

Mr. GIRKINS: If they can't find the video and they don't know what they're doing, they're trying to download a video to our site and yeah, and how they would think that this is a video Web site I have no idea.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARNOLD: Yeah. There's nothing to video about it. I mean...

Mr. GIRKINS: No. Nothing at all.

ARNOLD: ...(unintelligible), you got pictures of machinery and stuff.

Mr. GIRKINS: Just big all green machines, you know.

ARNOLD: Universal Tube has since filed a lawsuit against Google and its YouTube to try to get compensation for the time and expense all the extra traffic is costing the business. Girkins says he's now paying upwards of $1,700 a month to pay for server space.

And as the lawsuit puts it, these unwanted visitors, quote, "often fill out plaintiff's sales request forms, seeking more information in a vulgar and belligerent manner." Exhibit 1 is a message left by one visitor who asks, quote, "where the (bleep) are the videos? 1.5 billion dollars for this piece of (bleep) Web site? Google got taken."

Ms. LAURA SMIRIN (Manager, UTube): Just the people calling on the phone and then sending e-mails like that. When Ralph wasn't here and I'd open them up, a lot of them were very, very rude.

ARNOLD: Laura Smirin is the manager of the company who's gotten some of the phone calls and e-mails.

Ms. SMIRIN: They were just nasty.

ARNOLD: Ralph Girkins has hundreds of them on his computer in his office. He sits downs and scrolls through them. Some just repeat insults over and over.

Mr. GIRKINS: Idiot, idiot, idiot, idiot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIRKINS: What has that have to do with anything?

ARNOLD: Yeah, it doesn't.

Some of the hate mail is over the lawsuit. Some YouTube video fans seemed to be worried that this equipment company might be threatening their favorite alternative video site, even though Google's YouTube is clearly the bigger company.

Mr. GIRKINS: We're just the little guy.

ARNOLD: A judge has already dismissed some of the claims in the lawsuit. Google says the remaining claims lack merit and that it will vigorously defend itself. Some legal experts say Universal Tube might still have a legitimate case. But they say such cases usually settle before trial.

Meanwhile, Girkins is trying to take advantage of the extra visitors to his UTube site. He's got ads up selling ring tones and dating services to meet hot singles. Girkins says, so far, the banner ads are covering his legal fees and Web site hosting costs.

Christ Arnold, NPR News.

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