Out of Control Policy Blog

If Wal-Martís bad, then the internetís worse

I have a new piece online:

    Charles Smith has caused quite a stir selling shirts online. Corporate behemoth Wal-Mart wants to shut him down and now the two sides are locked in a legal battle over free speech. Why all the fuss? Smith's shirts depict the familiar Wal-Mart logo as well as well as the message "I [heart] WAL*OCAUST." Yes, Smith thought it clever to compare a seller of cheap products to the holocaust, one of history's most ghastly acts of mass murder.

    Most discussion has settled on Smith's pathetic conflation of retailers and Nazis and whether Wal-Mart's claims of trademark infringement are legitimate (probably not). Yet there's another issue here–if Smith truly believes in the message of his shirt, then he's not so innocent either.

    In Smith's view, Wal-Mart and the Nazis both spread destruction. Indeed these days many regard the biggest box as a destructive force that wipes out mom and pop businesses. But it wasn't long ago that America was even more frightened by the internet–the same diabolical tool that Smith used to sell his shirts.

Read more here.

BTW, what was WM thinking going after this guy in the first place? Smith should be able to sell his shirts and it seems like WM has no case on trademark infringement grounds anyhow.

What will come of this stunt? WM's lawyers will turn Smith into a free-speech martyr and the company's already damaged rep will suffer even more. After all, this falls neatly into the bully charge critics are always lobbing at the "Beast from Bentonville."

Ted Balaker is Producer


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