Wal-Mart Parody OK Says US Court

A US Court has said it is OK for a man to parody the retail giant using domain names, t-shirts, novelty items and satirical merchandise that criticises the company.The court rejected Wal-Mart’s claim of trademark infringement and said Charles Smith can continue to operate his websites using the domain names walocaust.com and walqaeda.com.The two-year legal battle concluded with the judge, U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten Sr., writing, “The fact that the real Wal-Mart name and marks are strong and recognizable makes it unlikely that a parody — particularly one that calls to mind the genocide of millions of people, another that evokes the name of a notorious terrorist organization … will be confused with Wal-Mart’s real products.”In his judgement Batten “explained that Smith’s products qualified as protected noncommercial speech because his goal was to criticize Wal-Mart, not to make a profit from his products. The judge noted that Smith had sold only 62 T-shirts, including 15 to one of Wal-Mart’s outside law firms,” says Law.com.Wal-Mart’s counsel Robert L. Raskopf of Quinn Emanuel, wrote a letter to internet law expert Lawrence Lessig who was involved in representing Smith, “again demanding that Smith stop producing and selling his Wal-ocaust merchandise.’Although Wal-Mart recognizes that Mr. Smith is entitled to disseminate his opinions concerning Wal-Mart, however misinformed, Wal-Mart will not countenance Mr. Smith’s attempt to profit, through merchandise sales on his website under the ‘Walocaust’ domain name, from wrongfully associating Wal-Mart with the greatest tragedy of the past century,’ Raskopf wrote.””Smith said Lessig helped him find a legal team — lead counsel Paul E. Levy at Public Citizen in Washington and Gerald R. ‘Gerry’ Weber Jr., then of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. In March 2006 they brought a declaratory judgment action against Wal-Mart, asking that a judge find that Smith was entitled to sell his anti-Wal-Mart products and maintain his related domain names.”Wal-Mart filed counterclaims, alleging trademark infringement and dilution by tarnishment, unfair competition and cybersquatting, a reference to Smith’s ownership of www.walocaust.com.”The full article in Law.com is available from www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1206441810175 or biz.yahoo.com/law/080326/62314fad27f3e79daa417b630a454f84.html.

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