Walmart

Weak Foundation

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Wal-Mart has aimed some legal nastygrams at a 20-year-old Carnegie Mellon student after he created a parody site using images from the real Wal-Mart Foundation website. He figured it was fair use, but Wal-Mart claims the site fell afoul of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. You can read Wal-Mart's letter in PDF format here. (Hat tip: Slashdot.)

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  1. That stupid f$%*&ing law is a great example of why I wish the constitution had some sort of “pre-approval” provision for the courts. When congress passes a law, it would be great if it went to both the president for a sig and to the court to get a “stamp of constitutionality.” Otherwise you end up with laws of dubious constitutionality which take years and years to end up in the courts.

  2. I dont understand how exactly the DMCA can possibly be invoked in this case. This kid didnt circumvent any sort of technology to acquire the images, I see wal-mart getting thier asses handed to them in this case.

  3. Oh, boo-hoo, Wal-Mart. In which section do you keep the world’s smallest violins, so that I may buy one and play it for you?

  4. I find it hard to give a fuck either way. I don’t support harassing people like WalMart does (they recently fought to take down the site of a guy who supported them!). At the same time, I’ll not shed a tear for idiot anti-capitalists who pine on about mom-n-pop stores getting pushed out by WalMart’s eeeeevil low prices.

  5. I find it hard to give a fuck either way…

    Amen!

    Can’t we just put all the WalMart people and the anti-WalMart people into a steel cage or something?

    Would the per capita IQ go up if they just assult each other right out of existance??

  6. This coming weekend is my triweekly pilgrimmage to Sam’s and Wally world to restock the dwindling supplies. I’ll be sure to shake my fist at their stony visages in solidarity with the victims of their corporate bullying. Then I’ll be sure to go inside and save a ton of money.

    Hey, if I wanted my food dollar to go half as far, I’d gladly drop it at ‘Mom and Pop’ groceries (which you gotta do anyway sometimes, Wally’s doesn’t stock EVERYTHING!) but it seems the disparity is sometimes so great that it’s obvious that the smaller stores are gouging the hell out of me. And I’m pretty sure most of the smaller stores around my neighborhood aren’t unionized either.

    The guy being victimized here probably doesn’t realize that he’s buying into an evil that’s probably worse for mankind than what he thinks he’s fighting. Go, go anti-capitalist crybaby!

  7. Isn’t capitalism all about letting individuals place value on the world in whatever way they wish. If I decide that having locally owned businesses in my town is of intrinsic value and is worth paying a little more for then what’s wrong or anti capitalism about that? And if I held that opinion you certainly wouldn’t fault me for going out and trying to convince others of my veiw.

    Also it’s hard arguing that WalMart is some kind of champion of the free market. Their business model is practically founded upon the tax breaks and subsidies they’re able to extort from the local townships.

  8. IANAL, but:

    The reason the DMCA can be invoked is not because of technology circumvention, but because (Wal-Mart claims) some graphics and other content were copied wholesale from server A (Wal-Mart’s server) and reposted on server B (parody server). Unless the kid can prove that he recreated the graphics himself, and made a significant enough percentage of changes to qualify the work as parody, it could be argued as appropriation of copyrighted material. This is the same technique the Scientologists use to get anti-scientology sites shut down.

  9. rich, what you have described is plain old vanilla copyright infringement. Not sure why the DMCA is invoked at all.

  10. I dont understand how exactly the DMCA can possibly be invoked in this case. This kid didnt circumvent any sort of technology to acquire the images, I see wal-mart getting thier asses handed to them in this case.

    There are many provisions of the DMCA. The ones relevant here govern liability (or lack thereof) for the student’s ISP. That’s independent from what the student did, which is governed by traditional copyright principles.

    .
    Unless the kid can prove that he recreated the graphics himself, and made a significant enough percentage of changes to qualify the work as parody, it could be argued as appropriation of copyrighted material.

    “Recreating the graphics himself” has nothing to do with the price of tea in China. Copying something through mechanical reproduction (photocopy, FTP, whatever) is no different than copying something by looking at it and personally redrawing/writing/creating it.

    If it’s a legitimate parody — and I couldn’t tell from the PDF whether it was — it’s fair use no matter how he created it. Conversely, if it’s not a parody (or some other species of fair use), it’s infringement no matter how he created it.

  11. DMCA was invoked because it requires internet service providers to remove material from users’ web sites that appears to constitute copyright infringement. ISPs generally remove it when large corporations ask them to, even if there is a question whether something is fair use or an infringement.

  12. “Hey, if I wanted my food dollar to go half as far, I’d gladly drop it at ‘Mom and Pop’ groceries (which you gotta do anyway sometimes, Wally’s doesn’t stock EVERYTHING!)”

    Dear Einstiens:

    If everybody followed your advice and only shopped at ‘Mom and Pop’ they had no other choice, they’ll go out of business, and then when you ‘need’ them, they won’t be there; your choice will be a 7-11 or going without.

    The replacement of small and medium grocers by huge grocers (and convenience stores) is largely due to this factor (pre-Walmart in most cases); relatively few full-line small grocers even survive anymore. (I had the luck of being 100 feet from one in my last home in Austin; and believe me, I appreciated my fellow suboptimal shoppers helping to keep it alive so I could enjoy it).

  13. Shopping for groceries at Wal-Mart would cost me considerably more than shopping in my neighborhood stores.

  14. I shop at Walmart sometimes, because it is pretty cheap. I also try to patronize smaller shops, because I appreciate their entrepenurial spirit and think that if they’re trying to legitimately make money, I’m happy to contribute. I also patronize convenience stores if it’s convenient to do so, but would much rather give my money to Mohammed across the street (yes, that’s really his name, he’s from Jordan, so I’m not making a stereotype here) than to Circle K.

  15. m1ek: “If everybody followed your advice and only shopped at ‘Mom and Pop’ they had no other choice, they’ll go out of business, and then when you ‘need’ them, they won’t be there; your choice will be a 7-11 or going without.”

    I’m sorry, but, what does that even mean? Really, I mean no offense, but, we can’t figure out your argument if your sentences are wholly incomprehensible. Which side are you taking? What are you trying to say?

  16. The replacement of small and medium grocers by huge grocers (and convenience stores) is largely due to this factor (pre-Walmart in most cases); relatively few full-line small grocers even survive anymore. (I had the luck of being 100 feet from one in my last home in Austin; and believe me, I appreciated my fellow suboptimal shoppers helping to keep it alive so I could enjoy it).

    OK, after about 5 re-reads, I think I might have sorta nailed it. What you’re saying is that since people only go to full-line small grocers for those items that you can’t get anywhere else, they eventually go out of business, and then, you can’t get those few things that you normally got from him.

    Well, allow me to retort: simple economic theory posits that if there is a demand for something, then the market would do well to supply it, and make money.

    For example, there is a glut of “specialty” gourmet shops in my town (there’s alot of money and culture here). These small specialty shops often carry the ingredients that I can’t find at Kroger or Giant or Sam’s Club. In other words, if there is a substantial enough demand for something (such as gourmet ingredients), then there will be adequate supply.

    In addition to that, we have Whole Foods, which is a HUGE grocery store chain, yet, they carry all kinds of specialty stuff.

    In further addition to that, the other huge chain groceries like Kroger and Giant have been forced (by the market) to carry these items. Most huge chains here now have their own “specialty” department, and I find myself having to go to Whole Foods and spend my Whole Paycheck less and less.

    Believe me, if there is a demand for something, then your whole “it’s either 7-11, or go without” scenario is impossible.

    There are certain arguments for shopping at small local shops that are at least plausible (such as lowdog’s “appreciation of the entrepenuerial spirit”). But wasting money on overpriced groceries simply to subsidize the handful of unique/rare items is not really what I’d call a good argument. If that grocer were smart, he’d trim up his operation to only include the items that people really wanted, or even expand his gourmet section. This happened to the old IGA back in my hometown. They were crappy, for years. Dirty, shitty, overpriced, bad selection. Well, they got away with it because they were the only game in the area. Then, Food Dog moved into town, and they were forced to adapt. So, they cleaned up the store, started carrying fine wines, gourmet items that Food Dog didn’t carry, organic produce, nice stuff. And you know what? They’re still around today, even though food dog has been in town for nearen’t 10 years.

    That is a firsthand refutation of your supposition.

  17. If everybody followed your advice and only shopped at ‘Mom and Pop’ they had no other choice, they’ll go out of business, and then when you ‘need’ them, they won’t be there; your choice will be a 7-11 or going without.

    Hello false dichotomy. I can assure you through the fancy pants thing you used to type in your post you can in fact get anything your heart desires that Walmart does not stock. If that doesn’t float your boat you can go to any of the specialty chains like Harry’s Farmers Market that make their living off stocking things Moms in the burbs can’t get from large grocery chains.

    And where is all this “entrepreneurial” nonsense coming from? The fact is local corner groceries should be extinct in suburbian areas because they cannot do the job anymore. Real entrepreneurs would start their own Harrys or internet based business based off their Mom’s secret cookie recipie. Many already have and are doing quite well. Do you need the local corner grocery so you can buy the candles needed to light your midnight blacksmithing hobby or something?

  18. Evan – I’m mainly talking about buying a 6-pack at my small Mohammed’s instead of at Circle K or whatever. He’s not any more expensive, so I’d rather see him make money, personally. Besides, he’s a bad-ass Jordanian who’s had to defend his livelyhood with gunfire in the past, so I definitely want to see someone like that stay in business! 🙂

    Not that we’re arguing about anything here – I agree with you completely – just clarifying, if that was even necessary…

  19. If you read what I wrote, miek, you’d see that I actually copped to shopping at big box stores AND local groceries. I try to get the best quality stuff for the least cost to me. I guess that makes me a jerk or something. Whatever. I’ll shake my fist at Sam’s extra hard, just for you.

    😉

  20. Besides, he’s a bad-ass Jordanian who’s had to defend his livelyhood with gunfire in the past, so I definitely want to see someone like that stay in business! 🙂

    Thus proving the axiom, “Never be rude to an Arab.”

  21. or the koreans, for that matter. the guy up the block from me by the subway is incredibly nice, considering 15% of his clientelle is drunken assholes and assorted homeless junkie types. he endures them with incredible patience, something my local supermarkets can’t even do with polite folk. it’s worth the extra 50 cents sometimes.

    i’ve never been in a wal-mart, and combined with this recent outpouring of hostility (www.walmartwatch.org) and one of my professor’s burning hatred for the chain, i’m almost enticed to go visit one.

  22. Wait a minute. Isn’t Wal-Mart able to offer those low prices because it buys goods made by slave labor in China? Doesn’t the marriage of capitalism and totalitarianisn bother you pro-capitalist libertarians? Or maybe you like China’s labor practices. No worry about unions, eh?

  23. Alan,
    I wasn’t aware that Walmart was the only one that benefited from Chinese slave labor? Funny how when I go to Target, I see plenty of “Made in China” stickers as well. I’m not happy about it, but Walmart isn’t alone. They all come from the same factories, made by the same kids.

  24. Bushie just finished his press conference. I’m going to give some thought to dinner. I could:

    Travel half a mile to a combo supermarket/drug store and spend about $30.00 on assorted groceries that will last me maybe a week. But they don’t sell beer, so if I want to lay in a supply, I’ll have to make two stops. Or…

    I can walk two blocks to the local independent grocery, and pick up just enough to fix my supper. They have an excellent selection of microbrews, and they sell wine, too. They also have a good deli, so much so that some folks shop there just for their sandwiches. They also have small luxury items the Big Store doesn’t, and they never fail to have items in packaging that makes sense for a single person. Or…

    I can just go to any of several restaurants or sandwich shops in my neighborhood.

    Sometimes I just love capitalism. 🙂

    Kevin

  25. Initially all my sympathies were with the student parodist and against Wal-Mart. Then I looked at the PDF, which at the end shows the original Wal-Mart Foundation homepage and the student’s “parody.”

    The kid has taken down his parody and put up a placeholder that says in part: “The goal was to make the site look like it could be a real site from a company like Wal-Mart, but have text that was so ridiculous that anyone who read it would realize that it was absurd.”

    Well, he fell well short of his goal. The only part of the student’s site that was an obvious parody (or at all funny) was a headline “Wal-Mart brings communities together” beneath a not-especially-large photo of people holding anti-Wal-Mart protest signs. And it’s not all that obvious. He changed some other text, but it doesn’t look ridiculous, absurd, or particularly humorous to me. The rest of the images appear unchanged.

    It’s as if someone put up a copy of REASON’s homepage, changed one of the photos, pointlessly rewrote some text so that it says something different yet apparently straightforward, replaced the “Free Minds and Free Markets” tagline with “Free Love and Free Dope” and called it a “parody” site. Not exactly The Onion. I think you need to make the parody a little more obvious, and Wal-Mart is correct to think it could be mistaken for the actual site by a casual visitor.

  26. I’m with those that don’t give a crap. Personally, I shop with whomever gives me the best value/convenience/variety/etc. Thus, I shop at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Safeway, Rainbow Co-op, Costco, and three or four mom and pop’s. (My favorite “corner store” is run by a half Venezuelan, half Palestinian. This guy has a love-hate relationship with America that has to be seen to be believed!) What the hell is wrong with all these freaks that shop somewhere for “moral” reasons. Damn, if I weren’t such a capitalist, I’d think that Americans have way too much money. Geez, it makes me want to scream, “Don’t you know that there are children starving in [insert well-known third-world county here]?”

  27. And before Walmart it was those pesky department stores driving mom-and -pop out of business (I still mourn the loss of the guild system)

  28. Alan said,

    “Wait a minute. Isn’t Wal-Mart able to offer those low prices because it buys goods made by slave labor in China? Doesn’t the marriage of capitalism and totalitarianisn bother you pro-capitalist libertarians? Or maybe you like China’s labor practices. No worry about unions, eh?”

    Firstly, capitalism has the power to subvert totalitarianism better than any tanks or bombs. iT has the capability to economically empower those who might otherwise be prostitutes and dumpster-divers. Wal-Mart and other “sweatshop” companies actually pay MORE than the going mean wage in countries like China, or even more impoverished nations.

    Without WalMart, the totalitarianism would still be there—the only difference would be lower wages. Research (and plain old logic) consistently shows that the best way to lift impoverished countries up out of the shit is through trade.

    I’m not defending WalMart per se, because yes, they do consistently take advantage of the weaknesses of various beaurocracies (AKA rent-seeking), I’m defending capitalism and global free trade. It amazes me when people bitch about globalism, then turn around and pine for the plight of the poor oppressed thirdworld workers. Global trade only helps them in the long run—much better than any BS foreign “aid”.

    As for unions, boycotting walmart isn’t going to make unions go away. The logic is so obvious that I’ll not waste time putting it into words.

  29. Evan:

    Capitalism has many virtues, but promoting peace and freedom everywhere doesn’t seem to be one of them. Capitalist America, which recently invaded Iraq, is the only country ever to have dropped an atomic bomb. German capitalism remained intact throughout the nazi period, and since Russia adopted capitalism, it has hardly become a bastion of peace and prosperity. Singapore is successfully capitalist and strictly authoritarian. There is no logically compelling reason to think that China’s partership with Wal-Mart will inevitably undermine its totalitarianism. But then, logic has never been the strong suit of true-believer ideologues.

  30. …America…is the only country to have ever dropped an atomic bomb…

    That old canard? Look, we were going to invade the Japanese Home islands. Something that hadn’t been done successfully for something like 2000 years. There was a huge amount of racism directed against the Japanese in this country, partly because of Pearl Harbor, partly because they were “yellow slant-eyes.” There were significant portions of the Japanese military that thought if they could inflict enough damage on the Americans, they would be able to get a negotiated surrender. The Soviet Union hadn’t attacked them yet.

    An invasion was probably going to kill 2,000,000 Japanese civilians, 1,000,000 Japanese soldiers, and 1,000,000 American soldiers. People like Gen. LeMay were going to make sure of that. Now, you have this weapon, which can wipe out a city center with one plane instead of a whole squadron. So, do you go through with the invasion, or use that weapon (and its twin) to kill 500,000 Japanese civilians instead and hopefully end the war before an invasion is necessary? It “helped” that the Soviet Union defeated the Japanese on those two northern islands after the nukes were dropped in that it got the Japanese to agree to the unconditional surrender that the Americans (probably LeMay, mostly) insisted on.

    There are almost certainly many more Americans and Japanese alive today who would never have been born if the invasion occured. Why don’t you tell them that they don’t deserve to live because the U.S. should not have destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  31. Capitalist America, which recently invaded Iraq,

    Yeah, right, Capitalist America. In which universe is that happening?

  32. I want to make the observation that Wal-mart can buy from China, but I can’t (not practically, anyway).

    When I post a specification for a software project on rentacoder.com or elance.com I will get bids from India, Malayasia, the Philippians, snd sometimes from Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and even the US, but never from China.

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