Just in case there’s still someone in the blogoverse who doesn’t already realize that Wal-Mart is evil, I bring you this story from CNNMoney–
Brad Olson, the founder of Gottadeal.com, a Web site that markets itself as one of many “official Black Friday deals sites,” told CNNMoney.com that he received an e-mail Wednesday from lawyers representing Wal-Mart warning him against “improper release” of the No. 1 retailer’s Black Friday sales circular.
And he isn’t the only one. Neal Rapoport, founder of Dealtaker.com which also leaks Black Friday ads, received the same legal notice from Wal-Mart on Wednesday.
“It has recently come to our attention that you and/or your company may potentially obtain possession of and untimely release Wal-Mart’s sales circulars, advertisements or other information prior to their authorized release dates,” the law firm Baker Hostetler, which represents Wal-Mart, wrote in a legal notice e-mailed to Brad Olson and obtained by CNNMoney.com.
The notice said Wal-Mart’s circulars are protected by copyright laws, and any unauthorized reproduction, publication or distribution of that information prior to Wal-Mart’s release date of Nov. 19 for its Black Friday ads “violates Wal-Mart’s right.”
“To the extent that the methods of acquisition or use include criminal activity, criminal penalties may also apply,” the notice said.
Black Friday websites exist because people want and use them. In other words, the market demands them. People (aka, the market) want them because then they have an opportunity to comparison shop before committing themselves to a particular purchase or store on Black Friday. This is called competition and a healthy (read: free) market knows that competition is a good thing because it forces innovation and efficiency. Wal-Mart is evil because it is trying to stifle competition by using the (illegitimate) force of government to stifle competition.
But that’s not the most frustrating part of this story. After all, it’s not exactly news to my readers that both Wal-Mart and government are evil. The most frustrating part is that Wal-Mart isn’t even satisfied using the (groundless) copyright laws as they currently stand. Instead, they’re claiming to own the rights to the information itself. Allow me to explain…
Wal-Mart is absolutely correct that current copyright law prohibits websites (or others) to reproduce their advertisements without permission. Yes, I’m familiar with “Fair Use”, but this ain’t it. Scanning and posting those fliers is a violation of copyright law. However, information itself cannot (yet) be copyrighted. Therefore they have no grounds to sue over websites releasing the information in the ads. In other words, it’s illegal to post the image of the $10 laptop (or whatever), but it’s not illegal to inform people that Wal-Mart will be selling a $10 laptop.
Here comes the irony…
In a free market, Wal-Mart might actually be able to enforce their will in this way. That’s because in a free market there is no statutory crime. In order for a crime to have occurred there must be a victim who has suffered some form of loss. In that situation, Wal-Mart may well be able to convince an arbitrator that the release of this information caused them harm. However, under the current system the “little guy” is simply assumed to be in the wrong solely because he can’t afford to fight the behemoth that is Wal-Mart.