In case anyone is confused, the logo to the left is not endorsed or supported by Wal-Mart, the mega retailer often criticized for its stores’ negative impact on communities, the pay and benefits provided to its workers and its promotion of products made in overseas sweatshops where workers toil in inhumane conditions for nominal pay. A Georgia man who came up with the logo as part of his protest campaign against the retailer got sued by the billion-dollar corporation for his efforts. But today, in a resounding win for the First Amendment (and for Public Citizen, which defended the man), a federal judge told Wal-Mart that nobody in their right mind would buy their trademark infringement claims.
Political and social parody, like the type Charles Smith of Conyers, Ga. uses at his www.walocaust.com and www.walqaeda.com sites, is a cherished tradition that goes back to the founding of this country. If Wal-Mart had won, think of the impact the ruling might have had on blogs, artists, photographers and writers who use parody to criticize companies.
Here’s what Paul Alan Levy, the Public Citizen attorney who argued the case, had to say about the ruling:
“This ruling shows that even the biggest company in America is subject to parody, and that trademark rights must yield to the right of free speech. This is a resounding victory for First Amendment rights and sends a clear message to big corporations that would try to use their deep pockets to intimidate and silence their critics.”
You can read the decision and other documents related to the case at the Public Citizen site.