Walmart. Just saying the company’s name is usually enough to evoke unbidden brain-sounds of terrifying organ music and images of pitchfork-wielding devil-imps. But, hey, it’s a large business that’s been around for quite a while, so I guess it’s doing alright. It seems to me that somebody might want to call a meeting with the Walmart legal brain trust, because the company’s campaign against a silly and simple parody website isn’t achieving much of anything at all, and is in fact Streisanding the parody site into national views.
This story starts back in 2012, when ICANN saw fit to hold a firesale on domain extensions. Buying them up was all the rage for reasons unfathomable to this author. Still, that was the impetus for how we arrived at Walmart going after a site with a .horse extension.
That explains why, for the mere price of $29, you can now purchase a .horse domain name, if you want to do such a thing. “With .HORSE, there are no hurdles between equine enthusiasts on the Internet,” says United Domains. “Giddy up and register .HORSE today!” It doesn’t seem like too many people have been receptive to this pun-based sales pitch, but a 34-year-old named Jeph Jacques saw the opportunity for what he calls an “art project.”
“I thought, ‘Alright I’m gonna buy this and do something stupid with it and see what happens,” he told me. And readers, he did just that.
This grand art project? Buying up the domain http://www.walmart.horse, slapping a picture of the front of a Walmart store with a, you guessed it, horse superimposed over the top, and declaring the whole thing a monumental artistic success. Seriously, this is the only thing at the website if you go there.
Monet it might not be, but the image is suddenly competing with the likes of famous artists for attention and views thanks to Walmart freaking the hell out about it. In its infamous wisdom, Walmart and its crackerjack legal team have demanded that the whole shebang be taken down, claiming infringement of trademark. The C&D letter Walmart helpfully sent along suggested that Jacques’ website would confuse customers into thinking that Walmart, who is not in either the business of horses nor in the business of having a sense of humor, might have some affiliation to walmart.horse. Interestingly, the letter targets the domain name, rather than the image on the site itself. I’m not personally aware of any infringement claim on domain name being refuted by the actual extension used, but this would seem to be a ripe candidate for that argument, given that Walmart is not in the horse business.
But this really shouldn’t even get that far, given the whole purpose of the site itself and the artistic nature of the creator.
Jacques argues that his site is “an obvious parody and therefore falls under fair use.” He also told Walmart in his response that he’d be happy to put a disclaimer on his site to let visitors know he is not actually affiliated with the Waltons. And although he doesn’t want to bow to the company just yet, he says he’s already proved his original hypothesis: that corporations spend an absurd amount of time policing their trademarks.
Point proven, I suppose. Meanwhile, a tiny joke site has been Streisanded into the national conversation because Walmart just couldn’t resist.