Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Wal-Mart vs. free speech

Be careful which multi-billion dollar corporation you criticize.

Granted, Charles Smith's criticism is pretty tasteless, and over the top ... just the kind of thing protected by the First Amendment.

That hasn't stopped the retailer from filing suit in federal district court in Atlanta against the 48-year-old computer repairman from Conyers (Ga.) who compared Wal-Mart to the Holocaust. Smith is marketing "I (heart) Wal-ocaust" T-shirts, which he sells on his Web site.

Smith "seeks to cloak his illegal commercial activities under the mantle of the First Amendment" and is "tarnishing Wal-Mart's trademarks and business reputation," the company's court filing said. "Smith's tasteless enterprise demonstrates that he is attempting to profit from his repulsive wares, not merely expressing his misguided opinions about Wal-Mart."

Smith, for his part, admits the "Wal-ocaust" term is tasteless. But he and his attorneys, part of Ralph Nader's Public Citizen Litigation Group, believe this is now about more than one man's opinion of Wal-Mart.

Some nice irony here: no one had seemingly ever heard of Smith and his crusade, until now. He says he's sold only one T-shirt, for a $5.10 profit. I'm guessing he'll sell a lot more with all the ensuing publicity.

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