Published on: October 22, 2007MNB
had a story last week about how Wal-Mart is threatening legal action against consumer websites that post in advance the retailer’s planned discounts for “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving that is the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. The letters being sent to the sites by Wal-Mart’s attorneys say that the circulars are copyrighted, and that unauthorized distribution or publication of the information could result in legal action or even criminal prosecution.
In my commentary, I conceded that I have no legal expertise, but…I’m not sure that Wal-Mart is right, nor that its moves make sense.
First of all, we live in a world where everything is leaked, and where virtually everything is available over the Internet. By threatening legal action, it almost is like Wal-Mart is trying to put the genie back in the bottle. If it were me, I’d instead be trying to figure out how to turn the leaks to my advantage.
Here’s the other thing. If I found out that Wal-Mart planned to put certain items on sale on Black Friday, I think I could print it as a legitimate news item. I don't see how they could stop me, and I think it would be foolish to try. Advance information is sort of the currency of the realm around here…MNB
user Dustin Stinett responded:While this comment was directed at a specific Wal-Mart issue, there is a bigger picture to consider. I hope you are not an advocate of the notion that "all information should be free." The Internet has spawned a segment of people who ignore copyright laws and have zero respect for intellectual property. I have been plagiarized by people who, had they just asked me, would have been granted permission to use my work. (Trust me, if you've never experienced it, being plagiarized is a very creepy feeling.) The problem with this thievery--and that's what it is; theft--is that eventually, those of us who put in the work will no longer reap the financial benefits from that work, and we will stop producing.
Imagine if, everyday, someone put the content of MNB up on "Wikipedia." Would your advertisers have any reason to continue supporting you? You might think I'm being extreme, but I'm not: I've seen it happen. A colleague of mine has a lovely site that he worked very hard to put together. It is a free site, but now he requires registration (taking more time out of his life; and is there anything more valuable than time?) because the people at Wikipedia insisted that they had an "absolute right" to duplicate his work on their site!
In the case of Wal-Mart, it's difficult to argue the "news" aspect of the issue. However, just how was that "news" garnered? It's one thing for a news outlet to report the news; it's quite another for one to obtain it via less than scrupulous means in order to create the news.
Wal-Mart and their suppliers have worked to put together a sales program that they want to launch their way. They should be afforded that right and no other person or company should be allowed, legally or ethically, to make that determination for them. (Unless, of course, it's all part of the plan...)
I don’t believe that all information is free, nor am I an advocate of plagiarism. In the latter case, I try to be assiduous in my efforts to source everything I get in my daily research, and I get stuff stolen all the time. C’est la vie…
I do think that the Internet makes certain realities unavoidable, and one of them is the spread – like wildfire, or bad jokes – of information. Sure, there are methods of trying to retain control and ownership. But the Internet is sort of like the old-fashioned back fence, with an unlimited number of neighbors sharing information, opinions, recipes, gossip, whatever. I just think that in cases like the Black Friday ads, Wal-Mart would be better off trying to find new strategies to break ads rather than paying the attorneys to send letters. (I’d actually question Wal-Mart’s whole Black Friday approach, but that’s another issue.)MNB
user Clay Dockery chimed in on the same issue:Your commentary is certainly reflective of a legitimate perspective with respect to consumers. However, I would believe that Wal-Mart is far more concerned about getting a jump on their competitors who can make quick pricing decisions if they get an early view of Wal-Mart's pricing strategy for the important holiday season. While the threat of a lawsuit for leaking information may seem extreme, I am reminded of a book by the former CEO of Intel, Andy Grove; "Only the Paranoid Survive". In this context, Wal-Mart's position certainly seems to be a well measured plan.
But with all due respect to Andy Grove, who is certainly a lot smarter than I am, I don't believe in paranoia, which requires looking over my shoulder.
I’d rather look ahead.
As one of America’s greatest troubadours once sang…Yesterday's over my shoulder
So I can't look back for too long
There's just too much to see waiting in front of me
And I know that I just can't go wrong…MNB
wrote on Friday about a Baltimore Sun
report saying that the Bush administration and the US Congress “are moving toward the creation of a new system for screening imported foods that would require companies to certify that their foreign suppliers meet U.S. standards. The new system would place a much heavier burden for consumer safety on the American firms that import goods from China, Mexico and elsewhere.”
My comment:As sure as I am that the government is not up to this task, I’m also not sure that it makes sense for the federal government to just shift some of these responsibilities to private enterprise. This may come as a surprise, but not all companies are reputable and responsible – some actually will cut corners in pursuit of a buck, and I’m not sure that the US consumer is equipped to know the difference between the good importers and the bad ones.
The reality is that when imported products do harm to the consumer, everybody in the chain suffers – consumers, retailers and suppliers. There’s no question that the current system is inadequate. But the way the changes are described, I can’t shake the feeling that all these guys are doing is moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic.
user wrote:In your comment on this article, you noted your distrust of requiring private enterprise to certify safety.
Since it may be likely that more than one US company would be buying from the same foreign supplier, how about having the Food and Drug Administration certifying inspection organizations overseas, and requiring that the US companies subscribe to their services? Something like corporations using the Big X Auditing firms to audit their books.
Nothing is guaranteed, of course.
user agreed:Some reliability to the system could be achieved by requiring the government to create a list of approved certifiers and then requiring the importers to use one of the approved certifiers much as is done in the organics trade. Part of the system would be a requirement to re-certify annually. Labeling for the certification is another discussion.
user wrote:The responsibility ultimately lies with the buyer…the consumer. It all comes down to personal responsibility. You have the choice of buying an imported item of questionable quality or not. You have the choice of purchasing only USA made products or not. You have the choice of purchasing only from companies you feel are reputable or not. You have the choice of not purchasing. Companies that lose our trust, by importing inferior products should be taken off the "buy list." That's consumerism. But, for consumerism to work, you need information and the desire to use the information.
But, in order for buyers to make a responsible choice they need true "COOL" (country of origin labeling). AND explicit ingredient labeling. Has it really come down to...nobody can trust nobody...how sad.
I would agree that he consumer has to make the ultimate decision, but under the current system, it is almost impossible for he consumer to make an informed decision. So I wouldn’t say, at this point, that the responsibility ultimately lies with the buyer.
There was a piece on MNB
last week that referenced a site where one can determine one’s personal and professional carbon footprint…which prompted MNB
user Karen Shunk to write:As someone who tries to limit her impact on this planet as much as I can (I ride my bike to work, don't have a driver's license, eat organic/local produce, etc. etc.), I decided to check out this out and see how I was doing.
However, the part of me that loves statistical analysis took over once I'd been through the site. First of all, I couldn't believe that, despite the fact that I don't drive, I commute mostly by bike or occasionally metro and pretty much only catch the weekly ride to the supermarket with my husband, that my carbon footprint is significantly larger than that of the average Canadian and/or inhabitant of Toronto, even though my sister-in-law commutes into Calgary an hour each way every day in a car by herself.
This made me wonder about how they arrive at these comparisons. Are they comparing me only to Canadian Vegans living in Toronto who may have flocked to the site in droves or have they actually come up with an average Canadian's carbon footprint? And how about my occasional flight? Are they charging the entire carbon emissions of a flight to me, or just an average portion?
I realize that you were in no way endorsing the site, just thought you might like a little feedback…
All excellent questions.
Regarding Costco’s environmental initiatives, one MNB
user wrote:Kudos to Costco for having the courage to embrace a long-term energy plan. Their ability to impact the bottom line provides a compelling example for others to follow. That makes me hopeful.
Unfortunately these sorts of environmental initiatives can take large amounts of capital. It takes a CEO with a backbone to stand up to the constant pressure to produce quarterly results. Now, I don’t think corporations will ever abandon Return on Investment for the environment, but any initiative that produces a positive ROI should be explored regardless of the payback period. Not only do these initiatives create positive PR, the increased efficiencies lead to competitive advantage. Wal-Mart is the perfect example of a company using efficiencies as a competitive weapon. These things take time and I think Al Gore deserves a lot of the credit.
mentioned on Friday the passing of Joey Bishop, the last surviving member of the Rat Pack. But there was another death we didn’t note…as MNB
user Donna Burns pointed out:Don’t forget Deborah Kerr. The best kiss of all times…
That kiss, of course, was in “From Here To Eternity,” and it took place on a beach in Hawaii with Burt Lancaster. (Remind me sometime to tell you about the time I met Lancaster…)
You’re right about that, Donna. I should have mentioned it. Kerr died last week at age 86, and had a career that included such gems as “The King & I” and “Eternity,” and was nominated for an Academy Award six times.
However, I have to note that she also starred in one of the soppiest, treacly movies of all time: “An Affair To Remember,’ with Cary Grant.
The best thing to come out of “An Affair To Remember,” I think, is that great scene in ‘Sleepless in Seattle,” where Tom Hanks and Victor Garber compare it to “The Dirty Dozen” – and decide that the latter movie was far more heartbreaking and emotional.
I would concur.