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 and 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.


  • madmilker

    next…it will be that dang star in the name!
    is that why they don’t give the nice people of China a choice…..

    quote*In China, as elsewhere, we follow the Wal-Mart tradition of building our business one store and one customer at a time. We strive to provide our customers with friendly service and a wide selection of quality products at Every Day Low Prices. With each Wal-Mart store we bring advanced retail know-how to the local market. By fostering a healthy, competitive environment, we hope to constantly improve our business operations and customer service in order to contribute to the prosperity of the local economy.

    Wal-Mart firmly believes in local procurement. We recognize that by purchasing quality products, we can generate more job opportunities, support local manufacturing and boost economic development. Over 95% of the merchandise in our stores in China is sourced locally. We have established partnerships with nearly 20,000 suppliers in China. At Wal-Mart, we always work with our suppliers to grow together. In August 2007, Wal-Mart once again secured the top spot of the 2007 Supplier Satisfaction Survey conducted by Business Information of Shanghai. Additionally, Wal-Mart directly exports about US$9 billion from China every year. The export volume by third party suppliers is also estimated to be over US$9 billion.*end quote!

  • […] a federal judge in Atlanta.  Paul Alan Levy, a Public Citizen attorney who was defending the man, had this to say: “This ruling shows that even the biggest company in America is subject to parody, and that […]

  • […] and requires a treatment of infringement claims that is sensitive to free speech rights. The court also rejected out of hand Wal-Mart’s outrageous claim that has trademark rights in the yellow […]

  • […] Citizen Vox.Org (Oh lord! Another one!): [Today] a federal judge told Wal-Mart that nobody in their right mind would […]

  • […] court sided with Smith. Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy said this is important on many levels with these words after … “This ruling shows that even the biggest company in America is subject to parody, and that […]

  • B

    Everyone knows Forrest Gump came up with that face !

  • jason

    This is so sad. You people don’t own the smiley face anyone can put a freaking smiley face. Don’t talk bad about Wal-mart. Wal-mart has done a lot for many people.

  • twotfruity

    I thought yahoo owned the smileys LoL. Is this what the world has come to, fighting over a damn smiley. I remember seeing them around when I was in kindergarten and I dont believe Wal Mart existed then.

  • muppet

    The smiley face was created by Harvey ball in the 60’s as an advertisement for an insurace company.

  • […] This is terrifying. The fire bombing should start immediately. Although, this recent court ruling is a good start. […]

  • ES

    How could they be suing for trademark violations, they didn’t even OWN it:

    The last days of Wal-Mart’s smiley face

    Wal-Mart seeks smiley face rights

  • bob

    If ever a father would have felt shame it would be Old Sam. To take a great outlet for American made goods and turn it into the largest Chinese retail outlet in the world, shame on you.

  • soup

    WHAT no smiley faces! Smiley faces are everywhere not just on Wal-Mart so that is wierd!

  • jim

    quit knocking walmart if you would take the time to look at the lables at other stores you would see that stores like sears, target, macey’s etc. all sell products from china or indonesia, or some other third world country. wake up you can’t buy or afford to buy anything made in the U.S.A. even cars are mostly made in other countries, and just assembled here, but the profits go over seas. ask walmart employees they seem to be happy with their wages, and benifits. they don’t seem to have a hard time getting people to work for them. write your congressman to make it so more things are made here in the U.S.A. and not give tax breaks to corporations that move their production over seas.

  • Who cares? It’s just one of our last remaining freedoms. Oh, right…

  • bob

    I think that everyone should leave Wal-Mart alone and quit making all the bull about them that is not true. they pay beter than most all of your other store and the pay more than target and k-mart both. if people would look on the bright side it would be better. Target and K-Mart both get alot of there products over seas as well so wal-mart is not the only one in the business.

  • I don’t think that this was mainly about the copyright infringement. Walmart came across this guys parodies, didn’t like what they saw and wanted some way to get rid of it or possibly sue for defimation. They probably approached their lawyers and said that they wanted to sue this guy and their lawyers said that they could only try to get away with suing over copyright infringement. Trust me, Walmart would not go after a little guy makiing a parody over a stupid copyright infringement, they wanted it outlawed.

  • 1maddmomma

    Ha, it’s about time that Wal-Mart gets what they deserve. So money hungry. I worked for this company for a year and half. I did excellent sales and drove my department to the number one store in the district, and because I requested a set schedule, I got fired. They have managers there that think they are better than the employees and treat you like your dirt. Its so sad to see a company not care about their employees, and more concerend with over running other smaller companies, and maken all that money. We use to get annual bounses if we met goals, and they took that away because they said it was ” Using money that can go towards the store’s budget.” Never closed on any holidays, and losy insurance. I paid 105 a week and didnt even get dental or get a wellness check. This company is a “bully” in the corp. world. Too bad thier stuff dont last long, its poorly made, and the produce sits there for four days, they only get a truck once a week for produce and meat..its insane guys…bout time they get it.

  • […] And in other news, Walmart has lost the battle to claim yellow smiley faces as a trademark. […]

  • Squeekie

    A guy may have FIRST USED THE SMILY for an Add in the 1960’s but a little face with a smile is just a doodle that people have been using LONG before the 1960’s.

    Children drawing stick figures “Invented” the smily face…

    My father was born in1956 and my aunt something like 9 years before that and my grandma has their childhood drawings in a box that have a Smily Face.

    Next Japan will claim that THEIR emot’s will be “Trademakred” (^-^)

  • MilkDog69

    Who’s worried about smiley faces. madmilker is using “milk” in his name and could ge tconfued with mine milkdog69. Whaa!!!

  • Maca

    The only reason why most stuff are not made in the US is because is so darn expensive, thanks to unions, taxes, and all the benefits workers get (among other things). I’m not saying any of this is wrong or good, it is just cheaper for companies to have their products made elswhere. Everybody has a choice of buying the US product or the foreign product, but must of us preffers to spend less and buy the stuff that’s imported.

  • delarue

    Somebody ought to trademark the raised middle finger before Walmart claims copyright on that too.

  • Anne

    Its not about Wal-Mart buying crap from China. I would agree all stores do that. It’s the fact that they advertised heavily that they support the USA and their products are “made in the USA” unlike other stores merchandise. Clearly, that is not the case anymore.


  • Jeff

    “….ask walmart employees they seem to be happy with their wages, and benifits…”

    When I go to Wal-Mart- which is only about once every two months I am glad to say- the employees generally seem down, depressed and less than helpful. I worked for Wal-Mart for 3 years while I was in college. It is a company I would never work for again. The stores were always grossly understaffed (in both stores that I worked in employee turnover was about 20% per month and staffing was generally at about 60%), sub-par and downright lazy employees remained due to the inabillity to fully staff the store. Hard working employees were pushed all that much harder to compensate not only for the lack of staff, but also to compensate for those that were merely there to pick up a paycheck. Assistant managers were worked well beyond reasonable number of hours (I knew two assistants that averaged more than 75 hours per week, and many more that worked at least 70). Hourly employees were threatend with “write-ups” and termination if they dared to exceed their maximum allowed hours (usually about 33 for full time employees and 10-12 for part time employees) and it was like fire and brimstone time if someone happened to go over 40 hours. I had one store manager that required the payroll office to print out the hours worked three times per day. The store manager would then scour the list and if anyone was approaching their hours limit he would order them to clock out and go home- he received an award for this by the way. I could go on and on about negative experiences while employed with Wal-Mart- including being personally threatened and intimidated by my direct supervisor. But my last tale will be this one…. I worked for Wal-Mart before most of the stores did in house film processing. All film processing was shipped out and was generally a 24-48 hour turnaround. The electronics manager, in the store I worked in, tired of the log book and developed a computer program that would track the orders, it also provided a list of customers who had complete orders but had not picked them up for five days- this saved going through the film bins on a weekly basis and searching for people to call. The district manager saw this program and was so impressed that he ordered it used in all the district stores- the electronics manager was informed that since he had developed it for Wal-Mart (even though he developed it on his own time) it was now Wal-Marts program, but he would be compensated- within about three months the program was in use in about half of the Wal-Marts around the country. The manager received a letter from Wal-Mart stating that the software would save Wal-Mart $500,000 in labor costs in the first year. His compensation a $10 gift certificate.

    What a great company.

  • MJ0060

    Congratulations to the little guy! It is not over though, the question will lye with the Supreme Court. If they hear this case because of it being a first amended right, lets hope our government upholds the findings and merits.

    The sad fact of this case is that everyone here is right. The deep pockets of corporations will squeeze out the little guy every time.

    I leave you with this to think about as you go through life, to stop and think about.

    A small company that you work for is asked to manufacture components for what will be used in American Airplanes you might someday be flying in. The middle company seeks special treatment, discounts, longer terms in paying their bills, ect.

    Your sent in to negotiate the terms; informing them that their terms are unrealistic. The middle man company informs you don’t talk to us talk to our buyer; another one of American’s Largest Corporations.

    You go to the head person and they stop you asking you two simple questions. “Do you like to fly?” Answer: “Yes”. “How much would you pay to fly from Arizona to California roundtrip?” Answer: “Somewhere between $150-250”

    His response: “Then don’t blame us. Blame the American Public!” “Either do the terms or this project will go overseas”

    I walked away from that meeting with a new look on life. Ironic don’t you think. We all claim we are under paid, and we all want things as cheaply as possible. So the question lies with you “What is more important to you price or quality?” Because you can not have it both ways!

    One last peace of information for you: Think about the United States deficit being billions in debit. Now think about that the United States owns millions of Acers across the country. Now think about the fact that someone has to loan that money to cover that debt.

    Now who do you think is lending the Money to the US? It is not the US taxpayers! It is not some US bank! Try the very country that conducts most of their trade here!

    Now do you really think our government is going to even try to reform our trade agreements? More then likely not! Don’t stir the pot because it can boil over and debt will be called due and owing at once! Now what happens if someone calls a note due and you can not pay? That’s right your collateral is taken!

    So as you are buying, that cheep product from our lenders and complaining about compensation and benefits keep in mind this one thing. Don’t scream to loud because you are feeding the very fire that will someday come back to bite you even further and call YOUR VERY FREEDOM DUE AND OWING!

  • […] Even Wal-Mark, destroyer of small-towns and violater of souls, is subject to parody. […]

  • “I think that everyone should leave Wal-Mart alone and quit making all the bull about them that is not true. they pay beter than most all of your other store and the pay more than target and k-mart both. if people would look on the bright side it would be better. Target and K-Mart both get alot of there products over seas as well so wal-mart is not the only one in the business.”

    Well – except for that woman who got injured, and WalMart took all of her settlement:

    And that whole issue with them locking up their employess in the stores:

    And all those times they knowingly violated labor laws as a matter of corporate policy:

    And about a gazillion other things that I can’t be bothered to Google up right now.

    So, yeah – other than being a bunch of brazen scofflaws that abuse their rank and file employees, you might have close to half a point with your ‘everybody else does it too’ comments. If only people could look past the fact that Walmart is a soulless corporation that seeks to abuse the very customers it depends on for its’ livelihood, we’d all be better off!

    You wouldn’t be a contract worker in WalMart’s publicity counter-ops department, would you?

  • David Kraft

    If Walmart is so evil then WHY DO YOU SHOP THERE?


    perhaps we can try to stalemate china’s olympic debacle and their abuse of tibetians by denying chinese imports.
    Don’t hold your breath on that one either.

  • […] attempt to trademark the smiley face has been solidly rejected. Although this does, sadly, mean that the little yellow bastard remains at large, it protects the […]

  • BeenThere

    I worked for The Great China Wall Mart and they treated me an others like dirt. They deserve worse!

  • I’m not a big fan of Wal-Mart or other big box outlets because of their role in driving smaller, independent stores out of business. However, I’m not so hypocritical that I won’t admit that I have shopped at Target, Best Buy or Home Depot.

    However, in my opinion, this issue is less about the evils of stores like Wal-Mart (and I do think there’s some merit to much of the criticisms heaped on this store) and more about protecting everyone’s right to free speech.

    Wal-Mart didn’t like what this guy was saying and tried to intimidate him with a lawsuit. There’s a lot of people out there who get these cease and desist letters from big companies like Wal-Mart and have no options because they can’t afford to hire an attorney or their case doesn’t attract a group like Public Citizen.

    In these cases, their right to speak out an issue, whether it’s an important one such as the social impact of Wal-Mart or something more innane, has been stifled.

    Don’t kid yourself. Wal-Mart didn’t care about protecting their smiley face when they told Charles Smith to take down his parody sites. They just figured Smith would do what most average Joes out there would do, quake in front the enormous shadow of one of the world’s largest corporations.

    That didn’t happen this time.

  • Patrick van Slee

  • clsygrm

    Most products in the “big” stores – Macy’s, Younkers, Dillards, etc, come from China, India, Turkey, etc, all of which employ sweatshops to manufacture products. It is very hard to find anything made in the US these days. Even our fabric mills which produced premium material have been replaced by inferior fabrics from overseas companies. The real problem must be Wal-Mart objecting over the Logo being used by the GA man. I wouldn’t be happy about that, either.

    As to the employee conditions at Wal-Mart stores, the person to be held to task is the Store Manager, not the employees in general. If the Store Manager doesn’t see that all of the employee’s do their job correctly, then there will always be the ‘workers’ and the lazy ones who are just there to collect a paycheck w/o working for it. As for the rest, those who work at Wal-Mart stores all decide if their pay is correct, their insurance is adequate, and, if they want the JOB. Yes, Wal-Mart does keep track of hours worked. Also, any employee who develops a program while at work will not benefit from it’s being incorporated into the mainstream work. That is the norm for all companies. Most companies require a signature to that effect upon hiring because employee’s can and do come up with better and more efficient ways to do the routine work which helps the bottom line. I created programs while working for companies and my reward was a “thank you” from my bosses clients, not from my boss himself. A gift certificate is really nice.

    Bottom line is this: you don’t have to shop at Wal-Mart, you can pay more for the same product at Target, K-Mart or other stores who have the same products and pay their employee’s the same way!

  • […] it turns out that Wal-Mart got a little testy over some parody sites, notably and […]

  • Kat

    Since walmart is suing an ex-employee for money she recovered from the accident that her left her severely brain-damaged and that has been set aside for her care, I am vowing not to shop in any walmart ever again. Join me?

  • […] Court rejects Wal-Mart’s trademark claim 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. (tags: corpolitical) […]

  • […] read more | digg story […]

  • Humility

    I don’t buy stuff from foreign countries unless I cannot find one that says made in U.S.A. Surprisingly you can still find many Items that say that.

    Electronics,Kitchenware,office supplies and some other stuff probably. But I only ever need to buy the above.

  • Amber

    I heard about the smiley face issue and Wal-Mar not winning (so glad) however, I didn’t get time to read the whole story. When I finally had time to look it up I noticed something interesting… … that I couldn’t find any real news articles on it. Only bits and pieces from sources such as this. That lead me to wondering why there was so little “news sources” available about it? Have they been removed (as I did find a number of ‘dead’ links) or was it just not promoted enough?

  • You’re right, Amber. While the story got a lot of attention in the blogosphere, it wasn’t widely picked up by the mainstream media. The Atlanta Journal Constitution had an excellent piece:

    That story, in turn, got picked up by the Associated Press and was printed in a shorter version in a few dozen newspapers.

  • […] that they the First Amendment isn’t so easily quelled. The win in the Lifestyle case follows our win against Wal-Mart back in […]

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