ATLANTA — A federal judge has sided with a Georgia man whose satirical Web sites liken Wal-Mart to the Holocaust and al-Qaida.
U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten Sr. in Atlanta rejected Wal-Mart's claims that Charles Smith's Web site and satirical products violated the company's trademark. In an 87-page order, Batten said Smith's products qualified as protected noncommercial speech because his goal was to criticize Wal-Mart, not to make a profit from his products.
The 50-year-old computer-store owner from Conyers, Ga., said he was "elated" by the ruling in the two-year-old case. "It's great," he said. "I'm relieved. Whenever you go into litigation against such a big company, you never know the outcome."
He set up his "Walocaust" Web site, and later a "Wal-Qaeda" site, because he says Wal-Mart is "taking over the world."
In an online message, Smith explains that when he coined the word Walocaust, "I was thinking of all of the destruction that has been taking place in the world in the last few years. Massive layoffs, jobs and investment capital going over seas, record bankruptcies, lost pensions, millions of uninsured, and wars. Behind most of this destruction lurk giant corporations."
His first Web site offered a T-shirt bearing the motto, "I (heart) Wal-ocaust."
In late 2005 and early 2006, Wal-Mart sent letters demanding that he stop. Smith sued Wal-Mart, seeking to continue marketing his satirical logos and designs, and Wal-Mart countersued.
In his order, the judge said, "The fact that the real Wal-Mart name and marks are strong and recognizable makes it unlikely that a parody — particularly one that calls to mind the genocide of millions of people, another that evokes the name of a notorious terrorist organization ... will be confused with Wal-Mart's real products."
He also noted that Smith had sold only 62 T-shirts, including 15 to one of Wal-Mart's outside law firms.
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sharon Weber said the company was studying the decision and considering an appeal. "We feel we have a duty to defend our trademarks and other intellectual property," she said.