This is becoming something of an annual ritual. Every year, websites obtain leaked copies of retail stores' day-after-thanksgiving sales circulators and post the prices. Every year, retail stores sue those websites claiming they're guilty of copyright infringement. And every year, Techdirt points out
that prices are facts, and facts can't be copyrighted. The New York Times
had a good write-up of the controversy.
The offenders this year are Wal-Mart and Macy's both of whom have sent threatening letters
to a site called BFAds
warning them not to post information from their ads. The Times
story has a couple of interesting tidbits. When confronted by the reporter, Wal-Mart couldn't provide a specific explanation of what was illegal about posting prices. We also learn that at the same time Wal-Mart is sending BFAds threatening letters, it's perfectly willing to send them money as part of its "affiliates program." You would think that the operators of BFAds would take a stand and refuse to do business with them until they retract their lawsuit threat. Meanwhile, a story in USA Today
suggests that Wal-Mart might be realizing that the web is an important part of its marketing strategy
and not just a place to send cease-and-desist letters. They've started offering special online sale prices for Black Friday, and they offer free shipping to customers who choose to have the purchases sent to their local Wal-Mart store. Maybe next year Wal-Mart should spend less time looking for people to sue and more time looking for ways to attract customers online.