Wal-Mart forces Pennsylvania college student to shut down Web site

Wal-Mart may be smiling, but Daniel Papasian isn’t.

The Carnegie Mellon junior’s Web site caught the ire of the retail giant, whose lawyers forced Papasian’s Internet service provider to shut down the site — www.walmart-foundation.org — on April 26, alleging Papasian violated Wal-Mart’s copyright by using company graphics on his site.

Papasian launched the site on April 16 for an art class he was enrolled in this semester called “Parasitic Media,” according to The Associated Press. A class assignment required students to create Web sites that involved political satire. Papasian’s site included text that satirized Wal-Mart’s role as a multinational brand.

Papasian said he chose to focus on Wal-Mart because “as the world’s largest retailer, there are countless labor, environmental and discrimination issues throughout Wal-Mart,” he said.

But Wal-Mart officials did not appreciate the shout-out.

“We have to protect our company name,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Thornton. “When you pretend to be someone that you’re not, that could lead to a problem.” The company runs its own Web site, www.walmartfoundation.org, to highlight the charitable contributions of the company.

After the site was shut down, Papasian altered the site so that the Wal-Mart graphics were covered with red bars that read “CENSORED.” The Web site was back up within five days, The Associated Press reported.

Papasian said he disagrees with the censorship, but felt powerless to fight it.

“The United States still recognizes the right of free speech, so Wal-Mart couldn’t attack me for my criticism. Instead, Wal-Mart’s high-powered attorneys went after me for copyright violation, threatening the host of my website,” Papasian wrote on his site. “I believe the use of the censored graphics was a fair use, but now the website can remain online without the threat of legal action.”

Further, Papasian said, his site never threatened to confuse Wal-Mart customers.

“The text was so ridiculous that anyone who read it would realize that it was absurd,” he said. “If anyone believed it to be a real Wal-Mart Web site, that is only a testament to the degree of absurdity that exists within corporate America today”