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Apparently, there is such a thing as bad publicity…at least when it comes to post-Thanksgiving sales prices at chains such as Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy and Staples being posted on the Internet more than a week before they go into effect.

According to stories in both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal this morning, these retailers have sent letters threatening legal action to the proprietors of sites such as and that were posting advance notice of the coming sales.

"We believe copyright covers a compilation of facts," Tom Williams, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, told the NYT. "It's our data about our products that we put out, and we don't want customers to be confused."

The data apparently was being posted by visitors to the sites in their discussion forums, leading to the inevitable conclusions that these were leaks coming from inside these companies.

Legal experts quoted in the NYT suggest that the retailers may not be on firm ground in claiming copyright protection, but the site owners say that they aren’t big enough or well-financed enough to do battle with the likes of Wal-Mart.
KC's View:
The WSJ goes so far as to tempt fate by actually listing some of the post-Thanksgiving sale prices in its story, telling readers about hot prices that will be available at Office Max on an H-P printer, at Best Buy on a Kodak digital camera, and at best Buy on the soundtrack for “8 Mile.”

Of course, MNB doesn’t have quite the legal staff that the WSJ does, so we’re not going to start posting those prices here. (But, man, that printer price is worth waiting for!)

The interesting thing about this case is that it illustrates the pervasive role of the Internet in disseminating information…and that while the retailers can try to control the flow of info, there’s very little they can do to stop it.

The WSJ notes that while these web sites cited have taken down their listings of post-Thanksgiving prices, these prices already have been copied and posted on numerous other less popular sites…and that they’ve become relatively common knowledge. (So common that they’re even in the WSJ.)

And here’s the irony. While these retailers are objecting to their prices being publicized in advance, these very same retailers have made day-after-Thanksgiving low-price shopping into an event. They’ve made price the issue…and consumers and web sites are just playing the game that these retailers have invented.

Live by the price sword, die by the price sword.

Or something like that.