A district court in Georgia has found that a political activist’s use of the term “WAL-OCAUST” coupled with Wal-Mart’s familiar smiley face and recognizable letter and typeface style is fair use.
Defendant sells t-shirts, buttons and other merchandise containing the WAL-OCAST trademark to protest what he believes to be Wal-Mart’s massive contribution to unemployment and U.S. destabilization by shipping jobs overseas where labor is cheaper. The campaign also used terms like WAL-QAEDA. Wal-Mart alleged trademark infringement and dilution by tarnishment. Defendant claimed fair use.
Wal-Mart submitted survey evidence of actual confusion to bolster its position that the activist’s use of the mark confused consumers. The court rejected Wal-Mart’s survey evidence of actual confusion as unpersuasive and of “dubious value” because, among other things, the sample size was not significant, and the conditions that were used to get the results did not reflect actual marketplace conditions. The court found that while Wal-Mart did have recognizable trademark rights in WAL-MART, and the blue stylized lettering, it has failed to show consumers would be confused as to the origin of the products.
Regarding Wal-Mart’s tarnishment claim, the court found that if there was tarnishment, it was the result of satire. A tarnishment claim based upon satire is not actionable under the anti-dilution statute because the speech is protected under the 1st Amendment.
Practice Note: The court early on recognized the campaign as parody, but correctly noted that parody is not an absolute defense to trademark infringement; in a defense against trademark infringement where parody is an element, a party must still prove no likelihood of confusion.