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How the Wal-mart Grinch Stole Black Friday Link Love

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The blog post, "Walmart Sends DMCA Notice to SearchAllDeals, TechCrunch" on Search Engine Watch's Blog was extremely interesting on several levels.

First, I had no idea what a DMCA was. But it sounded very important and, I was quite sure, not something SearchAllDeals and TechCrunch were hoping to receive this holiday season. It sounded like the ugly flannel shirt Aunt Martha would get you from Wal-Mart instead of the Blu-ray player you were hoping for.

Second, I'm a Black Friday fanatic. The biggest purchase of my six-hour Black Friday extravaganza this year was a Sansui 19" LCD HDTV for $178 from, you guessed it, Wal-Mart.

You would be a Black Friday fool if you didn't go to Wal-Mart. They aren't kidding about "Always the lowest prices." This kind of bold branding is something Satan's own marketing agency would probably think up.

You can "Save money. Live Better," don't you know. Really scary stuff, if you think about it too much. It's a mind-numbing mantra that allows them to be one of the few retailers that's making money at the moment.

But whatever. The junk's cheap and I buy right into it, hook, line, and sinker.

After reading the blog post and considering all this power and ubiquity of Wal-Mart, I was left looking like one of those cute dog poses where they tilt their head, raise one eyebrow, and lift one ear. As if to say, "Are you really that stupid, master? You're the one I rely on for everything, you know."

Wal-Mart told SearchAllDeals and TechCrunch to immediately take down links to Black Friday deals that weren't supposed to be out before November 24. SearchAllDeals and TechCrunch didn't publish the content. They just linked to it.

You see, a DMCA isn't a flannel shirt at all. It's the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. YouTube/Google is using the DMCA to try to protect themselves in the case, Viacom Inc. vs. YouTube, Google Inc. Viacom claims YouTube was engaging in "massive intentional copyright infringement" for making available a ton of unauthorized clips of Viacom's entertainment programming.

One provision, called Section 512, of the DMCA generally says companies are off the hook if they remove copyrighted content promptly when it's brought to their attention.

Napster shouted "512" back in the day, but it didn't work for them. The 512 "safe harbor" is there to typically let hosting companies off the hook for legal liability, as long as they don't ignore copyright infringement and if they remove the stuff when notified.

Viacom will argue that Section 512 will not apply to Google because Google financially benefited from allowing this huge amount of infringement to go on.

Do you see how the DMCA can be used for all kinds of legal wrangling?

In the Black Friday Wal-Mart situation, they're all in a tizzy about "linking to infringing content."

The gist of it all is that, in the U.S., it appears that it could be illegal to link to infringing content. And you could be in for some serious legal trouble if you don't take down the link. So, SearchAllDeals and TechCrunch might actually be in trouble for linking to these Black Friday deals.

So, dear readers, this article comes to you on a myriad of link building angles and perspectives.

Perspective 1: Be careful linking to stuff that is potentially infringing on copyright. You could actually find yourself in some legal hot water. As they point out over at WebTVwire.com, if it's illegal to link to copyright material, does that mean it's illegal to write an infringing Web address on a piece of paper and give it to a friend? Who knows. Just beware and be careful.

Perspective 2: Are you serious, Wal-Mart? If I didn't just see three executives get off three private jets coming from the same city with tin cups in their hands begging for $25 million from the American people, I would say you couldn't be that stupid. But now I know, yes you really could be that stupid. Here's some free advice you might be able to understand, Wal-Mart: Links good. Irritating bloggers bad.

Perspective 3: Maybe Wal-Mart is the most genius retail company in the world. I mean, the only Black Friday ad I had to get my hands on early was the Wal-Mart ad. Maybe TVs were going to be free this year. Maybe they were going to scoop Best Buy by selling "Chinese Democracy" from Guns N' Roses for only $5.99.

But no. It was the same boring ad of incredibly great deals they have every year: $5 DVDs, $15 vacuums, $29 printers. Who cares. I'll be there.

But the whole scene became much more interesting with this added twist of irate legal saber rattling.

Maybe you're a worthy master after all.

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