One of my gred students, Kevin Lim was interviewed for a story in the Buffalo News about pirating Black Friday sale fliers for the internet. You may have seen the earlier story in the New York Times. I was interviewed for the story as well, and it was actually a longish interview. This is one of the ones I wish I had recorded, because I had more to say on it.
Basically, the reporter (Michelle Kearns) asked about the legal issues. IANAL, but I fake my way through a media law class. Clearly, the fliers themselves are copyrighted materials, and the logos are protected by trademark. The author of the bf2005 site, Michael Brim, claims that he is only posting “rumors” and is therefore in fine shape.
In the article, I am quoted as saying “Price information is not something they can own.” I may have said this, but it was probably followed by “once it is released.” Some retailers have been trying to leverage the DMCA to make even released pricing information “ownable.” But I have a feeling that plans for pricing might be a bit more defendable. Since, for example, a list of customers may be protected as a trade secret, it makes sense that a list of prices could be considered similarly.
I tried to push on the larger issue, which is that this is an ongoing trend toward forcing corporations to be more transparent, and empowering customers. I talked about ScanZOOM, Scout Pal, and similar systems that will provide for distributed, mobile “Total Price Awareness.” I also talked about computer hardware as the leading edge on this, and why people budget their hardware at 10-20% above the lowest Price Watch listing.
The reason they do this is similar to the real reason Walmart is worried. It’s not just that customers may find cheaper options online while shaping in their physical store, it is that they may find more expensive items online and decide it is worth it. I know that sounds strange, but I suspect it is the case. I don’t buy my computer equipment (or much else, for that matter) from the lowest priced seller. Price is perhaps one of the most important factors in a purchase decision, but certainly not the only factor.
So yes, I think we are in for an interesting time, but it’s a lot bigger than just Black Friday. It’s about people taking charge of their economic lives, of consumers hacking the retail structure. And it will matter way past this Friday.