Nathan Hactivist on Fri, 11 Apr 2003 06:24:14 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Wal Mart wants to police the internet and arrest

forward this around
get us address for your local new stations to send videos to
print out the posters at and stick them up around your town

Keep Political Dissent Legal! is a website that allows user to upload product UPC ID numbers
and pricing information into a database. That database is freely visible and
is used with Re-Code's custom barcode generator to generate barcode image
files in real time. went public on March 20th. The
website is a complete mockery of the website which promotes the
concept of "Name your own price." only attempts to take this
advertisement to its logical conclusion. The goal of the project is to
create a new space for political satire using products that already exist in
stores. The audience for this form of art/activism becomes the cashiers and
shoppers at targeted stores. takes a humorous approach to these
activities as hilited in their forst commercial downloadable at One suggested tactic the commercial makes is to
re-code brand name items with generic items barcodes. This is an attempt to
illustrate the dramatic difference in cost between similiar products based
only on brand. believes that our customers deserve the right to
make their voices heard and protest their own contributions to the support
of the bloated adsvertising space that inflated prices of name brand goods.
We encourage our customers to truly name their own prices.

On April 7th, was forwarded a letter from the attorneys for Wal
Mart Stores, INC. The letter was addressed to the company Domains by Proxy who's tagline is "your identity is nobody's
business but ours." Apparently that commitment only held up for 3 days. On
April 10th, Re-Code. was informed that their service agreement had been
terminated by Domains by Proxy. has not officially responded to
the letter yet. The letter is visible at, as is
several posters that Re-Code encourages visitors to download, print, and

Is political satire illegal? Does Wal Mart have the right to police the net?
Are barcodes intellectual property? These are only a few of the questions
that may be raised over the next few days as the battle begins between
artist and transnational corporation.

On April 10th, a story about these happenings will debut on
The story is live now and is called "Steal this Barcode"
the entire article is included below. contact info:

Do you Re-Code!?
Re-Code! Shopping - Clip Barcodes, Not Coupons!

Steal this barcode offers a do-it-yourself product repricing service. Wal-Mart is
not amused.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Katharine Mieszkowski

April 10, 2003  |  Is it social commentary, or shoplifting?

The Web site parodies the design and chipper lingo of's "name your own price" shopping site. It invites shoppers to
"recode your own price," by making their own barcodes using the site's
barcode generator. The theory: There's just a 10-digit number standing
between you and a better deal on anything that you want in a store, and this
site will help you crack the code.

The site's creators call it satire. Wal-Mart's legal counsel calls it an
incitement to theft and fraud. lets shoppers share barcode numbers from products they've
purchased or search for codes entered by other visitors to make their own.
So far, the site claims that it has collected about 150 codes. Barcode
swapping, say the site's creators, is a way of subverting a chain's own
inventory management system to really name your own price: "Apply the
cheaper item's barcode to the more expensive item," the site instructs, then
go to the checkout where: "Cashiers usually don't notice but machines never
do." is a project of the Carbon Defense League, an artist and
activist collective affiliated with the "tactical media network"

"Nathan Hactivist," the nom de guerre of one of the collective's operatives,
who is based in upstate New York, says "We think of ourselves as a friend of, making good on their promises of naming your own price. We're
carrying out their goal to its logical extreme." He sees the site as a
commentary on the absurdity of a company, like Priceline, marketing itself
as "giving the power to the consumer," and as a tool for making a political
statement about the perceived differences between brand-name and generic
products, organic-labeled and non-organic foods.

But just days after opening for non-business on the Web, has run
afoul, not of Priceline's legal council, but of Wal-Mart's, the retailing
megalith and the U.S.'s largest private employer. Despite the legal
disclaimers at the bottom of Re-Code's home page pledging that the site is
not intended to be used for illegal ends, Wal-Mart wants it shut down.

On April 2, Janet F. Satterthwaite, a Washington trademark attorney
representing Wal-Mart Stores Inc., sent a letter to Domains by Proxy, a
service that the Carbon Defense League used to register the
domain name anonymously, demanding that the site be shut down within 48
hours. It accuses of "encouraging and facilitating theft and
fraud against Wal-Mart," noting that "Wal-Mart barcodes are specifically
made available on this Web site."

Domains by Proxy responded on April 10 by "canceling our privacy service for
that domain," says Justin Scholz, the company's spam and abuse
administrator. But the site is still up, since Domains by Proxy does not
control its hosting or domain name registration, just the anonymity of that
registration. Wal-Mart's lawyer refused to comment on the matter, but the
collective behind Re-Code has gone on the offensive.

They posted the text of the letter on their home page, and added a more
elaborate disclaimer, which visitors must pass through to visit the site:
"If you understand that is a site of satire then you may enter.
We are not liable for any misuse of the contents of this site."

Below the disclaimer appears a handy list of "tactical shopping options
using" with Wal-Mart products. It suggests barcode swaps as a
way of commenting on the war in Iraq: "Option 3: If we are to believe the
mainstream news, casualties are very few in the current war. Why not suggest
that our military begin strategic Nerf strikes by replacing Winchester Light
Target Load Ammunition (UPC ID 2089200442) with Nerf Ballistic Balls (UPC ID
7628161348). Ain't no war like a Nerf war."

"We thought we'd target Wal-Mart specifically, since they chose to target
us," says Nathan Hactivist. He says the Carbon Defense League has sought
legal advice from lawyers affiliated with RTMark, a kind of counter-culture
artists' front organization that helped fight the dot-com
in a protracted trademark battle (which eventually won). And right
now, they don't believe that Wal-Mart has a case: Are 10-digit barcode
numbers intellectual property? And where's the proof that anyone has stolen
anything from Wal-Mart stores with the help of the site?

"In my mind, this is similar to 'The Anarchist's Cookbook,'" Nathan
Hactivist says. "If the argument is that we're facilitating theft, then they
should be going after the people who invented the barcode, which is the
thing that's making it easier to steal. All we're doing is creating a
database of the barcodes that already exist on the products that we

- - - - - - - - - - - -

      About the writer
      Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon Technology.

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