Back in 2001, the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers was tasked with making the internet bigger, as it sometimes must. Soon, extensions like .biz and .info became available as alternatives to .com. Eleven years later, people had the chance to pay the ICANN an $185,000 application fee with the hopes of cashing in on another cyber expansion. As a result, 1,900 little-known e-suffixes like .gay and .bible became available to users.
That explains why, for the mere price of $29, you can now purchase a .horse domain name, if you want to do such a thing. "With .HORSE, there are no hurdles between equine enthusiasts on the Internet," says United Domains. "Giddy up and register .HORSE today!" It doesn't seem like too many people have been receptive to this pun-based sales pitch, but a 34-year-old named Jeph Jacques saw the opportunity for what he calls an "art project."
He was hanging out with some friends in July when they came across .horse and thought it was pretty much the funniest top-level domain one could own. So Jacques started checking periodically to see what big companies hadn't purchased their .horse domain yet and came across Walmart.
"I thought, 'Alright I'm gonna buy this and do something stupid with it and see what happens," he told me. And readers, he did just that.
Here's his website. It is not very functional, unless you want to look at a picture of a horse photoshopped into a picture of a Walmart, in which case it is extremely functional. It isn't hurting anyone—it isn't doing much of anything—but on Sunday, Walmart demanded that the site come down.
The company's argument is that walmart.horse is confusing for consumers, who may think that the retail behemoth is now in the horse business, or something. The company's corporate lawyers didn't return requests for comment, but here is an actual chunk of the cease and desist letter they sent to Jacques:
Your use of a Domain Name that incorporates the famous Walmart mark constitutes trademark infringement and dilution of Walmart’s trademark rights and unfair competition. Your use of our mark in the Domain Name is diluting use because it weakens the ability of the Walmart mark and domain name to identify a single source, namely Walmart. Further, your registration and use of the Domain Name misleads consumers into believing that some association exists between Walmart and you, which tarnishes the goodwill and reputation of Walmart’s products, services, and trademarks.
To be clear, Jacques is a 34-year-old with a nose ring who lives in Massachusetts and makes all his money by publishing a webcomic called Questionable Content online. Walmart has more than 11,000 stores in 27 countries, and in 2012, it was reportedly the most valuable retail brand in the United States, at $139 billion.
Jacques argues that his site is "an obvious parody and therefore falls under fair use." He also told Walmart in his response that he'd be happy to put a disclaimer on his site to let visitors know he is not actually affiliated with the Waltons. And although he doesn't want to bow to the company just yet, he says he's already proved his original hypothesis: that corporations spend an absurd amount of time policing their trademarks.
Though this is an absurd battle, neither side seems to be spending much time fighting it. Walmart has plenty of other, more serious problems—like the LA Times investigation that revealed the company was one of several chains selling produce from Mexican suppliers that abuse their workers. And while Jacques thinks his prank is funny, he isn't exactly willing to lose his house over it.
"I haven't heard back from them yet, and I'm hoping they'll be like, 'Oh, you're right,' because I don't really have the resources to get into a legal battle with Walmart," Jacques says. "But at the same it's pretty much been a total success as far as I'm concerned. I'm pretty happy with what has ended up being a pretty entertaining couple of days."
Follow Allie Conti on Twitter.