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Loblaw’s In The Crosshairs: Toronto Artist Lashes Out

A Toronto graphic artist has started selling protest t-shirts vilifying Loblaw’s supermarkets as bandits ‘robbing’ their customers with artificially high food prices. Loblaw’s lawyers have responded with a ‘takedown’ notice. Who will blink first?

Roblaw$ Shirt - © 2024 - Christopher Lamb

The consumer unrest over continuing high food prices – and the seeming unwillingness of supermarket moguls or government to0 take any material action to lower them – is starting to heat up. Perhaps dangerously.

A multi-front war

About a week ago, Redditors participating in a Toronto-based comment thread with the frantic title, ‘Loblaw’s Is Out Of Control’ took a strip off Dr. Sylvain Charlebois. He fronts the annual Canada’s Food Price Report, and directs the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, which produces it.

Angry consumers flamed Charlebois, accusing him of being an apologist for the grocery industry. Charlebois had submitted an opinion piece to a supermarket industry magazine, characterizing the recent string of high-level hearings and inquiries over high food prices as ‘theatre’, and not really substantial efforts to deal with the crisis. Some consumers slurred Charlebois as a ‘gaslighter’, working for the supermarkets. Sheer and utter nonsense!

But it shows how hot under the collar the masses are becoming over food prices. And others are chiming in.

An artist lashes out

Now, a Toronto artist has made a strong (to say the least) statement demonizing the grocers – and Loblaw’s in particular.

Christopher Lamb has apparently been monitoring the food price crisis for some time, now. He told Yahoo! News he became particularly incensed a couple of weeks back, when Loblaw’s quietly decided to cut back their famous ‘50% Off’ clearance specials to just ‘30% Off’.

“That really got to me because I was once homeless.[…] I know a lot of people who’d take advantage of those specials, first thing in the morning.”

So he lashed back at what some folks have labelled ‘greed’ the best way he knew how: A parody t-shirt suggesting Loblaw’s was holding up its customers at metaphorical ‘gunpoint’. The punny logo reads ‘ROBLAW$’ and features a parody logo incorporating images of a pistol and a shopping cart. It also re-casts the Loblaw’s slogan, ‘Life Life Well’, to read ‘Live Life Hungry’.

“It just felt like something really unnecessary to do,” Lamb said.

The Empire strikes back

Loblaw’s lawyers immediately sent Lamb a ‘cease and desist’ or takedown order. The shirts, which were being sold on his Etsy e-commerce site had to go. He’s also made up lapel buttons and – all-too-appropriately – fridge magnets.

Lamb is adamant about holding his ground. “I’m not going to back down, I’m ready to go to the Supreme Court, let’s go.”

Loblaw’s is threatening an Intellectual Properties infringement case against Etsy. According to Etsy’s guidelines, the corporation has 10 business days to seek court action against him. If they don’t, Lamb will put his merchandise back on the site.

In an email to Yahoo! Canada, a representative for Loblaw’s said they were protecting their brand from unauthorized products. “Like any other business, we protect our brand and trademarks from unofficial merchandise or products, particularly if the intent behind them is misleading to customers or malicious.”

Return of the Jedi

Lamb laughs in the face of adversity.

“I said, ‘What’s the copyright and trademark number you say I’m violating?’ Because I’m pretty sure you don’t own the rights to a gun and a basket. Because if you do, that would be a pretty interesting conversation to have,” he reports. “They haven’t gotten back to me.”

And Yahoo! points out, it’s not Lamb’s first foray into parody. He previously launched a line of merchandise poking fun at the widely disdained Metrolinx public transit empire.

“They came directly to me and said, ‘This is the trademark you’re violating, we need you to stop, but we love your interest in public transit,’” he says. “It was a nicer way to do it.”

My take

It’s important to recognise that the law enshrines every Canadian’s right to satirize. Wikipedia asserts: “Sections 29, 29.1 or 29.2 of the Copyright Act of Canada create the fair dealing exception to copyright: ‘Research, private study, etc. Section 29 Fair dealing for the purpose of research, private study, education, parody or satire does not infringe copyright’.”

So the bottom line is, Loblaw’s is really, really touchy about its corporate image and corporate citizenship profile, right now. But the law is clear. Loblaw’s is apparently counting on its size and economic might to bully Lamb into capitulation.

As of today, the ball is in Loblaw’s court. We’ll update you on the Lamb saga when the next shoe drops…

~ Maggie J.