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County couple sues Wal-Mart over lyrics

December 10, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A southern Washington County couple who bought an Evanescence compact disc and DVD at a Frederick, Md., Wal-Mart filed a class action suit in Maryland on Thursday because the CD did not have a parental advisory label about explicit language, according to Washington County Circuit Court records.

Melanie and Trevin Skeens, of Kaetzel Road, are asking for either the CD to be removed from shelves or a warning label put on it, said Jon D. Pels, their Bethesda, Md., attorney. Pels is a partner with Pels, Anderson & Lee LLC.

They also are asking for up to $74,500 for each class member, people who bought the CD in Maryland, according to the lawsuit and Pels.

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The lawsuit was filed against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville, Ark.; Wind-Up Records LLC of Wilmington, Del.; BMG Entertainment of Lanham, Md.; and BMG Distribution of Lanham, Md., according to court records.

Wal-Mart Stores corporate spokesman Gus Whitcomb said Wal-Mart would investigate the allegations in the lawsuit and respond to the lawsuit in a timely manner.

Wal-Mart officials had no immediate plans to pull the CDs from the stores' shelves, Whitcomb said.

The lawsuit states Wal-Mart "holds itself out as stocking music that does not contain explicit language" and alleges the discount chain knew about the song's explicit lyrics because they were dubbed out of a free sample on Wal-Mart's Web site.

"The people rely on (parental advisory labels) and I don't think sometimes the industry does the job they're supposed to do," Pels said.

"Wal-Mart is reportedly a conduit of explicit-free albums, but they clearly, clearly dropped the ball on this one," Pels said.

Whitcomb said Wal-Mart does not stock music with parental guidance stickers. The placement of the stickers is done by the music industry, he said.

"While Wal-Mart sets high standards, it would not be possible to eliminate every image, word or topic that an individual might find objectionable," Whitcomb said.

As for the dubbing on the Web site sample, Whitcomb said Walmart.com is a separate division of Wal-Mart.

The Skeens bought Evanescence's "Anywhere But Home" CD as a birthday gift for their 13-year-old daughter around Nov. 20 at the Wal-Mart on Guilford Drive in Frederick, the lawsuit states.

They played the CD in their vehicle, with their daughter and 7-year-old son present, the lawsuit states. Upon hearing the lyrics of the song "Thoughtless," the couple returned to Wal-Mart, but the store was closed, the lawsuit states.

The couple used a cell phone to call the store manager, who told them he couldn't do anything about the complaint and they had to take the matter to the corporate level, the lawsuit alleges.

Despite "putting Wal-Mart management on notice of the explicit language," the CD remained on Wal-Mart shelves in Maryland and throughout the nation, the lawsuit alleges.

On behalf of Wal-Mart, Whitcomb apologized to the parents if they felt any associate of Wal-Mart was dismissive of their concerns.

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