Beating the Rush
By Matthew Boyle

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Black Friday, that orgy of commerce the day after Thanksgiving, has traditionally marked the start of the holiday shopping campaign. But this year some resourceful spies have gotten a jump on America's retailers by posting info online about special holiday sales weeks before Turkey Day. At a number of websites--from (run by an 18-year-old college freshman) to (with over 20,000 Black Friday messages) to (a broader shopping site that's added a Black Friday section)--enterprising bargain hunters can get an advance peek at the deep discounts to be offered at major retailers and plan their shopping sprees accordingly. What will they find? Tips that DVDs will be selling for $3.44 at Wal-Mart, for instance, and that Bratz dolls will be marked down to $9.97 at Toys "R" Us. In some cases, the actual ad circulars have been scanned, which is very easy to do, according to printing-industry sources. Although retailers are crying foul--"They are printing unverified gossip," says the National Retail Federation--no lawsuits have been filed yet. Intellectual-property expert Katherine McDaniel at law firm Bryan Cave says posting the ads is a clear copyright violation but doubts that any retailer would be harmed enough to actually sue. After all, if the sites drive more shoppers to the stores, it may well help ensure that Black Friday stays out of the red.