I am writing about an ongoing problem at our local Walmart – and no doubt other stores as well – pertaining to the photo centers’ enforcement of copyright. In short, advances in photo technology are making store employees ineffective gatekeepers of copyright protection. In the process customers with legitimately-owned photos are being given “the third degree”, treated as common criminals, and impairing relations between Wal-Mart and customers.
To recap my experience with Walmart copyright enforcement at the photo center, suspect photos are flagged. When a customer comes in for photos, they are asked if they have copyright permissions. If that information is not provided – regardless of the reason – customers are either denied the photos, or required to sign off.
An amateur photographer myself, I frequently take both portraits and other types of photographs. I can often provide the associated SD disk as evidence of this. At times I will utilize one of the many online photo enhancement programs available to alter a photo, giving it a more professional appearance. Despite the fact these photos are mine, I have been repeatedly grilled by photo shop employees. Made to feel little and dishonest, I have repeatedly been approached in an accusatory manner. There have been times I feared I would not even be able to get my own photos!
On the other hand, my daughter – whose name is on file with the local Walmart – takes photos professionally. She has been on file with the local Walmart store for at least two years – maybe more. She, of course, provides her clients with a copyright release so they can reproduce their own photos. Her clients were denied the ability to make copies because the release was affixed to the label of the CD instead of on a piece of paper – so evidence could be filed. (Considering the fact Walmart is trying to enter the digital era with paperless receipts, maintaining this paper trail seems antiquated.)
This brings me to my most recent experience with my dear “neighborhood” Walmart, and the reason for this correspondence. At a recent family reunion my daughter – again whose name is on file as a photographer – took some formal family pictures. She sent them in digitally – under her name – for me to pick up.
When I did so – as could be predicted – I was again prompted for a copyright release. I was greeted by the same accusatory tone I’ve experienced numerous times by a multitude of ever-changing, “green” employees whose affiliation with Walmart apparently empowers them to treat customers as common copyright thieves. Of course the paperwork was on file – but my scruples had already been tested.
My take on the situation:
1. Walmart is incapable of keeping up with increasingly available advances in photo technology that create genuinely professional results.
2. Walmart employees are inept gatekeepers of the copyright law, frequently singling out formal portraits they “think” look professionally done.
3. Walmart’s process for approaching customers regarding potential copyright infringement is accusatory, often misplaced, and frequently administered in a manner that creates ill will with customers and creates an overall negative impression of the Walmart shopping experience.