In my head, this subject is so cut and dry, but in reality it’s not as simple as it seems. As I write this post, I am praying for courage; courage to see this thing through to the end. Because, you see, I’ve found my voice. And now that I’ve found it, I need to use it to share what happened, because if this is happening to me, it’s happening to others too, and that is NOT okay with me.
I know that this is a song and dance that everyone knows; You can not take someone’s work, copy it, and then redistribute it. You can not claim it as your own. This goes for a great variety of artistic careers; musicians, artists, action/preset makers, prop-makers, and photographers fight this sort of thing regularly. In most cases, when it’s photography related, it has to do with some photographer stealing pictures from another, removing/cropping out the watermark and claiming it as their own. Or, it’s a client taking proofs/sneak peeks and printing them from home for themselves or the grandparents, or whomever. Now, I’m not going to say that it isn’t stealing, but it’s expected. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but for me, at least, it is. When I post my sneak peeks to facebook, I do so knowing that they will likely (at the very least) be saved and used as a desktop background on your computers.
What I don’t expect (or appreciate very much), my friends, is this; to find out that my work has been saved from facebook and sent to a big corporate store and they’ve printed products using my images (with the watermark still on them) without a print release. This is exactly what has happened to me recently, and what has led to me finding my voice on this subject. Stealing is WRONG. Worse yet, stealing from a small business, then taking said stolen material to a large chain store like Walmart and having products created? Worse than just wrong. Illegal.
When this was brought to my attention, my first question was HOW? Considering, if you go to Walmart’s website, and to the photo center, you will clearly see at the bottom a link marked Copyright Policy. (Here is a link right to said policies) As you can clearly see, they state that they will not copy any image or create any product that ‘appears to have been taken by a professional photographer or studio, even if it is not marked with any sort of copyright’ never mind with a watermark right on the image.
Has Walmart broken the law, as well as their own rules? Yes. The question that remains here is what can be done about it? The answer I have at the moment, friends, is absolutely nothing. Yes, you all read that correctly; I have no recourse but to sue the client (even though it wasn’t the client who copied my images, but another family member) because according to the law office I spoke with, Walmart is not responsible for this.
Could someone please explain that to me? I completely understand that the person who had the images copied is in the wrong here too, but isn’t it sort of the store/website’s job to police the matter? Especially considering their copyright policy?
I have, personally, had clerks refuse to give me my images, or cut them up because they ‘appeared professional’ there before when printing quickly for craft projects with the little humans, so I’m not by any means saying that EVERY employee is irresponsible. What I’m saying is that it’s the clerks job to police their customers so that I am not losing income at every turn. Did they? No. Should they be held responsible? I say yes!
All I was offered from the lawyer I sought to have represent me was that they could show me how to make my watermark bigger. Now, that sort of bothered me on more than just one level, but we’ll start with this; Why should it matter the size of my watermark? Whether it covered the whole face of the person in the image, or sits in the corner of my pictures, a watermark is a watermark, and it needs to be respected, correct.
Now come the next steps; what to do and where to go from here? I’m working on that, in many forms, but that’s another blog for another day. This, mostly, is a cautionary tale for other photographers; this store does not care that it’s cost me income; they don’t care that they’ve successfully taken food off my table and money from my pocket and away from my business by printing without my consent, but they did. And that is simply not acceptable. Friends, if they’re doing this to me, they could very well be doing it to you. And that, as a business, is a pretty crappy precedent to set.
I could be trying to stand up here on my soap box and tell you a million reasons why you should boycott Walmart, but that isn’t what I’m doing. What I’m doing is saying that no matter how big you are, you should have to follow the rules. I mean, after all, there is no way for the game to be fair if the rules aren’t the same for everyone, right? And when you’re wrong, you say you’re sorry and you do the right thing.
So instead of climbing up on my soap box and saying over and over how awful this big corporation is, instead I will ask this; Who else and when does it stop? There is a simple answer to both of those questions, I would guess. In fact, I would expect it has happened over and over without other photographers ever even finding out. As for when it stops? The answer to that is probably pretty simple; it stops when someone stands up and says ‘This is Wrong’, and that’s what I’m doing today.
If you agree with me, don’t be afraid to share with your friends! If you’ve had this experience, please message me. I’d love to hear about your experience(s) and how you resolved them. ♥ and hugs to all! xoxo