Wal-Mart Pwned By Videographer


Candid Camera: Trove of Videos Vexes Wal-Mart – WSJ.com

An interesting story over at The Wall Street Journal reminds you how important it is to maintain your rights to whatever it is in the world that you document. The story is about a small video production company, Flagler Industries.

In the 1970s Mike Flagler was hired on a handshake without a contract to produce corporate video for Wal-Mart. The video was used for corporate Wal-Mart events, it’s annual shareholder meeting, sales meetings, etc.

Mike Flagler later sold his video production company (and I assume the IP rights to the video footage that he shot) to two of his co-workers. When Wal-Mart stopped using Flagler Industries for video it resulted in the company scaling back and laying off 16 of their employees.

But now these two employees have the best revenge. And that’s because the Wal-Mart footage may have far greater value to other people than it might to Wal-Mart.

Plantiff attorneys that are suing Wal-Mart are now going back to much of this very candid video footage to try and find footage to bolster their cases against Wal-Mart.

Much of the footage may also have political value. Americans have a love/hate relationship with Wal-Mart. While many people shop at the giant retailer and appreciate the lower prices that they may have, another group hates the big box retailer for what it’s done to American small business and the landscape across countless cities and towns across America. Many cities and towns have passed legislation prohibiting big box stores like Wal-Mart from coming into their neighborhoods.

So it probably comes with a bit of political negativity when footage was recently produced from the Wal-Mart archive showing presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on stage with Wal-Mart Founder Sam Walton.

In the footage Hillary says, “I’m so proud of this company and everything it represents,” at a store opening in 1991. In the video Walton responds, “You’re a great associate, Hillary.” Turning to the crowd, he adds: “She’s one of us.”

Now I’m not sure if any Presidential candidate would want to be known as “one of us,” by a controversial major American corporation. Particularly one that is known to have cost many a small business their livelihood.

The treasure trove of Wal-Mart video is interesting. And as photographers and videographers it also shows why you may want to work without a contract or if you do work with a contract to make sure that you always maintain the IP rights to the work that you produce. That photograph or video that you shoot today may seem unimportant and insignificant, but someday it may have much more value than you think it might.

Wal-Mart lawyers of course are looking into this matter and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them try and tie up Flagler Industries in Court. But on the other hand, without a contract, IP ownership over the tapes clearly belongs to the person who created the video and I think that this will be a hard battle for them to fight.

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  1. Jason McKim says:

    As a technical matter this wasn’t “without a contract”; it was a contract not evidenced by a writing: a handshake can create a contract. If it’s standard practice in the industry to surrender IP rights to the client, then Wal-Mart might be able to get that term into the contract and actually own the rights, not merely delay Flagler in court. This seems to be a fair result, as Flagler and Wal-Mart didn’t intend to create a contract by which Flagler could essentially blackmail Wal-Mart.

    The safest thing to do is not to work without a written contract, but have the contract specify that you keep the IP rights, if that’s what you want. You will get a lower contract price, but that is fair because you are retaining something of possibly great value. If you don’t have a written contract you will at least have to pay legal fees that you don’t want to pay to convince a judge that surrendering your IP rights wasn’t implied into the agreement.

  2. Wizetux says:

    First off, I am not a lawyer, nor do I know everything about IP laws. But I thought that IP rights are done differently when you are paid to do a shot, rather than when you do a shot, and then get paid for a photo. I believe that the right belong to the party that paid for the shoot unless it is stated in the contract that the author of the works retains the rights. Very similar to many Professional photo studios. I might be wrong about this, thou.

  3. TranceMist says:

    I read this in the WSJ yesterday and I think it’s a fantastic story.

    Besides the lesson for Wal-Mart in not having a contract, I absolutely love the fact it will embarrass walmart and show what a stupid reckless and soul-sapping corporation they are.

  4. Thomas Hawk says:

    But I thought that IP rights are done differently when you are paid to do a shot, rather than when you do a shot, and then get paid for a photo.

    Incorrect. In absence of an agreement, the creator of the content enjoys full rights, copyright and control by default. This is irrespective of whether a photographer or vidoegrapher is paid for the work or not.