Interesting headline last week:
Walmart Files Suit Against Photographer’s Widow
Seems that a photographer photographed the Walton family before they created a giant empire. He then passed the studio on to his son, who recently passed away. The Walton family is sueing to get 6 boxes of photos back from the photographers widow. As the Professional Photographers of America wrote:
The complaint states that they (the Waltons) seek to obtain six or more boxes of photos, negatives, and proofs, alleging that over the years, Bob’s Studio retained those items “as a courtesy” to Walmart and their family (they didn’t). The complaint further states that the Waltons own intellectual property rights to the photos (they don’t). The fact is, under federal law, photographers own the copyrights to their own works.
Little explanation is provided from the Waltons about the basis of their claim. They even took a swipe at offering Huff $2,000 for all the images, although they are worth much, much more.
They continued to advise the widow:
PPA also advised Huff and her attorney of a separate suit, Natkin v. Winfrey, in which Oprah Winfrey claimed she owned the rights to photos of her created on her set. Since the photographers were hired as independent contractors and had not signed work-for-hire contracts, they owned the full copyrights for the images, and Winfrey’s argument was swiftly rejected by the court.
That sounds familiar!! At the foundation of all this is a basic problem with our business. Rich and famous people see no worth in photography before they are rich and famous. Then they want to control all images of themselves and their families! But they don’t want to pay for them. So they sue. Seems to me that the richest family in America could afford to give a poor widow a nice check, rather than put her through years of court proceedings!
UPDATE: Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove issued a statement this afternoon:
As you can imagine, many of the photos go back many years and commemorate the history, heritage and culture of our company. We believe that some of the photos that Bob’s Studio has belong to Walmart. All we want is for the court to make it clear who rightfully owns these photographs. We tried very hard to resolve this without involving the courts. We never wanted the issue to reach this point and we’ve done everything possible to avoid this.
What I learned in my court case is this:
There are no gray areas in copyright law. It is very simple. If the Walmart people can provide a contract, signed and dated by both parties giving them the copyright to the photographs, they win. If they can’t, they don’t!