Walmart Telling Photo Lab Employees NOT to Ask for Proof of Copyright

Walmart’s Photo Centers might not seem like a major avenue for copyright infringement or photo theft. But PetaPixel has been made aware of an alleged policy change that makes it far easier for bad actors to use and print professional photos without permission.

The alleged policy change was first “revealed” on Reddit, when a user posted the following FYI:

Walmart Photo centers are now being instructed (as of 5/15/2020) to no longer ask for proof of copyright release. The associates are no longer allowed to ask if the images are professional or not.

This information is currently in their Wire (OneBestWay System), but it is being enforced on a store by store basis until none of the stores will be asking for copyright proof.

Photo by Dan Gold, CC0

Following up on this initial tip, we were able to get in touch with a Walmart Photo Lab employee, who shed more light on the policy change, explaining why it was put in place and revealing the extent of the instructions employees have been given.

“About two weeks ago, a new policy came from our corporate headquarters in Bentonville, AK,” explained the employee, who asked to remain anonymous. “The policy stated that due to a message on the kiosk screens, stating that there is a copyright policy, most customers just click out.”

This is a problem, as it obviously cuts into Walmart’s Photo Center profits. As a result, employees have been told to take a different tack entirely.

“Corporate informed the labs that the associates are no longer required to ask about any copyright issues. The new policy actually requires us not to ask at all, whether the photo is professional or not.” said our source (emphasis added). “In addition, the store I work at wanted the associates to sign the new policy stating that we understand the new policy and that we, as associates, would not ask about copyright issues.”

The current Photo Center policy requires customers to provide proof of copyright, but is that any use if employees are explicitly being told NOT to ask?

Some percentage—perhaps most—of these customers are printing photos they are allowed to print. In fact, commenters on the original Reddit post describe being prevented from printing their own photos, even after they’ve provided proof, so the policy change isn’t entirely without justification. As one commenter put it, “why would they turn away revenue and anger customers if the risk of them being found legally responsible is slim?”

But this also creates an opportunity for copyright ignorant (or outright malicious) customers to pull high-resolution images offline, and create prints without permission. It’s unclear what options Walmart corporate considered, but something between “scare customers away” and “don’t even ask about copyright” might have been more appropriate than shifting the policy from one extreme to the other.

We reached out to Walmart Media Relations for comment several days ago, but have yet to hear back. As of this writing, the Walmart Photo Center copyright policy is still live and unchanged on the website, but don’t be surprised if employees no longer bother to ask if that professional photo your printing is yours at all—in fact, it seems they’ve been told explicitly not to.

Image credits: Header photo by Mike Mozart, CC BY 2.0.

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