you paid for it; who owns it? Wal-Mart’s contracted recordings

So, Wal-Mart is fighting with its former video contractor over ownership of a variety of recordings of internal Wal-Mart affairs.

An aside: From the description, it seems like some of them might have been automatically captured footage. The question of copyright over surveillance camera footage and other automated recordings is an interesting one, I think, opening up questions that touch on originality in copyright law; artistic intent; purpose of copyright law; norms; blah blah blah. In the land of amazing coincidences, the sort of coincidences that one’s human pattern-seeking brain wants to interpret as cosmically weird or destined or psychic or deistic intervention, but isn’t — in that land, my partner & I were having a heated debate over this very issue, just the other day, before we had heard anything about the possibly relevant Wal-Mart case. What are the odds?!? Given the geeky arguments which infest our home on a regular basis (and the tenuous connection of that discussion to this issue) — pretty good, I’d say.

At any rate, there’s some 15,000 tapes that the company (Flagler Productions) took of Wal-Mart over the years. Wal-Mart used them for holiday parties & whatnot; family style blooper reels to amuse the employees, I guess. Eventually Wal-Mart cancelled their contract with Flagler, which, trying to figure out how best to turn a profit from the mess, decided to sell the videos. Who’s buying? Clip services, documentary filmmakers, litigants, union organizers … Heh heh.

I bet some in-house attorney who failed to include an IP assignment clause in the service contract (or notice its absence) is in trou – ble.

Aside from one’s usual disdain for things Wal-martian, one can’t help but sympathize with the frustrated administration that generated this statement:

“It’s difficult to understand how the company could now sell to third parties the material we paid it to produce on our behalf. … Needless to say, we did not pay Flagler Productions to tape internal meetings with this aftermarket in mind.”

Needless to say.

On the other hand, there’s a certain poetic justice to it: Wal-Mart photo developing is one of the many, many places that have given consumers grief because they couldn’t prove copyright ownership of photos deemed “professional quality”, or that were commissioned for weddings, family portraits, etc.

(link from Howard Besser)