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January 05, 2005



"If you spot news happening, I urge you to do the same."

Forget photographing news and news alone; everyone should get out there and take a photo on Wal-Mart property -- or even better, in the store -- and get it online regardless, just to prove the irrationality of such policy. Someone should throw together a website full of them and send the URL to the management.

Jeff Harrell

I agree with Dan, but I disagree with Matt in fairly strong terms.

In my opinion, flaunting a company's policy or a law just to demonstrate that it can be flaunted is a dumb idea. It's tantamount — not morally, but practically — to telling everybody to go out and commit a murder just to demonstrate that laws against murder aren't effective. It neither proves the point nor contributes to any greater good.

I think the legal question here is far more interesting. To what extent do companies or individuals have the power to restrict reasonable, lawful activity on premises that are open to the public?

I mean, I am free to make the rule that anybody who comes into my store has to fork over a dollar every time they say "umbrella," but am I legally empowered to enforce that rule?

(It's just an example. I don't own a store. But if I ever do, I already know what the first rule is gonna be.)

Jeff Hume

I disaggree with Jeff and agree with Matt. Comparing Matt's suggestion with advocating murder because you disagree with murder laws is absurd. When you take a picture of a Wal-Mart you are not harming anyone at all and it is, as such, a victimless "crime".

To me, what Matt is suggesting is a protest. I do not see any legal grounds under which Wal-Mart can or should be able to enforce this policy. What do you suggest people do to point out the absurdity of this policy? Say a curfew policy was imposed on your neighborhood. I would feel compelled to protest the policy by going out after the curfew and blatently disregarding it. Sure, it may not be the most intelligent way of protesting it, but it's righteous.

Jeff Harrell

What do I suggest people do to point out absurdity? I dunno, Jeff. How about pointing it out? You know, through discussion and public debate. You know, like what we're having right now.

Breaking this rule just to demonstrate that you can — even if it's a dumb rule — is not the right answer. All that would do is to make the world a little bit more hostile and unpleasant.

Being a nuisance for the sake of being a nuisance helps no one. And being an annoying jerk just because you can is not righteous.

Jeff Hume

I would argue that you aren't being an annoying jerk when the policy, as in this case, is so ridiculously silly. And it is not being a nuisance for the sake of being a nuisance. It is disobedience to make a point not to simply be annoying.

However, I do understand your point and I think that discussion like this should come first.

Glenn Fleishman

You'll remember recently when federal marshalls seized a reporter's tape when he or she was found openly recording a speech by Antonin Scalia? Scalia was actually appalled and changed his policies. That shows you extreme the behavior was. The marshalls apologized and agreed to not violate federal law again.

WalMart is a private place of business, but it cracks me up that they think of themselves as a sovereign nation. This points out even further the problem of having no agora: there's nowhere you can legally go and rant. Try it in a public park, and you'll likely be arrested. Try it in a store and you're trespassing. (Try it in your own home, and your spouse will point out that she's heard that one before.)

daniel harvey

New York City requires permits and passes to photograph in more environments then you'd expect (above and beyond the oft debated subway photo ban). Do you see a difference?


Why bother? Let them try to hold back the tide, for as long as they want to waste energy on it.

It reminds me of deep linking.


It seems to me that if a store employee had tried to take Roy's camera without his permission, he could have filed a complaint of assault. The store can make any policies it wants, but has no right to violate the law in trying to enforce these policies.

At some point all these cameras -- especially those used by reporters -- will be sending their content to a remote server in real time. In that case confiscating the camera won't even do any good.


Here you go aNonMooseCowherd:

Nicole Simon

Question is: What happens if someone does publish a photo without permission - will he get sued?

And: Would there be chances for Walmart to win? (A professional photographer might know this but any person shopping at walmart might not if not detected.)

steve crandall

Years ago I took a camera into a local NJ mall to take a photo of a very nice holiday display and had the camera ripped from my hands by a mall guard. The film was removed and, in the process, the camera back was damaged. I threatened to sue them and was greeted with a "we have our lawyers - sue away" answer. Not having the time, energy or money I backed down.

It is interesting to note the same mall is filled with people with cameraphones and camcorders (I regularly see visitors from the Orient filming each other). I haven't seen any of these people hassled this year.

I did hear of a case where some students with a portable bar code scanner were ejected from a WalMart. They were doing a study on pricing (some studies show that WM upsells and average prices aren't that good). They could do the same thing with a cellphone camera these days.

A few years ago there were StarBucks photo pages supporting the right to take photos in SB. Doing it for WM would be interesting, but I'm not sure I would want to deal with them.

jeremy hunsinger

what the photographer did was not a 'crime', or 'illegal' in any way, no matter what walmart policy is. walmart does have rights, they have a right to privacy and a right to property in this case. so taking pictures inside the store is borderline(privacy), but taking pictures of anything in clear view from a public are is not. taking pictures of their logo, or other property and redistributing that is also not necessarily ok(property). pictues of public interest outside without the logo... will always be ok, unless laws change. a while back the photographer's bust card was distributed it is pretty handy.


I cannot agree with you more.

The world has changed since the Abu Grhaib, or I should say the result of wild spread of digital cameras. In that case, a photojournalist would be no more a man with special permission and a black professional camera.

Capturing high quality and easy distributed photos is an easy job for mass. Thus the way people look the world would change.


Recently a friend of mine took a picture of the 'blue cube' monster satelite dish in Sunnyvale on a Sunday before starting his first day of work at Juniper Networks across the street.

That night someone identifying themself as with the US Government asked him to come out of his home then asked him questions confirming his name and address. He told my friend it was illegal to take pictures of the such installations.

Thomas Hawk

Dan I've had similar run ins with management at Starbucks, PF Changs and with the police at Grand Central Station in New York when I tried to use my tripod.

These policies are ludicrous and counter productive for these companies. I will keep Wal-Mart's poor policy in mind the next time I have an opportunity not to buy something from them.

I've put together a list of places that have good as well as unfriendly photo policies in the Bay Area.

I'd encourage anyone who is familiar with similar corporate policies or experience to share them as well.

Beerzie Yoink

I have posted this comment elsewher, but I think it is relevant here:

My understanding is that the "right" to shoot photos in a private business is fairly limited. For the record, I don't patronize Wal-Mart, nor do I generally support a business's blanket decision to disallow photography.

But I can't resist playing Devil's advocate. When you ask "I just don't see an upside to it, it's 'rules for rules' sake," I'm sure the business's owner/management would ask: "What is the UPSIDE to allowing photographers the freedom to take pictures anywhere, any time in my business?"

For one thing, most people in general are resisitant (or at least uncomfortable with) being photographed by a stranger in public. No businessperson wants their customers to be uncomfortable in their place of business. I can think of many instances in which people may not want to be photographed shopping in a Wal-Mart; e.g., buying condoms, tampons, or Preparation H. Moreover, businesspeople want customers in their establishments to make purchases, not hang out or shoot photos. In their view it could only be, at best, a minor distraction.

Furthermore -- and the general tenor of the comments suggests this is the case -- it is unlikely that most people who are not employed or authorized by Wal-Mart to take pictures would be taking pictures there to promote or enhance its image. Why would they allow it if they didn't have to? In their mind, the number of people (and any business lost from them) that they will alienate with a rule prohibiting photography will not outweigh the possiblity of someone taking photographs that are unflattering or detrimental to their image.

My approach to this would be to be discreet (sneaky) and use a small camera, move around a lot, and if caught, quickly and quietly leave the scene.

Roger Krueger

Sure, Wal-Mart can make all the rules and policies they want. I even understand why they'd want to. But their only remedy is demanding you leave upon threat of a trespassing charge. They can't take your camera, film or flash card. Which is exactly how the police enforced the law in this encounter.

They have no right or ability to restrict editorial publication of photos taken from portions of their property open to the general public.

This encounter is also being discussed at Wal-Mart thread

and at Wal-Mart thread

Steve Rhodes

They should allow photos because most of them will end up being free advertising for the store and products they sell. Sure, some will be critical. But in an era where companies spend lots of money to hire people to try and do person to person marketing, it seems they'd realize the potential value of this.

The issue of journalists taking photographs is a bit different, but it is also not wise to restrict photos. When there were demonstrations in San Francisco in support of Safeway workers locked out in Souther California, I took a bunch of photos. There are a few photos of people who marched into the store and got arrested. There would have been more if a security guard hadn't stopped me and had a cop threaten me with arrest if I didn't stop.

When I was online editor at the Bay Guardian, I was threatened with arrest and escorted out of Moscone Center when I tried to photograph protesters at a National Association of Broadcasters convention.

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