To the Wal-Mart photo center employee who accused me of infringing the copyright on my own characters…

I wager that most of us have had some pretty bad customer service at big chain stores, especially Wal-Mart. I sure have. But I bet you’ve never been accused of “stealing artwork off the web” for ordering prints of your own characters!

Today I visited the St. Clair, Pennsylvania Wal-Mart to pick up a series of prints that we’d ordered online. Immediately, I was confronted by a belligerent photo center manager who decreed, quite imperiously, that he was not going to release these photos to me because they were in violation of copyright.

Is that the normal way of talking to paying customers? I mean, even if you think it’s true, you probably wouldn’t immediately jump to conclusions and start accusing them of all sorts of crimes and plagiarism, right? Surely there’s a process for handling this that doesn’t involve picking fights with your customers!

He demanded proof in the form of a “trademark registration letter” and various other copyright notices, both of which are absurd and hilarious, especially given that we release everything under CC. He then insisted that I produce the original artwork, most of which was done on computer. When I brought up this very website on the phone to show it to him, he wasn’t interested because, “anyone can go to any website. I can go to StarWars.com!”

True enough, though you won’t see the name Michael DiBaggio all over StarWars.com, will you?

After a tense 5-10 minute confrontation that involves another manager, they change their story and give me the photos after signing a paper that basically says, “I have the right to print these” (and since they are CC-BY-SA, so does everyone else). Leave aside for the moment that neither manager understood this policy and chose instead to insult me and make ludicrous demands for ‘proof,’ what does this paper do to prevent copyright infringement? Nothing, of course. It’s farcical.

Bottom line, I recommend that creators not have prints made at Wal-Mart (or at least not the one in St. Clair, PA).

And to the photo center manager, I have only this to say:

I had a great conversation with the Wal-Mart corporate office, and I am looking forward to talking to your boss.

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