Wal-Mart corporate archivist selling access to recordings of exec meetings to plaintiff-side lawyers

Flagler Productions, a video production company in Kansas that spent years as Wal-Mart's corporate archivist, is now selling access to thousands of hours of candid footage of Wal-Mart execs talking about the business's dirty secrets. Wal-Mart fired Flagler, and gave them a lowball offer of $500,000 (7,33€) for the archive. Instead, Flagler is now selling access to the archive to researchers (mostly union organizers and plaintiff-side lawyers suing Wal-Mart) for $250/hour.
“Once in a while you come upon documents that are helpful in a case,” the Berkeley, Calif.-based lawyer added. “What’s amazing about this is that this company has a video record going back many years showing senior management in at times fairly candid situations.”

Seligman said one clip from Lenexa, Kan.-based Flagler shows Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton in the late 1980s telling the board of directors that not enough women were in management.

Wal-Mart denies it discriminates against women and in recent years has published its annual women and minority hiring statistics.

Wal-Mart said it is unhappy with the public airing of its video record.

“Needless to say, we did not pay Flagler Productions to tape internal meetings with this aftermarket in mind,” Wal-Mart spokeswoman Daphne Moore said.

Link (Thanks, Nithya!)


  1. Well Wal-Mart is all about lowest prices but it forgot that sometimes paying more saves you on massive court payouts in the long run. Sucks for them lol

  2. I’m surprised they haven’t tried to squash him via threats of IP/copyright infringement lawsuits. Seems the trendy thing for corporations to do these days.

  3. From the limited details I’ve found online, it seems to me that Walmart paid these folks for their archiving services along the way – and there is no dispute about back money owed as near as I can tell. What happened is that Walmart decided to stop using the service and because there was no written agreement between the companies, the video company decided to basically blackmail Walmart with release of the internal videos that they had already paid to have made. When Walmart didn’t offer as much as they wanted, they opened up the footage for public sale. That’s about the same as if your doctor decided to publicly release your medical records when you decided to start seeing another doctor.

    If Walmart and this company had a written agreement it would have undoubtedly covered the footage as “work for hire” and Walmart would have had the rights. Whether or not the release of the footage by Flagler is legal, it’s unethical. I’m with Walmart on this one – and I don’t see why they should be criticised for making a “lowball” offer. It was their footage to begin with and it was already paid for.

  4. When you dismiss half a mil as a “lowball offer” for content generated by services they already paid for, aren’t you really saying that they didn’t cave in on an extortion scheme? This was blackmail.

  5. Come on, Weatherman. It’s Wal-Mart. So them bad, others good. Don’t think about it too hard. I mean, in the 80’s the company’s founder actually suggested that he thought they should have more women in management. Now that’s just evil!

  6. I guess ethical considerations are coming back to bite Wal-Mart in the butt.

    After all, Wal-Mart never actually does anything ILLEGAL, either. Just sort of unethical.

  7. >>After all, Wal-Mart never actually does anything ILLEGAL, either.

    Except when they do, and they end up paying a fine equivalent to 22 seconds of sales.

  8. Sorry, I gotta say that if Walmart didn’t have the brains to sign an all-rights contract to the footage or draft a confidentiality agreement when they hired the videographers, they’re getting what they deserve. They took the pictures, they hold the copyright.

    And no, this is very different from medical records, whose dissemination is clearly protected by black-letter law.

    This isn’t any different from a photographer selling your wedding photos as stock, except in price and interest.

  9. I really wish you’d can it with the “humorous” exchange rates. Once or twice was amusing, but this is starting to get really old. Some people really would like to know the real value, you know.

  10. 1. If you want archivists who follow a professional code of ethics, hire a real archival services firm — not a video production company.

    2. Information is power.

  11. I’m fairly sure that Wal-Mart didn’t expect The Invisible Hand of the Market to have this effect, especially since they seemed to have it well handcuffed to the bedpost.

  12. Cory, what’s with the goofy “exchange rates” you quote in this and an earlier story today?

    A subtle comment on the weak dollar, perhaps?

    Huh, you think? I’m hoping #7’s comment was tounghe-in-cheek and really isn’t that lazy and chickenheaded enough to think that the USD being worth 63.2% of its 2001 worth against the EUR is not a Big Deal.

  13. #1, #7: Giving the real value, however, isn’t ‘clever’ nor ‘witty.’ It’s much more exciting to make Subtle Commentary than report the exact reality.

    For those who care, the real price in Euros is closer to 316,375 give or take fluctuations in the exchange rate.

  14. I’m with WalMart on this one.

    (I feel so dirty saying that!)

    In the pro photography/video industry, if you hire someone and don’t specify some alternate arrangement, the photographer owns the negatives… and you pay for prints / licenses.

    But in this case, there are ‘internal’ meetings and such. The archivist probably has every right to sell access/prints to WalMart, but selling to an outside company? That just defies any sort of reasonable expectation of privacy or services rendered.

    I don’t know if there’s anything legal there, but morally its abhorrent and blackmail.

    There are so many better things to be critical of walmart on, and ways to ‘get back at them’. This is ridiculous.

  15. How dare you make me take the side if Walmart… I look at it like this- say you hire a photographer to document your child’s birthday party. Typically the photographer would own the negs and would charge you for prints unless your contract states otherwise. Then the you and the photographer have a falling out for whatever reason. You didn’t buy enough, were rude, whatever. He then opens up sale of your child’s birthday photos to specifically the people you wouldn’t want to have them- let your mind ponder that.

    Not a lawyer, but I don’t think that any jury would be ok with that. Add to that Walmart’s bottomless legal fund…

    I need to go bathe now…

  16. Ditto, practical archivist.

    The video firm was NOT the corporate archivist, so please update this story … those of us with archival training resent the use of the term in such a slipshod manner…it’s bad enough that the concept of “archives” has become equated with “back-ups” amongst the digerati … The backup is NOT the archives.

    Professional archivists don’t do this sort of thing. (I’m NOT defending WalMart … I think they are getting what they deserve … I’m just fed up with the misuse of terms relating to the profession of archivy).

  17. I couldn’t even watch the whole clip because of the scary MSNBC woman. “let’s take a look at the war zone, and THIS IS a war zone” — argh. And her tone of voice is so irritating — condescending, even.

    I can’t imagine that Walmart isn’t going to eat their lunch. Ownership of tapes does NOT mean you can sell the watching of them.

  18. I’m on the side of the video production company here.

    There was no contract. PERIOD.

    The production company owns the videos. PERIOD.

    If Wall-Mart wants to purchase the videos from their lawful owner, then pony up the necessary $$$.

    If Wall-Mart didn’t want this to happen, then maybe (just maybe) they should have worked out a contract with the production company sometime during the two decades they worked together.

    C’mon, everyone knew the rules of the game. And now that the rules run against Wall-Mart everyone chips in their two cents about how “the rules should be changed!” Nonsense.

    There might be some sort of argument in favor of Wall-Mart if they were uniformed about the law, or otherwise helpless or just plain naive. But with the armies of lawyers and very very smart people working for them, they knew damn well that this could be a problem. And still they did nothing about it. At what point do you say, “sorry, you brought this on yourself”?

    What’s next? At the Wall-Mart/Target executive softball game does Wall-Mart get 4 strikes per batter versus Target’s 3, just because Wall-Mart hasn’t gotten anyone on base in 3 innings?

  19. If there’s stuff that reveals criminal activity of some sort, can the archival company claim whistle-blower protection?

    (The comment box ate my first version of this post.)

  20. “Once in a while you come upon documents that are helpful in a case,” the Berkeley, Calif.-based lawyer added. “What’s amazing about this is that this company has a video record going back many years showing senior management in at times fairly candid situations.”

    Seriously, who is going to watch years of corporate meetings in the hopes of finding some embarrassing or “incriminating” footage. I know it’s Wal*Wart, and the world hates them, especially the poor folks that are forced to shop there because of their “lower prices”, but it’s not like they sacrifice a black cat at the start of every meeting.

    Seems like this guy’s found a good way to capitalize on people’s paranoia.

  21. @Baldhead #17:
    It’s called sarcasm and quite popular on both sides of the pond, I can assure you.

  22. Heh, that’s awesome. You gotta love capitalism.
    If there was no contract signing ownership of the video material over to Wal-Mart, this is totally legal. It also means you need to make sure that when you work with a professional {photo|video}grapher you get ownership of the material as part of the deal. Otherwise you really don’t have much recourse when your image shows up on their website, brochure, etc.

  23. Wow, did this article get crosslinked at Reason? That’s the only explanation I can think of for so many people coming out on the side of Wal-Mart here.

    Particularly since the death of Sam Walton, Wal-Mart has defined itself through its use of sleazy and unethical tactics. It appeals to right-wing morality in one instance, and then panders to the basest impulses the next. It is a company without a conscience, social or otherwise. The latest example of this was it successful lawsuit against a disabled former employee, in which they recouped MORE than their insurance had paid out to her (they eventually dropped the case after much bad publicity, but how many more such cases don’t we know about?).

    The video production company does not appear to be doing anything illegal here. Sleazy? Yes. Unethical? Perhaps. How is this different from what Wal-Mart does regularly?

    I have no sympathy, and can only hope that there is enough stuff in those videos to unleash a torrent of lawsuits against Wal-Mart. It is only fair, and would be a suitably karmic.

  24. If this company has taped the board meetings and is going to sell them publically with all their “internal/dirty” secrets, “ I’d LOVE to see how Hilliary performed. Does she follow the unethical business practices which are norm for the company? Does she follow the crowd or does she break some balls? what’s the deal. Before the Democratic Party decides who is going to let represent them, I think any video, she was in, if any, could make things get a little more interesting…

  25. You have to go some to make Wal-Mart look good by comparison.

    Congratulations, Flagler Productions. You’ve done it.

  26. ALEXIS I wonder if this company filmed Obama’s meetings with Tony Rezko?


    /I’m starting the comment box chant again!

    FIX IT!
    FIX IT!
    FIX IT!

  27. MOON – we would proably find out that Rezko got Obama a “sweet deal” on a sub-prime loan

  28. regarding the software problems with the comment system; what useful information could posters provide to help troubleshoot this glitch?

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