Genii Weblog

Censorship at OfficeMax

Fri 28 May 2004, 05:23 PM

by Ben Langhinrichs
My daughter is working for the John Kerry for President campaign as part of her Senior Project.  She had some materials she wanted to make copies of, so she decided to go to OfficeMax to make the copies.  Since the material was on the website, and she didn't have a printer handy, she called OfficeMax, and they said she could print a page from the internet from their store, and then make copies.

So, when she go to the store (driving herself with her brand new driver's license), she went to the CopyMax part of the store and asked them to print out the page and copy.

"We can't do it.", they said.

"Why not?", my daughter asked.

"We are not allowed to print or copy anything from  Company policy." was their answer.

Not allowed to print or copy anything from  That sounds a lot like censorship.  Now, I don't just feel like that because MoveOn is a liberal organization.  I would feel the same way if they said they wouldn't copy anything from George Bush's website.  I am a strong believer in free speech, and restricting the content of what people print and copy seems a pretty strong deterrent to free speech.

It makes me not want to patronize OfficeMax, which is pretty painful, as OfficeMax has the rare distinction of being yet another company headquarted in Shaker Heights.  Still, principles are important.  

I also intend to communicate with the owners and see if I can get a clarification on this policy.  I'll keep you informed.

Copyright 2004 Genii Software Ltd.

What has been said:

162.1. Christopher Byrne
(05/28/2004 02:43 PM)

They might just be trying to protect their arse and business base. Do you no longer watch CBS because they refused to air a Super Bowl ad for that organization?

I fear this organization in the same way I fear the NRA, NARAL, the ACLU, the Catholic League, the ADL, etc and any other organization that claims to be working on behalf of everybodies interests, when the reality is that they are not and they do not welcome free speech or open dialog.

See, this is why I don't talk politics! They are all idiots (on both sides of the aisle):-)

That being said, OfficeMax was just plain wrong. Give 'em h-e-double hockey sticks!

162.2. Ben Langhinrichs
(05/29/2004 02:13 PM)

For what it is worth, I don't watch CBS anymore...

As for MoveOn, I approve strongly of advocacy groups, of any political persuasion. Apathy is a far greater danger than involvement in the "wrong" cause.

162.3. Nathan T. Freeman
(05/30/2004 11:23 AM)

"That sounds a lot like censorship."

"Censorship" is the restriction of speech by government organizations. Any private organization choosing not to offer a medium for speech is practicing it's own right to free speech. It's no different than an ISP saying they won't host an anti-Semetic site.

162.4. Ben Langhinrichs
(05/30/2004 11:46 AM)

Bull! The definition of "censoring" (since they only define censorship in terms of censoring is "A person authorized to examine books, films, or other material and to remove or suppress what is considered morally, politically, or otherwise objectionable." Whether they are authorized as a government official or member of a company makes little difference.

Beyond that, OfficeMax might have been able to get away with this when they were a "private company", but they are now part of Boise Office Products, a publicly traded company, which puts different requirements on their actions.

Finally, I don't give a hoot whether what they are doing is illegal - it is unethical. represents a very large percentage of their customers, and I think their customers have a right to know that they restrict content this way. If they want to restrict pornography, so be it, but political speech? I don't like it.

162.5. Rob McDonagh
(06/01/2004 05:16 AM)

Darn. Makes me wish I was an OfficeMax customer so I could boycott them. What a moronic decision for a corporation to make. It's not like an ISP choosing not to host anti-semitic websites, it's like an ISP telling you to take down your blog because you endorsed a political candidate. pushes the envelope a bit, but they pale in comparison to Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson when it comes to inflammatory political statements - I wonder if OfficeMax would let you print out and copy some text off Rush's website, Ben? I expect they would, which would say something, no?

162.6. Christopher Byrne
(06/01/2004 06:32 AM)

Rob, the Jesuits would be proud of you!

Ben, I am not saying your position is wrong, but I do want to challenge you on a couple of things you have said in this thread.

1. " represents a very large percentage of their customers,"

Where do you get this generalization from? Does moveon track their membership numbers and their buying habits to that level of detail. In the Northeast and the Union laden states, that might indeed be the case (and in Vermont it may be 100% of their customer base:-) ), but that is not likely to be the case in the South. Being a Buffalo native, I would think you would remember that traditionally, anything North of Westchester county has traditionally been more conservative than those from the city and Long Island. Do you honestly think that carpetbagger could have won her Senate seat without carrying downstate?

2. "Beyond that, OfficeMax might have been able to get away with this when they were a "private company", but they are now part of Boise Office Products, a publicly traded company, which puts different requirements on their actions."

How so? There is no legal obligation on the part of any company, public or private, to honor any practice or speech they, for whatever twisted reason, find objectionable. IBM does not allow (or at least did not used to allow) employees to display Political signage and/or Bumper Stickers when on Company Property. Disney will not release Michael Moore's new movie (Fahrenheit 911). And so on and so on.

A business make a decision for whatever reason. If they choose to alienate their customer base, that is their right of free speech. If they lose business, that is their consequence.

My wife's cousin is wrestling with a decision as to whether or not to open for business on Sunday's. He lives in St. Lucia, a predominantly Roman Catholic Country. If he opens on Sunday to accommodate the Tourist trade, he risks alienating his native customer base, his family (and it is a large extended family), and the Church, which wields considerable influence. When he and I talked about this over Christmas, I asked him point blank whether the additional margins he would take in would be significant enough a trade-off for the PR problem he would have. And he admitted that was deep in his thoughts. I then told him about Truitt Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A (I do not know if you have it up there yet or not), who absolutely will not open on Sunday because of his religious beliefs. This may offend some people who are not religious, but it pays off in many other ways for him and the company. Are you saying that if it were a public company, he would have the obligation to be open on Sunday for people who are offended that he honors the Sabbath?

3. "If they want to restrict pornography, so be it, but political speech?"

Like it or not, pornography has been upheld time and time again as protected speech and might be considered a political statement (Larry Flynt anybody?). It becomes a slippery slope with a very thin grey line.

Enough rambling, back to coding!

162.7. Matt
(11/28/2005 10:20 AM)

Ever consider copyright laws or the fact that the teenager working at the copycenter doesn't know what they are talking bout? Did you ask to speak to a manager to clarify oficemax's rules for printing from websites? Or do you just like to complain and thus make yourself feel important?

162.8. Ben Langhinrichs
(11/28/2005 10:57 AM)

Matt - While it is unlikely you will come back to read this, I will answer. I don't "just like to complain", I think that it is an important part of living in a free country to ask questions. Asking doesn't mean accusing, it means asking. I could be in the wrong, but it hardly seems unfair to write on my own blog and ask such a question.

162.9. Paul
(02/17/2006 09:25 PM)


What I can tell you is this, Officemax, Staples, and Office Depot do not as a rule print from websites. in many cases websites are protected under copyright laws. i.e. see the bottom left corner of this website. I have explained to many customers on countless occasions why we can not copy, in anyway shape or form protected materials. trust me, I doubt it had anything to do with you or your daughter's political alliance.

Now it is entirely possible that the person behind the counter intended to say "we can not print from websites because they are covered by copyright laws" however I am guessing their inexperience choose to take the shorter route and just say "we can print from that website".

On another note, I often wonder why people make the assumption that "their" organization represents a large percentage of anything.

copyright infringement is an expensive mistake no company wants to make, regardless of their political views.

Disclaimer......please ignore spelling and gramatical erorrrrrrs :)