Wal-Mart: you can't scan century-old photos of your ancestors because copyright lasts forever

Tstamps sez,
I was in Spring Hill, Florida visiting my grandparents, who have all the family pictures of great grandparents and great-great grandparents. Doing the good familial thing, I decided to take the albums and scan the photos so that the rest of the family could see them. I only had one day to do this, and the only place near them was Wal-Mart (the Supercenter by highway 19). So I take the (sometimes) 100 year old photos to Wal-Mart and begin scanning them on their machine.

After a while, a Wal-Mart employee accosts me and tells me that I can't do that because those images are "Copyright to the studios that took them." I look down at my pictures. The picture she is pointing to is one of my great grandmother, taken about 1925. She has been dead since 1998. The photography studio (assuming it was taken by a studio) is not marked, and is long out of business, and the person who took the photo is long dead, as are, likely, his children and all of his business associates. The only known copy of the photo is the one I'm holding, which is owned by my grandparents, who gave it to me to copy.

In disbelief, I point out that the photo is almost 100 years old and the people are all dead. Undeterred, the Wal-Mart employee informs me that "Copyright lasts forever. It's the law." My scans up to that point are deleted and I'm free to leave the store with my old photos unscanned. I guess I should be thankful they didn't have a portable shredder on hand to seize my photos and do away with them right then and there. Is that in the next set of magic federal laws?

100 years old


  1. I would have stayed and made a fuss. I know it’s futile, but sometimes ignorance just cannot be left to spread.

  2. Walk into the electronics department.
    Buy a scanner.
    Take it home and scan your photos.
    Return the scanner to walmart for a full refund.
    Now your scans are free and you’ve cost walmart time and money for being pains in your tailpipe.

  3. Lunarworks….it’s WalMart…..it’s too late.

    Also, Cory……reason #468 not to go to Walmart.

    No Goodwills around for a $10 scanner?
    Send ’em to me and I will scan them free of charge.

  4. Who the hell ever enforces copyright at a photocopier?!

    Those signs warning about copyright that librarians tape on are a joke — usually because they’ve been “well trained” by the ALA (which is otherwise a fine organization).

    I’ve never seen any non-library photocopier even bother with a sign… or attendance.

  5. Do y’all really expect the typical Wal-Mart employee to be up-to-snuff on copyright law? They’re working for $8/hr and probably get cut off before 30 hours a week so WM won’t have to pay any health insurance.

    Is anyone that surprised?

    The scanning can wait, I promise–as can nearly anything else that people think is so important that they just “have to” shop at Wal Mart instead of somewhere else.

    If you shop there, you’re encouraging them. End of story.

  6. Do y’all really expect the typical Wal-Mart employee to be up-to-snuff on copyright law?

    Then who’s responsible for this overzealous behavior?

    The scanning can wait, I promise–as can nearly anything else that people think is so important that they just “have to” shop at Wal Mart instead of somewhere else.

    Or take bman08’s advice and just buy and return a scanner from Wal-Mart for the day.

  7. I ran into that issue once – I told them that I worked for the studio, and they left me alone. I figure if they’re going to lie, I’m going to lie.

  8. If you really want to have fun, buy a 12 pack and refuse to show ID when leaving the store.

    Hmm, I might have to do that tonight just for laughs. Gotta park near the doors that have the under-95 greeters.

  9. There needs to be a system whereby anyone who tries to enforce laws that don’t exist (or enforces their misinterpretation of laws that do) can be publicly spanked and made to wear a hat that says “I Am Not a Lawyer” for a week.

    If they try to justify their invented rules as “because of the terrorism” or “since 9/11”, they get spanked twice as hard, and have to wear the hat for a month.

  10. I’m interested in a response from someone who knows copyright law, which I don’t. Acc’d to the almighty wikipedia the photo may still be under copyright:

    (Duration of copyright) “95 years after publication for works published 1923-1963 (Copyrights prior to 1923 have expired.)” [17 USC 304]

    Given that, for a photo taken ~1925 the copyright wouldn’t expire until 2020.

  11. Arguing with idiot wage slaves will get you nowhere

    If you really do need to scan them there…

    “Copyright lasts for almost forever… x years… but these photos aren’t copyrighted. See how your studio puts a copyright symbol on ones you take? these don’t have that. great grandma paid extra to the photographer so we could make copies whenever we wanted”

    but realisitically…

    why the fuck are you giving walmart your business in the first place ? you should be ashamed of yourself. that company has been nothing short of destructive to the american economy.

  12. I’ve always wondered where all those factoids about laws and nature come from but now I know. Apparently poorly instructed staff at big box stores invent them to explain confusing instructions from their bosses to customers.

    Shane, my experience is that finding any staff at Wal-Mart is hard enough, let alone a manager. Just thinking “I’d like to find someone to help me.” seems to make them disappear.

  13. I think the hat should actually say “I am not a judge.” A number of problems in the US today stem from lawyers (including a number at very high levels in the government) thinking that their interpretation of the law has the same legal standing as a court’s ruling.

  14. So what’s the scanner for? What could anybody possibly want to scan that would be less likely to be copyrighted than 100-year-old family photographs?

  15. > Who the hell ever enforces copyright at a photocopier?!

    Kinko’s. Refused me personal color copies of articles about my own software.

    There’s no explaining fair use to anyone these days. A color scanner is your friend.

    Walmart has even been reported to refuse to make prints of pictures just because they “looked good enough that have been taken professionally”.

  16. Thing is that clerk was absolutely wrong about the copyright laws. Not that it’s a big surprise. I wish I could give you my copyright law book so that you could whack that employee across the head ;)

  17. you could have informed the “helpful” droid that you happen to know that the photos were taken as work for hire and thus transferred the rights to your family.

  18. It’s pointless to get mad at the Wal-mart people. Copyrights on photos last for 95 years (Thank you congress) or 30 years after the studio went out of business. Whichever comes first.

    The thing is, if the store is caught copying a photo illegally it’s a $10,000 fine per violation. K-mart got nailed a few years back to the tune of $100,000+ which pretty much scared everyone in the industry and sent all of the various managers running to drill it into their heads that copying studio photos = bad.
    So don’t be mad at the Wal-mart guy who’s been yelled at by the manager, be mad at congress for passing idiotic laws.

  19. There area few options:

    1) Stop going to Wal-Mart. I understand that their employees need to make a living too, but the place is not a company most self-respecting individuals would want to support if they knew more about it.

    2) Next time they try to pull something like that, ask for them to take you to an Internet-connected computer and take them to http://librarycopyright.net/digitalslider/ (according to the slider, your 1925 picture is public domain, with or without the copyright symbol, unless the studio renewed the copyright).

    3) Buy a scanner. They’re cheap and easy to use. The portable ones fit in a laptop bag alongside the laptop itself very easily.

  20. The last time I had pictures developed at Wal-Mart, I was in the store for 50 minutes (one hour photo was speedy that day). When I walked out the door, I found my car was stolen. All that remained in the parking space was a pound of glass.

    Please note, this Wal-Mart had “security” driving around all the time.

    Never been there since.

  21. Actually, copyright dates don’t entire matter in this case. Old photographs do not have a copyright notice.


    For works first published on and after March 1, 1989, use of the copyright notice is optional. Before March 1, 1989, the use of the notice was mandatory on all published works. Omitting the notice on any work first published before that date could result in the loss of copyright protection if corrective steps are not taken within a certain amount of time. The curative steps are described in this circular under “Omission of Notice and Errors in Notice.”

    The next odd bit is the statement that the photos are “copyright owned by the studio that took them.”

    That is a work for hire in which the studio was paid, and any (nonexistent) copyright would be the person who commissioned the work. I suspect that modern studio photos have pretty evil contracts that do allow copyright to remain with the studio.

  22. Would WalMart be under any liability by allowing people to use their scanners in copyright infringement? I wouldn´t see any other reason for their heartless misconduct.

  23. While Wal-Mart is of course private property and would have every right to demand that you leave, my response in such circumstances is typcially something like, “Either leave me alone or call the police. I have to listen to cops, but I don’t have to listen to you.”

  24. Reading something like this and the inane responses from readers (myself included) makes me feel sort of cruddy and ashamed. Look, consider the following:

    – a typical (and I stress typical) WM employee may not have a thorough understanding of copyright law,
    – he is probably told by his boss to make best judgement calls on copyrighted works
    – perhaps he has a family so he really wants to keep his job
    – he blankets all non-home camera works as copyrighted material

    So then tech/law snobs like BB readers post a silly blurb and we all have a laugh at the expense of a WM employee who probably has a crappier job than most of us.

    For shame.

  25. Who the hell ever enforces copyright at a photocopier?!

    Kinko’s. Refused me personal color copies of articles about my own software.

    Wow, I guess I’ve lost touch with how low they’ve sunken since I long ago switched to AlphaGraphics instead for anything Kinko’s could theoretically do.

    why the fuck are you giving walmart your business in the first place ? you should be ashamed of yourself. that company has been nothing short of destructive to the american economy.

    Get a copy of Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) by David Cay Johnston. The problem isn’t directly Wal-Mart, but that municipalities give tax breaks (such as not paying sales tax) to “big box” retailers such as Wal-Mart under the dubious rationale of “job creation”.

    “Job creation” (or focusing on “jobs” rather than “wealth”) is a terrible concept for a rather simple reason: you’ll end up working two jobs but at half the pay each.

    At the same time it gives Wal-Mart such a slanted business landscape that of course they drive out competitors.

    But in these times of rampant inflation… the actions of a company pushing manufacturers (including pharmaceutical companies) to lower (not raise) prices is sorely needed by those who have little they can afford to spend.

  26. My mom ran into the same issue at Walgreen’s when she tried to scan old photos from the 1940s. She worked around the issue by trying later when the photo counter was manned by a 16 year old kid who appeared to hate his job. He didn’t seem to care about company policy and let her scan away.

  27. So… YOU do the scanning at Wal-Mart? Huh. my store we scan it. We basically figure if the customer wanted to scan it themselves they’d go over to the computer department and buy a scanner, and come to the photo department to make sure it’s done right (of course the company gives us “user friendly” software that makes everything more difficult…)

    But we do enforce a similar rule- I just don’t bother with really old photos. after 30 years chances are the negatives have been destroyed this is the only copy left

  28. Your picture is unscannable until 2020.

    Thank disney for doing a good job on paying your congress.

  29. My question is, what is going on that everyone, from store clerk to beat officer, thinks he’s an intellectual property attorney, judge, and enforcer?

  30. One of my library school professors had Kinko’s (or some place similar) give him hassels about copying his own thesis… He had to have “written permission” (ROTFLOL)

    This is why if you do want to print them somewhere (and I suggest CVS over Walmart, although I am sure there are other better places, they were just close and convenient the last time I printed photos other than on my own photo printer) scan them in yourself, and then take the disk to the store – CVS never batted an eye at the digital prints I had printed (and they were concert photos I had taken that had many times been mistaken for professional photos – so they probably should have at least ASKED)

  31. Hmmm. After a brief shower and thinking about copyright notices….

    The fact that the owner no longer has to post a copyright notice is perhaps far stupider and more dangerous than any of the copyright extension laws.

    It means that you cannot tell if someone has even bothered to assert copyright. And because most ephemera isn’t even marked with a year, the law implies that you must now assume that you cannot copy anything because you cannot really tell if it was pre-1989.

    So, in fact, the Walmart guy is acting within reason because the legality of the photo copyrights *IS* actually in question. Copyright needs work.

  32. So then tech/law snobs like BB readers post a silly blurb and we all have a laugh at the expense of a WM employee who probably has a crappier job than most of us.

    So understanding and exercising our rights and freedoms makes us “law snobs”? or perhaps “elitist”?

    If so, excuse me while I defend myself from the dictatorship of the proletariat.

    I think I hear them billowing to my door now… “get ‘er done!” … “durka-dur!”

  33. Not to get all Slashdottie about this, but hey — the photos aren’t the only old thing here; this was posted to Flickr over two years ago (!). I suppose that WalMart-bashing can seen as a “wonderful thing,” but stuff this old seems more like trolling….

  34. “Copyright lasts forever. It’s the law.”

    Wow, the economy is so bad now that even lawyers are working at WalMart, it seems.

  35. For $30 you can get your own scanner and be rid of the ignorant.

    I’ve had similar moments with Wal-Martians. It makes me want to pull an IP attorney out of the wings ala Marshall McLuhan:

  36. If you were clever, you would have simply written the copyright to yourself on the back.

    That’s what I do, works all the time.

  37. It isn’t copyright infringement to copy something, only to copy something for sale. You can make as many copies as you want and plaster them around your home, you own that photo. You just can’t sell the copies, cause that money would legally go to the copyright holder.

    You could also argue that the photos were taken as work for hire, which means your family owns the copyright.

    Also, there is a little thing called the Fair Use Doctrine:
    “Notwithstanding the provisions of sections and , the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

    1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
    2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
    3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
    4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

    The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.”

    I hate it when people run around enforcing laws they don’t know shit about.

  38. @ #7 Walmart, Kinkos and any other retail corporation mystery shop themselves. Employees are taught to fear any copyright situation they come across as a potential test of their enforcement of company policy, vague as it may be. Even though this person is stuck working at a Walmart, they value their job over the few bucks of revenue that they lost when the scan job walked out the door.
    A. Corporate chain stores are better targets for copyright infringement lawsuits than individuals, (see Disney vs. Kinkos), leading them to enact overly defensive policies regarding the reproduction of copyrighted materials. Also, it is not really your own use of the copyrighted materials that interests the corporate entity. It is the fact that they as a corporation are making reproductions of materials and then selling those reproductions to you.
    B. Employee training is an expense, and we all know how big corporations feel about spending money on their employees. Ergo, the adulterated information from article A. is usually very poorly communicated to the people that have to use it, further exacerbating the situation.
    C. People working a customer service positions at a large chain store are not paid very much and not required to be well educated (although I know people with multiple degrees who work at Kinkos). Therefor it is safe to assume that they have very little motivation to educate themselves on copyright law and fair use in their free time.

    The correct solution to this problem is to buy your own scanner and enjoy the satisfaction of getting things done with independence from corporate chain stores. The worst solution is to come in a abuse some poor working stiff with your superior knowledge of copyright law. You may even get them to do your work for you, but at the expense of making them feel like an idiot. You’re not sticking it to the Man, your sticking it to some poor pawn that the Man has stuck in your way.

  39. In libraries we put the copyright stickers on the self-serve machines (including our scanner) to put the responsibility for knowing and following copyright law off of us and onto you, the user. If you choose to scan or copy something you shouldn’t, that’s on you. Where it gets tricky is when we’re asked to help and then we can see what you’re doing. But we don’t go around inspecting what people are doing. That’s just taking on a whole level of liability that we don’t need.

    I’m with the folks who suggested buying your own scanner. I have a cheap lightweight Canon scanner that I brought to my parents’ house a few years ago and made copies of photos using my laptop. It was much more fun because my grandma was sitting at the table watching me and sorting through the boxes, and we got to talk about all the old stories and who all the old neighbors and cousins were. It was great fun.

  40. #41 Boingboing is a directory of wonderful things. That would mean interesting, amazing and the like. Now where did it post BoingBoing a directory of the new things.

  41. While I agree that a Wal-Mart employee is no legal expert, I do understand that he/she is told by the manager to do something and has to do that.
    I do have a problem with a blanket: “why are you shopping at WM?” I don’t live in the USA, but where I live we have a WM and two supermarkets. The nearest shopping centre to us is 500 miles away. What’s a body to do? If they ever let me out of the place I will NEVER shop in another WM but for now I’m stuck. Even simple thing like a loaf of bread is about $1.20 cheaper at WM than the other evil one – a major supermarket. Not to mention, where can people who work at WM afford to shop if not AT Wal-Mart?

  42. This is ignorance! I would have photographed the fool, found out his real name, then gone home to blog all about it. All in the name of educating people about such things!

    I’m sure that wouldn’t cause much of a ruckus…

  43. RE: TKendo

    Yes, they would liable, that’s why they have the policy, and that’s why they are very cautious with what they allow people to copy. I didn’t work at Walmart but worked at a copy shop in University, they had a policy similar to this and they didn’t exactly explain the law well to us when they asked us to enforce the policy.

    In fact I pointed out that some things they were asking us to do didn’t make sense in view of the law, but they were told it came from “corporate lawyers” and we weren’t qualified to question it.

    That being said, we still had customers who were obviously trying to circumvent our copying rules and got quite angry at us when we said we wouldn’t do it. People claimed to be the author frequently (my favourite was a guy claiming to be the author of a book by a “Sarah”), they would put tape over copyright notices and get angry at us when we tried to remove it, and once I had a guy who wanted me to make him a pile of two-sided colour copies of a $20.

    That job sucked BTW. Be that as it may, it’s the copyright holders who sue/threaten to sue places like Walmart that makes them come up with these policies, although I do blame them (Walmart, etc.) for not being able to properly train their employees how to answer the obvious questions without sounding like a tool.

  44. @48, considering that you’d be photographing someone on private property that likely would cause a ruckus. Personally, I think it’s a little mean to do to someone, no matter how ignorant they may seem.

    Brother P has it down pat. Plus, your own scanner will save you some cash down the road.

  45. My guess is that the motivations behind managing a library (lending content for free; ensuring that patrons don’t vomit on the floor) and managing a Wal-Mart (selling content; ensuring that customers don’t shoplift methamphetamine precursors) might inform the way they choose to enforce copyright.

    That said, the error occurred when you entered the store. Scanners are absurdly cheap these days; buy your own and scan to your heart’s content at home.

  46. In fact I pointed out that some things they were asking us to do didn’t make sense in view of the law, but they were told it came from “corporate lawyers” and we weren’t qualified to question it.

    That’s called the genetic fallacy, btw.

    It’d be like asserting, “unless you’re a licensed and bonded astronomer, you’re not qualified to argue that the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth”. Who you are has no relevance to whether the geocentric model or the heliocentric model is more accurate.

  47. The point of copyright is to protect intellectual property rights and to protect against others making commercial gain on the back of someone else’s efforts. I used to work with a massive photographic collection at a national museum and this was a problem we came up against all the time when it proved nigh on impossible to trace the original creator of the image. Reasonable attempts need to have been demonstrated before you can go ahead and make copies. And this is very different depending on whether or not you intend to make money from the copy or it is just for private research purposes only.
    What it always comes down to though is what constitutes “reasonable efforts” and “private research purposes” and other such woolly phrases. And the people with the responsibility of investigating and prosecuting violations are overworked and do not have enough resources to pursue them all anyway. Ultimately it can come down to your own conscience. No, really.

    And I really wouldn’t expect anyone from Walmart to know that.

  48. The point of copyright is to protect intellectual property rights and to protect against others making commercial gain on the back of someone else’s efforts.

    No, actually the “point” of copyright is

    To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

    It has nothing to do with this newspeak of “intellectual property rights”. It’s a writ of monopoly intended to act as a supply-side stimulus.

  49. I work for 8 dollars an hour while going to college and I’m not a moron, like this person at wal-mart. I take offense to Cloudform assuming that income is equal to intelligence, but I guess we can’t all be rich geniuses.

  50. I work in a Walmart photo lab, and agree with Brother and Cinemajay, although I would add to Cinemajay that from personal experience, no one who is going to be mad about copyright remotely cares *how* you say it or how well informed you are. Often, actually, people tell me I’m wrong about things even when I’m not, just to be argumentative or try to intimidate me.

    I could care less if someone wants to scan their hundred year old photo, but fact is, Walmart can and will get fined if I allow it, and, more than likely, I’ll lose my job.

    Walmart used to allow photos over the official copyright to be scanned, but it caused too much of a hassle trying to prove if a photo was over 50 years. (Or, wait.. is it 75? whatever.) So instead they just said no professional photos without releases.

    Fact is, Walmart is a huge company, and as a huge company, gets scrutinized more closely. We wouldn’t have to be so anal about it if we weren’t going to get fined from the government or sued by photographers. I’ve heard from numerous of my own disgruntled customers that they can just take their photos down to CVS because they’ll let them do it, they did it before. I haven’t tested this out, but I probably will out of pure curiosity. One reasonable customer who did NOT yell at me when she wanted to reprint her daughter’s official prom photos and I politely told her she couldn’t was surprised because she had done similar ones at CVS but it just cost so much more.

    There’s a million things like that, in many departments there, because we have to be so careful. Frankly, allowing you to do something either illegal or in the original poster’s case, against Walmart policy, is not worth my job.

    People throw *fits* about this issue, even when it’s a photo clearly nowhere near an expired copyright, and all it does is make the person who has to work there more surly, which then people complain about.

    To people in general who get pissy about it, this is one of the *only* issues that Walmart will not cave in to if you throw a fit, so just enjoy the fact that you can have childish tantrums for everything else and get your way, or that you could, as one person suggested, go buy a scanner and then return it. Who cares if you’re making more work for the wageslaves, or making costs go up, right? You beat the system.

    Also, I’ve found that people tend to greatly exagerrate the rudeness encountered when they are mad and tells stories like these, although I don’t deny there are some pretty bitchy retail folks around.

  51. to protect against others making commercial gain on the back of someone else’s efforts.

    This is called the “free-rider problem“; however, the question is whether a government-granted monopoly “protection” causes a less or more harm than the free-riding does. Can this even be calculated? If not, on what basis then are such monopolies granted?

  52. This is completely idiotic. Maybe the person who took the photos was the subject of the photo who was using a remote flash. Whatever, if this is true the idiots as Walmart should be beaten. I’ve never stepped in one and this sounds like a perfect reason not to.

  53. @zuzu #7

    You said, “Those signs warning about copyright that librarians tape on are a joke — usually because they’ve been “well trained” by the ALA (which is otherwise a fine organization).”

    Bzzt! No, but thanks for playing. Section 108 of the copyright law requires such a sign; otherwise libraries could be held “vicariously liable” for infringement by unsupervised patrons. To wit:

    “Nothing in this section… shall be construed to impose liability for copyright infringement upon a library or archives or its employees for the unsupervised use of reproducing equipment located on its premises: Provided, That such equipment displays a notice that the making of a copy may be subject to the copyright law…”

    That’s 17 USC 108 (f)(1) http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/ts_search.pl?title=17&sec=108

  54. a bit off topic but I live just down the road from Spring Hill, any chance you have an appearance scheduled for this area?

  55. @LukeTheLibrarian

    Ah, I see, thanks for that.

    (Setting aside how ridiculous “vicariously liable” is in principle… along with “inducement”, “solicitation”, etc.)

    That page also says, “U.S. Code as of: 01/19/04”, so is this section of Federal Law “new” as of 2004? How long has this been a legal requirement?

  56. Get educated. You have rights.

    That’s not a criticism, it’s a mandate for America.

    Most people PREFER to wait until they are accused of violating a law they are entirely ignorant of, then paying a professional student (and don’t get me wrong, THAT part is a good thing, we should never stop learning) $250 an hour to try to save them from 10s of thousands of dollars in debt or years in prison. Freedom is not only NOT free, it’s also highly conditional.

    WATCH legal lectures on YouTube. READ constitutional law for free online or via the beautiful highly diagrammed plain English law textbook I just bought on Amazon for $6. LEARN all the rights that are granted to you by the constitution alone.

    My opinion? If you felt it was important enough, have the store manager call the police to sort it out.

    Good luck with your education!

  57. #7 The copyright notice is required by 17USC 108 to prevent THE LIBRARY from being sued.

    #25 Actually, it’s a little more complicated than this. In all probability the photograph was never PUBLISHED. Under the old law, the copyright clock didn’t start until material was published. If it was published without notice, it was automaticly in the public domain (except for certain foreign works) If it wasn’t published it’s protected for life +70 or 12-31-2002 whichever is greater.

    #34 Only if it’s in a speach baloon from a certain popular rodent.


  58. Even simple thing like a loaf of bread is about $1.20 cheaper at WM than the other evil one – a major supermarket

    Incidentally, you’ve been had. Research has shown that people don’t compare all the prices between supermarkets, they just look at certain “indicator” items to judge how expensive the store is – things like bread and milk. Wal-Mart is aware of this and is taking a loss on these items while hiking the price on the ones you aren’t looking at, precisely to fool people like you into thinking that they’re actually cheaper (they aren’t). They’re also putzing around with the quantities to create similar effects – if the local competition is selling 20oz packets of whatever, then they’ll size their version at 18oz to make it look cheaper, since most people won’t (and can’t) do the math.

    When you walk into that store, you need to assume that everything and everyone in it is going out of their way to deceive you, because they are.

  59. What a bunch of fools…lol. You should have told them that YOU were the original photographer and you have the copyright. Sure that makes you like 80 or 90 something but just explain that you take lots of vitamins and drink a glass of red wine each evening.

  60. Post this same story on a forum where professional photographers hang out and you’ll see how we got into this mess. I’ve debated this issue before and practically got flayed for daring to suggest that turning photo lab employees into copyright police is a bad idea. Various portrait studios, wedding photographers, etc have threatened, sued, and demanded absurd levels of enforcement and gotten it. It requires bending copyright to the breaking point, but antiquated pay-for-prints business models are preserved. And the world is safe from grandmothers copying kids graduation pictures and brides running off a few extra group portraits.

  61. There is already software that prevents scanning and manipulating images of certain things (i.e. money — see http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=04/01/08/0111228&mode=thread&tid=152&tid=185). The “buy a scanner” advice is a great workaround for now, but what happens when the copyright industry convinces congress that all consumer devices need to have software that detects, and refuses to copy, anything that has characteristics of a studio photograph?

  62. The SOLUTION is here:

    Since the article says that the studio was not printed on the photo, STAMP it with your own (sur)name followed by the word “Studio”. (Yah, make a stamp, use “old-timey” purple ink.) Then, at the photo counter, show that the surname on your ID matches that of the stamp. Tell the clerk that you are, today, the sole owner and proprietor of your “family photography studio” and therefore the holder of copyright. Then say, “So print the d@mned thing.”

    OK, your next problem would be if the clerk asks for all your business filings to prove your statements.

  63. How did the kid know the photos were taken by a studio and not just by another family member, etc.? Ridiculous.

  64. There was an incident at “my” kinkos where the local cops had to get involved. Some woman was photocopying a textbook, workers told her to stop, she wouldn’t, cops called. Woman filed lawsuit against kinkos. Great stuff.


    In this case, looks like kinkos was right.

    Then we got a woman at another place near me that didn’t care about the copyright… recent photo of kids taken by big name studio blown up for $10…. saved me $50 or so. I suppose I belong in prison.

  65. “Copyright lasts forever. It’s the law.”

    Not only is it not the law, it’s unconstitutional.

    The Copyright Clause states that copyright shall only apply “for limited Times.”

  66. Working in the photo industry, most copyrights are only good for five years on portraits taken through large studios. And it is enforced a lot. We always looked at what was being scanned and checked the dates on the photos, if it was beyond five years we let it go. That came directly from the portrait studio that took the photos. They can’t just pile records up for years and years. Most of the records are kept locally and they trash negatives every five years. This guy didn’t know a thing. I’ve taken professional portraits to the labs I have worked at and they have never batted an eye.

  67. Unfortunately the issue of copyright is complicated. Too complicated for Walmart to determine on a case by case basis. They are just covering their you know what because of the complexity of the laws and the fact that people sue all the time for stupid stuff. If they got sued they would lose. There is a good FAQ from copyright.gov here, scroll to the bottom:


    Maybe it sucks but like others have said, just buy a cheap scanner and all your problems are solved.

  68. in the case of kinko’s, they have a right to be nervous: they lost a huge case back in the early 1990s specifically about copyright issues. i worked there then. we used to let people copy anything, textbooks, whatever, and then they got taken to court for allowing textbooks to be copied, and they lost in a big way. after that, all employees were given training courses about the copyright laws and what could and could not be photocopied. studio photos fall under the “do not” category, because you just could not be certain that some photographer would come back and sue over it. i’m sure wal-mart employees are trained in much the same way. don’t blame them, blame our litigious society.

    that being said, i vote for #5’s solution. do it yourself.

  69. The problem in this instance began with expecting decency from W-mart. It should come as no surprise. Why was it the choice for making a simple photocopy was limited to W-Mart in that rural area? Because W-Mart does everything it can to force small businesses, especially in rural areas, out of business (with sweat shop goods, local government subsidies, an unpaid and unfairly treated workforce they won’t allow to unionize, taking out life insurance on their employees, etc.) Apparently the only place you can readily find an “associate” is monitoring the copier, because they are all about enforcing draconian policies, legal or not. Why do you think it says “How can I help you?” on the back of their aprons? -Because they are always walking away from you! Who can blame them? Who wants to wait on red-state folks ignorant enough to shop there? They wouldn’t have to work there if it wasn’t the only game in town. Just never ever shop at W-mart, and maybe they’ll all go out of business. End of story. Buy your scanner somewhere else!

  70. bspatafora@74: You’re absolutely right about what the Copyright Clause says. Indefinite copyrights are indeed unconstitutional.

    However, there’s nothing in the clause to prevent Congress from repeatedly extending copyright terms whenever they want, as long as each extension is limited. So, every time the copyright on Mickey Mouse is about to expire, Disney goes to Congress and buys itself another extension.

    Sadly, when this behavior was challenged in 2003–over the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act–the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was completely legal. See this FindLaw story for details:


    In other words, you’re right in theory but wrong in practice. Indefinite copyright is here until somebody changes the clause to ban perpetual extensions, or until somebody persuades a future Supreme Court that the 2003 decision was wrong.

  71. It sounds like the WalMart “authority” might have been a TSA employee who was moonlighting. Did you have to take off your shoes?

  72. Copyrights only last forever if its not you’re a big corporation. Ironically US Congress is trying to screw every artist in the country over, by creating an orphan works law, that lets anyone take your original copyrighted work and do whatever they want with it, unless you have it registered with private (not federal!) organizations that will charge you hundreds of dollars. In the end, only Disney wins.

  73. That’s not the genetic fallacy, it’s the appeal to authority.

    I suppose… I interpreted it as “your objection doesn’t count because you’re not a lawyer”. The other side is, “but the Wal-Mart view is correct because corporate lawyers said so”, which can be considered an appeal to authority (aside debates on “expertise” not withstanding). I considered the “I don’t have to consider your objection because of my perception of your social role” to be the more immediate problem of the two — it precludes even reconciling it with the latter.

  74. …I’ve had similar problems with Wal-Mart, but only in the San Antonio area. Here’s the details:

    …As some of you know, my professional website work involves doing websites for a couple of strip clubs in SA. A large part of the work involves taking non-nude glamour shots of the entertainers and waitresses, 99.9% of which involve nothing more revealing than your standard issue bikini. Most of the gals purchase inexpensive digital copies of the photos – Hey, I’m a cheap whore when it comes to photography! – and as these are your usual Canon Digital Rebel shots they’re always at the highest res JPEG setting so they can get 8×10 prints with good quality.

    …For the past four years I’ve dealt with an issue with the Wal-Marts in San Antonio refusing to print any of the pictures the girls bring in. Not one single picture can be considered obscene – indeed, several have taken their own personal beach shots in to have them processed, and encountered no problems – but nevertheless the g00bers behind the counter refuse to print them. The reason given?

    “These are professional photos. By *Federal Law* you have to have a release form in order to print them out!”

    …Ok, now if it were Joe Punchclock bringing in a disk of photos of Slinky Poleslicker, then I could see their point. But when Slinky brings in her *own* photos, and it’s pretty fracking clear that those are her photos – especially when twins usually don’t share 110% identical tattoos, unless there’s been a Boing Boing article by Xeni I missed – then a release form shouldn’t be necessary. No matter who shot the photos, it’s *YOUR* face, body and corporial essence that’s in the image. It’s you, and if you want copies on photo paper then you don’t need a release form.

    …Now, in Austin and Houston, I’ve encountered this exactly *once* in each town, and the resolution’s been the same: I called the store manager, got referred to the district manager, who both said the same thing:

    “Oh great. Looks like we’ve got someone from San Antonio working there now. Sorry about that, we’ll take care of it.”

    …It turns out that the San Antonio Wal-Mart stores have their photography departments overseen by a manager – possibly two – who are under a misconception and a prejudice:

    Misconception: A release form is needed for any photography that appears to be professionally shot.

    Prejudice: Photos of strippers and waitresses, regardless of how devoide of nudity they are, do not constitute the type of customer Wal-Mart wishes to do business with.

    …The former can be easily dealt with, as I’ve already demonstrated here in CenTex and in Houstopolis. The latter is more difficult, because it’s a perception of attitude as opposed to an actual statement of policy. Whenever I’ve attempted to get the issue resolved in San Antonio, I’ve been shunted around on the phones from one manager to another, and in every case I’ve been referred back to the manager(s) responsible for supervising the photography departments. On the *four* occasions where I’ve managed to finally reach said person(s) responsible, after politely explaining the situation, the conversation goes from polite interest to snobbish standoff as follows:

    Manager: “Well, sir, what exactly are these photos of?”

    OM: “They’re glamour shots of a clothed, non-nude nature. Nothing obscene about them, and I’d be glad to show you samples…”

    Manager: “Are they of strippers?”

    OM: “In some cases, yes. However, does that really ma…”

    Manager: “I’m sorry, but our policy is that you have to have a release form in order to have professional photos printed or reproduced by Wal-Mart. Furthermore, we do not process or print photos of an adult nature.”

    …Of course, asking to speak to her boss results in the same phone shuffle, which in turn just pisses the hell out of me to no end. Of course, I’ve since taken the next logical step: Any time I photograph(*) the ladies in SA, they’re told up front to have their prints made anywhere *but* Wal-Mart. To date, not one has encountered any flack save for one professional shop’s print tech who criticized my photography. Seeing as how he immediately offered *his* services to do a reshoot “for free”, I think it’s clear what was *really* on his mind. Perv.

    Bottom Line: Don’t waste your time with the g00ber behind the counter. Demand immediately to see a store manager, and if the store manager refuses to help, demand contact info for *their* boss, and if they refuse that…damn! Thought I had that link to that site that had all those “secret corporate numbers” that turned up when the flack over Fry’s and the package screeners flared up a while back. Anyway, someone will have that and post it, if they already haven’t.

    (*) Currently on hold until “Stumpy” gets his new fake leg, hopefully by Chrisnukkah. Which means that if anyone at Boing Boing does an article on high-tech prosth…prosht…fake legs, make sure you get a free sample and send it to me. And I will take it even if it’s a lefty :-P

  75. Prejudice: Photos of strippers and waitresses, regardless of how devoide of nudity they are, do not constitute the type of customer Wal-Mart wishes to do business with.

    Wal-Mart is hyper socially conservative, if you didn’t already know. They don’t sell condoms. They only sell censored versions of their music CDs (sometimes specially made for Wal-Mart stores based on the radio-play versions). Et cetera.

    It’s way worse than Blockbuster Video.

  76. @#21 by midknyte: My cousin got married last year and her father (an ex-professional photographer) took some shots at the wedding. Wal-Mart tried to prevent her from getting reprints of the photos because “they were obviously taken by a professional and therefore they’re obviously copyrighted”.

    It’s understandable that Wal-Mart is trying to cover their asses, but it’s Catch-22 for the customers. If you happen to have really good pictures (which nowadays isn’t that hard with today’s equipment) you’re immediately accused of trying to violate some imaginary copyright, when in fact none might exist. How do you then prove to the ill-trained employee that A) Yes, I do in fact have permission to copy these photos and B) they are not copyrighted and they are not professionally done.

    It’s frustrating and I really think Wal-Mart and other pay-to-reprint stores should shift the legal burden from themselves to the customer. It is the customer’s responsibility to make sure what they are reprinting is not copyrighted and/or they have permission to reprint. Then again, that kind of logic isn’t too popular with copyright and intellectual property holders these days. Take a look at the MPAA and the RIAA. *eyeroll*

  77. @94, I’m not sure what Wal-Mart you shop, but condoms and lube have always been on open display available to any shoppers in the upper midwest area. I don’t buy CDs from Wal-Mart so I don’t know if they still require censored versions to sell or not. Perhaps its a regional thing?

  78. I think pointing the finger at Wal-Mart here is a bit of a “freshman” move. It’s not just Wal-Mart. Any Walgreens, library (apparently), Rite-Aid, Kinko’s, or Mom-and-Pop would likely do the same thing, especially if they were a major target for a lawsuit.

    The issue seems to be that the copyright laws are complex and confusing, and likely stupid. I know that when I tried to scan my wedding photos all over town (we wanted more copies than we were given, and wanted some for which we were only given proofs), I was turned away. I couldn’t contact the photographer to release the photos, because he had gone out of business or retired. So there was literally NO WAY I could ever get more copies of my wedding photos. Lame.

    But – there are simple workarounds (making this article slightly more pointless). Buy, borrow, or buy-and-return a scanner. OR – do what I eventually did with my wedding photos:

    If this article refers to the do-it-yourself-after-we-give-you-the-“code” style scanners in many photo departments… typically the employee just comes over at first to see what you’re scanning (maybe) and punch in the code.

    Show them a photo or two that are yours.

    Then copy the ones you want after they go away.


    If the guy remembers that your copies look different than what you showed him/her, (a) they need a life, and have an impressive memory (b) they probably won’t care, because they “did their job” by telling you not to, and (c) they’ll probably just assume you had more that were yours also.

  79. At London Drugs, they just handed me a piece of paper to sign that said, in essence, “I have a legal right to print these photos, and if I’m lying, it’s not London Drug’s fault”.

  80. I used to work at the photo lab at Target. I have come across this instance quite a few times while at work. If the photos have a copyright mark on them, as a store policy, we are not allowed to process them.

    I did have some photos come in once that appeared professional because they looked like they were taken in a studio but did not have any copyright, watermarks, or otherwise. I talked to the store manager about what we were able to do. The response I got was, “If there is no proof that they are copyrighted photos, we can not prove that they are copyrighted.”

    I have also faced situations like the Wal-Mart employee did. These photos were very old. Portraits, photos of school classes, etc… Although, I did allow the person to process the photos because I felt like they were most likely out of date. Even if the ‘copyright’ was not out of date, I’m sure the photographer was not going to put up a fuss about 80 year old pictures being copied. — Just my opinion I guess.

  81. In addition, we will not copy a photograph that appears to have been taken by a professional photographer or studio, even if it is not marked with any sort of copyright, unless we are presented with a signed Copyright Release from the photographer or studio.

    [from the Wal-Mart Copyright Policy]

    In other words, they’ll only let you copy crappy photos without a signed release form. That’s cool.

  82. This is absolute bullSHIT! The clowns who trained this Wal-Mart employee had an edict from on high to “use your own judgment” and claim that everything that looks like it might be IS copyright. That way, the company figures, they won’t risk a lawsuit, which to them justifies losing the five-buck sale.

  83. I am a college student but work part time for the Photo Center at Sam’s Club. We have a very strict copyright policy that can get us fired very easily if we cross it. In fact, for some departments, they show employees this horrific and frightening video about how violating copyright can not only get you fired but PERSONALLY fined AND jailed for up to 10 years (in Wal-Mart gitmo?) if Wal-Mart is held liable.

    So, our copyright policy has been 75 and now 95 years from the date taken. In this case, I would have just looked the other way, though. It’s not like some razzle-dazzle photographier in riding pants would wander in and challenge me to fisticuffs over it. If we have any doubt about it, though, we just have the customer sign a release claiming that they are the copyright holder- i mean, only if it’s a really old image but it’s a situation where a copyright would be impossible to grab. If anyone notices, we can just claim incompetence.

    But yeah, we are copyright cops for real- and if we aren’t, we get fired and *supposedly* incarcerated. Sorry, sad customer- petition congress because I gotta pay the rent.

  84. ” Sorry, sad customer- petition congress because I gotta pay the rent.”

    …Not if we put you out of business for upholding bogus copyright “laws”.

    1. Can we stop pretending that we’re going to put WalMart out of business? It’s far more likely that they will buy our businesses and enslave us.

  85. I used to work for a place that has a Kodak kiosk and when it was put in we had a person from their corporate office come and tell us all about it. We were told we should tell people exactly what Wal-Mart told that customer. The whole time I tried to speak up and say, “What about fair-use and first sale doctrine? What about the fact that copyright has time frame limits?” My boss would not let me interject nor explain things later on. Very frustrating…! Since the customer has to click through a copyright notice, it makes the boss happy to cover his arse, just in case.

  86. My wife had the a similar problem copying our wedding photos at our local Walmart in southern Maine.

    Apparently they’re really pushing the copyright thing.
    But here’s the problem:

    Our photographer burnt our pictures onto DVD’s for us so we can get them printed anywhere at our own discretion. He didn’t write a letter for permission… and he being a Newspaper Photojournalist and Photojournalism teacher, I would assume he knows the law.

    Anyway, confrontation with a Mr. at the Walmart lead to us not getting our photos.

    THIS ISN’T TO HIS DISCRETION, nor is it HIS problem!
    Am I wrong?

    To my knowledge, AND HAVING RECEIVED A B.A. in MEDIA STUDIES, it’s not the responsibility of the middle man to POLICE copyright materials, but the persons on either end who are responsible for such legalities.

    SIMPLY PUT: The law should be in the hands of the persons who create the media, and in those who display that media.

    My opinion, anyway.

    – LP from Maine

  87. I use to work in a Wal-Mart photo lab and yes that is their policy and it was my job to stick this line right up the customers nose. Wal-Mart blows and that is part of the reason I quit.

  88. That reminds me of the time someone I knew went to Walmart to copy her resume of photo journalism spreads (meaning pictures she took). The employee told her she couldn’t copyright them. They wouldn’t believe she took the photos or that they did not have a copy right on them so they asked her to leave. She borrowed a work copy machine instead.

    Copyright, or rather the fear of copy right infringement seems to have taken over the way people can handle their belongings.

  89. JEDRE@97: “I think pointing the finger at Wal-Mart here is a bit of a “freshman” move.”

    No other place where copies can be made is claiming “Copyright is forever.” Also, it sounded to me like the exchange with the clerk was far more obnoxious than it need have been. You are on pretty shaky ground defending the world’s largest corporation with the world’s worst reputation.

  90. Very similar thing happened to me in Minneapolis, at a stinkin’ Walmart.

    The young lady at the photo counter strongly reprimanded me for attempting to copy a photo. I said “okay” and then printed my copy on the sly.

    At the checkout with my print, she chased me down and told me that I could not leave the store with the photo.

    I think she may have fancied herself a copyright superhero of sorts…

  91. “At the checkout with my print, she chased me down and told me that I could not leave the store with the photo.”

    …The question here is whether or not you’d already paid for it. If money had changed hands, then the bimbo would have had no legal leg to stand on. If it hadn’t, then she *might* have been within her “power” to prevent the transaction from proceeding, and at that time if you left the store with it anyway it *would* have been illegal.

    …What needs to happen is that some major news magazine needs to pick up this story and run with it from the consumer’s side of the issue, showing Wal-Mart to be as totally in the wrong as they truly are.

  92. i shop at that same exact walmart and they said the same exact thing when i went to scan my grandmothers photos all you need to do is say you have permision from the copyright holder

  93. I work at CVS and we are told that it is the responsibility of the customer to ensure that they are not violating any copyrights. “We are not the copyright police.” Keep in mind though, we are not allowed to assist anyone that appears to be making copyrighted prints.

    This policy has changed in the last few years. Previously, if we identified the customer trying to make copies of material that was obviously from a professional studio we required them to fill out a form stating they held copyright of the pictures, or provide proof of a copyright release.

    You always get a ton of parents trying to copy school pictures to avoid paying the ripoff prices the school charges!

  94. I’m virtually always hugely biased in the consumer’s favor in cases where “big corp” vs “little guy”, but this case, and the indignation surrounding it is just plain stupid.

    Yes, an employee of walmart said something stupid and incorrect. Does this shock anyone? Should it shock people that wal mart employees don’t know all that much about copyright law? Even in the photo lab?

    I’ll freely admit I’m a negative, cynical elitist prick, but if you have high expectations of retail employees, your expectations are wrong.

    What is surprising to me is that some manager in Walmart who used to work in a call center hasn’t pushed the idea of colored plastic script cards for store employees in cases like this. Humiliating perhaps, but hey, call center workers do it all the time.

    That way
    – it would eliminate the “i am teh copywrite ENFORCAR” powertrip bullshit (which is out of control)
    – the person would get a fairly decent explanation
    – the company could blame someone else (lawyers)
    – employees wouldn’t look like retards who spout off bullshit about the law.
    – the angsty bloggers would be limited to posting “they read off a green plastic card, yuk yuk walmart employees are teh stupid!”

    The whole “don’t copy anything” policy does piss me off, as it seems you can’t get a copy of virtually anything made locally. That said – it is completely understandable.

    Some photographers don’t want their stuff copied and lawsuits by pro photographers have cost companies like Kinkos and Walmart a whole lot of money. Copyright lawsuits are expensive (plaintiffs are awarded attorneys fees and attorneys specializing in copyright usually bill ~$150/hour over and above going rates for the area.)

    I see no hope of this ever correcting itself or changing. Maybe if someone started a public domain / formerly copyrighted works registry or something, but that is years off and would probably get perverted somewhere along the line by business interests. Google’s “public domain book search” is an interesting step, but it’s far from a complete solution.

    So let Walmart, kinkos, et al decline the business. Go elsewhere or just buy a damn $100 scanner and print them at adoramapix or some other online printshop that caters to professionals.
    There are dozens, if not hundreds and prices are often extremely reasonable and quality excellent.
    If you look for a few minutes, you’ll probably find one company offering 8x10s for a buck during a promo.
    Some do all sorts of artsy crap like print on framed canvas for under 5 bucks (propics does a promo every few months like this)

    And finally… if you’re sufficiently aware of copyright law to call BS on the employee’s statements, you should be aware of the increase of litigation on this area over the past 10 years or so by studios (who are often just trolling for money, but lawsuits nonetheless.)
    I find it hard to believe that the source for this is really ignorant of such things and that this isn’t just angsty muckracking.

  95. I once tried to copy some newspaper articles at a Kinko’s not long after the company had paid some large fines for copyright infringement.


    I pointed to the bylines on the articles, then hauled out my drivers license. Yep. Me. I had done wrote them articles.

    Still, no way. Copyrighted material. Can’t copy.

    I bought a scanner and haven’t been in a Kinko’s since. And almost all of my writing over the last decade has been online, so the copy/copyright issue is now moot. :)

  96. So…we should just accept that getting a copy of a photo is an activity limited to those who live in a city or own a time machine?

  97. Reading stuff like this justifies my decision to not ever work for such dumbasses again. I haven’t been able to find work since Sept. ’01, but you know what? I’m just fine with that. I would rather be out on my ass than to line the pockets of these venal piss ants. As a matter of fact, not making money for them far out strips anything I could possibly have ever stolen from them. Eat shit, douchebags!

  98. I can remember a time BEFORE SCANNERS when folks actually had to PAY PHOTOGRAPHERS for copies of photographs… What a radical idea, to keep them the hands of photographic professionals and not discount chain stores where the employees have little or no photographic knowledge! Fact is, the average person doesn’t know the difference between an f-stop and a bus stop…

    Professional photographers are suffering these days with everyone purchasing a single print and taking it home to scan it! What ever happened to just paying for your photographs? Photographers provide an extememly valuable service when it comes to the documentation of your family. You wouldn’t waste a photographer’s time to have portraits made and then tell them how little their efforts really meant to you now would you??? That’s exactly what’s happens when you go in and say “I just want one 4″x6″ of that one!” because what you’re really saying is “I just want one of the cheapest ones so I can take it home and scan it even though I have no idea how badly it will look when I try to enlarge it!”

    I can’t tell you how many times I have well dressed clients come in carrying their designer handbag who don’t want to spend more than a few bucks on their baby’s pictures! I’m so offended by this thread because it’s a cold hard slap in the face after a long hard day sweatin’ my hind end off snapping pics that just aren’t that important these days… But, one day, someone will want a copy of that one print that was purchased and I for one hope that whoever copies it has to pay something to someone!

    I want my kids and grandkids to own the rights to the pieces of art that I create when I’m long gone. You see, the average person cannot create the images I do and if I don’t put a value on what I do who will??? Apparently anyone who owns a scanner or has access to one now thinks they have the RIGHT to copy my work without offering me one cent for creating it! Without me, my camera and my ideas, the images they are scanning simply would not exist…

    1. The term ‘professional photographer’ has been thrown around a lot in this thread. But it’s a rather ambiguous term. The guy who takes your photo sitting in Santa’s lap at the mall is a professional photographer. So is Diane Arbus. Hmm. So what are we talking about here?

      Some ‘professional photographers’ are artists. They are selling art. They are selling the ability to compose a photograph in a way that expresses something more than the sum of the shapes and colors and lights and darks. If they do portraits, they are selling the ability to expose the soul of the subject. Or maybe to hide it.

      Some ‘professional photographers’ are technicians. They are selling the ability to manage the camera and maybe the lighting to make a photo that looks better than what you took with your Polaroid Swinger back in the sixties. The only problem with that is that any fourteen year old knows how to use the equipment and the software to make a great ‘technical’ photo. So what are you selling? Buggy whips.

      Art photographers will have a future as long as art requires something more than everyday sensibilities. Photography as an area of technical specialization is dead. Unless you really specialize in some aspect that remains obscure. If you make your living doing something that anyone with a camera and a computer can do, you’re in a dying industry.

      Prove your value by creating photographs that your fifth grade niece can’t do just as well, and then charge what you’re worth. If you can’t do that, then get out of the business or stop complaining about your customers. When you hate your customers and feel like they’re always ripping you off, it’s time to move on. Maybe a job with the RIAA.

  99. This is one more reason that I feel satisfied with my decision to go miles out of my way, and spend the extra bucks, just to not have anything to do with Walmart.

    Fuck them and their ignorant, toady employees.

  100. I simply LOVE stupid people. Without their pathetic input, there would be no possible way I could feel as smug as I do. Thank YOU!

    1. irspariah,

      You seem a little excited. Maybe you could have a nice slice of pie and take a few deep breaths.

  101. After having worked in a Wal-Mart photo lab, I can offer two observations, and a bonus:

    1. Your scans are not worth another person’s job (management makes the decisions, not the worker bee).

    2. “We can be sued,” is drilled into the average photo lab technician’s mind, and that rings louder than logic, a la Republican talking points.

    Bonus: Copyright laws or not, any store can refuse you using their machines at any point in time. Sorry.

  102. The same thing happened to me! I had a picture of my father with President Kennedy – both dead – the photographer was professional but also dead – and the ***** at Walmart had the gall to question me! and refused to let me pay for the already-scanned photos.

    When you can buy a printer/scanner/copier for under $100, you’d think they would figure this out.

    If someone pointed out how much money they lose, they might change their training and their minds.

    Now scanning at home, thank you very much.

  103. I have a few questions for the copyright defenders here. Should there be a limit on how long a copyright to an image should be owned by a photographer or artist? If so, how long? In the original example, the guy had decades old images of his family that he wanted copied. What are the chances he’s even going to find out who made the images, where they (or their heirs) might be, how to get in touch with them or if they are even aware or interested in the work?

    I would argue that someone who possesses family memories in the form of photos, has an emotional interest in them which trumps the financial interest of some long-dead photographer. If someone WAS to dig up the heirs of said photographer and tried to negotiate a price for copies, it seems the only options would be to pay whatever price (no matter how high) is demanded or give up. There would be no other legal option. What happens if the heir is not in the photo reproduction business and has no means or desire to reproduce the photos?

    In my own case, my wife recently received a bunch of old family photos from her mom. Many of them were obviously taken by professional studios. Beside the fact that some of them are nearly 100 years old, they were all taken in Germany, Yugoslavia and a few other countries that don’t even exist any more. Am I really expected to spend the huge amounts of time, money and effort it would take to secure permissions to copy them? Well, guess what… I aint gonna.

    Finally, what about photos that have degraded; colors faded and shifted, contrast lost, scratched prints, etc. Do I need someones permission to scan them and try to restore them to some semblance of their original condition?

    Sorry, but I have a hard time agreeing with the idea that some photographer, no matter how much work and TLC they put into the creation of the piece, has some ownership of the images of me, my family, friend, home, old neighborhood, whatever. I’m all for artists being compensated for their creations. But IMO there has to be a limit somewhere.

  104. Professional photographers are suffering these days with everyone purchasing a single print and taking it home to scan it! What ever happened to just paying for your photographs?

    Because I’m paying for your photography, not for prints. Any idiot, as you already claim, can make prints. But only a photographer can shoot a “studio quality” photograph. I’m paying for your time/skill in using the camera, not for using the duplicating machine.

    You see, the average person cannot create the images I do and if I don’t put a value on what I do who will???

    Again, it’s your skill as a photographer (which is unique to you as a person) that is scarce and thus valuable. Not the prints themselves, which are oh-so-easy to make copies of.

    The two activities have been decoupled; deal with it. Change your business model to adapt to the current customer landscape, or find yourself another profession.

    There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.

    — Robert A. Heinlein

  105. ANTINOUS: You nailed it succinctly. As a professional artist / photographer myself, I am paid for my eye. I give my clients copies on CD / DVD with express permission to print as they see fit. I don’t want to be bothered to make people prints, unless they expressly pay me extra because they don’t want to fool with it. If someone loses their CD / DVD, I make them another at no extra cost, as I always keep backups. (Media is cheap.)

  106. I always get a kick out of people who post mediocre images on the web and then paste “copyright” all over them.

  107. My wife took digital pictures at our daughters wedding. She then went online and sent them to walmart for printing. Walmart refused to print them saying that they were professional photos therefore copyright protected.

  108. “Because I’m paying for your photography, not for prints. Any idiot, as you already claim, can make prints. But only a photographer can shoot a “studio quality” photograph. I’m paying for your time/skill in using the camera, not for using the duplicating machine.”

    ..Bingo. Back when it was film and darkrooms, the photographers could command the top dollar they charged because they were supplying every step in the food chain. Now it’s a different story, with digital essentially eliminating the need for darkrooms and their associated headaches. Nowadays when I shoot someone’s photos, they pay me for my time and the disk, and they can do with their photos whatever they want. Simple as that.

  109. #47 posted by Brother Provisional , August 12, 2008 9:34 AM
    The correct solution to this problem is to buy your own scanner and enjoy the satisfaction of getting things done with independence from corporate chain stores. The worst solution is to come in a abuse some poor working stiff with your superior knowledge of copyright law. You may even get them to do your work for you, but at the expense of making them feel like an idiot. You’re not sticking it to the Man, your sticking it to some poor pawn that the Man has stuck in your way.

    I think this is exactly right. There is only harm to be had in reacting with anger about this. Some posters here have suggested “getting back” at Wal-Mart by hassling the employees in various ways. That’s utter nonsense. The more they (or anyone else) get hassled, the more they hassle.

    Just buying a scanner is an easy way to avoid this situation. The best thing to do if you find yourself in this situation would be to insist on seeing a manager. A manager would be more likely to have “the customer is always right” drilled into him or her. And their standard response is to give the customer what they want, if for no reason other than to get this issue out of their way so they can get back to dealing with all the other problems in their understaffed store. Plus, a manager is more likely to be a more effective communicator, so you’d be more likely to be able to explain your rationale to him or her.

    Somebody else suggested saying something like “either leave me alone or call the cops”. If you did that, the employee might go get a manager himself. Then the situation would be framed in the manager’s mind as “harried employee needs help dealing with a troublesome customer” rather than “harried customer needs my help dealing with a troublesome employee.” Then you’d have even more crap to deal with… Either they’d refuse to sell you the photos or they actually would call the cops.

  110. #95 “they were obviously taken by a professional and therefore they’re obviously copyrighted”.
    This is a common misconception. If those photos were taken in the last 20 years it doesn’t matter WHO took them professional or amateur, they’re copyrighted. In all probability once the shutter closes. Wallmart et al are just ASSUMING that if it wasn’t taken by a professional the chances of thier being sued is minimal.

    #122. What 131 and others have said. It used to be difficult to make copies so it made sense to use that as place for the tollboth, even if that wasn’t where most of the work (or at least the part protected by copyright) was. But now copies are easy to make, so you have to move the tollboth. Instead of mailing out proofs and letting people buy prints, try showing them proofs on a screen in the studio and then selling (at a higher price) photos with all rights. Do you want to be a photographer or a photographic printmaker? The marketplace has separated the two and the price of printmaking has plummeted.

  111. Back in the “old days”, printing photos was an art. You may actually want your photographer to make the prints personally. Then all those automated printing machines appeared (minilabs). Anyone could look at the screen, press a button, and the photo is printed.

    I knew a photographer who charged a flat rate for events like company dinners, etc. He’ll shoot rolls and rolls of film (this was a few years ago), and give them to whoever hired him. They’re supposed to take that, and get it printed themselves. The way he saw it, he was there to shoot the photos (a skill he has), not process film and make prints (a low paid, unskilled job).

  112. Luke the Librarian got it right back there at #65. Libraries are required by law to post signs saying you, the user, are responsible for what you copy on our photocopiers (and these days, scan on our scanners, do with the ILL files we send you, etc.). That is exctly how it should be, in my opinion. You, the final user, decide if you think what you are doing is a fair use, and you take the risk if it isn’t. It’s on your conscience. We just provide the equipment; the vast majority of use of the equipment is for legal personal use of scanned or copied items. We aren’t going to look over your shoulder — just please don’t tell us what you’re doing if it’s the slightest bit iffy…:)

    So, if you need to scan old family photos and don’t have your own scanner, see if your local library has a self-service scanner! We need your business more than WalMart does.

  113. i work for fedex kinkos. if it’s been 70 years, you can copy it. if it’s your kid’s school pictures, it’s copyrighted. if it’s your prom pictures from the 60’s, it’s copyrighted. they’re anal about it because they could (and have been, most likely) sued. i know we have.
    they were wrong, but apparently they weren’t trained.

  114. Any idiot, as you already claim, can make prints.

    Only true, if you don’t give a damn about the quality of the print!

    I give my clients prints of all the photos I shoot for them, on a CD or DVD, and permission to make as many prints as they like.

    But I also give them standard sized prints of each photo, made by a shop I know makes good prints. A few of the best of the photos, I give them in big print as well, so they have something to compare with, if they choose to save a few bucks, by getting prints from some cheap print shop.

    Or worse; print the photos themselves on that cheap printer they bought at the supermarket for a few bucks, even if the prints come out a little streaked and a little dull on the red (or whatever).

    There is a huge difference between the prints from different shops, and I’ll be damned, if I spend time calibrating my monitor and optimizing the photos for print, without informing the client that the end result (the print) also depends on where they get their prints developed, and that not all prints are the same.

    Only idiots think a print is a print!

  115. @71: if the local competition is selling 20oz packets of whatever, then they’ll size their version at 18oz to make it look cheaper, since most people won’t (and can’t) do the math.

    Wal-Mart posts the price per unit on the price tags for food items, no scary math required.

    Shampoo and such doesn’t get this treatment, but we all know that health and beauty items are priced based on the shape and color of the container and the name of the pompous ass that endorses it, not on the contents, so it doesn’t matter there.

    But generally, yes, you are right, it’s all about marketing. Some would call it deception, as you did, but it isn’t all deceptive. Generally everything you need to know to make an informed decision is available, you just have make the effort to be an informed consumer.

  116. The “buy a scanner” advice is a great workaround for now, but what happens when the copyright industry convinces congress that all consumer devices need to have software that detects, and refuses to copy, anything that has characteristics of a studio photograph?

    Well, if instead the scanner produces a unique fingerprint of the image and automatically refers to a database of registered copyrighted material, and then either refuses to copy it, or copies it and adds to the image’s watermark a reference to your public key to identify your claim to fair use of the image, that might be ok.

  117. 122:

    Professional photographers are suffering these days with everyone purchasing a single print and taking it home to scan it! What ever happened to just paying for your photographs? Photographers provide an extememly valuable service when it comes to the documentation of your family.

    Even better, my kids school hires pro photographers (who take crappy photos, incidentally) to come in take snaps of all the kids, then they send home a set of photos including a couple of 8×10’s for you to purchase if you want. If you don’t want them you just send them back with the kid.

    Talk about an honor system. I suppose that they make money because they can take pictures of 600 kids in a day.

    As for it being an extremely valuable service? Please. Even an acceptable DSLR camera is inexpensive these days, and a good quality consumer camera will take pictures that even a monkey can get great 8×10’s out of.

    The value of that service is declining rapidly. Kind of like music albums distributed on compact disk. How 1990.

  118. maybe this is naive but if those photos were owned by his family, and the guy inherited them perhaps he owns the copyright, or his family does.

    In the case of the 100 year old pictures, back then no one even thought about copyright on that level. The photog likely kept his negatives, but maybe not even that. He would have been providing a service, the people paying him with all the copyright.

    I’m with the buy a scanner crowd. I haven’t been without one for 15 years.

  119. I’ve read this and I still don’t understand why they can’t just indemnify themselves. Scanning and printing are not the same skills as photography but they are still skills and they can benefit from professional attention (not to mention expensive equipment.)

    Basically I can’t open a business that will print digital photographs on a high end printer because it’s impossible for me to know where they came from? How does a professional photographer get a 4’x6′ poster made? Have someone take a picture of him or her shooting the picture?

    I’ve had things printed online and never had a problem. Maybe my photos are just crap.

    Anyway, buying a scanner is GREAT. Buying a printer is less clear. Printers have extremely expensive consumables, require cleaning and have a huge range of quality. Getting prints done on professional equipment is nice.

    I’m also pretty in love with enlargements at sizes that would be prohibitive for me to do at home (or walmart for that matter.)

  120. “Even better, my kids school hires pro photographers (who take crappy photos, incidentally) to come in take snaps of all the kids, then they send home a set of photos including a couple of 8×10’s for you to purchase if you want. If you don’t want them you just send them back with the kid.”

    …As for it being an “honor system”, if you fail to return the photos most schools will treat the issue as if your kid had failed to bring back a signed insurance/release form the first week of school. The photographer only gets about 30% of the total gross of those photos, as most school districts get a large cut for allowing the photos to be taken in the first place.

  121. Only idiots think a print is a print!

    Ok, fair enough.

    Compare to, say, coffee. It’s priced as a commodity, but people find a way to build premiums from that — all the way up to the gauche act of pouring espresso into a cup with ice.

    People who care will pay for the premium, and those who don’t can get a can of Folgers Crystalsâ„¢ for $0.10/lb.

    (Personally, I’m inclined to want to preserve the resolution of negatives with a film scanner. Scanning a print is a “last resort”.)

  122. YOU’VE GOT to be kidding me! Do you people really think that WAL MART can print with the same quality as a professional lab??? I’ve seen some of my images that were printed there and I was HORRIFIED. The colors were all wrong, the contrast was WAY TOO HIGH and we won’t even talk about the overall lack of detail! When it comes to photographs, you really do get what you pay for!

    As long as babies are born and couples get married, professional photography will be around. As for that nice little camera that’s advertised for all it’s “megapixels”, what they don’t tell you is that the lens is CRAP and you’ll hardly ever actually get a sharp focus on anything. I pay more for one lens than most people pay for their camera! My walk around lens was over $1300.00 and I was glad to pay it because there IS A DIFFERENCE! So, if you truly think you’re getting professional quality out of that canon rebel or nikon D-something, you might wanna think again…

    I DO NOT allow my clients to print at Wal Mart because those crappy images that float around as a result are MY REPUTATION! Everyone who sees their horrible quality will think that’s the way I wanted them to look! The general public no longer knows the difference between a professional image and a badly printed substitute partically because of this kind of crappy printing.

    Believe it or not, I have many clients who LOVE our prints and will settle for nothing less because we spoil them with quality! Most of them have seen enough BAD prints so we now have a true WOW factor when they see ours…

    Also, I’ll put my images up against ANY consumer grade DSLR! For those of you that canon and nikon made believe you could DO IT YOURSELF, I hate to tell you, but you’ve been HAD!!!

  123. Here’s a question. I’ve inherited a large archive of photographs of my ancestors. Most of which were taken by my ancestors, some studio shots (those are 120 years old and well out of copyright). Is it possible for me to re-copyright these?, as I’ll be posting them to my flickr account soon it would be good to know if I can claim intellectual property rights through publishing them for the first time.

  124. @Battlehobo4000

    A bit reactive, I think—-I hardly said intelligence=pay.

    My thought was $8/hr does not hire a person with specialized knowledge—-which the OP is expecting from Wal-Mart–it has nothing to do with intelligence, only knowledge. People with greater skillsets will find better pay elsewhere and not work at WM.

    Quite simply, you can’t hire a mechanic, plumber or laywer for $8/hr, but you can hire someone to stock and checkout a retail store for it.

  125. I have been to the Copyright Office in DC to check a copyright of a work published in the 1930’s. Such works might be copyrighted for a long term if the copyright was renewed for a second period. If not. the publication entered into the public domain like Charles Dicken’s novels and Shakespeare. I am not a lawyer, but I got help with this from a goverment clerk.

    A copyright does not last forever. I would think that a photo studio contracted to take a family portrait must grant the family the right to display or publish that photo unless there is a signed written contract stating otherwise. Possesion of the photo by the family is evidence of ownership.

  126. Its funny that i found this site. I did a search on copyright laws and it brought this up. I went to a walmart and took some pics that were of me. I had just recently moved and hit a rain storm on the way. Most of my family pics were ruined so i scanned then and fixd them in photoshop. Well my printer is in the repair shop so i saved them on a disk and went to walmart to print them. The lady told me that i couldnt print them because they were professional pictures. Even if they were of me. But she told me that the copyright law was in place for 75 years after the photographer died. She said i was out of luck and my photos would have to stay ruined because no one would let me print them. Luckily my printer will be fixed soon and i can do it myself.

  127. According to: http://www.artquest.org.uk/artlaw/copyright/28878.htm

    “‘Artistic works’ (traditional media or ‘works of artistic craftsmanship’) made or existing before the law changes are now, and will continue to be, protected for the maker’s lifetime plus 50 years after death,’ except for published photographs (including prints made by a photographic process) and traditionally made prints published before the law changes. Such published photographs will be protected for 50 years from the date of publication; as will traditionally made prints, if published after the author’s death and before the law changes.”

  128. So funny! I just got home from Walmart. I tried to down size a huge phot of my son from like 11 years ago, and the Walmart employee asked if I had a “copyright release.” I looked at her like she was crazy and told her “no, this is my son.” Like a dummy. Anyway, next thing I know the Walmart Manager walks up and says “Mam, you can’t copy that, it’s against the law.” I looked at her as I continued to scan the photo, and she said “if you print that, we will rip it up. Oh my gosh, I thought. I was soo P O’d! I blew her off and took my photos and walked out. I thought I would google about this to see if they may have been sued in the past or something. That’s when I found biong. It’s crazy!

  129. One time a few years ago my mom took some pictures of my kid. She uploaded them online to wal-mart to get printed off. I then went to pick them up and was told that they were profesional pictures and unless I could prove otherwise I would not be able to pick them up. I told her that my mom took them with her cam and they said get the cam. So I ran home got the cam and was able to pick up my pictures. The funny thing was they did not even check the pictures on the cam. I did tell them they were a barrel of mother f$#kers as I left.

  130. I needed to scan 500 photos for my grandparent’s gold anniversary and I had the same problem with Walmart. Not only that, you can only scan one photo at a time. If you just have a few photos, I would definitely just buy a cheap scanner. I actually found a online service and they did a great job and shipped the photos back to me by my deadline. Here is the website: http://www.scanapix.com. There are also other sites that do this but I never tried any of them.

  131. @25: The photos are probably an unpublished work. (Yeah, they were “printed”, but weren’t readily available to Joe Q. Public). That puts the copyright at 70 years after the photographer’s death. So while the WalMart peon was wrong that copyright is forever, they were probably right that the photos are still under copyright. Sucks, but that’s just part of what’s wrong with copyright.

  132. I ran into a similar issue with my local WalMart a couple of years ago. I was told that the professional pictures had to be at least 75 years old, unless they were military. The military pictures from the 1940’s & 50’s could be scanned and printed.

    The problem came with my grandma’s graduation photo. It was taken around 1950, and there were no markings on the photo to say who the photographer was. They let me scan it, but wouldn’t print it for me. I got around that by uploading the picture to Ofoto, then ordering it off their site.

  133. Exactly, copyright exists for 70 years after the photographer’s (or author or painter, etc’s) death. And copyright doesn’t have to be printed on a photo or any other copyrighted item, it simply falls under copyright after it is produced. If we were the photographer (author, etc) or their family who receives the royalities for the work and any copies made of it we might not think 70 years after the creator’s death was that rediculous of a law. Just a thought :)

  134. I can see from the number of comments that copyright is a hot issue.

    As a photographer, I am thankful for the copyright protection afforded my intellectual property but understand the frustration of those wishing to preserve and share old family photos.

    I encountered something similar once at a Kinkos. I was attempting to make copies of one of my photos that had been published in a magazine. The clerk told me he could not make the copies because the magazine was copyrighted. I informed him that my copyright superseded the magazines overall copyright on my images. I even showed him my ID. He was nonplused.

    I asked for a manager and then asked for an indemnity waiver for the copies in question. He knew what I was after and found them and I signed it and then was allowed to make my copies.

    I am not sure if this will work at Walmart but it is worth a try.


  135. My husband is in management for Walgreens and the copyright rule is correct….unless you can prove the photographer has been dead 70 years or you have the copyright release he can’t print your pictures. He will LOSE HIS JOB if his highers up discover he printed a copyrighted picture. When we got married, the photographer gave us the CD and a release…that was the only way we could print our pictures there. Yes, it’s ridiculous, but my husband didn’t create the law. He’s been hired to enforce it.

  136. This is a really long thread, and I’m sorry if I missed it, but I didn’t see any representation from a professional photographer here. As annoying as this is to people, I appreciate that these places *do* ask for a release. It’s very frustrating for us photographers trying to make a living to put all the time, effort, and money into our profession… only to have people scan our work to get their own prints. We spend $ and time on training, equipment, props, lab costs, etc…. and depend on print sales to make our living. If Walmart allowed people to take the one purchased 5×7 print, and make copies of it, we’d be out of business.

    1. The trouble with that is that you’ve defined yourself not as a photographer, but as a copy shop. Charge for your services as a photographer, not for something that anybody can do at home. If you pursue a business model that hasn’t changed since the advent of home printing, you’re out of business. Customers are not going to accommodate an archaic billing practice.

  137. I went to Wal-Mart to get a copy of a 64 year old picture of my father. Since he recently passed away, all his children wanted a copy of the only picture of him when he was in the military. Wal-Mart said the same thing, they couldn’t make copies due to copyright laws as it was made by a portrait studio. I read their policy and told them that we couldn’t get written permission from the portrait studio for copies to be made by other companies because the studio doesn’t exist anymore. I also went to Walgreens and they told me the same thing, due to copyright laws, they were unable to make copies. These laws must have been made before scanners and photoshop were invented.

  138. I seen this and just had to say something. I guess no one here has ever worked for walmart so they have the right to be stupid. I do work in a photo lab in a walmart and I have been actually threatened over this BS. Sad thing is theres actually “most people never take the time to actually READ” disclaimer about copyright photo on ALL the Kiosks Explaining this but no one ever reads it that clearly states what can and can not be printed. If you were a photographer that makes a living taking pictures and selling them would you want someone copying your work and taking money from you ? Not to mention again you call us “peons” we don’t make the laws we just enforce them or we lose our jobs. People actually need to learn to READ or ask questions before hand. So before you think about getting all upset at the employee take a moment to realize WE DON’T make the rules we just follow them. Have a nice day please drive thru = ]

  139. I have worked in the photo industry for more than a decade. I am a member of the Photo Marketing Association, A Certified Photographic Consultant, and a member of the Society of Photofinishing Engineers. I have been a studio photographer, a photoshop artist, a quality assurance supervisor in a macro-lab, a photolab technitian in privately owned and corperate mini-labs, and a photolab manager.

    In essence, the Walmart employee demonstrated poor customer service skills, and a misunderstanding of the details of copyright law, but did correctly carryout their company policy reguarding copyrighted material. Your 100 year old photos are probably no longer copyrighted, but unless you can prove they are not, your business is not valuable enough to risk the posiblity of a lawsuit.

    Claiming to be the photographer of something you could not have shot is not a free pass to make unlimited copies. If me or my staff feel you are lying about it, we will refuse to copy your photos. No law requires us to make you a copy and we can refuse service to anyone. Scanners at home would allow you to make copies, yes. But it is still illegal. At least with that option you are breaking the federal laws alone, and not demanding a company break them too.

    Post #87 is just wrong about the life span of copyrights. If your local studio choses not to pursue anything older than 5 years it doesn’t make copying their work leagal, it’s just safe. Kinda like how going 5 mph over the speedlimit is not legal, but you know no one will pull you over for it. I have seen Olan Mills sue for prints more than 5 years old.

    Which reminds me. If a picture doesn’t have the studio’s name of copyright information on it, or say the words “professional Paper” on the back, Federal copyright laws still apply to it.

    Antinous, I realize you think that hiring a photographer aught to give you the right to an unlimited license of the images they shot, but that’s not how the laws are written. I run my freelance photography buisness with the business model you propose, actually. You hire me at an hourly rate and you recieve a CD/DVD and a Limited (although admittedly not very restirctive) License To Use. But understand that I lose a lot of customers up front to places that offer a sitting fee and carge per print model because a lot of people think it looks like the cheaper way out. I know I could make more money charging by the print. I see it every day. But I feel that the hourly rate is the future of professional photography.

    But that still doesn’t change the way the laws are written, and in my photo printing business those who work under me, and I will endevour to protect oursleves from the lawyers of those whom the copyright law protects by stirct adhereance to overzealous policies.

    Yes it means some things that could be leagly copied, will not be, but it means nothing will be illegally copied.

    As to the original poster, there is one reprive from the madate for a release of copyright, if MUST have your photos professionally scanned and you don’t have a copyright release from the copyright holder, you can make a effort to obtain one from the copyright holder. Run a search at copright.gov and contact the PMA to try and get in touch with them and KEEP RECORDS of your futile attempts to reach the long dead photographer. For commisioned works (like most formal portraits) if you can prove that you have made a reasonable effort to obtain a copyright and it was not possible, a federal judge can grant you a non-commercial license to reporodce the work from a copy.

  140. I really cant believe how harsh some people are towards wal mart employees. I work at a wal mart photo lab. First I would like to say that not all wal mart employees are dumb. I live in a small town where beleive it or not wal mart is one of the best places to work. I agree that they have problems, but I need a job that can help me pay my way though college. I make more money at wal mart than I would make anywhere else in my town and go to college. Now that I have said that. I would like to say that there are ways around wal marts copyright rules. the employee, like me, would get fired if we did not up hold thier rules. Remeber wal mart is a big company and does not care about one employee and will fire one for copyright rules. you can say that your great grandparent took the picture and you are now the copyright owner. you can make up a fake letter saying you have permission. honestly i copy copyrighted picuters at home too. if you know in your heart and mind that nobody will care if you make copies than who will care if you make a fake release. all the wal mart employee wants to do is keep thier job. most of them could not care less about you copying a picture all you have to do is supply them with the stuff that they need to keep thier job. i know i feel so bad when i have to tell some people no and they get so mad at me. It is out of my control. also i have looked up the law and it varies but most common is 50 to 99 years after the death of the photographer. but wal mart has been sued, I know of, once by a descendent of a photographer whose picture was 75 years old. crazy i know but it does happen. that is why wal mart goes by the longest law 99 years after the death of the photographer. Please dont critize me I was just trying to give a voice to the little people of wal mart. the ones who have to do all the shit work and get treated like shit from wal mart and those who shop their.

  141. I run the lab at my Walgreens. We were trained that anything professional within 75 years of creation or 100 years of the photog’s death (which sounds backwards to me) is protected by federal copyright laws.

    Some people are a real pain in the neck over this, too! The 1940s-50s are harder to tell, because you can’t always be sure how old the photo is if nothing’s written on the back. One customer gave me the run-around on some wedding 8x10s from the 1950s; I simply asked if the couple had paid a photographer. She wanted to know how I could tell it was less than 75 years old. Apparently I look too young to know they only had Model T and Model A cars in the 1930s, not the luxurious car the couple were looking out the back window of.

    I should add that there’s a site containing myths about copyright laws. One he points out is that humans make copies, not computers. Computers do what they’re programmed and told to do. So why did a customer ask me how the machines know her picture is professional? *headdesk*

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