Walmart Says You Can't Scan That 1925 Family Portrait, Because Copyright Lasts Forever

If you combine a mindless and petty tyrant with Walmart’s draconian photo rights policies, you get a story like the one Boingboing reported today, where a woman in Florida was told she couldn’t scan an 80-year-old portrait of her dead grandmother, because its copyright is surely held by the studio that took it—and copyrights last forever.

If you’re going to scan old photos at Walmart, you may want to brush up on copyright basics, since clearly Walmart isn’t bothering to train its employees.

As a general rule of thumb, if the work was made before 1989 and doesn’t have a copyright symbol on it, it’s probably in the public domain. For works created after 1989, the symbol isn’t required to enforce copyright. The “Is it Protected?” tool at librarycopyright.net is a simple way to determine the most likely state of a published work. We’re not sure how much of that applies to photos (any lawyer-types want to weigh in?) but the U.S. Copyright Office seems to indicate that the photo would have to have a permanently-affixed or printed copyright notice on it if it was created before 1989.

Or, you could take the advice of some Boingboing readers, and either find yourself a scanner to use at home, or write your own copyright notice on the back of the photos before bringing them into the store. We wonder: is it breaking copyright law to put a fake copyright on a public domain photo for the sole purpose of asserting your right to make a copy of it? Discuss!

Update: As rubinow notes in the comments below, bring the proper form with you when you go to Walmart. This gives them the legal protection they want, and then they won’t refuse to print your photos.

“Wal-Mart: you can’t scan century-old photos of your ancestors because copyright lasts forever” [Boingboing]
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. Triborough says:

    Apparently this is yet another reason not to go to Wal-Mart. Not that I would go there in the first place.

  2. Boogaloo2 says:

    My mom and I ran into this same thing at Walmart a couple years ago. The only info on the portrait was the studio’s name. My mom tried explaining to them that this studio hasn’t even been in business for 50 years (don’t know if that matters in copyright issues)but they still wouldn’t let us scan it.

    Maybe I’ll look into this and try again, although I don’t foresee being able to intelligently argue the point with the Walmart workers in south Georgia.

  3. ModernTenshi04 says:

    I had a similar issue. I went to buy Children of Men on DVD, and got it in a two-pack deal that came with another movie. Problem was when I got home, after I had already taken the plastic wrap and security stickers off Children of Men, I realized Wal-Mart (in their infinite wisdom) packed in the Full Screen version of Children with the Widescreen version of the other movie.

    I hadn’t even left the store 10 minutes ago and went rushing back up, getting there within 20 minutes of purchasing it. The lady behind the counter said she couldn’t return it because it had already been open, and due to copyright law they can’t let me return it because I might have copied it, either that or they could only let me exchange it for another Full Screen copy and not the one I wanted. I left, mad as ever.

    Luckily I’m friends with some guys who own a local video game store, and after hearing my story offered to re-shrink wrap it for me! I took it back, remember it has no stickers on it at all, and ended up dealing with the same lady as the previous night.

    “Did you buy another copy?”

    “Uh, no, my mom bought me another one because she felt bad for me and your stupid rule, but she too grabbed the wrong version.”

    She looks it over for a moment. “Alright, go grab the one you wanted.”

    Score one for me!

  4. Chairman-Meow says:

    It really pains me that many people nowadays don’t even bother with the “thinking” thing and simply listen & believe things because someone told them it is true.

  5. James says:

    As a Walmart Photo Tech, I can assure you that the average worker “doesn’t care” but we have to follow by the rules set by Walmart, which are if an image looks copyrighted (regardless of watermark) we need a copyright release form (which we even provide if you’ll certify you took the picture)

  6. tom2133 says:

    I’ve heard that anything created before 1929 is public domain now. Does this sound correct?

  7. cockeyed says:

    hows about buying your own scanner and a decent printer? problem solved

  8. andyfvp says:

    Walmart, Walmart, Walmart…why don’t you play nice. Still the legal eagles are watching so best to behave and refer granny to Target.

  9. savvy999 says:

    @tom2133: Mickey Mouse was created in 1928, and I’m pretty ABCESPNDisney lawyers would heartily disagree that he/it is in the public domain.

  10. savvy999 says:

    *sure*

  11. smallestmills says:

    @ModernTenshi04:
    That’s not the same as the copyright wearing off or expiring from an old photo. Many stores, not just Walmart, would enforce that rule regardless of elapsed time. It is entirely possible that one could have bought and copied a movie in under a half hour.

  12. James says:

    Actually, I can tell you how to “workaround” that.

    At most Walmarts, there is a Kodak kiosk. Use that to make your copies. When done hand the photo tech your slip, and they’ll get you an envelope(and price sticker) for your photos.

    So the photo tech doesn’t notice, hold the photos to where the white backing is always showing to the tech.

    When you get the envelope, just put the photos in that, and there ya go.

    *Yes this works.

  13. balthisar says:

    @Front_Towards_Enemy: Yeah, you’re right!

  14. pandroid says:

    I used to work at a photo lab (not walmart) and we had an entirely different policy (over 75 years = ok, over 25 years ok if the customer signed a release saying the studio was out of business). But we were told any copyright violations could leave us personally liable for a $10,000 fine.

    So Walmart’s legal department probably sent out a memo saying don’t touch copyrighted material at all, and the workers are stuck following it. As much as it pains me to say this, Walmart is not really at fault here – blame the confusing and complex copyright laws. The US really needs to fix them, especially when it comes to photos.

    • Ryan Paige says:

      @pandroid:

      “So Walmart’s legal department probably sent out a memo saying don’t touch copyrighted material at all, and the workers are stuck following it.”

      Since Copyright attaches automatically for works produced within the last couple of decades, Wal-Mart wouldn’t have much of a photo department at all if they refused to touch any copyrighted material at all.

      I had a similar problem at Walgreens where a clerk wouldn’t let me scan a photo that had clearly fallen out of copyright but would let me copy all sorts of snapshots taken by people other than myself (and since I was in the photos, it was obvious that I didn’t take them) to my heart’s content.

      These photo places have a very inconsistent policy in regard to protecting copyright. It boils down to often refusing to copy any photo that looks professional, as if professionalism had anything to do with copyright.

  15. Shaftoe says:

    @savvy999:
    That is because Disney keeps renewing the copyright on it’s properties.

  16. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    I agree with the first post… another reason not to go to WalMart…

    Of course it isn’t like the preceding 100 or so reasons aren’t good enough… exporting jobs, facilitating the movement of wealth out of the country, marginalizing small business, killing down towns, abusing employees, abusing the law, abusing taxpayers, abusing suppliers, abusing… well everyone…

  17. ModernTenshi04 says:

    @smallestmills: Thing is I wasn’t wanting any money back at all, just to exchange it straight across for the Widescren version, which cost no more or less than the Full Screen version did. Had I wanted a full refund, yeah I could see their problem. But just wanting to exchange one format I didn’t want for the format I did, which would result in no loss to them? Yeah, not seeing the problem here.

    Besides, if I were interested in copying movies I buy only to return them, I’d buy my own heat gun and shrink wrap, keep the security stickers, and play it that way.

  18. backbroken says:

    I can never figure out which topic has more misinformation in the public domain: copyrights or high definition television.

  19. Murph1908 says:

    @balthisar:
    LOL

  20. mopoke2 says:

    @savvy999:
    Actually it isn’t that they renew their copyright. Before the copyright was up, Disney went ahead and trademarked all of their IP properties. And trademarks are forever.

  21. Wormfather is Wormfather says:

    I’m not a lawyer but I played one in a mock trial back in highschool and I’ve stayed at a holliday in select…what was i saying again?

  22. krom says:

    Yes, I think it does violate copyright law to place a fake (c) on a PD work… because you are asserting copyright that you don’t have.

    But this is the sort of violation of copyright law that is perfectly OK because corporations and others do it all the fricking time.

  23. JohnDeere says:

    walmart almost wouldnt let me make copies of my own pictures i made with a rebel dslr. they said they were professional. i thanked her and made them anyway.

  24. rodeo40 says:

    That must’ve been on bored Wal Mart employee.

  25. “Copyrights last forever.”

    Just like Sonny Bono would have wanted. Sure, it may be unconstitutional, but it’s not like that’s stopped Congress in the past.

  26. krom says:

    I wonder what traction you’d get if you wrote “PUBLIC DOMAIN PHOTO” on the back.

  27. rodeo40 says:

    I mean ONE bored Wal Mart employee

  28. tom2133 says:

    I think too that Wal-Mart would go out of business on ANY photo that you take though. Say I took a photo at my friend’s wedding – I can claim copyright on that. I take a photo of my dog – there’s a copyright on that.

  29. InThrees says:

    As much as I like reading the walmart bashing, this isn’t their fault. As previously suggested, it’s their CYA response to the laws on copyright.

    If you want to be mad at someone, be mad at the lobbyists, lawyers, and trade associations for the major studios / labels.

  30. girlleastlikelyto says:

    Not that Wal-Mart’s policy isn’t stupid, and I’m not a lawyer, but I think it’s a bit too broadly stated to say that anything created before 1989 that doesn’t have a copyright symbol on it is in public domain. The photograph falls into the “unpublished work” category — it’s on that site you link to. So you have to know when the photographer died, which is difficult to find out. That’s why Congress has been trying to implement an Orphan Works act. [www.copyright.gov]

  31. RickinStHelen says:

    There are various copyright laws depending on when the image was taken. In the earlier photos, there is also language about the people who are in the photograph, and whether they are still alive. When I worked in museums, we had to be extra careful with this. If a photograph from say, 1913 had a small child in it, then there was a chance the person was till alive, and the old law kicked in. Thanks to rulings that favored media companies, the rules changed from life of the creator, to life plus 70 years, and there are other ways to extend it. I used to do this for a living, and I couldn’t quickly find the appropriate law online in a quick Google search. With copyright violations costing $100,00 per violation, I can understand Walmart telling its employees they last forever. You cannot afford to train $10.00 hourly workers in copyright law.

    There is a lot of misunderstanding about what is and what is not public domain not in the public domain. Even if the studio that took the picture of Grandpa and Grandma is gone the heirs to the studio may have rights.

    Does the law really affect you and me on a day to basis, no, but to businesses it is a real problem area.

  32. JustaConsumer says:

    The worst company in America!

  33. floraposte says:

    @backbroken: But it’s not public domain, because it’s automatically copyrighted. Bwahaha, rimshot, etc.

  34. camille_javal says:

    @mopoke2: YES! Sorry, I get excited when I run into people who know why Disney doesn’t really give a crap about the copyright laws at this point. (While they submitted amicus for the Sonny Bono Extension, it was the American Songbook people – Gershwin & Berlin’s estates – that really pushed for it.)

    I believe everything before *1923* is now out of copyright. As for 1928, it would have had to have been registered and had notice on it. By virtue of *not* having a copyright symbol, it’s public domain.

    Anything produced before 1964 that did not have its copyright renewed is out of copyright. As of 1989, copyrights started renewing automatically (and covered things produced Jan. 1, 1964 and forward). So, the photograph would have had to have been renewed, too.

    Copyright in the US is unlikely ever to extend past what it is now; the *big* reason all the lobbying worked is that Germany’s copyrights were this long, so the rest of the EU extended their copyrights; we have reciprocity agreements where we have to give as much protection to works from EU countries for US creators to be covered there.

    The federal statutes, while a touch ridiculous (and we need some of the personal copying flexibility you see in EU law), are less the problem to me than the arbitrary, know-nothing attempts at “enforcing” them by corporate owners and third parties. The former are trying to pressure people with the knowledge that most won’t take them to court over it, where they might have to prove themselves; the latter are too scared of the same kind of pressure (and, again, probably wouldn’t be harmed, but don’t want to go to court in the first place).

  35. ludwigk says:

    @Shaftoe: No, no, no! Disney isn’t “renewing” their copyright, that cannot be done for IP as old as Disney’s characters.

    Disney actually pushes legislation through Congress to extend the duration of copyright protection, which is in fundamental opposition to the principles of what copyright protection was intended to do.

    Copyright (very loosly, IANAL) is intended to protect great ideas and allow companies to profit from them. This protected period of exclusivity is based on the assumption that at some point, the copyright will expire, and the invention or idea will be disseminated into the public domain for the development of future works, and the general benefit of society.

    Some of Disney’s most important copyrights are based on works that had become public domain at the beginning of the century, just in time for Disney to adapt and develop their own ideas on. So, Disney is essentially acting to eliminate the basic principles of copyright, the very same principles which are responsible for their own initial success.

  36. camille_javal says:

    @girlleastlikelyto: “Publishing” was a very complicated area of case law under the 1909 Act, though – it’s quite possible that disseminating a copy of the photo to the family (if it was taken by a professional studio) could have constituted publishing. (It tended to sway a lot based on what would be less horrible in the eyes of the law – if someone would be really unfairly deprived of copyright only because their work *might* have been published, under certain definitions, but it’s really grey, then courts had a tendency to rationalize. All part of how we got to the 1976 Act.)

  37. Farquar says:

    @tom2133: That would be incorrect.

    @mopoke2: That would be grossly incorrect to the extent that it appears you are just making things up.

    Most of the classic Disney stuff is still under copyright because the copyright term was extended. The term was extended in no small part because of Disney’s lobby to have the copyright term extended to avoid having Mickey go into the public domain.

    None of this has anything to do with trademark law.

  38. On the flipside of the ridiculous meter, the same employees who blandly tell you can’t scan something… will accept a copyright release form that says practically anything, written by anyone.

    It’s just like when you sign your credit card purchase. I always draw little stick figures and pictures on the screen. No one cares. No one cares what it says on the release form, they have no way to verify it and nor will they ever.

    They are just told that’s what they’re supposed to do.

  39. shorty63136 says:

    Same problem. Picture: literally from 1941. Walmart says “No.” even after I told them “The photographer DIED in 1968! His shop has been CLOSED since then!”

    Fuckery and douchebaggery at its finest.

  40. Farquar says:

    [papers.ssrn.com]

    One of my favorite articles.. because I’m a nerd. A lengthy paper on the status of the “Happy Birthday” copyright, in the end arguing that “Happy Birthday to You” long ago fell into the public domain, yet still brings in over 2 million in licensing fees.

    It’s a little obnoxious to pull up. Click download locations, then download anonymously.

  41. billy says:

    Couldn’t this all be taken care of by a waiver holding Walmart indemnified based on the representations of whoever wants the copy? Doesn’t Walmart (or whoever) make people sign that type of agreement anyway? As others have pointed out, it would seem that most any artistic image might be under an active copyright unless it was very old. Why doesn’t Walmart just CYA that way?

  42. silver-spork says:

    I had a problem with this when I tried to scan negatives and reprint them. My wedding photographer was a family friend and gave me the negatives before he died of diabetes complications. The company that scanned the negatives brought up the copyright issue, and accepted a signed letter from the photographer’s wife transferring the copyright to me.

    When I went to reprint them, KodakGallery automatically refused to reprint some of them because they were “professionally done.” It seemed that they were refusing some of the larger reprints based on resolution. I called and explained the problem and offered to fax them a copy of the letter the photographer’s wife had given me. This was not enough for them – Kodak wanted a copy of the guy’s death certificate and proof of identity for his wife. Since they had only put a hold on a few of the 8x10s, I went without instead of putting the burden on the photographer’s family.

  43. harvey_birdman_attorney_at_law says:

    @cockeye:

    Decent printer with ink = not cheap.

  44. mrgenius says:

    From http://www.copyright.gov:

    My local copying store will not make reproductions of old family photographs. What can I do?

    Photocopying shops, photography stores and other photo developing stores are often reluctant to make reproductions of old photographs for fear of violating the copyright law and being sued. These fears are not unreasonable, because copy shops have been sued for reproducing copyrighted works and have been required to pay substantial damages for infringing copyrighted works. The policy established by a shop is a business decision and risk assessment that the business is entitled to make, because the business may face liability if they reproduce a work even if they did not know the work was copyrighted.

    In the case of photographs, it is sometimes difficult to determine who owns the copyright and there may be little or no information about the owner on individual copies. Ownership of a “copy” of a photograph – the tangible embodiment of the “work” – is distinct from the “work” itself – the intangible intellectual property. The owner of the “work” is generally the photographer or, in certain situations, the employer of the photographer. Even if a person hires a photographer to take pictures of a wedding, for example, the photographer will own the copyright in the photographs unless the copyright in the photographs is transferred, in writing and signed by the copyright owner, to another person. The subject of the photograph generally has nothing to do with the ownership of the copyright in the photograph. If the photographer is no longer living, the rights in the photograph are determined by the photographer’s will or passed as personal property by the applicable laws of intestate succession.

    There may be situations in which the reproduction of a photograph may be a “fair use” under the copyright law. Information about fair use may be found at: http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html. However, even if a person determines a use to be a “fair use” under the factors of section 107 of the Copyright Act, a copy shop or other third party need not accept the person’s assertion that the use is noninfringing. Ultimately, only a federal court can determine whether a particular use is, in fact, a fair use under the law.
    ____________________________________________

    So basically Wal Mart looks like it is doing the right thing here… I never thought I’d be typing that Wal Mart was doing the right thing. I need a shower.

  45. Quilt says:

    So Wal-Mart employees are idiots?

    Noted.

  46. James says:

    @Quilt: Not all of us, but the overwhelming majority yes.

  47. stinerman says:

    @tom2133:

    That is almost always true, but there are other works made after 1929 that are also public domain.

  48. carlogesualdo says:

    I believe Disney was actually the driving force behind the Sonny Bono copyright extension act (which someone here may already have mentioned). I’m sure Sonny Bono was all for it, however, which is undoubtedly why he sponsored the bill. As you can see from the various responses here, copyright law has changed numerous times over the years. It’s no wonder a Wal-Mart clerk making barely above minimum wage would know absolutely nothing about it and would be very quick to just say “no.” Just because the studio is out of business or the photographer is dead does not make it okay to steal their work. But if you know for a fact the work is not under copyright, ask for a manager. Just make sure you know your facts. It may help to take a printout with you for backup.

  49. Orv says:

    @Farquar: It was always my understanding that you can’t copyright a character, only a finished work. So Mickey Mouse is trademarked, but a Mickey Mouse film is copyrighted. IANAL, though, I might be wrong about this.

  50. Reeve says:

    @mopoke2:

    I agree with Farquar. You seem to have a misunderstanding of what is going on. Disney’s rights to early Mickey Mouse drawings does not have to do with Trademark law. True Disney may have some trademarks on early properties but that would not protect a whole 30 second cartoon.

  51. Reeve says:

    @Orv:
    You can copyright a drawing of a character.

  52. angryhippo says:

    I like the suggestion put up on BB: buy a scanner at Walmart, go home and scan the photos, return the scanner for a refund.

  53. tedyc03 says:

    I still think photographs should by copywritten by the PEOPLE in them. That’d fix the paparazzi.

    Ok, on topic…

    AFAIK and IANAL, something done in 1929 isn’t copywritten unless there’s some exception (e.g. it’s part of a larger volume that is copywritten). See the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

  54. stinerman says:

    @stinerman:

    Beg your pardon, that’s 1923, not 1929.

  55. consumerd says:

    Take it to a more professional photo shop. You may pay more but at the same time they don’t refuse as much or are as draconian.

    I hit the same thing and I patronized a local shop, true a tad more expensive but I got copies of my pics off a CDROM that I took faster than wal-mart was willing to do it for.

  56. stinerman says:

    @Michael Belisle:

    Forever less one day.

  57. Skankingmike says:

    working in a industry that sees countless copyright infringements. I can safely say that though wrong about the copyright lasting forever. Generally the 75 year rule is the safest bet.

    The problem isn’t with old photo’s though its’ with people bringing in those stupid glamor shots photo’s and then wanting dups made or scanned to a cd.

    NOOOOO stupid that’s why when they asked if you wanted a cd for however much money they charge, you should have said yes.

    but whatever people are generally stupid about copyrights anyway so i would say that this is a non issue with walmart. (though i still hate them).

  58. TechnoDestructo says:

    Why is a personal photograph taken by a professional for no one’s purposes but those of the customer NOT a work-for-hire and therefore the sole property of the customer?

  59. astraelraen says:

    Or you could just scan the picture and upload it to the many dozen online photo shops. They do great work and are cheap. I’ve never had a problem with any of them and I’ve printed out some 8×10 and some pretty high resolution photos.

  60. Nighthawke says:

    Rent a scanner from walmart.
    Scan the images.
    Take scanner back.
    Use images as you wish.

    Walmart eats the repacking charge and labor to reshelve the unit as used.

    You get your precious pics on CD/DVD to print out at a quality operation that gives a damn.

  61. billy says:

    @TechnoDestructo: It’s not automatically a work for hire. For freelancers i) the work must be specially ordered or commissioned; ii) the work must come within one of nine specific categories of works (photographs of family isn’t one of them); and iii) there must be a written agreement in advance between the parties specifying that the work is a work made for hire.

  62. Gopher bond says:

    I have a stack of those WalMArt release forms at home. I fill them out with the names of whichever studio/photographer I want them to make a copy of. What are they going to do? I only use them at home or give them to family so there’s no fraud.

  63. LionelEHutz says:

    I’d be shocked if the average wal-mart worker could spell “copyright”.

    @TechnoDestructo: Because most people don’t bother to read the contract they sign with the photographer before handing over their cash. Photographers want to make sure that you have to go to them to get reprints.

  64. billy says:

    @testsicles: “so there’s no fraud.”

    Well, signing someone else’s name to a release IS fraud. If you only use the photos at home or give them to family there is small likelihood of getting caught, but that’s not the same as there not being any fraud.

  65. Reeve says:

    There is to much misinformation above to correct everything. I will tell you that specifically talking about this photo it would have initially fell under the copyright act of 1909. Under the 1909 Act copyrights were afforded to works which were published and had a copyright notice affixed. It is likely that this work was never published and certainly not published at the time of taking. The 1978 act provided that works would not go into the public domain until at least January 1, 2003 (this is EARLIEST though assuming the author had been deceased by January 1, 1933). HOWEVER, the 1978 Act provided an incentive to publish works whereby a work could be published and the copyright extended until December 31, 2047. There are other nuances such as if a work was created in 1920s and published say in the 1960s. It is unlikely this photo was ever published so it is true that it is probably in the public domain. There is a possibility it is not though. Since the law is so confusing it is understandable why Wal Mart would be reluctant to copy this photo.

    For an article which discusses how the law works on these unpublished works see [www.cardozoaelj.net]

  66. mjschmidt says:

    Here you go, from the U.S. Copyright Office (link follows below):

    “My local copying store will not make reproductions of old family photographs. What can I do?
    Photocopying shops, photography stores and other photo developing stores are often reluctant to make reproductions of old photographs for fear of violating the copyright law and being sued. These fears are not unreasonable, because copy shops have been sued for reproducing copyrighted works and have been required to pay substantial damages for infringing copyrighted works. The policy established by a shop is a business decision and risk assessment that the business is entitled to make, because the business may face liability if they reproduce a work even if they did not know the work was copyrighted.

    In the case of photographs, it is sometimes difficult to determine who owns the copyright and there may be little or no information about the owner on individual copies. Ownership of a “copy” of a photograph – the tangible embodiment of the “work” – is distinct from the “work” itself – the intangible intellectual property. The owner of the “work” is generally the photographer or, in certain situations, the employer of the photographer. Even if a person hires a photographer to take pictures of a wedding, for example, the photographer will own the copyright in the photographs unless the copyright in the photographs is transferred, in writing and signed by the copyright owner, to another person. The subject of the photograph generally has nothing to do with the ownership of the copyright in the photograph. If the photographer is no longer living, the rights in the photograph are determined by the photographer’s will or passed as personal property by the applicable laws of intestate succession.

    There may be situations in which the reproduction of a photograph may be a “fair use” under the copyright law. Information about fair use may be found at: http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html. However, even if a person determines a use to be a “fair use” under the factors of section 107 of the Copyright Act, a copy shop or other third party need not accept the person’s assertion that the use is noninfringing. Ultimately, only a federal court can determine whether a particular use is, in fact, a fair use under the law.”

    [www.copyright.gov]

  67. Twilly says:

    I’ve run into similar issues trying to get my portfolio printed at Kinko’s. I’ve done work for Disney and they refuse to reprint any of my Disney related work because of copyrights.

  68. Farquar says:

    @Reeve:

    You can copyright a visual depiction of a character without any problems at all. Its much more difficult to copyright a textual description of a character. For example.. the description of a well-intentioned husband/father who is selfish, stupid, and prone to screwing things up, but in the end tries to do the right thing.

    It’s a stock character. It’s Homer, Peter on Family Guy, Ralph Cramden(husband, not dad), Archie Bunker, the dad on Roseanne….

    The copyright comes in the visual representation, which is much easier in the cartoon medium.

    Trademark is used to identify the maker of a good. It’s a source identifier. Mickey is the goods (as far selling things with Mickey on it). The trademark is the Disney logo. Not to say that this line isn’t getting more and more blurred. It is.

  69. Farquar says:

    @Farquar:

    Sorry the above was for Orv.

  70. @stinerman: I just corrected the math: infinity less one is still infinity.

  71. Reeve says:

    @Farquar:

    I agree. Very difficult to copyright the description of a character.

  72. RhodyDave says:

    People still shop at Walmart? That’s so last century.

  73. Orv says:

    Hmm, actually, my earlier post (which I think the system ate, anyway) was wrong…graphical characters can be copyrighted:
    [www.publaw.com]

  74. bohemian says:

    Our wedding photographer vanished before sending back the second round of prints for family members that were already paid for. Since they are on professional paper we can’t make copies at a store. Sometimes copyright sucks.

  75. Reeve says:

    @mjschmidt:

    I wish people would stop posting the same exact comment. Anyway, that post mainly has to do with fair use. This is one issue. Of course one need not resort to fair use if a copyright does not exist which was covered in one of my previous posts.

  76. MightyHorse says:

    my mom had this experience at wal-mart…she went to print some photos i took of my daughter. i used my new canon DSLR and 50mm prime lens that i’d just bought and the shots looked really good, but nothing spectacular. anyway, mom went to get the prints made, and after the wal-mart douche looked at them for a few minutes, he came back and asked if she had a copyright release form from the studio. what studio, she asked? my son took these. so the guy went to his manager, who looked at them and told my mom, sorry, we can’t print these unless you get a release form from the photographer or studio, b/c they look “professional”. now, one thing you do not do in this world is tell a grandmother that she cannot have pictures of her only grandchild. so after catching an ear-and-a-half full of shit from my mom, the manager relented and allowed the photos to be printed. personally, i was flattered that they thought my shots were professional. but come on.

  77. Difdi says:

    Technically, you don’t need a fancy form to transfer a limited license to a copyright. My father is a fairly skilled photographer; He’s a hobbyist, but he has had the odd photo published. From a legal standpoint, all I’d really need to legally copy one of his pictures is a handwritten, signed note from him authorizing me to do so. It wouldn’t even take writing it out, verbal permission is all that the law would require. I can’t imagine ever needing to do so (he can make better copies than any Wal*Mart ever could, and does so mostly on request).

    Proving you have such permission to Wal*Mart might be more problematic though. You might be able to sue them for slander/libel for accusing you in public of being a thief, but that’s pretty shaky to go to court on…

  78. ckaught78 says:

    I don’t get my photos printed at Wal-mart any more. I was recentyl married and our photographer included all the hi-res digital images on DVD and signed over the rights as part of our package.

    I uploaded to Wal-Mart to have some printed and when I went in to the store to pick them up they wanted me to produce evidence that I owned the reproductive rights. Now to get the pictures I had to go home get the piece of paper from my photographer and go back. Quite an annoyance. Walgreens, Longs, and CVS have never asked for proof.

  79. Reeve says:

    @Difdi:

    It is not shaky to sue Wal Mart libel/slander in this case – it is just plain absurd.

  80. TheUncleBob says:

    I skimmed through many of the replies, but I would like to point out a few things.

    Just because someone claims a photograph is old, it doesn’t mean squat. There are several studios that take old-tyme photos in period dress for children and families.

    Second, just because the image you are presenting at the counter doesn’t have a copyright logo/studio name on it doesn’t mean it didn’t three minutes ago. If I have a picture from 1958 that *is* marked with a copyright logo in the bottom corner and I cut off the bottom 1/4″ of the photo, is this photo suddenly no longer protected by copyright?

    As this very article says, Wal*Mart associates aren’t trained worth crap – so don’t expect them to be experts in identifying a copyrighted photograph. No employee is trained in carbon dating a photograph to determine the age. The employee is going to play it safe because that employee’s job is on the line. Wal*Mart is going to play it safe because they can (and have been) sued for such violations.

  81. Average_Joe says:

    I never understood why the law gives automatic copyright to the photographer and not the person paying the photographer. How does a commercial entity such as a magazine work? Couldn’t their employees run off with the pictures they took? Why does a photographer get rights to my family photo, when I paid him to take the pictures for me?

  82. TuxRug says:

    I don’t understand the issue with not allowing an exchange for the same title in a different format. “Yeah, I bought the fullscreen version by mistake, but I wanted the widescreen version.” Same video, different format… Why copy the fullscreen version then return it for the widescreen version?

    That’s almost like refusing to allow a blu-ray exchange for a DVD of the same title… If you ripped the blu-ray version somehow, why return it to downgrade to the DVD release? Just convert the blu-ray version, viola!

  83. Xerloq says:

    I would claim copyright of old family photos. My preservation of the photo brought it to it’s current state and therefore is a work of art that I created, and therefore copyright by me.

  84. billy says:

    @Reeve: I hate to take Walmart’s side (or go off-topic) but a slander case would be pointless. 1) asking for clarification as to who owns the copyright (however inelegantly they do it) is NOT the same as accusing someone of stealing/misappropriating copyright (or as the OP said, “accusing you in public of being a thief.”) Walmart seems to be within their rights to ask for such clarification. 2) Walmart’s defense to a slander claim (if the case even made it past a motion for directed finding) would be reasonable belief that the customer didn’t own the copyright.

  85. mattagent07 says:

    @TuxRug: I suppose UncleBob is right about “playing it safe,” but Wal-Mart employees don’t have to be a-holes about it. I developed some pictures at my local Wal-Mart that I had taken in New Zealand and Hawaii and that was the worst retail experience I have ever had. The Kodak machine kept needing new ink and paper and it took over an hour to print my pictures from the Kodak machine. Then I receive no apology from the employees, instead when they finally printed, all the employee mumbled was, “I am not selling you these pictures. They are professional.” He then gave me a look as if I was stealing and grabbed the pictures from the counter. I started laughing and thought he was joking. I told him the cheap Canon SD450 I had used to shoot them and exactly where and when I took them. He refused to give them to me and then a manager came back. He was also rude and finally agreed to let me sign a waiver stating that I knew for sure the pictures were not copyrighted and that I had taken them myself. Now, this whole policy is fine, but dealing with not only rude and unfriendly employees, but also a rude store manager about it, really makes me mad. All in all, I left two hours and fifteen minutes later with no apology from the manager or the employee for the delay nor even a simple, “Have a good day.” Instead, I received the death look, just screaming, “I hope you die today.” Now, I don’t go to Wal-Mart because 40% of their employees are clueless and the other 60% won’t even acknowledge you if you try to talk to them.

  86. mjschmidt says:

    @Reeve: Reeve: The section I pasted from the US copyright office deals _specifically_ with this story.

    I woman wanted to make a copy (in this case a digital scan) of an old photo, and that which I posted literally answers the question “My local copying store will not make reproductions of old family photographs. What can I do?”

  87. Syunikiss says:

    Plenty of people already discussed the copyright laws, so I won’t mention anything I know about them (cept for I hate dealing with it).

    I worked at an Eckerd photo lab when I was younger, then worked for a locally owned photo lab for many many years restoring old photos and all kinds of other stuff. I know countless of times people come in complaining about Walmart and how picky their copyright policy is. I understand they have to be strict about it, but it drove me nuts how Walmart would treat these people. Plenty of people would come in saying Walmart wouldn’t print their own pictures that they took because it looked good enough to be copyright. So if you’re even a decent photographer don’t take your pictures to Walmart (terrible quality anyway). Not only would the Walmart employees turn them down, they’d treat them like criminals. But! That would only happen if the person burned their pictures onto a CD. If it was on a memory card (which is just as easy to transfer copyrighted pictures on) then they would print it.

    This one professional photographer we deal with a lot stopped by Walmart once to get a few prints he needed quickly (Walmart is cheaper). They refused to print his pictures because there was a name and address written on the CD. It was HIS name and address, and he pulled out his License to prove it. They still wouldn’t accept it, and told him that he needed a release form. He said “So… I need to write a letter stating I will release the copyrighted pictures I made to myself so I can get them printed?” They said yes so he started writing the release on a random piece of paper, and they continued to tell him they couldn’t accept it. He came to us shortly and apologized for using our competitor =)

  88. SinisterMatt says:

    @krom:

    My understanding is that the original work is in the public domain, but you can copyright any modifications or variations you make on it. Thus, the cover art and any review work inside that Tom Sawyer you buy at Wal-Mart may be copyrighted by Penguin, but the actual content of it is in the public domain.

    In this case, if she were to somehow alter it then she could copyright that, for example if she restored it or something.

    If I am wrong about this, someone correct me, please.

    IANAL. YMMV. BYOB.

    Cheers!

  89. Farquar says:

    @mjschmidt: Reeve’s point was that you didn’t read any of the other comments.. specifically: @ mrgenius who posted the exact same thing well before you.

  90. mattagent07 says:

    @rubinow: Well, my one experience at Wal-Mart was about as close to them accusing me of stealing the copyright as possible. After I sat around for an hour and a half because the Kodak instant print machine kept breaking, the photo employee mumbled, “I am not selling you these. They are professional pictures.” I laughed because I thought he was joking. This was AFTER an hour and a half of sitting there with NO apology for the inconvenience by the employee. I work retail and I apologize to customers EVEN when it is not my fault, its not hard, it just smoothes things over a bit. Anyways, then he snatched them from the counter and gave me a look of disgust, as if I was a thief. So then I argue with him and tell him I took the pictures with my SD450 Canon (not even close to professional) and exactly where and when I took each picture. All the pictures were landscape pics I took in New Zealand and Hawaii and I am definitely no professional photographer, not even a amateur one. The employee doesn’t once ask me to provide evidence that they are my pictures, instead he just keeps repeating he will not sell me the pictures. So finally a manager comes and I explain the situation to him. He says the same thing that he will not sell me the pictures because they are professional and I offer to go get the camera at home, but he repeats the same thing. So now I am actually causing a scene in the photo department because other customers have seen the whole thing go down and are backing me up to the manager. They have seen the whole thing because the Kodak machine is still acting up so they have been there between 40-50 minutes. So finally the manager pulls out a waiver which states that I know the pictures are not copyrighted or that I own the copyright. I sign it, the manager gives me another evil look, then walks off without saying a word. 2 and a half hours from when I came in, I pay for the pictures and the photo employee does not even say, “Have a good day.” Damn, I hate that store and 80% of the employees couldn’t give a crap about it, much less acknowledge you.

  91. billy says:

    There has GOT to be something missing here. What photos WILL Walmart reproduce? Just crappy looking ones? Those have copyright, too. Just photos with releases? That doesn’t make any sense either because a copyright owner shouldn’t have to release rights to himself.

    BTW: Here’s Walmart’s policy regarding printing photographs: [photos.walmart.com]

    It’s in line with everybody’s anecdotes. But on the other hand, if you just fill out the forms, it holds Walmart harmless for copyright infringement. I don’t see why people don’t just do that.

  92. crashfrog says:

    If Congress keeps passing retroactive copyright extension acts, in what sense is the Walmart staffer wrong?

  93. Farquar says:

    @crashfrog: In that sense, he’s not..

    The hope is that at some point Congress will resist the lobby, and stop the stupidity.

    Wow, now that you think about it, I think that this Wal-Mart employee is a sophisticated copyright theorist.

  94. Savvy-faire says:

    Buying a scanner is fine, if you’re in it for the long haul. But if you have some time? Take a walk around the store. The shift will change, and you have a decent chance of power being transfered to someone who knows better, or doesn’t give a shit. I say this as somebody who used to work at Target Photo lab though, so maybe your chances of working the shift change are better there than at the Walmart lab.

  95. I_can_still_pitch says:

    I have access to a large (11×17)flatbed scanner and a large format (48″ wide)color printer, therefore my house is decorated with 24×36 framed reproductions of old and new magazine photos I like, some in their original form, and some I stylized in image-processing software. I don’t sell them, but I guess I am a bad person. I guess I don’t give a sh*t about image copyrights because the value seems to be in the original works, and the photographer got paid by the magazine. I have seen original poster artwork of my own (concert posters, flyers and so on) hanging in peoples houses and have not demanded payment either. I was flattered. I had an art teacher who said no art is completely original, no sequence of notes hasn’t been written before, and if you are in art to make money, you are not an artist.

  96. mythago says:

    As a general rule of thumb, if the work was made before 1989 and doesn’t have a copyright symbol on it, it’s probably in the public domain.

    And this “general rule of thumb” comes from WHERE? No kidding you need actual lawyers to weigh in on this. Merely being on the Internet doesn’t confer legal expertise. Hint: if you find yourself feeling the need to say “IANAL, but…”, you probably have no idea what you’re talking about.

    US Copyright Office FAQ here: [www.copyright.gov]

  97. Reeve says:

    @rubinow:

    I could not agree more. In fact I said a slander case would be absurd. I am not sure if your response was meant for me because you basically agree with me.

  98. billy says:

    @Reeve: OHHHH, I think I misread what you meant. I interpreted your post as saying it would not be shaky to sue Walmart b/c what they are doing is absurd.

    Sorry ’bout the confusion.

  99. BytheSea says:

    @tom2133: Books and movies have a 60 year limit on their copyright, if no one renews it, including estates-of. I don’t know how that applies to studio-taken photos, esp if the photo studio went out of business in the Great Depression…

  100. mntpython says:

    I worked for the wonderous Wall-Mart for two years as the department manager of the photo lab in a smaller store. And, yes we were told that copyrights on photos were forever and if we allowed those photos to be duplicated, we could lose our jobs. THE major threat of business to it’s lowly employees (or associates, as they lovingly call us). I would copy people’s pics if I was alone and could get away with it. But we had one hard nose lady who would go to the mat with the customer on that copyright thing(of course she was a pain in the ass, anyway). Retail is a bitch, and Wal-Mart fits in very well with it’s outdated approach to management.

  101. henrygates says:

    Go somewhere else. Vote with your wallet. You could print out a page of copyright law showing that you’re right and it wouldn’t matter. They will only do what they are told.

  102. billy says:

    @BytheSea: The “60 year limit” on copyright is too broad a statement. It really depends on a lot of factors. See [librarycopyright.net] as noted in the article.

    And it WOULD generally apply to all copyrightable works (books, movies, AND photos, drawings, etc.) Copyright law makes no distinction between types of works…again, generally.

  103. @camille_javal: “As for 1928, it would have had to have been registered”

    Hahaha. As native speakers we say/write phrases like this all the time without thinking of it, but when I read that sentence, I LOL’d thinking about what a relatively green English-speaker would make of that auxiliary verb chain. Sorry for the tangent, but if you read that carefully you might be amused too.

  104. econobiker says:

    @tom2133: No incorrect mainly as the other poster said- Disney. Disney, the company that raided and continues to raid public domain fairy tales for many of its film subjects, has been instrumental in stretching out the copyright time limits. They want to protect their millions and spend millions doing it. If you get a hair, research how heavy handed they have been with getting passage of US Laws extending copyright time limits…

  105. Reeve says:

    @rubinow:

    Your 60 year limit is to broad at best. Everything written today will have a much longer limit. As for previous works the website you give is interesting and informative. However, you need to know technical knowledge which I go over above to use the website ie what is means to “publish”.

  106. Gorphlog says:

    I dont know why there is even such a thing as a copywrighted photo. I mean really all the person did was push a button on a camera. Its not like he drew the picture. As far as Im concerned if it is a photo of ME its MINE and can do whatever I want with it

  107. Mariajl says:

    It goes farther than that at my local Wal-Mart.
    There doesn’t even have to be a COPYWRIGHT MARK.
    They just have to THINK they are professional.

    I am a wanna-be photographer, and any time I take my best photos in for print out (from my smart card or jumpdrive) on the Kodak machines — the employees go through them, give each other knowing glances, and start to tell me I can’t have them.
    I try to explain that *I* took them.. but because the pics look professionally taken to them, they don’t usually want to believe me.
    I even had to sign a special release that is supposed to be on file — and employees have refused to check for it.
    One time I had to detail to an employee how I used photoshop action “x” then “y” then “z” to achieve my result.
    Then she seemed to believe me.

  108. veterandem says:

    I had a Wal-Marter * tell me that I could not copy a photo because the Kodak paper was copyrighted, at that point it just became a tennis match:

    Me: So Kodak has a copyright over a picture my dad took?
    WM*: The little (c) is on the back it’s copyrighted!
    Me: The paper backing is, not the photo!
    WM*: No the photo is!
    Me: So how can you develop film with Kodak paper and sell it to a customer without breaking copyright law, which by your definition, you can;t do!
    WM*: uh….uh….

    The previous exchange took place at the Wal-Mart* in Murphy, NC. I haven’t used Wal-Mart* since (neary two decades).

  109. WraithSama says:

    My wife’s music business professor was a noted copyright lawyer who worked for many big names including “Wierd” Al Yanchovic and Metallica (whom he screwed out of $100,000 on a contract just to see if he could, but that’s a hilarious story for another time). Anyhow, he says that copyright protection only lasts until the 75th anniverssary of the copyright-holder’s death. Therefore, if the copyright holder of the photograph has been deceased for at least 75 years, the portrait is now public domain.

  110. thisrancidrye says:

    Sorry, guys. YAY WALMART.

    They are actually being responsible in trying to uphold the artistic credibility of photographs.

    I wish the US Government had such a sense of decency, even though I am fully aware Wally World is just trying to avoid litigation and heavy fines.

    Copyright is a scary thing for an aspiring artist to think of, especially the concept of “Orphaned Works”.

    Some dude’s diatribe with links to proposed legislation.
    Source watch’s article.

    This is a really scary debate for those in graphic arts and design, both about the legality of their work if they use public domain/orphaned works and the status of their own work in the future.

  111. XStylus says:

    WalMart is simply being smarter than you all think.

    You see, they know how American politics works, and this is just a display of their remarkable foresight. They know that even though the US Constitution states that copyright lasts for a “limited time”, Disney will just coerce the Legislators to write a law that extends it.

    After all, 99 billion years is still technically a “limited time”. So, it might as well be forever, right?

  112. CaliforniaCajun says:

    You forgot the most important part: Copyright is granted to the creator of the work at the time of creation. No filing or other registration is necessary. The creator of the work may file for Federal Copyright Registration as a means of more easily enforcing their control over the work, but to correct some of the people here, finding a photo on the web, in the public domain does NOT mean it is not copyrighted.

  113. valthun says:

    Well, sure you could stand there and argue at WalMart over the whole thing. But to be fair to WalMart they have trained their people to er on the safe side. While true the copyright may have been invalidated, and even if you could find the photographer to still be alive, the negs would have most likely been destroyed and he most likely wouldn’t care that you did something like this. So just borrow a friends scanner and stop worrying about WalMart. Or just go to one of those kiosks late at night where they may still be on, but no one is manning the photo lab.

  114. sean77 says:

    Here’s the actual copyright setup:

    Individual works: Life of author + 70 years.
    Corporate works: 120 years from creation date

    Anything before 1923 is public domain.
    However things get tricky after 1923. If it was published between 1923 and 1977 it depends on several things. If it has a copyright notice, it definitely is copyrighted. If it doesn’t have a copyright notice it might not be.. but that’s no guarantee.

    If it was published between 1923 and 1977 without the notice, they had 5 years to register the copyright. If they did so, then the original work is copyrighted, even without the notice!

    The fact that most people in this thread are wrong tells me that Walmart made the right move by erring on the side of caution.

  115. thelushie says:

    @ModernTenshi04: I always read the box to check if it is widescreen or full screen as I hate widescreen movies. If it is a double pack, I look at both movies.

    In this case, walmart is covering their asses. And as @rubinow: stated, you can just fill out the forms.

  116. sean77 says:

    @shorty63136:

    Picture: literally from 1941. Walmart says “No.” even after I told them “The photographer DIED in 1968! His shop has been CLOSED since then!”

    If it has a copyright notice on it, that copyright won’t expire until 2036.

  117. floraposte says:

    @CaliforniaCajun: That’s not the public domain, though; it’s publicly accessible. The point is that something’s being publicly accessible doesn’t put it in the public domain.

  118. floraposte says:

    Sorry, screwed up the close italics there.

  119. SpenceMan01 says:

    I’m probably going to get sued for my avatar.

  120. jdmba says:

    Disney is the problem, as are politicians who can be bought by Disney. Copyrights are supposed to be “for a reasonable time”, but each time Mickey starts to get close, they lobby hard for an extension.

    It is for this reason why Apple II and Pet software are still subject to copyright. Hope no one minds history disappearing, all for the sake of Mickey.

  121. crackers says:

    @thisrancidrye: YES. Thank you, thank you. I was just going to post about how this Orphaned Works Legislation is very threatening to those of us that depend on ownership of our IP for paying our bills.

  122. purplegrog says:

    @tom2133: IIRC, current copyright regs are life of the creator + 95 years

  123. purplegrog says:

    @XStylus: Actually, I believe that’s exactly the argument the Supreme Court upheld when the issue of retroactive copyright extension was brought before them (eldrid v. ashcroft)

  124. NightWatch says:

    I know a guy at the local camera store and he said that some of the places that do copys of pics sometimes make a copy for themselves and retouch them. Then later they’ll put them in an album showing the before and after to display that they can fix old photos. So the whole thing as it was explained to me was that they just didn’t want to be caught in possession of a copy of copyrighted material. They’re a business, of course they want your money but they don’t want to get in trouble and lose more than what you gave them for a copy.

  125. mythago says:

    @sean77: exactly. I hate to say nice things about WalMart, but they are hiring clerks – not copyright lawyers. Hell, *I* am a lawyer and I wouldn’t want to go shooting my mouth off about copyright without doing some research first, since that’s not my specialty.

    But this is the Internet, where everybody is an expert on intellectual-property law because they read about it on Wikipedia or something.

  126. Petra says:

    Goodness, people are ignorant when it comes to copyright. You’d think that in working in a photo lab, they’d at least be brushed up on it! I’ve had issues with WalMart in the past with printing photos. I’m a photographer, so there have been several times when I’ve gone to pick up my prints and been told that they wouldn’t print them because they were copyrighted and I had to pay the actual photographer if I wanted a copy. When I tell them that I AM the photographer, they always look at me like I’m a freak. That’s why I always have one or two of my business cards handy :)

  127. Ikky says:

    I bought my scanner/copier for under $200.

  128. XianZomby says:

    You are SURE the photo is public domain? Put a tiny little black mark on the photo in the bottom corner. Claim it is a derivitive work, then copyright it yourself. Then write a letter releasing it to yourself.

  129. Reeve says:

    My my. It appears many posters have not read the previous page of posts.

    Just to respond to some of the worst offenders.

    @WraithSama:
    We are talking about works that fall under the 1909 act not under the current act. There are different rules.

    @sean77:
    Kind of right. This was discussed in an earlier comment. I posted a whole law review article on it as it gets complicated depending on when the work was published. You will also want to see Rubinows link.

    @CaliforniaCajun:
    The works under the 1909 act were not created at time of creation but needed publication. So you are right under the current act but the article is about an item that would be under the 1909 act.

  130. LiC says:

    So scan the pictures at a library and upload the photos onto an online site, like my favorite through Kodak (ofoto.com) or even Walgreens.

    My mom also had this problem; she was doing a photo album for her parents 50th wedding anniversary and had a lot of pictures that were, well, over 50 years old in it.

  131. Tekneek says:

    The claim that copyright lasts forever is absurd by itself. Never, in the history of the United States, has a copyright lasted forever. The way it is going, and the way Jack Valenti wanted it, it would basically be forever (or 1 day less than forever, as I believe Valenti put it), but it is not currently forever and never has been.

    Not that the Walmart crowd is supposed to be the smartest bunch around, but surely they should know that much about copyright law.

    And yes, it is quite ironic that a company that has generated so much wealth from plundering public domain works would work so hard to keep creations out of the public domain. It certainly gives cause to question their ethics and integrity, at the very least.

  132. Tekneek says:

    My last comments were in regard to Disney, not Walmart.

  133. vladthepaler says:

    Bad advice guys. According to the Is it protected? page that you linked to, unpublished works are protected for 70 years after the death of the author. So if the family portrait wasn’t published, and Walmart doesn’t know that the photographer kicked before 1938, then the photograph might still be protected by copyright.

  134. Reeve says:

    @vladthepaler:
    Please see previous comments. You are kind of right but there are many more nuiances which were discussed above.

  135. Daniels says:

    We were told that there was a 50-year-limit but if you were remotely unsure to tell the customer no because of the five-figure fine.

    If there wasn’t a clear date watermark on it, I probably wouldn’t have let her do it either.

  136. Daniels says:

    @Mariajl: I try to explain that *I* took them.. but because the pics look professionally taken to them, they don’t usually want to believe me.

    So you bring in the digital version of negatives and they tell you no?

    Shenanigans.

  137. chungkuo says:

    Under current law, the person who pays for the photograph owns the copyright, not the studio. If you go get a new photo taken, you can demand the negatives and get them printed anywhere, because you own the rights to them, not the photographer, unless you’ve waived them by signing a contract of some sort.

    It’s similar to a business paying a designer to make a logo. The designer doesn’t own the logo, the business does.

  138. TPS Reporter says:

    My wife gets pictures of our son done at Pictures Plus or something like that at the mall. She has a couple of times asked them to sign something so she could get a picture they took copied at Meijer and they have never refused. My mother in law runs the photo lab there and it is a liability issue. But she’s had customers complain enough to the store manager and he’s relented many times.

  139. billy says:

    @Reeve: That’s what I said. I was responding to someone else who said that everything has a 60-year limit. I said that it really depends on a lot of things.

  140. billy says:

    @chungkuo: to clarify my previous statement: an employee’s work is owned by his employer, but most photographic studios hired to do a specific shoot are not considered employees. Therefore, that studio must agree to give up or transfer those rights.

  141. billy says:

    @chungkuo: The system didn’t post something I wrote previously about work for hire. These are the rules: [www.copyright.gov]

  142. kable2 says:

    if its a picture of me or my family, i couldnt give a shat about BS copyright. If I paid for his services its mine, I will copy it at will.

    I brought a picture to walmart once to have it copied, blown up and printed better then I could do at home.

    I scanned the picture and it printed out and I put it in the envelope with the original. I went to the counter to pay for it. The woman said she needed to see the picture before I could pay and leave. I asked why and she said the BS copyright line.

    I said “No you cant see it” she kept insisting and I kept saying no. Finally I asked her for a metal waste basket. She asked why and I told her that the picture had to be burned as my photo that she could not see was on the paper. I took out my lighter.

    She stood there for a few seconds and rang it up for me.

    /it was a picture that I paid for and owned of me and the family.
    //had the BS copyright printed all over the back of the photo
    ///glad I have a better photo printer now

  143. Reeve says:

    @chungkuo:
    Maybe. You are talking about the works for hire doctrine. See Rubinow’s comment.

  144. stryker1800 says:

    any store with a photo lab is gonna check copyrighting, i personally never did check copyrighting unless i had a reason to believe the suits were gonna be around sometime soon and check the history on the systems. and ive had a coworker try to refuse a 80 year old picture because it looked like a professional photo.

  145. dawcyn says:

    With no due respect, no one here knows anything about copyright law.

    Go here to learn more… [www.copyright.gov]

    [www.copyright.gov]

    Then go here for the Chapter 17 of the federal satutes:
    [www.copyright.gov]

    Also to the people who think they “own photos,” if you pay to have photography work done, UNLESS it is “Work Made For Hire,” or have a “written” agreement stateing that the copyright is being transfered, then you do NOT own copyright to the reproduction of that work. This includes weddings, studio portraits, etc.

    Also, “scanning” a photo at home of a copyrighted photography IS illegal even if it is for your personal use. Any and all rights whould be clearly stated by the photographer.

    Even if you get a signed document by the photographer saying you are the new copyright holder, the photographer does have the right under “recapture” to become the copyright holder again after 35 years.

    Know the law, LEARN the law and don’t assume anything!

    Lastly, don’t blame Wal*Mart and others for trying to cover their rear ends. They are just trying to protect themselves. It may be a hassle to provide releases from photographers, but you limit your exposure to federal lawsuits, too.

    § 303. Duration of copyright: Works created but not
    published or copyrighted before January 1, 1978

    (a) Copyright in a work created before January 1, 1978, but not theretofore in the public domain or
    copyrighted, subsists from January 1, 1978, and endures for the term provided by section 302. In no
    case, however, shall the term of copyright in such a work expire before December 31, 2002; and, if the
    work is published on or before December 31, 2002, the term of copyright shall not expire before
    December 31, 2047.

    It IS illegal to alter, change or claim copyright to something you do not own:

    “(c) Removal of Notice. – Protection under this title is not affected by the removal, destruction, or obliteration of the notice, without the authorization of the copyright owner, from any publicly distributed copies or phonorecords.”