Walmart Won't Let Family Print Photos Of Dead Relative For Funeral

After the death of a relative, Mike put together a photo tribute for the funeral, in order to “remember the good times,” he says. Only a Walmart cashier put a stop to his purchase. Here’s what happened. Do you think Walmart was in the right?

My father-in-law passed away last week after a long, drawn out few months of mental illness. Very traumatic time and a very difficult situation.

In an attempt to try and remember the happier times of this man’s existence, I collected a hundred or so pictures from times throughout his life. Some were pics that I scanned, some were from my digital camera. The plan was to put them in the visitation area so that people could remember the good times.

So my grieving wife and I go to Walmart the morning of the funeral to print them out. Normally we wouldn’t go to Walmart for this, but the funeral is in a small town and time is limited. Everything goes well with the printing, and I’m kind of amazed at the convenience and quality of the output. “Who says technology is cold and heartless?” I think to myself. It really came through in our time of need.

Then we get to the counter to check out, and the warmth of humanity kicks in.

“I’m sorry, I can’t sell you some of these” the lady says. She then proceeds to go through the stack, pulling out every school picture and talking about copyright.

“Even the ones from 1956?!?” I asked.

“Yes, copyright is permanent” she replies. She also pulls out a several other pictures, because apparently if they even look professionally done, that’s all the criteria they need to cite copyright. If it just looks copyrighted, this lady wasn’t going to let us have them.

Meanwhile, my wife is sitting there looking on solemnly as pictures of her smiling, deceased father stack up to head to the shredder. I can see her tearing up and her lip quivering a bit. She quietly says “we’re headed to a funeral”.

“I know”, replies the woman (not un-politely) “But I don’t want to lose my job”. I decided not to escalate an argument given the situation.

I did manage to claim one victory…his medical school graduation picture which I believe was done privately since I saw some other pictures along with it. After some insistence on my part, the lady let me sign a form and keep that one.

Fortunately I was able to use a digital LCD picture frame to include the complete set at the funeral. But the prints from Walmart were thoroughly parsed for any infringing material. I’m sure the photographers of the 50’s and 80’s can sleep safe knowing that their income was protected by the Walmart photo department.

First, a quibble: this employee is misinformed. As much as companies like Disney would like this not to be the case, copyright is not “forever.” The copyright term that would apply to a professional photograph taken in 1955 would be 120 years. That’s a long time, and may seem like “forever” compared to a human lifespan, but it’s not.

If this couple had come in to reproduce photos a professional photographer had recently taken of their child, or to print out copyrighted pictures downloaded off the Internet, should Walmart put a stop to it? Yes.

But does the man’s family have a reasonable chance of finding the original photographer of school pictures taken 50 years ago? Even if they could, is it likely that that photographer is both still alive and has retained all of his negatives?

What do you think?

(Photo: John Northrup)

(Thanks to MostlyHarmless for the first tag!)