Once Again, Walmart Stops People From Printing Family Photos Due To Copyright Law Claims

from the a-real-winner dept

It’s been many years since we first wrote about how stores like Walmart were dealing with ridiculous copyright laws by telling employees to simply not allow the printing of “professional-looking” photos, just in case they were covered by someone else’s copyright. Last year, a story popped up about a Walmart employee not letting a family print their own old family photos for this reason. It looks like we’ve got yet another such story. greenbird was the first of a few of you to send in this story about Walmart (yet again) not allowing the printing of family photos (this time for a funeral, which makes it that much more tragic), with copyright used as the reason. Once again, the employee made some dumb statements, such as saying “copyright is forever.”

But, just like last time, I have to say that we shouldn’t blame the Walmart employee, who is just trying to protect her job, and lives in a world where copyright maximalists constantly push this sort of message. It’s not her fault, it’s the fault of current copyright law, which makes such things seems reasonable, and the ongoing effort by lobbyists and politicians to only push copyright law further in that direction.

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Companies: walmart

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Comments on “Once Again, Walmart Stops People From Printing Family Photos Due To Copyright Law Claims”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Copyright is forever though. I mean, when it comes right down to it, right? When is Disney’s Steamboat Willie supposed to enter the public domain? 2013? I think we can all expect another extension of 20 more years.

Then an artist will have copyright last their entire life plus 90 years and corporations can have their copyright last 110 years.

Repeat! Until the end of forever. Of course, copyright will be rendered obsolete in less than a decade, so, good luck.

william (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Apparently Kinko got nailed before for printing AND selling professional photos.

The deal is that if you copy for yourself it’s probably okay, but if a retailer do it then it’s not so okay since there is profit involved.

I have to say Walmart is just looking out for it’s own ass and doesn’t care about anything else. But we all know that already don’t we?

Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile) says:

With prices of high quality SLR/DSLR cameras dropping within the casual hobbyists budget you would expect to see a lot more requests for prints that would seem “professional”. If Walmart makes a copy at the request of a customer, the responsible party should be the customer, not Walmart. We can blame the lobbyist who would push copyright so that copyright owners could maximalize their profits in court and collect from the deep pocketed corporations.

kyle clements (profile) says:

I hate to sound like I’m coming to Walmart’s defence on the issue, but since they are the cheapest place around that prints on fuji crystal archive, I get most of my photo printing done there, and I never run into these problems. I just show up, use the self-serve machines, and send in my print order, and I’ve never had a problem with getting it printed.

And I am a semi-professional photographer!

I’ve recently gone in with 600 photos of kids sitting on Santa’s knee, obviously they were all taken on a set, under professional lighting, and I’ve gotten them all printed effortlessly.

Its easy to forget how freaken huge walmart is, how many employees they have, and how stupid people can be. eventually, someone associated with the company will do something dumb.

Matthew says:

Re: Re: Re:

If you use the same equipment to take both the photos that you sell and photos for personal use, then I’d say that qualifies as “semi-pro.” That seems like an appropriate definition here, considering that the apparent standard that WalMart uses to decline some photographs is whether or not they “look professional.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Semi-pro or pro isn’t the issue. Its whether the prints are of a copywritten work. Unless the photgrapher has embossed an overprint (i.e. Olan Mills) on the print, it is really impossible foe the staff at Walmart to make an informed decision about a print. There are hundreds of professional pictures that have been released into the public domain.

Just like the government doesn’t expect employers to enforce immigration laws, it doesn’t require Walmart to enforce copyright laws. This is a stupid company policy. Has Walmart ever been sued for copyright infringement for prints they have made?

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not that I disagree with you, Kyle, but if a musician writes one song popular song, you can bet he’ll start considering himself a “professional” musician regardless if he never writes a popular song again in his lifetime.

Then again, to counter my own argument, he’ll get paid for that one song for the rest of his life.

At any rate, you can drop the “semi” and I won’t mind. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

What an awful situation to put all of these folks into – the employees and the customers. Appalling show of the criminally selective focus of copyright uber-protectionists.

That employee is going to spout the company line that copyright is forever, because she wants to keep her job and likely doesn’t know enough on the subject to question it. What are corporate policy makers going to do when presented with the OTHER part of copyright law allowing fair usage to protect themselves, and more importantly, their customers? I’d wager it’ll take the form of a class action.

I recently lost a parent, but I scanned and printed all the pictures myself for the memorial service (only because I could, didn’t have to depend on a retailer for that). Many were professionally done, most done 50 some years ago. No one beat down the doors to the funeral chapel screeching about their bloody copyright. There would’ve been a sight more work for the morticians if anyone had.

I’m planning to distribute copies of all those scanned photos to family members so we can all have them.

And some would say I’m breaking the law doing so.

Deny me. Accuse me. Sue me. I dare you. I know this funeral home that does great work.

Hal Bredbenner (user link) says:

I had this problem all the time

I used to use Walmart for printing, but I got challenged almost all the time. At first I took it as a compliment, but soon got tired of stopping by for my one-hour pick-up to be told by a high-school drop-out that I was breaking the law and they would not print my pictures.

I take portraits, mainly as a hobby and occassionally for pay. I asked how I could keep this from happening and they had me fill out a release form that they put it file. But every time I went to pick up my prints they would not be ready and I would have to tell them to pull out the release form and see that I had a release on file.

I finally gave up and now go to Wolf Camera: one-hour service by people who know me by name and have yet to accuse me of breaking the law because I take and print great portaits!

TheSpeakGeek says:

Walmart tried to stop me from picking up a wedding photo recently that I submitted online for printing. When I tried to pick it up, the stupid Walmart envelope for the 8×11 had COPYRIGHTED written across it . In fact it was sitting in a pile of other envelopes similarly marked. She told me that I couldn’t have the picture because it was copyrighted. Well they accepted my money online and even printed it for me, they just wouldn’t let me pick it up. I asked them how they came to that determination. I explained to them that I in fact paid for and owned the original negatives. Not to mention the fact that I scanned the negative and digitally edited it (using GIMP) to make it B&W and added gausian blurr to the background. I guess I must be a professional photo editor now;at least good enough to fool Walmart. She finally came to her senses and gave me the picture.

ChimpBush McHitlerBurton says:


I have personal knowledge of this type of malfeasance:

After our marriage, my wife called me on the phone in a tizzy, saying that Walmart refused to print our wedding photos.

After asking her why the fuck she was doing business with Walmart, I told her to just be firm, assert that the photographer had no copyright over these photos, (I had specifically negotiated that with the photographer, as I have a personal stick up my ass about someone retaining copyright to pictures of *me* that I *paid* them to take. What the fuck is that all about anyway?) and insist that they print them or you would have your (angry) husband come down and “clear it up”

This partially worked. I was forced to call in and raise my voice with the manager, insisting that not all photographers hold copyright to the photos they take and that was the case here. I had to belittle the manager for not knowing this as he was rather steadfast in his presumption that it was “standard” for photographers to do this.

Standard as it may be, it was not the case here, and I was finally able to get him to simply do his job and provide the service they were offering.

What really pisses me off about all this?

(1) Dumb-Ass Walmart employees presuming to know *anything at all* about copyright law, and

(2) Dumb-Ass Misogynist Walmart employees refusing to do something for a woman, based on the presumption in (1), only to relent and do it for her husband. “I’m sorry Mam, that’s against copyright law and our policies…Oh, you’re married? Just have your husband give us a call and don’t worry your little head about it. Thanks for shopping at Walmart!”



Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Stupid...

“(2) Dumb-Ass Misogynist Walmart employees refusing to do something for a woman, based on the presumption in (1), only to relent and do it for her husband. “I’m sorry Mam, that’s against copyright law and our policies…Oh, you’re married? Just have your husband give us a call and don’t worry your little head about it. Thanks for shopping at Walmart!””

Well, yeah that sucks that they act misogynist that way, but she could have just worn a Vneck shirt and used that shit to her advantage….

Just sayin’…

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

Re: Stupid...

“””(1) Dumb-Ass Walmart employees presuming to know *anything at all* about copyright law”””

You are completely missing the point. The employee is doing exactly what they are trained/told to do. Wal-Mart’s stance is to err on the side of caution, and who can blame them? Why open yourself up to even the possibility of a lawsuit? Especially after the Kinko’s ruling. You can bet your ass that if Wal-Mart tried to claim Safe-Harbor protections for their “Do-it-yourself” kiosks, they’d get sued for enabling people to infringe by every professional studio and their mothers.

On a side note, this is very similar to the practice of not selling liquor/tobacco to anyone who “looks younger than xx”. When I worked as a cashier, if you didn’t have ID, I don’t care if you looked one hundred years old, and you cussed a blue streak at me, you were not buying liquor or tobacco from me. Of course, in this case, if you do sell to a minor, you can be held personally responsible and fined or jailed, but still, similar in the “err on the side of caution” front.

Anonymous Coward says:


It’s not her fault, it’s the fault of current copyright law,

While I would agree that it’s not her personal fault, I would argue that it is the fault of Walmart as a company. Walmart has plenty of lawyers and knows where to hire more if they need to to explain copyright law to them, so I’m not accepting some kind of “ignorance of the law” excuse. They’re just being capricious.

I'm sorry but no says:


I work at one of those “hundreds of copy shops” and here’s the deal. If they’re concerned about keeping their license to stay in business then they shouldn’t be gladly copying photos for customers that are copyrighted.

The laws may seem ridiculous but they are designed to help protect people who make their money from taking professional photos from being stolen from.

I’m stunned at how often I am faced with someone who has gone to Olin Mills and had professional (if that’s what Olin Mills is) photographs done and then come into my store asking me to reproduce the proofs for them, blow them up, etc. because they don’t want to actually pay for the prints. As an artist, I think it’s disgusting.

Support the business that you’ve gone to for your family portrait rather than trying to rip them off and get something for nothing.

And be flattered when they ask you to sign a release for your photos that look professional. Be happy they are trying to protect your work.

Every time I run into this with a customer it’s the same thing.

“But I paid for them”

You may have paid for them but you didn’t buy the copyright so you don’t have the legal right to reproduce them. If you want more of them pay the person who took them for more prints.

People get upset and I don’t care. It’s the law and it’s perfectly fair.

Patrick D. Harrington says:

I actually have to say that I commend Wal-Mart for stepping up to the plate and showing a little integrity when in comes to obeying copy write infringement laws. Too many people will hire a professional and strike up a deal for their service that includes printing of photos then skip out to a local department store to save a few dollars on the printing. That is just the greedy nature of today’s selfish self centered majority. People these days just have no respect or integrity. It is unfortunate that there is some confusion when it comes to photos that are not protected or erroneously deemed as the work of a professional and not printed, but I think it shows a little bit of integrity even if it is only motivated by a desire to avoid litigation.

Photo Depart Manager says:

all of you except poster #44 are wrong. If you actually read up on the damn law then you’d understand why we have to ask for a release form. If you hire a photographer/studio to take pictures of you or your family and get prints from them, you are only buying copies. Thats it. They retain all rights to the pictures unless you buy a release from them or negotiate with them to not have a copyright for the pictures. You call us idiots, dumbasses, and etc well what the fuck do you think we call you when you can’t find a fucking light bulb thats right next to your dumbass. Grow the fuck up and stop being little bitches about “they won’t let me make copies of olan mills photographs”. If you get a photographer to agree to no copyright then get him to sign a document that says so. Cause if you don’t guess what he can still sue your dumbass citing that there was never an agreement like that. If you’re that displeased with walmart go to fucking walgreens, meijer, or riteaid. I don’t want you to come to me because you won’t get shit. Btw, I graduated from the NAVAL Academy and did my time in as a JAG. That’s a navy lawyer to all you dumbasses out here. So to argue that there’s no copyright is bullshit. Stop trying to steal from other peoples hard work because we all know if you shop at walmart you sure as hell aren’t a intelligent pos. In my last words to all of you except poster 44 shut the fuck up, get the fuck out, and stay the fuck out.

Lindsey says:


I just tried to get some photos of my wedding printed from Walgreens. They were already printed and ready to go but I couldn’t take them. Why would the photographer give a disk to me if I wasn’t allowed to print them? I contacted the photographer and she’s sending me a release.

I understand she’s just following the rules but the rules should be more clear. I would have gotten a release and brought it with me if I had known. We already got some printed earlier this week with no issues. The employee’s attitude was also uncalled for – she acted like we were complete idiots. Now I just know that next time I’ll have them mailed to my house instead of going to pick them up and being denied.

Anonymous Coward says:

I just can not believe that there is that many dumb people in the world to keep putting up with warlmarts crap.

I have old family photos that I found at my dads house after passing away. wanted to view them you could see the icons and know there names but they were not viewable. so I went to walmart to see if they had a program or viewer that I was missing and they also claimed it to be copyrighted material and they would not assist in recovering these files.


Only lazy people go to walmart There products are junk and way over priced. Ever since Sam Died walmart died with it
the most savigs on the few items I did find worthy of buying was only .15 to .25 cents there are to many better quality places to buy from than walmart and that really care not only about there employees but there customers as well. Walmart dose neither.

la says:

This is crap....

I had the same problem today. I took pictures circa 1900’s to copy because I am doing my family genealogy. I was treated disrespectfully and was told photos prior to 1923 are in public domain, well if the lady who clearly did not pass high school history looked you could clearly tell the photos were prior to 1923 women had dresses to their feet , bustles, and basically turtlenecks on!. I used the instant machines and they printed before I paid for the photos. Next time I am going to put the old professional photos in my bag before I take them to the desk to pay. By doing this you are still paying because the quantity printed is on your receipt, but you avoid any hassle from stupid employees who are snooping through your photos. If that doesn’t work i am printing a photo of someone naked and putting it on top of the stack and they won’t have the nerve to look at any of the other photos. I understand what they are trying to do, but when an old photo has no label as to whom took it, it is kind of hard to track down the copyright holder.

Anonymous Coward says:

Here’s the deal: think of a copyright for a picture the same as a copyright for a movie or a song. If you buy a movie or a song, you’re free to enjoy it as much as you’d like. HOWEVER, you most certainly are not allowed to legally copy such a thing, and then go down the street and start handing it out. And the reason being is, you’re directly taking money away from those who created such a thing. Well, the same thing goes for photographers, only more so.

What I mean is, they have even less money than corporations, since most of them work as a small business. Given as such, when you pay to purchase pictures from a photographer, you’re paying for that ONE TIME USE–as in ONE TIME, and that’s it–UNLESS you buy the copyright.

And the reason being is, the bit where it’s the same as taking someone else’s work, copying it, and then going down the street and passing it out–you’re taking money away from someone for services rendered. Sort of like if you’re at a restaurant and you walk by a dozen empty tables, and swipe the tips from each one–it’s not kind of sort of wrong or kind of sort of stealing, it’s you doing something you shouldn’t be doing.

And so it doesn’t matter that it’s your face, or your family, or belongs to the departed, or any other factors–because all of that is out-weighed by the bit where it is a FEDERAL LAW. You own the picture, sure–just like you own the movie or the song–but you don’t own the right to replicate an infinate amount of copies without the original artist’s permission.

And so it’s been my experience working in a photo lab (albiet not for Walmart) that it’s the general public’s fault more often than not. Firstly, for being unaware of the guidelines and thinking the poor sap behind the counter (or the company they represent) is just trying to be a jerk-face–and then second, by thinking the guidelines don’t apply to them, once they realize what they are. But, what can you expect from a society where those who complain the most get what they want?

KeepsakeLady says:

What about photographers having their own work printed out?

I only just recently opened a small photography studio and do most of my own printing. However I will need to visit Walmart often in order to process larger prints as well as specialty items like canvas prints. Does anyone know if Walmart has a problem with printing frequent orders from small studios like mine? I will sign any release that states that I am the photographer as well as show my business credentials identifying me as the owner of my studio.

BetKha (profile) says:

Re: What about photographers having their own work printed out?

Yes to your question, I had a problem today about pictures my friend had taken of my son. I printed the pictures July 24,2012 and this one man was so nasty to me, I understood where he was coming from. The gentleman came at me as if I was stealing, so I talk to the manager my pictures were printed. I went today 12/30/12 the young guy at the counter was nice to me, I forgot, I opened my mouth and told him about what had happen before and will I have that same problem. My next thing was asking for a manager, the manager looked at the pictures on the usb and said print them. I was shopping with my 9 year old son and we went to pick up the pictures and the gentleman from before helped me and looked at the pictures and said “nope can’t sale them to you”.I wanted to cry, not again, well we had a lot to say. My friend that took the pictures said hi to him and you know me, I print here all the time. He acted like he didn’t know her, she signed the form in the store, which was only go for those pictures. So every time she or I bring pictures in to be printed it will be a fight. I wrote to Walmart Photo headquarters because this is getting very old and someone need to train the folks there. It’s messy but I hope you have better luck, talk to a person in photos that might be nice and put something on file like an affidavit,not that crap they have. Good luck

peepsie (profile) says:


the general pissed off at the public for needing help finding a light bulb which you are being *paid* to help me locate is a pretty huge part of why i won’t even darken the door of a wal-mart. not only are they bad for local businesses, the environment, overseas employees in their sweatshops, and taxing (literally!) the fiscal responsibilities of every tax payer in the US by refusing to pay a living wage to its employees, we then also have to deal with the chip on your shoulder because we dared to use the lights in our homes until the bulbs burned out and now have to ask you, who stocked the light bulbs, where they are at..which you are being paid to do… however menial the pay…

sorry you had a bad day and crappy customers and worked in the JAG office and now work at wal-mart, apparently manning the photo kiosk and stocking light bulbs.

but seriously…. so many retail employees give customers that look… that says “omg what the eff does this biatch want? can’t she see that i have a migraine/need a smoke break/have a sore throat/gotta take a piss/am hungry/need a nap/miss my kid/am horny/just dealt with a douche bag?” and it sets us up to be defensive… that pendulum swings both ways…

i’m certainly not saying it’s okay for people to scream and call you names…. i sold cars for years, and you wouldn’t believe some of the crap customers say and do. the only people worse are patients who tell you what they will and won’t allow you to do to/for them when they’re in the dang ER… i swear… one more person to tell me that if I miss a vein they will stick a needle in my eye and see how i like it… dude. i didn’t miss your vein. the girl at your doc’s office did… *smh* we have to learn to shake it off. one awful douche of a customer/patient/student/teacher/cop/parent/spouse/in-law does not make all of them douches.

and seriously, that rant up there? it’s All. Over. Your. Face. every time you put your name tag on… and we see it. (or those that won’t patently refuse to walk in that store do) and we react to it. it’s angry. and patronizing. and intimidating. and unpleasant.
you gotta shake it off… or it will just recycle on through infinity ad nauseum.

plus… have you ever seen someone who’s being a real dick try to scream and yell and you *don’t* respond? Just breath slowing and calmly and smile like he’s the nicest person you’ve met all day…

zomg nothing, NOTHING makes them madder… that in itself is sooo much fun…

peepsie (profile) says:


I haven’t ever purchased portrait that didn’t let me at least purchase for, gosh, I think the MOST I’ve EVER had to pay was $15, for the certificate that gave me the copywrite… and that was for my wedding pictures. Usually it’s much lower. My SIL and mom only charge $10 for it… but they won’t be retouched. You’ll get the SOTC pictures.

I even buy it on my kid’s school pictures. It’s $5 and you can print it right off from the CD the pics come on… Why isn’t everyone doing this?

Better yet… buy your own printer and handle this at home? For $300 (it was actually free with my camera after a rebate?) I got a really nice canon photo printer that prints up to 14×18 or some such size… way more than I’ll ever need probably…

peepsie (profile) says:


actually, can’t you make a copy as long as it’s for YOUR use and you retain the original?

This came up with music, specifically, because of MP3 players. We buy CDs and then upload them and put the MP3s on the ipods, etc. That’s not copywrite because you own the music for YOUR use. So your argument is wrong here. otherwise, we would have no way to load our ipods and specifically other mp3 players, especially early on in that technology.

And usually, copywrite for music/movies/etc has to do with making money…

it seems to be different for pictures, but i’m not sure that i agree it should be. not for standard family/personal portraits anyway…

if i pay someone to take my family portrait, obviously i’m not going to be standing on the side of the road selling copies of it to make money…

and if you have the CD, you obviously have the rights to print the images…. otherwise what the heck would you do with the CD?

Anonymous Coward says:

printing your own pictures

I am not a professional photographer, but I do have a expensive Nikon camera. I do edit my pictures. Walmart tried to refuse to give my mother in law your prints because she said they “looked professional”.

They are not trained individuals that are taught what to look for. They are just going by their own judgement. I send the same pictures to Shutterfly or even a professional lab for printing and them print them with no problem.

I even had professional pictures that were given to me on a CD sent in to Shutterfly and a professional lab and wasn’t questioned about copyrights.

I hate walmart.

bushwack mchitler says:


You know ignorant clients like you and your wife are pest in this world. If you think that you paid a photographer to take photos of your wedding, and that makes the photo copyright yours, then you are a pair of dumb asses. It’s like you asked Picasso to paint your portrait and paid him and that makes you the artist, well that is just plain stupid. Cameras are just tools. the photographers are artist not just a paid hard labor people who will do your lawn. Why don’t you just buy a camera and ask one of your friends to take photos your wedding!

WM Associate says:

Just fill this out when you go in

Yes Walmart has people (being paid approx. minimum wage) responsible for determining copyright infringement. This form is fine if in fact you took the photo. If you did not (even if the photo was taken a long time ago) it does not apply. You can take this to “The Photographer” and have them fill it out but that rather defeats the purpose of your “one-stop” shop. The employees generally do not like dealing with this any more than you do. If you are a “regular customer” and the Sales Associate is familiar with your work, they will know that you took it. The law is what it is and until it is changed, we simply have to abide by it. Yes, we DO hate it when it applies to funerals but my suggestion is that Funeral Directors frequently have copying abilities and may offer that service as part of the package. Thank you for your understanding.

Valerie Mahaney says:

Went to pick up an 8×10 of a collage I put together of my 13 yr old son. One pic was a school pic when he was 4 yrs old,the other was one of those fly by night photography companies that do old timey pics, he was 3 yrs old.The collage consisted of a total of 13 pics. Walmart said NO! I needed the consent for those two pics. Yeah, right, my son doesn’t even go to that school anymore and who knows where that other companies located. Guess my mother in law won’t be getting that homemade Christmas gift….

Pat says:


Some days, I’m glad that someone is looking to protect my work. It’s great when people “steal” images from my website and try to print them. On the other hand, I’ve had clients lose their mind when they misplaced their release form and are at the counter in a tizzy because they aren’t able to pick up their prints. Although I never print professional portraits at Wal-Mart, I did send some personal prints to one-hour processing and while in the store, sent my son to go pick up the already-paid-for prints. He found me moments later irate that the guy wouldn’t let him pick them up. I went to the photo section and there, notated on the package in pencil, it said, “professional????” He asked me if I had a release and I said that I took them myself. He didn’t ask any more questions. I’m amazed at how many hobbyist photographers are out there and wonder if they all get asked the same things…..

Timothy says:

Bad for business...

I am a semi professional photographer in that I make money from my photography but its not my main income. The normal price if you get caught is about $100 per reproduction. So say mom and pop printing prints you out a a package of 30 prints. I would sue them for 3k plus my court costs and most protographers know how this works and are ready for it. Oh Meta data is a wonderful thing. You have to sell a lot of prints to make up for that. Most smaller shops are less likely to work like this because of the small town USA thing. This debate is why professional photographers debate how to sell there images to you or weather to just charge you 3k to shoot your wedding or $500 for your senior pics. The reason you pay $50 to have your kids picture with Santa is becuase they know your taking that one 8×10 down the street to 1 hour photo!!! FOOD FOR THOUGH!!!!

Melody weazt says:

Copying pics at walmart

My parent was in pearl harbor,he’s been dead 57 years..It’s an obvious very old pic…Nope can’t. Opt at Walmart..Waited two days for another associate..No problem..Please don’t think you have plans the answers..I’m not paying a dime for a printer is never use..Maybe I can’t afford one,maybe I’m visually impaired..maybe I’m very very old,..Either way..Walmart needs to get real on the obvious..

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