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Donna Wentworth
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Ernest Miller
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Elizabeth Rader
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Jason Schultz
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Wendy Seltzer
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Aaron Swartz
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Alan Wexelblat
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About this weblog
Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this weblog are those of the authors and not of their respective institutions.

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In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

Copyfight

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June 7, 2005

A Photofinish for Copyright's Unintended Consequences

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Posted by Wendy Seltzer

A friend of mine has a new baby and, with family spread across the globe, likes to use online photo-printing services to share snapshots of the growing baby. She can create an online album, load up photos from the digital camera, and invite relatives to browse and print their favorites. Except when they can't.

It seems one picture, of baby seated against the background of their blue sofa, looked too "professional" for Ofoto (Kodak). Though she was permitted to upload the photo and copy it to her browser (view it online), when she tried to print a copy to hang in the office, my friend was confronted with a copyright-based denial: "Your order has been cancelled because it appears your order contains one of the following... 1. Professional images." She could proceed to print only if she signed an affidavit warranting that she was the photographer or had permission from the copyright owner.

Ofoto's form had no place for my friend to indicate, among other possibilities, that she owned the copyright as work-made-for-hire, or that printing would be fair use. She's now looking for a new online printing service.

Yet even that overreaction is better than what Wal-Mart is doing to people who send photos for digital processing, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune: Snap judgments (via BNA):

[Amateur photographer Zee Helmick had taken photos of her son for a audition, and sent them to Wal-Mart for printing. When she went to pick them up, a Wal-Mart clerk told her] "We can't release the pictures to you without a copyright release form signed by the photographer."
...
The clerk said the photos looked like a professional had taken them, Helmick said. And no matter how much Helmick protested that she, an amateur, had snapped the shots of her son, she said the clerk wouldn't budge.

Helmick didn't have a copyright release with her, so she offered to write a note stating that she had taken the photos. She said Wal-Mart refused even that.

I guess Canon's copyright warning is just one manifestation of a general photo-insanity. Not to mention lawyers going after the free software program Gallery.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Abuse


COMMENTS

1. Scote on June 7, 2005 4:06 PM writes...

This is getting to be outrageous. Kinkos also has a similar policy and won't duplicate "professional" looking images. As it gets easier to make professional looking images with today's cameras, this issue is going to come up more and more. Increasingly our own heritage is presumed to be copyright by someone else--without evidence of any copyright by anyone!!!!!

The real irony is that copyright law *presumes* that all commissioned photography is work for hire. Many photographers force their clients to sign contracts which are contrary to law and pretend that the work for hire is not work for hire, even though it clearly is. But, what this means is that places like Kinkos should be able to presume that "professional" looking photos are work for hire based on copyright law.

Permalink to Comment

2. Micah on June 8, 2005 7:23 PM writes...

I just checked my Panasonic Lumix DigiCam manual. I was unpleasantly suprised. Here's the notice:

"Carefully observe copyright laws. Recording of pre-recorded tapes or discs or other published or broadcast material for purposes other than your own private use may infringe copyright laws. Even for the purpose of private use, recording of certain material may be restricted."

I haven't had the problem with prints not being released to me (except for that time I photoshopped "Proof" out of some Sear's shots of my nephew. I expected that to happen, and I deserved it.)

Permalink to Comment

3. Branko Collin on June 9, 2005 8:59 AM writes...

My guess is that Canon and other manufacturers of recording devices just try to disclaim liabity. I see nothing wrong in the disclaimer that Micah posted, other than that it is a citizen's own responsibility to observe the law.

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