OT - copyrights and photographs

We went to Walmart the other day to copy some photos of me whan I was a kid and of my kids when they were young. The pictures were taken in late 30s - early 40s and late 50s - early 60s.
Walmart tokd me they couldn't copy some because they were taken by professional photographers and doing so would violate copyright laws. I was irritated enough to go home and read up on copyright law.
I think they make this stuff deliberately obscure to give the lawyers gainful employment.
First, none of the photos had a stamp or any other identifying mark on them, so they were not copyrighted acoording to the law at the time they were taken. And of course that made it impossible to locate the photographers (some of whom are probably dead by now) to get copy permission even if they had been copyrighted.
Secondly there seemed to be a gray area called "works for hire" which might, or might not, imply that I owned the copyright on my kids pics, and by inheritasnce from my parents on my pics.
Finally, the basic import of the law seemed to be to protect the "commercial value" of any copyrighted work. Much as I'd like to think otherwise in my case, old pictures of ordinary children have no commercial value, only sentimental value to the immediate family.
If Walmart's lawyers are correctly interpreting the latest finagling with the copyright laws, the laws need to be changed. I'll write my senator and representative and send a copy to Walmart's headquarters, but I doubt it'll do any good.
Note that I would not think of using a photo from a published and copyrighted work in something I did. At least not without getting permission. Protecting commercial work is a good thing.
I'd be interested in hearing if others ran into this problem and how they solved it.
I got my copies by signing a form saying I claimed the rights and holding Walmart blameless if anyone sued us. I think I'm safe :-).
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lgb wrote:

I doubt that Wal-Mart's lawyers had anything to do with it. It was probably just some low-level employee excercising some (lack of) knowledge, or (mis-)applying some policy on something that they thought was similar to what you were asking.

Two solutions come to mind:
1. Go to another store. 2. Get a scanner, scan the pictures, and get the digital picture files printed.

I'm surprised that such a disclaimer isn't already part of the fine print on the order form or claim check -- which is another reason why some low-level yahoo behind the counter shouldn't even have to care about what pictures you're trying to copy.
It really doesn't matter who's right, or what the law actually says. I don't think you have a copyright issue, or any kind of legal issue at all. I think you've got someone with power and control issues down at your local Wal-Mart. And the easiest way to win isn't to go at them head-on. It's to just go around them, and cut them out of the picture (pardon the pun).
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Actually it's a corporate policy and not only Wal-mart. Employees are told there are certain characteristics that distinguish professional and amateur photography. If your photo looks too professional, the finisher/clerk could choose not to duplicate/release it. It gets more press these days because of digital photography. I'm guessing presenting a digital copy for duplication won't make a lot of difference.

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