Intellectual Property And The Copying Of Photos

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Today in the local news there was a story of a family who tried to make copies of photos at a Wal Mart. The pictures were taken by an advanced hobbyist, a friend of the family, as a favor. Because they looked “professional,” however, the store manager determined that copying the print could or would violate copyright law. To play it safe, the service was denied.

As a technology fan, computer geek and photographer, I’ve noticed that IP laws, aside from their libertarian problems, are becoming more of a nuisance even for the average person. Camera technology, for example, has improved so quickly that you can create “professional” photos with a couple of hundred dollars, a good eye and guidance from the internet.

The case of the family trying to copy prints perfectly exemplifies this point. Because professional photo studios and career photographers almost always guard their copyright, and because photo labs are worried about getting into trouble, the policies they enact can result in ridiculous situations such as this one. The assumption was made that because the photo was so good, it must have been created by someone who would have no qualms about defending their copyright in court, potentially involving the lab in a legal dispute.

(The real problem, of course, has to do with IP itself. For the details, listen to Stephan Kinsella’s podcast about IP or read his excellent “Against Intellectual Property” article in PDF or print).

6:59 pm on September 29, 2008