Our dear daughter is in volleyball this year, and at today’s practice, the coach distributed team pictures. They’re good pictures, with the usual team and individual shots. But on the envelope, this:
Did you know? Professional photographs are protected by copyright laws. It is illegal to scan or reproduce Lifetouch portraits. If you need additional prints, please use this reorder form. Thank you for respecting our work.
As I understand the law (and, I should warn you, I’m no lawyer), this is wrong, and a little reflection will make this obvious. Scanners and copiers are everywhere. I’ve seen scanners on sale for less than $20, and those all-in-one scanner-copier-printer-fax copyright violation factories are big sellers. They even put copiers in libraries, right next to piles of books that are nearly all “protected by copyright laws” too. And yet, all those librarians manage to stay out of jail for contributory copyright infringement, somehow. Is the FBI hitting the chain electronics stores yet, looking for suspicious OfficeJet buyers?
While the doctrine of “fair use” has been taking a beating in recent years, what with the recording industry suing grandmas who never owned computers for song swapping on the Internet months after their funerals, it’s still the law of the land. Most personal uses of copyrighted material fall under it, which is why it’s legal to tape TV shows on a VCR, copy encyclopedia pages and magazine articles in libraries, and sing “Happy Birthday” at your kid’s birthday party. If Lifetouch was right, all of those things would also be illegal.
The idea behind the scam is to increase the cost of scanning via a little fear, and encourage people to order the pictures “legally” to avoid the risk of the Copyright Police raiding their houses mid-scan.
Of course, they will have to increase the cost of scanning a lot more to cover the inconvenience of ordering from this outfit. Check out their company web site. See any online ordering link? Nope. The only way to order more pictures is to write on the back of the envelope the pictures came in and send it snail-mail to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Too bad my dad (who inspired my daughter to try volleyball after taking her to an Illinois volleyball game last year) can’t order any pictures without a magic envelope. I guess we’ll just have to scan in a few to send to him over E-mail.
I wonder which approach would make them more money: lying to their customers to scare them into ordering, or making it as easy as possible to order?
UPDATE (2005-10-20): It’s been pointed out to me in the comments that I’ve been vague at best about Lifetouch’s rights, and about fair use. First of all, Lifetouch does have a valid copyright in those pictures. Second, while fair use covers many purposes for copying a picture, it doesn’t cover them all. My example about scanning a picture and sending it to Dad may be illegal, depending on the financial harm done and a lot of other factors (see a lawyer for details). My point was not that it was legal, but that it was easy, and that lots of people will ignore the threats in the envelope if ordering prints is too much of a pain.