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.

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