Do Your Photos Look Too Good?

Though not the direct focus of this site, there’s an interesting article going around about photo labs refusing to print photos out of fear that they might be copyrighted.

The basic idea is that if a shot looks too “professional” in any way, many refuse to print the photo. However, in the digital age, taking and touching up professional-quality photos gets easier and easier. Even a decent amateur can take good publicity shots. However, without negatives, there’s no proof of ownership and many photo labs have decided to err on the side of caution.

Photo labs aren’t pulling these rules out of thin air though. Copyright law does require photo labs to be on the look out for professional photos and several have been sues for being too lax. However, I think it’s a sign that copyright laws in this country are hopelessly broken.

First off, photo labs aren’t the ones doing the infringement, they are merely providing a service, much like the one hosts do on line. Hosts have no obligation to check and make sure all content on their servers is copyright-free and photo labs shouldn’t either.

Second, most photo lab techs, even with training, aren’t qualified to tell professional from amateur photos, especially in this day and age. With point and shoot high-resolution digital cameras and Photoshop (or GIMP for the open-source minded), anyone can produce very professional photographs easily. Asking photo technicians to distinguish what many professional can’t is unfair.

Finally, it hurts professional and skilled amateur photographers that use such services simply because their works are “too professional”. Even people with their own photo labs need these services from time to time, especially in emergencies when they don’t have time to argue about copyright.

Besides, none of this stems the tide of reproducing photographs at home with high-resolution scanners and photo printers. All this does is put another burden on an already struggling industry without offering any serious benefit to copyright holders.
In the end, it’s just another sign of copyright laws run amok.

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