Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dear Wal-mart, Welcome to the Digital Age

A week or so ago, I finally got my family to sit still in our living room long enough to snap a quick family photo for use on Christmas photo cards we planned to send out this year. After editing the image just a bit to fix some weird shadows, adjust the colors, and try to fake some depth, I called Amy up to inspect the results. She was pleased: "It looks good. It almost looks like a professional photograph." So, I uploaded the image to, selected the photo card layout I wanted, and ordered a bunch of them. Here's the photo:

I got a call a couple of hours later from the local Wal-mart Photo Lab:

"Hello, Mr. Pilato?"

"Yes I am."

"We're sorry, but we can't print your photo cards unless you bring us a release form."

"But ... but ... I took the picture myself with my little Canon S410!"

"We've been looking at the picture for a while, and it really looks professionally done."

There ensued another few minutes of hassling here, some of which revealed that if our fireplace had been black instead of gold, it wouldn't have looked so much like a faux matte background. Finally, the Wal-mart employee gave up some critical ground:

"Mr. Pilato, if you could just make a release form giving yourself permission to print the image, we'll do it. We just have to cover ourselves. I'm sure you understand."

"Wait. You want me to what? You know what — nevermind. I'll do it. Thanks."

I hung up the phone, paused for a moment to verify that I wasn't dreaming all of this, and fired up OpenOffice Writer. The following is the release letter I took with me when I picked up the photo cards the next day:

Even though I find it completely ridiculous that I have to do such…

I, C. MICHAEL PILATO, do hereby grant unlimited printing release to MYSELF for the following:

One (1) photo of my own family (Mike, Amy, Gavin & Amy), taken by myself with my own Canon Powershot S410 Digital ELPH camera (serial number **********) in my own living room, with the camera set to use the 10-second shot timer while sitting on a 6-inch mini-tripod atop one of my TV stands, in front of my fireplace – which is gold even though my wife wants it to be black (because that's what the previous homeowners liked, we suppose) – and Photoshopped on my wife's computer to crop the original image, brighten the photo, adjust the colors a little bit, and fake some depth by slightly blurring everything in the image except the human subjects in the foreground.

This release is fully transferable by the above named FOR ANY REASON WHATSOEVER, and a copy of this document should be considered adequate proof of release.

Note for printer: While I am not a professional photographer, I am a pretty darned good image editor, and pride myself on making photos taken with a sub-professional, non-SLR camera look as if they were taken by more advanced equipment. However, if further information or verbal confirmation is needed per your company policy, please do not hesitate to call me at ***-***-****.

I guess this bit of sarcasm is on file somewhere at Wal-mart now, protecting them from the threat of a copyright-related lawsuit.


  1. I had the exact same issue at a walgreens. It is so lame that just because you can take a decent picture you get treated worse than someone taking a lousy picture.

  2. A copyright lawsuit from ... YOU!

  3. I'm really glad you love my daughter so much as to include her twice in your list of family members but I think Aidan would have appreciated being included.

    Love you,Grandma

  4. @Linda: Doh! Where was my proofreader -- Amy -- when I needed her?

  5. I am cracking up! Your first mistake was using Wal-mart. If it weren't so darn convenient I'd go somewhere else too. Ha! Ha!

  6. Maybe you should have handed them a Creative Commons license.