Is the Good Book copyright protected?

BibleKelly Taylor of Gulfport, Mississippi, had a simple mission.  She wanted to get prints of scripture verses for her Bible study classes.  She ordered them online and had it sent to her local Walgreens for printing.  She was first told that she couldn’t pick up the prints due to a technical issue.  When she inquired again as to the status of her order, she was then told Walgreens refused to make the prints because doing so would violate copyright laws.  Kelly states she was told that the scripture verses were protected by copyright.

After making her complaint public, upper management at Walgreens agreed to print the order contingent upon Kelly signing a waiver that all text and graphics on the print were not copyright protected.  Walgreens later clarified that the issue in question may not have been the scripture verse itself, but the artist drawings and the photographic images on the print.  In the end, they did print her order for free and publicly stated that they know the Bible is not a copyrighted book.

What is the law?

Simply put – anything that has copyrights attached to it should never be reprinted without the copyright holder’s permission.  The issue then becomes – how to tell what material has copyrights attached to it?

It appears that print shops do one of two things:

  1.  They require the customer to sign that either are they are the copyright holder or have full approval from the copyright holder.
  2. On a case-by -case basis, they try to determine whether the document “looks” like it is probably covered under copyright laws and then will require a release from the copyright holder prior to releasing the material to the customer.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of issues with either approach. If a store does a blanket waiver, many copyrighted materials do get through.  Doing a search on the internet finds story after story of obviously copyrighted material, such as cartoon characters or professionally-taken school photos (with the photographer’s mark) getting through the process and being printed simply because the customer signed a form.

With a case-by-case basis, stories still abound of amateurs not being able to get their own photos printed simply because “they look too good”.  For a big company like Wal-Mart, it becomes even more complex when the photo lab associate, who may have years of experience and understands the nuances of copyright laws, takes a break and the associate from grocery comes over to fill in.  Not all associates are properly trained in copyright laws and don’t always understand how to determine whether something is protected or not.

Due to the complexity of the laws and the fact that many associates aren’t well versed in the law, these types of issues will continue and the fact is that the law will not be properly followed.

Search Widerman Malek

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