Too good to print?

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USA Today reports that some photo printers are refusing to print customer pictures which look "too professional":
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Jacquie Young said her company's photo departments are instructed to err on the side of protecting copyrights, even if that means a conflict with an insistent customer. She would not say what signs of professionalism the photofinishers are told to look for.

In the printing labs for the Kodak EasyShare Gallery, the photo Web site formerly known as Ofoto, professionally taken pictures are placed on the walls to remind technicians of such images' telltale signs, such as school photos and stylish backdrops in posed pictures of children.

The idea that photofinishers can be sued for copyright infringement for inadvertantly printing copyrighted material is fairly problematic. There's just no reasonable way for them to detect copyrighted material. Obviously, it's desirable to prevent copyright infringement, but that doesn't mean that it's worth imposing arbitrary costs on everyone else in order to prevent it. The right analogy here is to common carriers, which generally have no liability even if they're used to transport materials which would otherwise be illegal. I.e., FedEx doesn't get in trouble if someone ships drugs or weapons and isn't legally required to scan packages for them.

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As I understand it, these providers substantially damage their claim to common carrier status by attempting to exercise this type of control. But I'm not actually a lawyer. If my understanding is correct though, it seems like a strategic error on their part.

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