Instead of refunding my money for a defective DVD, Target lied to me about “copyright law”

I originally shared this story about attempting to return a defective DVD to Target back in 2008 on the personal finance site Get Rich Slowly. However, at some point this year the original post seems to have been deleted by the site’s new owner QuinStreet.

You can still view a copy with all its original comments on the Internet Archive, but I decided to also republish my story here for posterity.

One way our family keeps the entertainment budget slim is by not buying new release DVDs, but waiting to buy movies until they drop below $10.

About a month ago, my wife purchased the DVD movie “Never Been Kissed” for $5.50 from the discount shelf at our local Target. A few weeks after buying it, we tried to watch it, but after trying multiple DVD players it became clear that the disc was defective. On our next trip to Target we brought the DVD and the receipt back to exchange the disc for a working copy.

There were no copies of that movie in stock, so we waited another week and tried again. Unfortunately, this time not only was the movie not in stock, but an employee looked it up and informed us that Target no longer carries that movie at all. (Well, they carry it, but now it’s in one of those double-feature disc sets.)

I figured that this was no big deal, that since they don’t stock it anymore, they would accept a return for cash or store credit for the defective product they sold me.


The employee informed me that Target does not under any circumstances accept returns on DVDs, CDs, or video games. I asked to see the manager, who affirmed the policy and told me that he cannot override it, because of “copyright law.”

I know my rights as they pertain to copyright law, and I know that there is no provision in Federal law or Washington State law that prohibits a retailer from giving a customer their money back for a defective DVD. In fact, I verified with Costco that they are glad to issue refunds for DVDs. (Their return policy contains no exception for disc-based media of any kind. [2015 addendum: I have since successfully returned DVDs to Costco on two occasions. Once a disc was defective, another time two of the three discs were completely missing. Costco staff was friendly and helpful both times, fully refunding my money without question.])

Unfortunately it seems that this “copyright law” excuse is being fed to Target employees from the top. An internet search revealed multiple accounts of similar tales across the country. It’s a store policy — nothing more. I can understand the rationale behind such a policy, but it’s pretty lousy that they give people with an actual defective product the shaft like that.

So, thanks to Target’s lousy DVD return policy, instead of a “cheap” $5.50 movie, we’re now stuck with a rather expensive $5.50 coaster.

The moral of this story is something that seems to be a good deal at the time can be turned into a complete waste of money by a lousy policy and stubborn or poorly trained employees. I’ve learned my lesson that it is important to be familiar with store policies and know your risk when assessing apparent “deals.”

Here are some other pieces I wrote for Get Rich Slowly. Some have been deleted, and others are still live. I don’t know why no one at QuinStreet bothered to mention to me that they were deleting my stories.

Internet Copyright Practices

In today’s world, we have millions of people who own computers. What has emerged from this collective ownership of computers is a community, if you will, of computers which spans the entire globe through electronic connections. This commune of computers has become known as the Internet. On the Internet, there is contained immense quantities of knowledge. People ‘post’ items on the Internet, and in their own way, they contribute to the collective of knowledge available to basically anyone with a computer and a phone.

Placing something on the Internet is just like broadcasting something over the television waves. In the case of television, someone with a VCR could, if they wanted to, tape an NBA game, so that they may watch it later. However, at the beginning and end of each NBA game, it is stated that basically it is illegal to reproduce or rebroadcast the game without the expressed written consent of the NBA. Unfortunately for them, once they broadcast the game, there are people who tape it regardless of the copyright, therefore breaking copyright law. In the same manner, when someone posts something on the Internet, they can put all the copyrights and warnings that they want on it, but inevitably, it will be copied and used somewhere else without the “owner’s” permission.

Copyright laws are very good ideas to have so as to protect the rightful owner of a particular image or idea. Unfortunately, in most cases, copyright laws are so difficult to enforce, that they may as well be nonexistent. Software copyrights are violated left and right, and most people are unaware that they are even breaking the law by copying a friend’s program to their computer. It is the same with Internet copyrights. People copy images all the time, and later use them on their site. While it may be legal only for non-profit organizations or those with the owner’s permission, many, many people participate in this activity on a regular basis. In practice, most copyright laws, on the Internet and elsewhere, are simply enforced in such a manner that if you’re not making any money off the reproduction of an item, then you are okay.

On the Internet, when you post an item, you in essence say that anyone may take the image and do what they want with it. This is not the way it should be. If there was a way to enforce a law which prevented people from copying images without authorization, it would certainly be instituted, at least by the major companies with Web sites, such as Microsoft© and Intel©. Possibly the only way to enforce such a law would be to have some sort of program which detected when someone was copying off your server, and then would prompt them for a password. If they supplied the incorrect password, it would then scramble anything they tried to copy. Although this sounds like a good idea, it is highly infeasible. If it were possible to do such a thing in the first place, one would most likely need to have some sort of special server that would function in this manner, therefore making the idea ludicrously expensive.

Taking all of this information into account, it can be determined that although Internet copyright laws may be good ideas, Internet copyright practices would not change with or without a law, as people generally do what they want to as long as they think they can’t get caught, and in the case of copying things off the Internet, it would be a rare occurrence that one would get caught.

The views expressed in this essay are not necessarily those of the author.

Contents of this essay copyright 1997 tHE bRAIN© technology.

To be used only with permission.