LifeTouch is Sending Home Unsolicited Photos of Your Child – Can You Keep them Without Paying?


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I was recently discussing with another parent at my child’s school spring photographs and how we received unsolicited photographs of our children. Other parents soon joined the conversation and we came to the conclusion no one was a fan of unsolicited photographs from Lifetouch in an age of digital photography.

At Orchard Park,  spring school photographs were taken in late February and recently sent home with students with optional purchase. Parents were to review the photographs and return the unwanted photographs within 10-days.

According to my child’s packet, you could purchase all five sheets of photos from Lifetouch for $50.00—of course, the school/Antioch School District  gets an “unstated” percentage of the purchased photographs as a “donation”.

There was a problem with this parents  claimed they did not ask or give permission for the photographs to be taken. As the Mayor at Claycord pointed out today, you can technically keep these photographs free of charge as its deemed unsolicited and sent to you without your approval—it’s ultimately considered a “gift”.   

Of course, this comes down to personal responsibility and sending back the photographs or encouraging your child not to participate in the spring photograph session.  That being said, I am not sure why anyone would send back the photographs not knowing what the company will do with them (most likely dispose of them but how do we know?).  As for the donation, if I want to donate to Orchard Park or the Antioch School District, I’ll just cut a check and do so.

CLAYCORD gave me permission to repost their article today which may help save you a few bucks, but also allow you to legally keep the photographs if you choose.

LifeTouch is Sending Home Unsolicited Photos of Your Child – Can You Keep them Without Paying?

April 9, 2013

Several parents with children in the Mount Diablo Unified School District have contacted regarding LifeTouch, the company that takes photos twice a year at local schools.

LifeTouch is in charge of taking the “professional” photos at beginning of the year, and within the past few years, they’ve also started taking spring pictures.

The pictures at the beginning of the year, in the fall, come with an order form. You can either order them or not order them. However, the spring photos are taken of your child even if you didn’t plan on ordering the photos in the middle of the school year. The pictures are then sent home for you to view, and if you don’t return them, they bill you.

Many people have a problem with this.

“I ordered about $70 worth of photos in the beginning of the year, and now in the middle of the school year they take my son’s picture again and send all the photos home with him, without my permission. How am I supposed to send a whole package of my son’s photos back to school so they can just throw them away? This is a sleazy tactic and the School District is just as sleazy for letting them do this to the families”, one parent said.

What many people don’t know is according to the California Department of Consumer Affairs (CDoCA), you can keep any item that was sent to you without your approval.

It is unlawful for a business to send you a product or service that you did not order or request, if it is sent with the intention of selling it or another product or service to you. If a seller violates this law, you do not have to pay for the item or items that were sent. In this situation, you may consider the product or service to be an unconditional gift.

If you receive unsolicited merchandise, it is probably a good idea to send a letter to the business informing it that “under California Civil Code section 1584.5, an unsolicited item is treated as a gift” and that you are not required to pay for it. (This rule does not apply where you have agreed with a business in advance to receive merchandise on a periodic basis, and it also does not apply to a good faith error on the part of the business.)

If the business that has sent something to you for the purpose of selling it to you continues to bill you even after you send this letter, you can sue to stop the continued billing. The district attorney in your county can also sue the business and recover up to $2,500 for each violation.

LifeTouch was contacted by, but they failed to reply.




  1. With 400 students at $50 a pop that certainly is a nice profit if each student’s parents purchase the package ($20,000). Not bad for 1-days work. If just 10% (40 students) purchase the full package, they make $2,000 for a day’s worth of shooting. More than likley, nearly half the students purchase some photos. This is a bad trick on parents and school districts should stop allowing it to happen.

  2. Is this any different from the photos taken at the schools in say 1945 or 1950? I don’t know. My parents aren’t here to tell me but I suspect it is the same. Back then we were far more trusting that’s for sure.

  3. Very interesting article. Not that I didn’t trust what the article said but I looked up the civil code to read it myself. This is cut/pasted from the California Civil Code:
    No person, firm, partnership, association, or corporation, or agent or employee thereof, shall, in any manner, or by any means, offer for sale goods, wares, merchandise, or services, where the offer includes the voluntary and unsolicited sending or providing of goods, wares, merchandise, or services not actually ordered or requested by the recipient, either orally or in writing. The receipt of any goods, wares, merchandise, or services shall for all purposes be deemed an unconditional gift to the recipient who may use or dispose of the goods, wares, merchandise, or services in any manner he or she sees fit without any obligation on his or her part to the sender or provider.”
    I for one dont care for their tactics. I personally feel they need to send something home prior to the shoot date so the parents can indicate whether they want their child photographed or not. More and more I’m hearing of parents going to outside photographers to get their school pictures taken with much better results.

  4. My sister told me we always had a letter to take home and it told exactly what day and time our pictures were to be taken. So perhaps it was different in 1945.

  5. I am in Nevada and wonder if keeping the photos is legal here??? LT lies, misleads and will pressure the schools to stay with them when they have had enough disgust to move on. Can anyone chime in and tell me if this is legal here?

  6. As an independent self-employed photographer, a tradition that is dying, I recently picked up 2 small private schools in the Sacramento area that told me they were done with Lifetouch; I did several photo shoots for the schools and was told repeatedly that: “they have not seen photos this good in years”; one school even went so far as to tell me that they will be sending me dates for the 2013-2014 school year. Well, all of a sudden the other day I was informed by both schools that they are staying with Lifetouch???

    As a previous employee of a company that competed w/ Lifetouch for the school photography business…until corporate executives turned “yellow” and sold out to them, so they could line their own pockets with ESOP and stock option monies, while tossing all their dedicated and hard working employees into the wind. I am all too familiar with the tactics used by Lifetouch to keep their accounts and the 90% market share they control. With that said, I am also a former employee of Lifetouch and while employed by them I personally seen and overheard phone conversations my managers had with schools to “resolve issues”. Let’s just say that they were unscrupulous.

    I do not understand why schools, school districts, PTA/PTO’s think that Lifetouch is the “Almighty” and the “Alpha/Omega” of school photography. Granted, there are good people working for them but as a corporate whole, things are like a rotten apple! I personally wish that the “decision makers” at schools would develop a spine and stand up to the Billion Dollar gorilla. I know that in my area and many areas in this country that there are independent photographers with the skills, knowledge and proper equipment that can do just as good of a job if not better than Lifetouch.

    Lifetouch needs to keep feeding, they have become so large that they need to do 2-3 shoots at all their schools just to meet their built-in overhead expenses incurred. Until the company goes public, which will never happen, nothing legally can be done. I can only hope that one day in the future schools will not be afraid of “King Kong” and kick them into the wind. With the recent demise of CPI, (Sears/WalMart…portrait studios), going out of business one can only speculate that it is only a matter of time before Lifetouch devours that market…even though they control all the JC Penny Portrait Studios.

  7. I have been in the school photography business for 20 years and Lifetouch has been our main competitor. While I have heard about and experienced some of their unscrupulous and questionable tactics, I have to defend this method of distributing photos, because my company uses the same program in the spring. It’s called a speculation program, since the photo company prints a package for every student, speculating whether or not the customer will buy the package or not. We know there’s a risk that some people will not return the photos, but we rely on most people to be honest and return unwanted pictures or send in money for pictures they are keeping. This is actually an efficient way to distribute spring pictures. There isn’t enough time in the spring to do prepaid because we would have to also schedule a retake day for each school. This program sell well where we are in the Southeast.

    I am appalled at the way California looks at this as being a gift and not having to pay for pictures. Where is the honor and dignity? This type of attitude is part of what is going wrong with our country these days. We send a package of photos home to a parent so they can decide whether or not they want to purchase them. If you don’t want them, simply send them back. How is that underhanded or sleazy? I don’t know about California law since we don’t do business there, but in most states, the photograper has the right to photograph children in school unless the parent opts out with a form at the beginning of the school year. I don’t see how this situation applies to the California law that is stated. The parents are not being billed for unsolicited merchandise. Send the merchandise back…no penalty. And someone would consider suing for this!!?? No wonder California is bankrupt!! What a twisted mentality!

    As for the unwanted photos, we take them all back, shread them, and recycle the paper, so it’s not a total waste. Our packages are more reasonably priced, which is part of the reason it’s a successful program for us. I wonder how many people were a part of the group of parents that were “not fans of unsolicited photographs in an age of digital photography”. Are they speaking for the entire population? If they don’t want their child’s photo taken at school, let the school know. If they think they can take better pictures with their own camera, they can certainly try.

    Most people don’t realize that the photo company returns a healthy portion of the proceeds back to the school from picture sales. There is no way all of the parents would voluntarily send in that much money in donations, money the schools desperately need. How many other businesses give money back to their customers?

    School photographers provide a very affordable and convenient way for parents to get professional photos of their child. Nobody is obligated to purchase anything. Why do these people want to create a problem out of something that’s very simple? It’s just like any other purchase decision; if you want a product, you buy it. If not, you don’t.

  8. Charles, I do agree with you on the speculation but am not a fan of it. I also agree with you on the twisted mentality of Californians, that is the main reason this state is so financially and ethically screwed up! Unfortunately, I do not see this changing for at least another two generations. If I could secure a decent photography opportunities somewhere else, believe me, I will put California in my rear view mirror!!

    • Larry, I’m assuming you’re a photographer as well since it sounds like you’ve tried the spec plan. It doesn’t work in well every school, but going by demographics we have a good idea where it wiil work. It can be profitable for not only us, but the school as well, and the parents are getting a good deal on pictures too. We put 7 sheets in our package, with the top price set at $35. That’s $5/sheet. You do have to have a good volume of business to make it work well though, because there isn’t much margin in pictures once you figure in the overhead and other costs.

  9. I stick with the keep’em if you want, shred’em if you don’t. I didn’t order them or authorize them. Shred them if you don’t trust the company. Either way no money from me. Fortunately I’m way too old to have these problems.

  10. Charles,

    You’re a photographer, right? How would you like it if B&H started sending you “speculative” equipment to your doorstep that is then your responsibility to return or else be held accountable for paying for it. What’s the problem? If you don’t want it, just return it Charles.

    I’m so angry right now after receiving my LifeTouch scam package today that I’m shaking. I’m never buying anything from them (and yes, I’m going to return their photos even though I’m an unscrupulous Californian), and I will be speaking to our school principal tomorrow as well. This is completely unacceptable and sleazy business practice.

    • What are you so angry about?!? You get these photos once a year, and if you don’t want them, just tell your child to give them back to the teacher the next day. Is it that strenuous for you? You don’t give any clear reason for being so mad.

      Nice try at an analogy but it doesn’t make any sense. You’re talking about tens of pounds of expensive equipment versus a photo package that weighs a few ounces. I know you’re trying to compare the principle of the matter, but once again, if you don’t want your child photographed, just let the school and teacher know, and I’m sure they’ll arrange to keep your child aside on picture day.

      Also, where’s the scam? Are they stealing money from you? I never said any parent was accountable for the pictures. You can certainly keep them, it’s just not honest, and we’re working on the honor system. I give you credit for at least being willing to return the unwanted photos. It’s really not that hard, it it?

      I have 65 schools that I deal with and I’ve never had a parent get “shaking mad” about something like this, and I’ve been in the business for 20 years. I’m guessing if this gets you this angry, you have bigger issues.

      • 1st world problems.


        Life should be so tough as to get “shaking mad” over a packet of photos. Lord help us if something really worthy of anger ever befalls her.

    • Sorry this mad me laugh! Why were you so mad? Tell your child teacher you don’t want her picture taken. That easy!

  11. I think the main concern for parents is what is going to happen with their kids photos when returned? Will they be shredded, and how can we be sure? I have head that some people shred the photos and then stick them back in the envelop to be returned. I think that is a great idea, and will do it if I decide to return them. I am stuck, because my daughter’s photos turned out cute, and if I want them I need to pony up another $50 to keep them. Her fall photos were also cute. That’s the problem. People feel compelled to purchase and that’s why it feels sleazy.

  12. I used a magic marker and drawed a diagonal line across the picture before returning them; I don’t know what’s going to happen but since I didn’t want the photographs nor I requested to be taken, I don’t Authorized the face of my child to be publized. So here are your pictures but I can do with my child image whatever I want.

  13. Does your school not have you sign a photograph release at the beginning of the year? I know our distict does. I am a lifetouch photographer and those kids without a release do not get their picture taken. Simple as that.

    Lifetouch gives back to the school in commission. How many small photographer company’s will give back to the school? None in my district thats for sure.

  14. Btw. Lifetouch has a shredding company come and shred pictures 2 weeks after receiving them back to the studio. 2 weeks later due to the number if calls we receive from parents asking to buy them after they returned them.

  15. I know for the Canadian Lifetouch Spec package a notice is always sent to the school about spring photo’s because there are different background options. So that would be the company informing you about that photo are going to be done and if they do the same thing for the US one then that would negate the law they have in California. As well i know all of our school’s have a photo release form that allows the school to authorize photo’s to be taken that you sign at the beginning of the school year.

    As per what Charles said if you do not want your child’s photo taken tell the school. And Lifetouch HAS to destroy the photo’s properly that have been print for child protection policy it has.

  16. I sent the spring pictures back because we didn’t like how they turned out to later find out that behind my back and without my permission or knowledge my inlaws bought them!! Then they lied about it to my face! If I wanted anyone to have a picture of MY children I would have bought them and handed them out to who we decided should get one. I didn’t like this and don’t know if it’s against my parental rights?!? Maybe someone knows and can help me..

    • It sounds like your child’s grandparents really wanted the school pictures. So much so, that they were willing to lie to you about it. I’m guessing since you want to know about your parental rights concerning this matter, that you have other issues with your in-laws, beyond a simple ordering of school pictures. It sounds like they just couldn’t stand knowing a cute pic of their grandchild was being returned & they liked it & apparently knew you would over react to them wanting it. Sounds like they were right!!!

  17. I use to be a photographer with LT in the early 80’s and I have worked with several other photo businesses throughout the years. I now work for a surveillance company. All schools announce Picture Day you should have simply told the school, “no pictures for my child.” Here’s a question for you. What do you think grocery stores, gas stations or any other place that record you and your child’s face? What do they do with those images? I would be more concerned with public places you have visited that have hundreds of images of you and your child than I would of a company that allows you to see the images and then return them. They will be far more responsible with the images because you know about them. Privacy is now a thing of the past and speaking from experience people have access to cameras that can see your most private moments…thats what you should be shaking mad about.

  18. They did send home an order form. I specifically indicated that I did not want ANY photos this Spring and they still sent home “proofs” and expect me to send them back in 10 days. What if my child had lost them or dropped them in the mud? Should I be required to pay for them when I didn’t ask for them? No! What they are doing is illegal and I’m reporting them to the BBB.

    What the say in the article about the photos being a gift is true in my state. We covered this extensively in my Business Law class.

  19. Using Lifetouch’s and their supporters logic I should be able to send any product I want to someone’s home and bill them for it if they don’t send it back to me. Doesn’t make any sense. I know of no other business where this practice would fly. My child doesn’t walk into Target and come home with shoes that the manager gave them and expect me to pay for them if I don’t return them.

  20. No one has to pay for any item they did not order. If they sent you pictures without your written consent then you have some free pictures. There ya go. No need to get mad at all.

  21. Why is no one discussing that I did NOT give u the right to print my child’s photo! If I see the photo and I like it I will order some and then u may print them. It is MY child u do not have the tight to print their picture without my permission. I’m supposed to return photos of my child to people I don’t know and TRUST that they dispose of them properly and not end up with a pedophile or somewhere else. Sorry I don’t want the photos but I’m sure not returning them to a company that I know nothing about there employees. Parents, we have to take our power back. We have allowed corporations to have more rights over our children that we do. Most of you sound brainwashed about what’s best for a company, not your child.

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