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.

Best Protein Shake Ever

I had to post this excerpt from the Malcolm in The Middle episode “Malcolm Holds His Tongue” (Season 4, Episode 7) for my buddy Phil.

Best protein shake ever.

Giant Cedar Tree Repurposed as a Little Free Library

Just up the street from my house (near downtown Everett) there was a large cedar tree.

a majestic giant cedar tree just up the street from my house (photo via Google Street View)
a majestic giant cedar tree just up the street from my house (photo via Google Street View)

Recently, the owners of the property had a tree service come and cut the tree down. I was sad.

Strangely though, they did not cut the tree all the way down. A bare stump about twelve feet tall was left behind, a lonely testament to the cedar’s former glory.

Then a few weeks later, something magical happened…

Over the course of a few days, the sad stump was transformed into a the most creative Little Free Library I’ve seen to date.

Little Free Library carved into a giant cedar stump
Bears, Owls, and Books!
Some old cabinet doors serve to keep the books out of the weather.
The current reading selection.

I’m still sad that the tree is gone, but I have to admit, this is a pretty awesome alternative, and it definitely adds some cool character to our neighborhood. Well played, neighbor. Well played.

A couple weeks after I posted this, the Everett Herald wrote up a more in-depth story about the library: Everett woman turns beloved cedars into whimsical library

It all started when Sara Sanders’ beloved cedar took a turn for the worse.

It dropped a big honking limb onto Wetmore Avenue.

“It came down just before that big windstorm (in late August),” Sanders said. “It was time for it to go. The city sent me a letter that said ‘You must.’ ”

Still, it was hard letting go.

“The tree meant a lot to me. One of the reasons I bought the house 17 years ago was because of the tree,” Sanders said. “I wanted to be able to commemorate it in some way because it was a wonderful tree.”

What was once a 120-foot cedar is now a bear bearing books.

A couple days after that, KOMO News ran a video story:

Great stuff!

Forget Red Light Cameras, We Need Yellow Light Lines

Red light cameras are sold by the companies that install them and the cities that use them as a “safety” feature. Whether or not they actually improve safety is up for debate, but there is no doubt that they are big money makers for the cities that use them. If cities were primarily concerned with safety instead of generating revenue they would get rid of red light cameras and replace them with a yellow light line.

A Yellow Light Line?

tl;dr – Paint a yellow line on the road. If you’re traveling the speed limit as you approach an intersection and you’ve passed the yellow line when the light turns yellow, just keep going and you’ll clear the intersection before the light turns red. If you’re behind the yellow line, hit the brakes because the light will turn red before you clear the intersection.

How it Works

Actually there isn’t much more to it than that. Here’s what a city would need to do to implement yellow light lines:

  1. use the speed limit and the length time the traffic light stays yellow to calculate distance
  2. paint the yellow light line on the street at the distance calculated in step 1
  3. there is no step 3

Simple, effective, and cheap.

Why It’s Needed

Intersections controlled by traffic signals have a basic design flaw that red light cameras only serve to exacerbate. Drivers are unsure of how long they have to clear the intersection once the light turns yellow. Should you slow down or speed up? Every intersection has different timing, and when an intersection is equipped with a red light camera that doles out $124 tickets, drivers are much more likely to slam on the brakes even if they could make it through safely. This leads to more rear-end collisions.

With yellow light lines, that ambiguity is completely eliminated with a simple, clear visual. If you’ve passed the line when the light turns yellow, continue on at the speed limit and you will safely clear the intersection before the light turns red. If the line is in front of you, you’ll need to stop. No more uncertainty, no more slamming on the brakes.

Yellow Light Line Calculator

In order to help visualize this concept I’ve created this handy calculator. Simply edit the speed limit and/or the yellow light length to see how far from the intersection the yellow light line would be painted.

Addressing Objections

This section has been added to address some of the objections brought up by Redditors at /r/Seattle.

It’s not illegal to be in the intersection when the light turns red, it’s illegal to enter the intersection after the light turns red. – davethegr8

Indeed, the relevant law here in Washington State (RCW 46.61.055) indicates that it is only illegal to enter the intersection on a red light. However, since the purpose of the yellow light line is not to adhere to strict legal definitions but rather to improve safety, I think it would be best to measure the distance from the end of the intersection rather than the entrance.

How about telling people what you did so they know what the lines are? – Sir_Dude

This is a good point. Above I jokingly said “there is no step 3,” but in reality step 3 would be driver education.

Oh, and how are these lines going to work with heavier vehicles? An SUV is going to need more room to stop than a Prius. One line isn’t going to work for all cars. – Sir_Dude

The yellow light line is not placed based on how long it will take you to stop. The line is placed based on where you can clear the intersection while traveling at the speed limit.

Example: A driver in a Prius is driving the limit on a 35mph road and the light stays yellow for three seconds. They will travel 154 feet during the three seconds that the light is yellow. A driver in a big rig, will still travel the same 154 feet if they are driving 35mph for three seconds. So we paint the yellow light line 154 feet from the end of the intersection.

If three seconds is not enough time for a big rig to stop, then the length of time the light is yellow should be adjusted by the city. This obviously would move the location of the yellow light line, but the correct location of the line is not variable for different vehicles, it depends only on the speed limit and the length of time the light is yellow.

Currently, judgement is all drivers depend on. If you suddenly give drivers a “tip” for determining if they should go or stop, what will change? People tend to be aware of their current speed, their braking capability based on vehicle characteristics, and how far they have before the stop line. – steve_mcgee

It is true that drivers are (or should be) aware of those things. However, what drivers are often unaware of is how long the light will stay yellow, and whether or not that is enough time to make it through the intersection from their location when it turns yellow. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that different intersections have different yellow light timing. The yellow light line is a simple way of providing exactly that piece of information to drivers.

Light timing changes (gets shorter) on many intersections late at night. The timing would be off on clearing the intersection or you’d need two lines. – eran76

The overall cycle of a given traffic signal may get shorter at night, but the length of time the light is yellow is constant regardless of how long the light stays red or green, and does not change throughout the day.

What’s Next?

Like this idea? Contact your local city council and point them to this post. Share it on your favorite social media site and spread the word. Or if you’re really ambitious, file a statewide citizen’s initiative. If you feel like living dangerously, you can run the calculator for the intersections in your neighborhood, grab some yellow paint, and engage in some “Guerrilla Public Service” like L.A. artist Richard Ankrom, who installed his own freeway sign in 2001.

I’ve also provided a handy embed code above so you can easily share the yellow light line calculator.

Or maybe you think I’m a clueless idiot and this is an incredibly stupid idea? Point out the flaws in my logic in the comments below.

As always, thanks for reading.

Yellow Light Line Example

Featured photo by Dan Bates, Everett Herald

Everett to Seattle Traffic Is Blowing Up

Has Seattle traffic suddenly gotten a lot worse, or is it just my skewed perception? I take the Sound Transit 510 express bus from Everett to Seattle every day for work and in the past few weeks I’ve experienced some really excruciating commutes, particularly in the morning on the way into Seattle.

Seattle’s worsening traffic has been the subject of a number of recent articles in both the Seattle Times1 and the Everett Herald2 based on a recent Corridor Capacity Report published by the Washington State DOT. However, this report only covers data through 2013, and my impression has been that things have gotten considerably worse just in the last few weeks.

As it turns out, I just so happen to have been collecting detailed data about my commute for over three years. Since late 2011 I’ve been logging the time at fourteen points along my way to work in the morning and on the way home in the evening. Using this data set, I can visualize my commutes to see if the last few weeks have seen anything truly out of the ordinary.

The plot below has a blue dot indicating the time between boarding the bus in Everett (at 34th & Broadway or 38th & Broadway) every morning and disembarking on one of the first stops (Stewart Street) in downtown Seattle. Orange dots represent the time spent on the bus in the evenings going the reverse direction. The lines are a 30-day rolling average.

Everett to Seattle Express Bus Rides

After peaking at 56 minutes in late 2012, then peaking at 54 minutes in late 2013, the 30-day average morning commute has risen to an hour and five minutes as of November 3rd.

In fact, six of the ten worst morning commutes I’ve experienced in the last three years have been in just the past three weeks.

Top Ten Worst 510 Express AM Rides
Date AM Ride
2014-10-20 01:49
2014-10-28 01:47
2014-11-04 01:46
2014-09-24 01:44
2013-11-08 01:40
2012-11-19 01:35
2014-10-23 01:33
2014-10-21 01:33
2012-05-31 01:33
2012-11-01 01:33

Probably due to the combination of the onset of rainy weather, less daylight, and other factors, the fourth quarter of each of the last three years has seen considerably worse morning traffic than the rest of the year, but this so far year it has been absolutely dreadful.

Median Everett to Seattle Morning Commute by Quarter

Interestingly, evening traffic in the opposite direction over this same period has not seen any significant increase compared to last year.

Median Everett to Seattle Evening Commute by Quarter

Hopefully the last few weeks have just been a series of terrible flukes, rather than the beginning of a trend of consistently nightmarish morning commutes.

At least I always get a seat on the bus, where I can sleep, read Reddit, or write blog posts like this.

it's like… a website or something