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Photographers Beware, Amazon Patents Photography Against White Backdrops


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Good luck enforcing it..


For a arm of government that comes under such intense and often hostile scrutiny, you’d think the US Patent Office would try to err on the side of caution when it comes to iffy new patents. It’s still infamous for the many hundreds of perpetual motion machines still sitting in the patent room, but its approach to strategic patenting is much more damaging than a few crackpots could ever be. Allowing patents to be used to stifle innovation fundamentally contradicts the entire thesis of the Patent Office: to protect innovation and allow inventors to be rewarded for their efforts.

This week, the photography blogger Udi Tirosh noticed a new patent put forward by Amazon, simply called Studio Arrangement, and it really seems to set a new bar for frivolous copyright. The subject is… photography against a white background. Really. In fairness, the definition is a bit more specific than that, requiring a semi-specific lighting setup that might legitimize this patent if that setup weren’t so utterly normal. This is the sort of lighting setup that most photography students learn early in their training.


The primary patent illustration.

There are more finicky aspects of the patent as well, but they’re almost absurd in how arbitrary they are; Amazon specifies the size of lens that must be used, even the ISO and f-stop settings. These settings presumably allow easy portraiture with a pure white background, and the patent description specifically states that their method does not require any post-processing such as green screen removal.

What that means is that Amazon has essentially managed to patent the best camera settings for a particular type of shot. Conscientious portrait artists might now find their ideal settings, then click one setting a single notch off of perfect so as to avoid being sued.

Though, of course, this patent could never be adequately enforced. Unless Amazon plans on busting shoots in progress, this seems like a rather pointless exercise — except for the lawyers who billed the hour, of course. It’s unlikely this patent got the Jeff Bezos stamp of approval, or anything close to it; the higher-up at the online retail giant probably view this issue as a headache. The specificity of the patent might just let it squeak past the chorus of objections now rising, but that same specificity is what makes it so conceptually absurd.

There is an idea in patent law called “art,” which seems to apply here. Basically, if you can provide any material (art) showing that the proposed patent has been described elsewhere and earlier, the patent is not valid. If it decides to defend this patent, Amazon will argue that the requirements for lens size and camera settings set it apart from any of a few hundred intro photography textbooks.

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As a photographer this is a laugh. There is literally NOTHING they can do about this.

It is as easy as claiming the EXIF data was shot in Canada or the UK as it is only a recognized US patent.

Added of course that there is NO way to prove without any on site evidence that the seamless edging was done in post process.

And on top of that this really only affects the contracting company not the photographer as they commission the work and as they want and hold the finished product they also eat all of the responsibility.

This is a smack int he face to any genuine freedoms in the US than it is an actual scare for photographers, product photographers or the like.

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Call the backdrop light grey, or yellowish light grey, as it's not truly white as true white by definition is pretty much only attainable with the explosion of an Atomic Bomb, the "white flash" so to speak and that only lasts for a fraction of a second.

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