Amazon Granted Exclusive US Patent To Photographing Against White Background

This is not a joke!  Taking a photo against a white background could soon be the exclusive property of the multinational, on-line sellers Amazon, after the US Patent and Trademark Office granted them the rights to the process of photographing people or objects against a white backdrop.

It is unlikely that Amazon will be sending ‘Getty Images’ style demand letters to anyone in breech of copyright, but it opens up new challenges for artists and amateur photographers working in the medium. This unfortunate patent has created a mockery of the patent system and many artists are calling on the USPT Office to state their reasoning for the granting of this absurd document. An online petition has now been set up to invalidate the patent.

The US Patent and Trademark Office has been scrutinised in the past for its ‘baffling’ and sometimes questionable decision making and although there is specific technical data which separates Amazon’s white-backdropped photo process from the millions of previous photos taken before 2011, (when the application was filed) Amazon’s concept is not radically different from what photographers have been using in the last hundred plus years.

The Amazon patent must include, a background comprising of a white cyclorama; a front light source positioned in a longitudinal axis intersecting the background, the longitudinal axis further being substantially perpendicular to a surface of the white cyclorama; an image capture position located between the background and the front light source in the longitudinal axis, the image capture position comprising at least one image capture device equipped with an eighty-five millimeter lens, at least one image capture device further configured with an ISO setting of about three hundred twenty and an f-stop value of about 5.6.

Amazon explains, that they are specifying a proprietary white-background photo image from others like it by pointing out that prior art often refers to image retouching, green screens or other forms of image manipulation. Amazon’s technique is apparently the purest of the pure, being only the photographer, the photographed object/person, the white background, a number of front lights/back lights and some sort of object separating the subject from the ground below it.

Food for thought: does this mean, in the future, Google could hold the exclusive rights to Abstract Expressionism, as a style? Apple patent the process of digital drawing or Amazon holding the rights to e-books as a process of publication? We have already seen our Artist’s rights eroded by the AP case against Shepard Fairey who was sued by the  unimpressive wire service for basing his renouned Hope painting of Obama on a photograph by a news photographer. In the end where does that leave Warhol who made a career of using appropriated images!

The reality of the patent: First: Turn on the back lights. Second: Turn on the front lights. Third: Position person or object on the white backdrop. Fourth: Snap away.

Photo: L. Kray Twins By David Bailey 1965 © David Bailey All rights reserved R. Amazon Patent courtesy US Patent Library

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