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Amazon Patented Taking Pictures In Front of a White Background

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The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is an easy punchline for jokes about bureaucratic inanity, but a recently-granted patent proves that the reputation is deserved. Turns out Amazon has patented taking pictures in front of a white background, so I guess Shutterstock is doomed.

Amazon filed for the ridiculous license back in 2011 and it was finally granted March 18th of this year. Tech Dirt reported on it yesterday after it was uncovered by Udi Tirosh at DIY Photography. Meaninglessly titled Studio Arrangement, the patent gives Amazon the rights to shooting in front of a “seamless white background.” The full, convoluted nine-page text of the patent lists enough specifics that any photographers who shoot in Amazon’s “style” won’t be violating the patent… probably. Here’s a possibly crucial excerpt buried inside the legalese:

a background comprising 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, the 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

Yeesh. I pity the studio photographer or lawyer who has a vested interest in fully analyzing that mess. As Tech Dirt points out, photographers might not technically be violating the patent as long as they don’t follow “Studio Arrangements” measurements, but that “about” in the last sentence is a disconcerting legal grey area.

Tech Dirt suggests that the patent might be attempting to differentiate Amazon’s, um… unique photos from seemingly similar styles via purity of form. After the baffling unspecific specifics earlier on in the patent, the document implies that it’s Amazon’s simplicity (or laziness) that makes their photographs innovative.

Items are often photographed and/or filmed in a studio environment and the resultant images and/or video rendered on a display device associated with a computing device. The resultant images and/or video can also be used as promotional and/or informational collateral associated with the items, which is also viewed on a display device. Post-processing or retouching of images and/or video captured in a studio environment can be time consuming and/or resource intensive, particularly when a consistent look and feel is desired and the items photographed in the studio environment are non-uniform.

Did Amazon just patent mediocrity? Seems like it. If the document was drawn up with the intent to be reinforced, than I imagine photographers at every mall/elementary school in America are about to be pissed. It could be that Amazon just files patents for everything, and the way they took pictures in 2011 fell under that practice as a matter of course. Photography has come so far, the USPT, not so much.

(Tech Dirt and via Gizmodo, image via Amazon)

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