Hear About Amazon’s Patent on Studio (Lighting) Arrangement? Here’s What it Means for You – PPA Today

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should I take this thing seriously?

Yes! Much like our stance on copyright, PPA takes the position that all intellectual property rights should be respected. Whether we like it or not, this patent has been issued, and photographers are encouraged to follow the law and to avoid replicating the process outlined in the Patent’s claims.

That being said, PPA is monitoring the situation to ensure that Amazon’s attempts to protect its patent do not overreach in ways that are detrimental to the photography profession as a whole. If you are contacted by Amazon or a law firm representing them with a cease and desist demand, please contact PPA’s Customer Services… immediately. PPA takes this matter very seriously and we will help where needed.

via PPA Today.

There Are 26 Comments On This Article.

  1. I was hired to photograph architectural images of the Brooklyn NY Amazon Fashion Photography Studio several months ago. It’s quite a complex, and very interesting “factory.” There are about twenty-eight photography bays, each producing around fifty images per 8-hour shift. It is quite a machine. I ran into a some resistance from the studio manager when photographing one of the photo bays, but was finally given the go ahead. They are very clean, nice, and equally consistent. I used to shoot fashion and find it interesting that the lighting set-up is practically identical to one I used to use. Surely countless other photographers have as well. It’s not rocket science, but it is scary the process can be patented. True to their patent, every camera had an 85mm prime.

  2. I’m guessing at some point this will probably be challenged and they’ll lose it. It’s not their ‘invention’ and has been around for decades.

  3. Baldomero

    Why is no one talking about how crazy it is for the US patent office for granting this. The system is a joke and completely being taken advantage of by patent trolls and well funded enterprises.

  4. The patent is in the opinion of every patent attorney we have consulted (both in this office and elsewhere), an extremely shaky one and unlikely to resist a legal challenge if of course, one is made. No reputable attorney would ever suggest that anyone break the law or appear to violate an IP right but if you have been employing this very common technique you might want to have a confidential consultation with an IP attorney.

    Unlike filing a copyright registration for photographs, patent applications are reviewed and heavily scrutinized by the folks in DC. Rejections are commonplace. We have not spoken to a single patent attorney (including the author of one of the definitive legal texts on the subject) who does not think that this patent is extremely vulnerable to a legal challenge on numerous legal grounds. Just one legal argument that could be made as part of a challenge would be that the applicant knew or should have known, that the process was in widespread use by many photographers (and others) for many decades pre-dating the application. If the process was mentioned or illustrated in publications or at workshops on occasions pre-dating the application would be relevant as would testimony from those you employed the technique or paid others to use the process. There is a duty to disclose such knowledge to the patent office as part of the application process. Whether anyone steps up to make and finance that challenge is of course, the key issue.

    Amazon has been hiring photographers directly to shoot jobs on a virtual assembly line basis at minimal fees. It is likely that given its substantial resources, one of its attorneys “took a shot” at obtaining a patent for this process that has been in continuous, widespread use in the industry for well over three decades. Its motivation appears to be in service of its relatively new role as a “client” who retains photographers at minimal cost to shoot work for it. The patent helps control that “shooting environment” in which the hired photographer(s) must work. How this one got by the patent office according to our patent experts, is a mystery but the attorney who made this filing should have received a fat bonus from Amazon.

    Amazon is likely banking on the probable failure or refusal of anyone or any entity to challenge the patent. If no challenge is made, the patent will stand and serve as just another nail in the coffin of independent artists and photographers.

    • What photographer could afford the costs and time to challenging this patent?
      Maybe some Professional photo group would take it upon themselves to run a crowd funding campaign to cover the costs of such a legal process.

      • There are various judicial and administrative courses that can be taken to challenge a patent grant. The preferred course of action to take and the costs likely to be incurred, can only be determined upon consultation and review of any such claim with competent IP counsel. Although well intentioned, guesses by non-lawyer photographers in this regard must be discounted.

        • If only there were some trade association for professional photographers that could find a good lawyer and take the necessary actions to kill this absurd patent.

      • Adam Barry

        Adam Corrolla (comedian, podcaster) is currently doing this for a similar situation many top Podcasters are facing. the patent there is the way the podcasters are listing there episodes by number, in a vertical order.

        patent trolls.

  5. All that would be needed to invalidate the patent is some prior art. So maybe a crowd-sourced effort would be a way to find some, and make it available when and if someone gets sued. The main problem in finding prior art I think is, most photographers don’t document, let alone publish, their lighting set-ups. But some do in books, etc, so there must be something out there.

    But as we all know, you can’t definitively determine the lighting set-up just by looking at a photo–otherwise we wouldn’t have so much fun trying to guess at it. So I don’t think that approach works for discovering prior art (but I don’t know for sure).

  6. …answering a question posed to me directly…

    The patent is in fact a narrow one. Go to page 7 of the claims portion of the patent. Note that the patent requires adherence to numerous specifications.

    One would likely not infringe on this patent unless all or virtually all of the specs set forth were used. Again, those of you who have employed this technique over the years might want to have a brief consultation with an attorney who can explain how the claims made by Amazon’s patent may or may not affect your business and practices on a going, forward basis. This is a job for a trained patent attorney, not a visual artist.

  7. My husband works for the USPTO as a Patent Examiner, and I am a Photographer. If you read the actual patent, you will see that the claims for the patent are actually really specific… 4 lights on the background set at an combined intensity ratio of 10:3 compared to the front light, a platform, specific distances for the lights to the platform, cyclorama background, 85mm lens, ISO 320, fstop of 5.6, etc. etc. If you have a similar setup, but just one thing is different, you are not infringing on their patent. The USPTO welcomes the public to challenge granted claims. So, if you’ve got proof that you or someone else has used this exact setup prior to their filing, go ahead and challenge it.

    If you do a search for “photography studio setup” in the patent database, there’s like almost 8000 results.
    https://www.google.com/?tbm=pts#q=photography+studio+setup&tbm=pts
    So, it’s not like patenting a studio setup is a new concept. Heck, if you have a setup that you think is unique, you have the right to apply for a patent, too! Nothing has changed regarding your responsibility to look up patents by this one being granted to Amazon. Nobody expects you to go through 8000 “studio setup” patents to see if your setup is the same as a patented one. But if you willfully copy a patented setup, you could find yourself in some trouble.

    • c.d.embrey

      This appears to be a patent on an assembly-line method of table-top photography. Place the product on the mark, push the button and repeat …again, again and again.

      My guess is that they don’t care what Mr Commercial Photographer does or doesn’t do. They just don’t want another large online retailer from copying their Very Specific method.

      I don’t know about you, but my table-top set-up doesn’t violate their patent.

    • You are of course, correct about the adherence to specifications.

      Jack Reznicki and I have noted in our article on the subject in thecoprightzone.com and in our seminars that the patent lists many specs. In light of that simple fact, we suggest that rather than panic, each photographer who has any concern ought have a private, privileged discussion with legal counsel to determine whether any part of this issue has or can have any effect on their business.

      While we don’t suggest that anybody violate a patent – intentionally or unintentionally – it is quite likely that this patent will not have any real effect on more than a precious few shooters. The topic is “sexy” and thus draws non-legal opinions which engender more talk and more concern than is likely justified. The patent as Ms. Arnett correctly states, can be challenged via either the administrative or judicial routes.

  8. It is patently absurd that a commonly-used technique, taught and used for over 40 years world-wide could be granted a patent by the U.S. Copyright Office. Why then is some surgeon not patenting the process of using a scalpel to open an incision, or some dentist patenting the use of a drill for creating a filling, or some attorney somewhere patenting the use of a keyboard or touchscreen for entering information into a computer…?

  9. 1. I’m surprised that Amazon is so unimaginative in their approach to selling that they have to resort to every item being shown in exactly the same way to the extent that they wish to patent a photographic technique whether specific or commonly used.

    2. Are all stages of the patent process patented.

    I often find that the more layers to any form of bureaucracy the more loopholes and gaps. I suspect that before long the patent system itself will become the target of patent trolls.

    • c.d.embrey

      They are not un-imagetive, all they care about is ROI. No photographer needed with this system, just a minimum wage button snapper.

  10. Henrique Neto

    I will patent 3 light system right now! Two front lights (one left, one right of subject, 45 degrees up) and another one on the back (also 45 degrees, both sides can apply). Question: Can I make just one petition (including both sides of the back light) or it has to be done in two separated documents? Thanks, and please, do not use my patented light diagram, otherwise, I will sue you.

  11. Henrique Neto

    I just had a better idea! I will patent the use of sun light as a light source for images.