Shooting Photos On White? Amazon Owns The Patent

Posted on 5/15/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Did you know Amazon invented the process for photographing people against white backgrounds? The U.S. Patent and Trademark office recently awarded them a patent for this invention. If you’re trying to sell photos shot against a white background Amazon may want a piece of anything you earn!

In November 2011 Amazon filed U.S. Patent 8,676,045 claiming they had invented a process for photographing people against a white background.

The abstract of the filing reads as follows:

    Disclosed are various embodiments of a studio arrangement and a method of capturing images and/or video. One embodiment of the disclosure includes a front light source aimed at a background, an image capture position located between the background and the front light source, an elevated platform positioned between the image capture position and the background, and at least one rear light source positioned between the elevated platform and the background. A subject can be photographed and/or filmed on the elevated platform to achieve a desired effect of a substantially seamless background where a rear edge of the elevated platform is imperceptible to an image capture device positioned at the image capture position.
They also supplied 4 illustrations of how the studio should be arranged for producing such images.

One of the amazing things is that by the time Amazon filed this patent request millions of pictures taken by thousands of photographers had already flooded the Internet -- particularly on microstock sites. Photographers had been using this technique for decades before Amazon even came into existence, let alone before the filing date for this “new invention.”

Amazon lawyers must assume that if any idea exists, it must have been invented by Amazon. Obviously Amazon has too many under employed lawyers.

Why Was It Accepted?

Just because someone files a patent request doesn’t mean that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office must grant it. The government lawyers are supposed to do a little due diligence to determine if this is a unique process, or if it is something that has been in common use for a long time. Evidently, the government lawyers were sleeping the day this patent application arrived.

To be fair the patent office probably gets so many requests to patent bits of computer code they don’t understand that they don’t have time to really examine anything. Reviewers just rubber-stamp everything that hits their desk.

It is unclear what Amazon intends to do with this patent now that they own it. Will they start searching the Internet for photos with white backgrounds and sending out demand letters to photographers for a royalty? Or will they demand that in the corner of every one on those photos there has to be a logo that says: “Patent by Amazon?”

In the patent, trademark and copyright law there is a concept known as “Prior Art.” That means that if the technique or invention has been available to the public in any form before the date the patent was filed then the patent is invalid. The problem is that you’ve got to hire lawyers and go into court to prove a patent is invalid. That will probably cost a lot more than the fee the patent owner demands. Many people simply pay what is asked to get the patent owner to go away. Full employment for lawyers. points out that if Amazon was simply trying to carefully define an internal procedure for performing their product photography one would have thought they could have done it with an internal memo rather than pushing it through the patent office. has created an online petition to the US Patent and Trademark Office in hopes they will rescind this silly patent. Check the above link if you would like to add your name to the list.

I wonder if I can patent fire? I bet no patent exists!

Copyright © 2014 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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