Earlier today, an issue was brought to light on Facebook – and issue that, at first, I thought ‘MUST’ be a hoax. As I researched the topic I found that it has been reported on, sadly only by Colbert, The Times of India, DPPreview, and a few other non-mainstream outlets. The issue is Amazon’s acquisition of a patent on creating a photograph with a white background.
The patent application claims that they have ‘invented’ a ‘special means’ of creating a photograph with a white background, however, this technique, as well as subtle variations of this technique, have been commonly utilized by photographers for more than twenty years.
Many may ask, “what’s the big deal?” Let me inform you by presenting a few non-photography related scenarios. Many years ago, Monsanto acquired a patent on the genetic makeup of Basmati Rice – a rice crop that had been grown for centuries by individual farmers, in India. Once the patent was granted, those same farmers now had to pay a ‘fee’ to Monsanto – a fee set by Monsanto, for each crop they wanted to plant… even though they were using the seeds from the crops that they had always farmed.
Another case in point, again with Monsanto. They have now acquired patents on the genetic codes of numerous agricultural crops. Their justification is that they have ‘developed’ these strains of “Genetically Modified Organisms”. Ok, that’s fair enough. However, if any of these seeds happen to ‘blow in the wind’, say from a farmer’s field that is adjoining yours, then take root in your soil without you being aware, or if your plants are cross-pollinated by bees who are not knowledgable about these patented crops, thereby combining the “patented” DNA with your plant’s DNA, Monsanto can now come in and file a law suit to demand payment – which they do on a regular basis.
On the other hand, say you do not want to be growing anything “genetically modified”; you do not have any recourse against Monsanto if their DNA corrupts yours.
Now back to the photography industry. If you create an image, with a pure white background, and publish it, sell it as a work of art, a portrait, or any other presentation, Amazon will now have the legal authority to demand a royalty payment. And if you can’t afford to pay the fee??? You will be out of business.
Every photographer, whether a professional, or a non-professional, should be, and better be, screaming about this. For those of us who are professionals, or aspiring professionals, this pertains directly to our livelihood. For those of us who create images, this pertains directly to our creative freedom.