Amazon owns patent to white-background photography

Posted by Claire Litton on May 9, 2014

This recent article published on TechDirt points out a somewhat shocking state of affairs: the U.S. Patent Office has granted a patent to Amazon (yep, the online sales giant) on item photography in front of a seamless white background. Filed in 2011, the patent application allows Amazon proprietary ownership of photos taken with the following restrictions:

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

Some commenters over on StackExchange point out that it is essentially a “junk patent”, in that this exact lighting and photographic technique is used in studios around the world and Amazon cannot possibly be said to have rights over it. Other companies have trademarked (or tried) some fairly interesting things. Google, for example, is trying to trademark the word “glass” (not “Google Glass”, which they already own…just “glass”). Facebook already trademarked the terms “FB” and “Wall”. GMO corporate megagiant Monsanto has trademarked species’ of plant.

This raises the question: what do you do about attribution when LEGALLY attribution should be made to a particular party, but the property rights/trademark/copyright are laughable? Do we owe the same rights to large companies who have snapped up copyrights to things they cannot genuinely be said to own as we do to individual artists and creative content remixers? What do you think?