I woke up to a particularly thought provoking and puzzling bit of news yesterday morning. It appears that Amazon, everyone’s go-to store online for pretty much anything, has been awarded a patent for a lighting setup. Specifically, this patent for lighting on a seamless background.
Now, from my understanding of patent laws, this Amazon patent would only apply to this specific lighting setup, not the idea of shooting on a seamless background entirely. So, it looks like Amazon isn’t looking to monopolize portrait or product photography, just protect their highly specific, go-to setup. That’s the good news. Now, here’s the bad news.
See, the legal system here in the states is based largely on precedent, meaning that once something is judged as acceptable by the courts, that same judgment could carry over to other similar cases. I worry that once the larger photo chains see that lighting setups can be patented, they’ll try to patent their own shooting setups. I would not be surprised in the least if heads of said photo chains had their respective legal teams racing to the patent office the minute this news broke. And the worst part is, if these companies had these patents, they could theoretically begin to drive smaller studios out of infringement for patent infringement. What’s even worse is that even if that smaller studio didn’t break the patent or proved prior precedent, the larger studio could simply drag out the litigation to spend the smaller into oblivion.
I have no desire to be an alarmist. If any of you know me in person, you already know I’m usually the first one to try to explain why whatever supposedly “sky-is-falling” news is nothing to panic over. After all, I read the entire patent, and it is an extremely specific document that took Amazon since 2011 to be approved. But still, the idea that lighting setups could be controlled by a single company worries me. I hope that I’m wrong about this and it all just blows over, I really do. And if I made any mistakes in this piece, please let me know so that I can correct it.