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Photography Question 
Christopher Ficke

Intellectual Property of Photographic Concept

Howdy y'all,
Is there a way to copyright, patent, or trademark an idea or concept (intellectual property) regarding photographs? For instance, I know you can copyright an individual photo, but what about a particular style such as Anne Geddes or William Wegman. Am I allowed to take pictures of my own Weimaraner Dog in an identical pose like that of a William Wegman photo and sell it? I guess what I'm really getting at is that I have a concept of my own, and want to market that in the same way Anne Geddes and William Wegman have done. I'm an amateur, and they are the only two professional photographers I know :-) .
Thanks in advance!

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4/22/2005 2:30:59 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  You can't copyright an idea for a photo ... only the image.

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4/22/2005 7:55:43 PM


BetterPhoto Member
As Gregory mentions, you cannot copyright the idea or concept for a photo, only the photo itself.
You also inquired about copying a Wegman photo and selling it. There are plenty of cases where this has been done and the infringer has lost in court. I went to Brooks Institute in the 1970s, and one of my friends during that time went on to a very successful photography career. About 10 years ago, maybe a little longer, he was hired by an ad agency to shoot an ad. It turns out, and unbeknownst to the photographer, he was copying almost exactly an image from another photographer's portfolio. There was a huge lawsuit, even written about in the major photo magazines, and the agency and the photographer lost.
So you cannot copyright an idea and you cannot copy to closely other photographer's work with the intention of making money. There is another photographer shooting in the similar style to Anne Geddes and making money. But that photographer is not copying the exact photos that Anne shoots, only a similar style and that is the big difference when it comes to infringement. Is it willful intent to infringe a copyrighted work for profit? If you duplicate Wegman's image, that is what you are doing.
As students of photography, we all learn from what others do - and, from there, we develop the ability to generate our own unique ideas.
Good Luck!

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4/23/2005 7:36:54 AM

Christopher Ficke   Thanks everyone for the great responses. That was exactly the answer I was looking for. Just to clarify a bit, my photographic idea was not to copy an Anne Geddes or William Wegman. I was just using that as an example. I have my own unique idea and wanted to see if I could keep others from "infringing" on my style.
Thanks again!

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4/24/2005 12:09:35 PM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
If your concept or idea is original ... and your photos are good, a market for your work will surely emerge. As to those who will copy your idea, there's no way to prevent this ... especially if it proves to be profitable.
Legally, they can't re-produce your photos, but they can add or subtract just enough from the original concept to create their own version of your idea. Just remember that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

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4/24/2005 6:07:11 PM

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