Is it wrong to steal Lightroom presets?

Whew! Who knew an innocent tool from a talented guy would incite a discussion like we had the other day. I held back from posting so I could respond here with my thoughts. Before we get to it, a couple of things:
1) I was extremely impressed with the quality of comments. Its definitely a touchy subject and very important to some people. For the most part (yes there were some meanies who had to resort to name calling), the comments were all in good faith and people were respectful of each other (which is hard to find in this online world of anonymity).
2) What you’re about to read below will definitely incite some equally heated comments. All I ask is that you keep them respectful – whatever your opinion is fine. Just be respectful to each other (oh and to me too). Cool? Thanks!

First off, I feel for Mike WiacekI feel for Mike. He created a cool program that did something really neat. Over 2000 people downloaded on that first day. One person from another country complained and threatened legal action. Mike, not knowing the legalities of lawsuits coming from that country, decided to take his tool down. I don’t blame him. The threat of legal action from some one in another country sounds scary. I’m no legal expert by any means, but I’m pretty sure he’s OK and has nothing to worry about so I hope he puts it back up. But that doesn’t change the real debate here because, regardless of country of residence, there seems to be a fundamental difference of opinion here of whether or not this “preset lifting” is right or not. So I’m leaving legalities out of it (since I don’t really know what’s right or wrong here) and just concentrating on the artistic/ethical issue of whether this is right or wrong.

Just look at the drug companiesPage (one of the commenters from the post in question), brought up a great point. Just look at some of the medicines in the drug stores. Advil, Nyquil, Sudafed, etc… all of them have generic equivalents that you can pick up at Walmart. Same ingredients with a different name. Advil makers can’t do a thing about the WalMart-Vil equivalent of their product. They can’t copyright or own 150mg of Propylparaben in their drug (or any combination of ingredients) just like you can’t copyright or own f/2.8 at 1/250th or a Vibrance setting of 35 (or any combination of develop settings).

Lets move to an art exampleLets say I create a piece of fine art with various woods and plastics. You know, the kind you see in a fancy art museum or gallery with a price tag of $45K that no one would ever buy :-) What tools did the artist use to create that art? Take the illegal mind altering substances out of the equation and you’re left with maybe a hammer, glue, maybe a miter saw, screwdriver, drill, and other various tools. Can they declare that they own a 45 degree setting with a 9 degree bevel of the miter saw since that’s the setting they used to create the art? Can they own 8 turns of a phillips head screwdriver because that’s what they used? Its silly to even think about right?

Now, lets keep it simple when it comes to a photography exampleOK, lets break this down to a really simple example. Lets take 3 settings – Aperture, shutter speed and focal length. Those 3 settings are included in the metadata of a photo right? Now lets say I take a photo at Mesa Arch in Utah. You know, one of the ones with the sun rising through the arch that I posted a while back (and a photo that tens of thousands of people have likely taken while standing in the same spot). Then I post that photo on Flickr (or any website).

Now you look at my metadata and find that I shot it at f/22 with a 1/10 of a second shutter speed, at 17mm using my Nikon 17-55mm lens. You take your Nikon camera, your 17-55mm lens and set up exactly where I did and shoot the same photo at f/22 with a shutter speed at 1/10 of a second at 17mm. Did you break any laws? Nope. Artistically or ethically, have you done anything wrong? Heck no! So why when you add a Vibrance setting to the metadata or a Contrast slider setting does it become a problem? There is no governing body that states that I can copy your shutter speed and aperture setting but I can’t copy your Vibrance setting. They’re all part of the metadata and as far as legalities are concerned, I don’t think the law can/will discern between the two.

Does knowing my settings make your photos great?Its funny this came up because Scott Kelby and I had a discussion the other week about a question we get a lot. Somebody will see a portrait or a photo that one of us has taken and say “Hey, that’s a great photo. What was your shutter speed and aperture setting for that photo?”. Its almost as if they think knowing that information will make their portraits better. If I take a photo of my cute kid outdoors at a park at f/8 and 1/250 of a second, it doesn’t mean that if you take a photo of your kid at a park using the same settings yours will be just as good. There’s the light, the time of day, the location (under a tree or not), the lens, the distance the child is from me, the expression, and a number of other things that contribute to my photo being good. Just because you copy my settings doesn’t mean you have a great photo.

Here’s another example. I give away free presets on this site all the time. Just because you apply my presets (which look good on my photos), to your photos doesn’t mean they’re going to be great. There’s still a lot of things that need to happen for your photo to be great.

Good isn’t GreatOne commenter wrote: “Am I alone in believing, with all the presets, EXIF rippers, digital editing programs in general, that it no longer takes much talent to be a photographer?”. Come on! Seriously? Do you really think talent is no longer required?

Things get better, easier, faster and with better quality all the time. Its easier to be a good photographer today then it was 10 years ago. 10 years ago, it was easier to be a good photographer then it was 10 years before that. But good isn’t great. And great is what counts in just about any field. Can anyone look at a portrait and copy its settings and add them to their own photos. Of course. Does it mean they’ll have a great photo. Of course not. They still need a great subject, shot in great light with spot-on exposure settings and with great quality equipment. Remember, good isn’t great. While technology (like Mike’s preset extractor) makes it easier to be a photographer with nice photos (honestly, this happens in just about every other profession and hobby out there), it also ups the bar. The great ones will always be great because they’ll find a way to make it work.

Get over it!Sorry, but I’m going to close this by saying get used to it and get over it. Regardless of whether photography is just a hobby or you’re a pro, worrying about your develop settings ain’t gonna help. You’re going to need something more then your precious Develop settings. Whether you like it or not, your effect/style will be copied and shown to the masses if its a good one. Dare I say that you should be so lucky to have people care about your work that much to copy its style. In a way, its the ultimate form of flattery. That doesn’t mean they can copy your photos from your site onto theirs and claim them as their own. That’s stealing and illegal. But copying your style and your recipe is not. Its what sets the bar higher and higher and forces us to get better and better.

In the end, you can’t copyright and own Vibrance=15, Clarity=52, Temp=6750. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Note: Remember. Before you click the Submit button on your comment take a deep breath. Read it again and make sure you’re not a meanie.

Author: Matt K

Matt is a full time Education Director for the NAPP and Kelby Training. He's a best-selling author of various books on Photoshop and Photography co-hosts the live weekly photography talk show "The Grid" and is co-host of "Photoshop User TV". In his spare time he practices as a 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo and enjoys spending time with his family in Tampa, FL.

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117 Comments

  1. Wouldn’t the simple solution for the people trying to prevent others from generating presets from their photos be to strip the EXIF data from their photos prior to publishing them? Isn’t that what the “minimize embedded meta data” flag does in the Export dialogue? But I think the whole point is moot as you made clear so well.

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  2. Look, this shouldn’t be a big deal. If you don’t anyone to know your super-secret-settings-formula just save your file with minimized EXIF data. But don’t be surprised if you see another photo with a similar look to yours. Like Matt says you can’t copyright and own settings.

    I was an Art Director and Creative Director for 30 years on some major national and international brands. I collaborated with many of the top photographers in the business. Not one of these incredibly talented men and women ever tried to keep secret any of their personal techniques. Quite the contrary. I found that almost all of them were great teachers and eager to share their creative techniques with me. A true professional is confident that their work starts with an inner vision unique to them, and while that vision can be expressed through a variety of techniques, their vision shines through each image they make.

    Although I have retired, I still get together a few times a month with pro photographers for a few hours of shooting together — just for fun and to exercise our creative muscles. The images we shoot are of the same subjects, same time, same lighting conditions and, not surprisingly, look totally different.

    Matt, thank you for sharing your talent and insights on this blog.

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  3. Patent protects ideas. Copyright protects the expression of ideas.

    When the drug companies patent a drug and the patent expires, the formula becomes public domain. That’s why you see generics side by side with brand names on the shelves and by prescription.

    When you, Matt, write a preset for download, you could copyright it and sell it, and then copying your preset would create liabilities. When you give them away, they become public domain.

    As I see it, the commercial software that does things like add frames are just complicated presets. Copying them with any tool would be wrong and actionable.

    A program that takes metadata from an uncopyrighted image should be well in the clear. If the image is copyrighted then I’d need to ask an IP Lawyer if the copyright extends to the metadata.

    Finally, the threat of legal action from afar is just that, a threat. The costs of the suit would be staggering and it would be difficult to show actual losses (especially if there was no copyright involved). Nevertheless, taking it down is probably the safest action.

    If Mike added code to look for the word copyright or the c-in-a-circle symbol and then stopped processing (technically possible for his code?) then the threat is just empty air.

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  4. Well said Matt!

    And thanks for sharing your countless presets, they work well and provide a springboard for us to further improve our photos. And as you said, some worked while others don’t depending on each image. But the point is to be able to use the presets as a starting point, improvise and come up with a good result.

    One other angle that is probably worth exploring is when someone takes your presets, verbatim, and claims that as their own. I don’t know how you or others would feel, but for me it is a matter of courtesy to attribute the source of inspiration, and contribute the derivatives back to the community. That is the whole point of sharing.

    Keep up the “great” work!

    Regards,
    Jonathan

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  5. Hear hear, Matt!!!

    It is an unfortunate consequence of today’s society in that a great number of people are just too keen and eager to threaten legal action against another.

    But one must consider – I would hazard a guess that EVERY photographer who ever picked up a camera sought inspiration from another’s works. Whether that be by tutelage, mentoring, or simply viewing works belonging to another, they then adapted and/or mimicked those actions that may or may not result in a reasonable facsimile of that originalwork. I know that I myself will look at the works of a great many photographers, and then realise that their particular style suits my wish to aspire to achieve the same result. But I am not stealing, nor am I plagiarising – only desiring to grow.

    But how can one grow? By absorbing as much informaton as one possibly can, and use whatever tools that are at their disposal. If I were perusing Flikr (which I so often do), I would see an image that I like that I would then deconstruct – subject location, lighting, pose, background, and then finally the subtle (or not so subtle) processing. Am I stealing by observing all of the individual items? No! So in the case of this software, all it is doing is allowing me to see the processing applied by one particular piece of software alone as embedded within the metadata, and allowing me to see how it works for the image, or again mimick a look if I chose to. But I don’t have all of the other items that make up the image – only the processing numbers. That is not stealing intellectual property where I live…

    Funnily enough – if you consider what some are exhorting, then Canon and Nikon would have a great case against Adobe because by the design of the RAW processing algorithm within ACR, Adobe is mimicking the conversion process of the major manufacturers. Does that make Adobe a thief???

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  6. Well said! Like Hoshisato says: if you don’t want to expose certain information, than don’t provide it.

    That being said, there is another way to look at it. Let’s assume for a moment that the preset information is not only a part of but all you need to create something great. If people started using my preset information it must be that I’m doing something very good. To them I might be a reference for creating great photo’s. And isn’t that what we all to by studying photographic art regardless if that photo is by Matt, Sott Kelby, Hugh Van Es (Saigon photo), Joe Rosenthal and Annie Leibovitz to name a few of various size. And there are equivalents in many other area’s like management and sports. And isn’t that what we all secretly hope for? Being good enough to be an example to others?

    In all those examples you can learn a lot but never will come to the same result because I’m not Matt or Scott or Hugh or Joe or Annie.

    Greatness is not in keeping it all to yourself but in sharing and helping others to become better than you are.

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  7. Thanks Matt I appreciate your wise words. I will take up another point with you. Too much time on my hands today, my Metz is down and my sync leads don’t fit my replacement Gossen. 20 years with a Mastersix and now its dead… I miss it.

    You suggest that it is easier to be a good photographer than it was 10 years ago…. maybe to a point but maybe not. Taking a photograph is a seminal connection between the eye, brain and hardware.. the camera, and that hasn’t changed since the 1840′s. Great photographs have been taken with all sorts of cameras, some very difficult to use. So maybe it IS easier in some respects because todays cameras are …smaller…smarter…better….maybe, that doesn’t matter too much.
    What has changed is the making of photographs. It may well be easier but is it better?

    Sometimes I have the honour of getting in front of groups of students eager to become good photographers. One of my weapons is to wean them off the previously indoctrinated dependance of relying on SOFTWARE. This is getting in the way of producing good photographers at many institutions. It’s a trend but it has to be subverted if photographers are to learn how to take good photographs. We have all heard the aphorism ‘fix it up in photoshop’. My students submit RAW images for some assessments and they actually appreciate my reason for making them do it after the luxury of Jpegs or prints. It grounds them. And despite the fact that you make your living teaching software I suspect you may agree with me. They spend too much time in front of computers and not nearly enough time with the brain,eye camera interface.

    So I don’t necessarily agree with you that it is easier to be a good photographer today, that is NOT what I am seeing. It maybe easier to make pictures but that is not the same thing. The great photographers got it right in the camera.

    Again thanks mate!

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  8. It’s a very interesting debat. Both sides have comments that makes sense.

    I believe that a photographer should create/find his own style instead of copying it from another photographer just because that particular photographer seems to have lots of success with his style. Someone I know spend months, if not years, to create and find his own style and techniques, he is not very keen in giving his ‘secrets’ away.

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  9. Actualy if you recreate a piece of Art it is illegal to market it. It doesnt matter if it is a painting or a photograph, as long as it is art. At least in my country.

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  10. It is the same with cooking recipes.

    I often look for beautiful photos of food. I choose a recipe based on the look of the dish. Than I follow the recipe step by step… and the result is never as beautiful as the original.

    This is to say that Matt is indeed right. You can copy the settings, but your results will not be the same. But you can learn a lot, and you can use that knowledge to became a better photographer… or a better cook.

    Furthermore, a tool that let you extract data already available is only a time saver. You could always examine the exif and rebuild the preset by hand. Slow and impractical, but doable nonetheless.

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  11. If anyone already downloaded the app before it was removed and would like to share it please mail it to conchis@home.se. It would be greatly appreciated!

    /BonneSwe

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  12. If people are publicly posting images with this information embedded, nothing precludes me from viewing that data and creating a preset myself. The tool simply automates that process, and does not do so in a way that derives the original poster of any rights to their photograph. As Matt indicates, similar settings are absolutely no guarantee of similar results.

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  13. Oh no… sharing of creative ideas… what in the HECK is HAPPENING TO THIS WORLD?!?

    Seriously, I read the post and thought to myself “Gee, this sounds like the old ‘Who really owns a blues scale?’ argument from eons ago. So I thought I’d post it here because a couple of music analogies fit in perfectly.

    First, the thought “Great photo… what were your settings?” reminded me of when, as a professional trumpet player, I was having a discussion with another trumpet guy. We both laughed as we felt the same way when someone said “Gee, your range is great! What mouthpiece do you use?” It’s all in the lips and diaphragm, baby!

    Second, back to the blues scale. I remember one of several court cases involving Hank Williams Jr. and the use of a blues scale in a song. In a nutshell: There are only 12 notes in a musical scale… accelerate the frequency and the note goes higher, but it’s still one of twelve. BTW, you can’t copyright a blues scale (sorry about that, Scoot). But you CAN copyright lyrics, melody, mechanicals… so while it may SOUND like a blues scale, how you put it together is yous.

    In regards to settings, look at everything in terms of 100%. You can only have 100% of anything, and consequently you can only have 100 different choices of settings. In all the years out of all the photographers using all the settings, do we think no two photographers have ever used the same settings? Of course not!

    Maybe we’re too personal in our skills. I noticed a friend doing some HDR shots recently and looked at this work. Outside of some interesting looks, the composition wasn’t that great. And that’s what the non-techie, non-photo-ie public looks at… the composition, not the settings.

    Okay, so that’s my venting for a Friday. Maybe I should’ve saved it for Facebook…?

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  14. Serge Van Cauwenbergh and “German” seem to live in Europe. They seem to agree with the arguments I put forward in the previous discussion thread on this site, in defense of the protection of the rights of the author of the original work. Again: metadata, LR settings etc cannot be compared to ingredients, recipes or methods of production from the industry, because a “photograph” (in this part of the world at least) is not considered a mechanically produced, industrial or economical product (the *print* of it would be) but the end result of a creative process that was started, carried on and finalized by a creative individual (the photographer, author or artist!). All the steps needed and applied to this creation, will be uniquely linked to it and will therefore be considered as an integral part of the creation of the final image.

    Stealthily extracting the digital information from a photographic file that is owned by another person, without him knowing and consenting to this, with the clear intent to recreate, copy, imitate or clone whatever part, style, visual aspect or defining element of the image, is breaching the rights of the original artist and can easily be prosecuted.

    Some people here seem to try and tell me that it is perfectly alright to break in into somebody’s house simply because the owner was not aware of the fact that somebody else (flickr’s default upload settings regarding metadata!) left the front or back door wide open.

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  15. If someone is so concerned their work would be copied in some form, then why post to Flickr at all?

    I agree that presets are just some settings not unlike the shutter, aperture etc. One could always strip out the exif data if they wanted to protect their recipe. I prefer to leave out the details of my images not because of someone getting my recipe, but I prefer my work is viewed for it’s merits artistically, emotionally, esthetically and not on the brand of camera, choice of ISO or what my clarity setting was. Would someone ask what brand of paintbrush Van Gough used?

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  16. Well Matt, take comfort that your blog can’t be burned down LOL

    *High five* Page

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  17. I think ethically it boils down to intent. If the purpose of the preset extractor’s use is to copy another’s style, look-n-feel, etc, then it is being used in violation of ethics and possibly law (depending upon where you live).

    If it is a learning or editorial motive, ethically, I don’t have a problem with it.

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  18. My first computer was an eMachines eOne all-in-one desktop. Cute little bugger in see-thru blue. It was the PC equivalent (generic?) of the iMac in bubble shaped Bondi blue (remember those?).
    Not six months after purchasing it, Apple filed suite on the eOne for copyright violation of the iMacs “look” (you certainly wouldn’t mistake the two, but the eOne was an affordable computer with a ‘cool look’ {hey, it was AT THE TIME!})
    Sadly eMachines discontinued the model.
    Point here is, if someone asks for your settings (camera or processing) and you say nothing, they will have to figure it for themselves (not such a bad thing!). If you tell them all your settings, you do so freely and hugs all around. If you tell them to purchase the book or DVD with your settings, they can choose to pay, or not.
    In any case, what I see here is information being gleaned “without permission”. If the app could be made to ‘ask’ the image maker for permission to get the settings, that would be one thing. Too bad good manners are a lost quality. People like to be asked for information (where do you live?) rather than having someone lift the information from their wallet.

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  19. Well said Matt, well said! It seems that what everyone is missing is that no one is stealing anyone’s photos. They’re copying the way the photo was processed to get the end result. If they take the same metadata and lightroom settings from your photo of your family and use it on a photo they took of their car, the end result is a photo of their car not your family, so there is NO theft, you are still the only one with that photo!!!

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  20. The tool is only automating a process that can already be done manually if you have a good eye for it. Just as a chef with a well-developed palate could almost certainly pick out the key ingredients of a dish just by tasting it, a skilled photographer (or Adobe jockey) should have no problem recognizing different techniques used to create an effect in Lightroom or Photoshop.

    Some of Matt’s presets (the film 300-style immediately comes to mind), started with an observed effect that Matt simply reverse engineered and mimicked in Lightroom. As Matt has already expressed, the metadata is only a small (and I would argue insignificant) part of the photograph itself.

    I don’t own a Mac, but is there not a webcam “template” that reproduces an effect famously used by Andy Warhol? (http://farm1.static.flickr.com/37/74560585_bc0a17a459.jpg). Does Mr. Warhol own that style of art? Is it in Apple’s legal rights to do something very similar?

    I could study great masterpieces like the Mona Lisa. I could examine the brush strokes to deduce what thickness of brush he used. Technology today would allow me to measure the colours used. And with all this information, I could attempt to recreate Leonardo’s style. I just don’t think the Louvre would care to display it.

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  21. Well said, Matt. When I would post to Flickr, I always debated the pros and cons of leaving my metadata intact.
    I do wonder if the great painters shared their ‘settings’ with each other. Degas, Renoir, Manet, Monet, etc were impressionist painters. Since that was the ‘style’ and each painted in this style, did they steal from each other?

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  22. I’ve read some of the arguments, and while I agree that the tool isn’t a copyright law violation, but I still felt a little uneasy about it.

    Then over dinner I came up with an analogy. What if I could buy a battery-powered probe in Costco that I could dip into my soup at a fin dining restaurant? This fantasy probe estimates the ingredients of the soup. When I get home I can plug the probe into my PC and advanced artificial intelligence software attempts to re-create the recipe.

    I don’t think I have broken any laws by attempting to reverse-engineer the soup. And the result probably won’t be very good. But if I was the chef in the restaurant I’d still feel a bit violated.

    In this case I think the critical step that troubles people is the attempt to create a preset that I can apply to my images with one click. That feels different to me than an exhaustive listing of the photo’s metadata.

    But, as so many have stated, I can stop all this by removing the metadata before exporting the image to Flickr.

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  23. There are really two sides to this issue. Yes, you can copyright some things and you should if it’s really important to you. Having done that for a large corporation, though, I can tell you that if you attempt a copyright on something that others already have done that is what the lawyer in charge of your copyright deems ‘a close proximity’, you will not get your copyright, even if you created it first then the other company started using it. We had that issue with a logo we created with a tagline that someone in our field took right off the website and changed with little, subtle differences. We still could not have the copyright since the image and tagline was similar even though we had were we had been using it for years.

    As for the drug companies and the generics, normally those generics come from the same company and same factories. WalMart does not have it’s own factories for all those products so they can sell it as a generics. They have a contract with these companies to produce a certain amount under their generic label. Again, having worked for another large corporation, I can tell you that the products you buy as generic are made by the same companies that sell under their own labels. Generics are not infringing on any copyright since they are produced by the same people that own the copyright.

    I agree that if you want to keep your actions secret, you should remove as much of the data as you can. If you make and give away or sell something, then someone comes along, uses it under their name, claims they created it and tries to give away or sell it, are you going to be upset? Heck, yeah! You put your time, energy and talent into it and someone took it and tried to say it was their own. Just as if they took your Utah pix and put their name on it without actually having stood there and took the pix. But is it an actionable offense? That would depend on all the circumstances. Do you have the right to take it down, not do any more give aways, close your business, yes. It’s the same as those few theives make our products cost more and come in harder and harder packaging.

    I do agree with what you said about the settings. I know a lot of very talented photographers and happen to live in an area with some of the best (FL, baby!) and I have been on training shoots were everyone is giving the same model, the same lighting and told the settings to use. Even if we all stand in the same place, the quality of the pictures are amazingly difference. The truth is that as much as we can know and as big and bad of equipment we can buy, it comes down to talent when taking the picture as well as talent in the post-processing. You either have talent or you don’t. If you have it, you can cultivate it. If you don’t, you can still take some nice personal photographs. But all the equipment, settings and actions can not make a talented photographer.

    Thanks for everything you do and allowing so many diverse opinions on these types of situations.

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  24. Excellent discussion. Strip the EXIF if you are that particular.

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  25. I’m new to this site mainly because I just started using Lightroom, but now I’m hooked and I have a spot on my RSS reader ready for you, Matt.

    Here’s the deal (and I’ll try to make this brief): I’m a teacher, and I have taken entire college courses on Copyright law and fair use and everything else as it pertains to someone using copyrighted material. Some of the comparisons in these comments are NOT correct. Photographic material is governed by it’s own set of copyright law. It is not a recipe. Creating the photo, even if it falls under changing sliders to specific numbers in Lightroom, is completely up to the photographer’s vision. Once the photo has been completed and posted however, then is when we get into some interesting stuff.

    From http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html (The United States Copyright office): “Copyright protects the particular way an author has expressed himself. It does not extend to any ideas, systems, or factual information conveyed in the work.” This means that the photo you have taken, edited, and saved is yours. You own the copyright as soon as you click save (or as soon as you’ve clicked the shutter, really). However, the copyright does NOT extend to the systems you used to create the work. That is what a PATENT is for. If you come up with a way that takes ANY PHOTO and uses a process developed in Lightroom to create original works, you could patent the idea and hold it as a trade secret (the only problem with this is the imitations that people would try to create and you have to track them down and prove that they have infringed on your patent. Many people have died pennyless because it consumed their lives).

    To clarify again: The system for creating the photo is not included in the copyright itself. Back in the mid 1800′s when Daguerre created Daguerreotype, the images were easier to create than the earlier Heliography. Daguerre shared his process with the world, making him the most celebrated person in his day. What should we learn from this History lesson? If you want to be recognized, share.

    Just because you use the same settings, same program, even a similar photo that YOU have taken, it does not mean it is the same work or a derivative work. Now, if you take that persons photo, that’s a whole different story.

    That was longer than I thought it would be, sorry.
    -Joel

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    • This is indeed very interesting and I love the diversity in opinion.

      Just wanted to point out that Daguerre is the one famous for making the process public, but he isn’t the one that invented it :) Funny how it was used in comments here as it wasn’t a patented process and therefore he was able to publish the work and get the credits for it. Got that reading photographic history in the 80′s collection of Time Life’s La Photographie series. Very interesting.

      Back to the discussion :)

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  26. I don’t see any infringement by using someone else’s presets. Look around: After the Grammy Awards they rush to knock off the designer dresses the stars wear. Using the same guitar and amp as Eddie Van Halen doesn’t make me Eddie Van Halen. Cook up a cheeseburger and McDonald’s can’t complain.
    It’s all just part of a recipe. It’s the means to an end. The disclaimer: Not all results will be the same.

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  27. Allow me to use a lesson learnt from a fishing guide. Here on the TX coast most (99.99%) of the guides will kick you out of their boat if you try to mark their spots on GPS.

    However one guide that I fished with has a different policy. I asked him if it was ok to bring GPS along. His response “Don’t worry about it. I will email you the coordinates of where we are fishing”.

    His response shocked me so after the trip I had to ask him about this difference in opinion. He said “most guides think that it is the spot that makes fishing better. But fish are living creatures their behaviour depends on the wind, sun, weather patterns, currents, too many variables that a GPS cannot reproduce for you.”

    So moral as it applies here – take all the settings and tools you want but it is still the head behind the camera that makes the photos.

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  28. I think you nailed it when you said:

    In the end, you can’t copyright and own Vibrance=15, Clarity=52, Temp=6750. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

    and someone else said it already but i add:

    If you want to stop this to be done to your shots, strip the exif data out of your shots, the application does the same thing a human can do, but faster, are you going to sue every person who looks at your exif data then?

    there’s not much thing to do but ignore those who think this is innapropiate and tell them the two things I posted here and everyone here said.

    regards!

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  29. If anyone is worried about their presets being stolen…just export (or open) your Lightroom edited images into Photoshop and save them again there. That will take the lightroom data off of it.

    I tried out the bookmarklet for the flickr presets on my own flickr photos and it wouldn’t work, so I went into a Lightroom group on Flickr and tried it there and it worked on most of the images in the group. So I edited some of my images in Lightroom and then uploaded those right to flickr (instead of opening them in photoshop and saving again after adding my watermark like I usually do) and then the preset extractor worked.

    I wasn’t impressed with any presets I got off of Flickr anyway.

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  30. Let’s see… people upload images to flickr for the world to see and then are incensed when someone writes a utility to strip out the lightroom settings. I got a good chuckle. I agree with your post, presets and settings won’t get you the same image.

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  31. Whether it’s morally right or wrong, and whether it’s easy to dodge or not. I’ll let others discuss that.

    The interesting thing to me is copyright protection. Currently I’m reading Viral Spiral about the creative commons. I also work in an industry that is on the periphery of Intellectual Property issues and copyright.

    The Digital Millennial Copyright Act (DMCA: http://www.copyright.gov/legislation/dmca.pdf) and other actions by content producers and their agents seem to be moving in the direction of more and more restrictions and very detailed definitions of what is protected. I don’t know that the DMCA applies here, but it’s spirit if in other legislation (either current or in the future) might.

    I wouldn’t be quick to assume that LR presets would not fall under their quickly widening net. Again, I’m only peripherally aware of these issues and I’m not a lawyer, but I wouldn’t be quick to dismiss this as an area that can’t be, or even perhaps isn’t already, protected.

    by the way — my understanding is that when you agree to a Flickr account, and you agree to upload pics, you are agreeing to a certain type of creative commos license, which allows you to download for non-commercial use. If you are stripping presets out of pictures and then using that for commercial use, I wonder if you aren’t in violation of those terms. Non-commercial might be more OK, I suppose.

    More on flickr licensing here: http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/

    One quick read — if those images are loaded under an attribution license, and you strip presets and DON’T attribute the settings to the original photo taker, are you violating that license? Not sure myself, but copyright is actually a pretty murky legal issue right now.

    Personally, in reading Viral Spiral, it’s opened my eyes to the copyright wars that are brewing, and are mainly led by the giant content houses like Disney, NBC, RIAA, etc. trying to protect their businesses, but it impacts all of us who work in creative arts.

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  32. Help me out. Is anyone saying that if I use Lightroom settings of Vibrance=18, Clarity=55, Temp=6600 on my own photo and someone else used those same settings before I did on a photo that they copyrighted, then I would be violating their copyright?

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  33. I think it’s pretty cut and dry here — the person posting the photograph in a PUBLIC manner with the EXIF data included, has no reasonable expectation that any ‘trade secret’ will be ignored by the viewer, especially when the have the options of:

    1) Removing the EXIF data.
    2) Making the photograph private.
    3) Not publishing the photograph.

    The tool is not doing anything that any human couldn’t do by looking at the EXIF data and making adjustments in Lightroom.

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  34. Nicely put. Sharing is awesome. Threatening someone for sharing your preset settings? Snarky and just plain wrong. If you don’t want to “share” your presets, don’t post them online.

    Like mattk said, get over it already.

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  35. Hi Matt,

    Nice riposte. However I must clarify my meaning when I stated it doesn’t appear to require much talent to be a photographer today. I should have typed that it doesn’t take much talent to take a photograph today. Cameras with their auto-this and auto-that, auto-tone software in the box, etc, are doing all the heavy lifting for some people. I still say that if it looks like crap right off the card-delete it. Or keep it as a lesson in the importance of getting it right the first time, by studying the image, camera settings, and remembering what it was you were after when you activated the shutter release. And by considering what that discarded shot would have cost you if you were shooting film. Still, I love painting, but I will never be good at it.

    As a digital photographer who grew up with negatives, transparencies, and a fully manual SLR, the idea of shooting 300 shots to get that one great shot is unacceptable. Could you imagine the expense and waste if I did that with film? Maybe it is the purist in me but I believe that cropping and adjusting an image should be kept to an absolute minimum through great composition and spot-on exposure. Does anybody else get tired of hearing “wow, your camera takes great pictures”? Funny, I always seem to remember setting up my shot, putting the camera on the tripod, metering the scene, adjusting exposure for the mood I wanted to achieve, making the image, performing raw post-processing and finally printing the image. The camera is simply the tool used to capture the image.

    My take on ripping someone’s EXIF is that if the argument that all adjustments you make to an image are legally yours alone is valid, then it could be argued that the camera maker who installed that automatic setting in the camera firmware owns your shot. Or the piece of software that took your bad photo and made it look better owns the shot.

    I think people don’t want to share their settings because many of us believe that if they went through the process to ‘create’ the look they achieved then everybody else should be ready to go through that process as well. I agree. At least TRY to recreate that look instead of just pulling someone else’s EXIF data from the finished image that they worked hard to achieve. Technology makes it too easy to bypass the whole inspiration, technique and skill issue. Everything is too easy today and nobody seems to want to do any lifting anymore. That’s why the only things original today are our memories of what ‘original’ used to mean. Ansel Adams, anyone?

    Perhaps this analogy could be applied to the whole preset issue. I make an amazing scratch barbeque sauce that contains 22 ingredients. Anybody who samples it wants the recipe. Know what? I give it to them. Then again, they will need to produce it themselves and that hasn’t happened yet. Even if they did, they would substitute this for that or adjust the amount of whatever. Point is, it will never TASTE just the same as mine. Most prefer it ready-made in a jar anyway. Peace.

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  36. Well said, Matt… well said.

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  37. Hi Mat,

    Well said! I am with you on that. There is so much narrow mindedness out there it is sad. Like you said, sharing your work (and we usually share the great stuff we create) forces everyone else to re-evaluate their work and get better.

    I never formally “study” photography and all my know how is from watching and reading blogs and tutorials and of course taking advantage of so much free stuff people offer (presets, actions, backgrounds, styles etc.).

    Back to the legality issue…It’s a none issue. You cannot own numbers and that is all there is to it, numbers.

    I I come up with a program that can do exactly what Lightroom can do, I will probably have to use some similar codes and mathematical calculations. Adobe can do jack about it. Nothing.

    To the person that brings Apple case regarding the law suite, well, Apple is suing their own clients that “dare” to predict what is coming next on their personal blog. Apple comes up with a product for a $1,000,000 dollar and three months later puts it on “sale” for $399. That’s Apple. And just for the records, Apple did not win any of those lawsuits.

    Have a great weekend,
    Motti

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    • That reminds me of how a lot of freeware are built to look, feel and act like big brand software. Example: Gimp vs Photoshop. Granted, the first is not nearly as complex as the latter, but the fact is that the freeware imitates a lot of the other’s functionality.

      Does this relate to the topic, not sure, but thought I’d throw this out there.

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  38. I totally agree with Matt. His was a balanced viewpoint. Knowing the values for f/stop, aperture, shutter, etc. does not guarantee anything. For example, one can follow a cooking recipe to the letter and still screw it up!

    Presets are like ingredients in that recipe (and only a tiny part of the end product). A great photographer will know how to blend all those “ingredients” together and adjust to taste, while adjusting according to circumstance, etc.

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  39. I agree with everything with the exception of the use of the word “then” where “than” should have been used. grammar quirk sorry. :)

    in the good isn’t great section:

    “…photographer then it was 10 years ago” should be “…photographer than it was 10 years ago”

    excellent use of controversial issue to get opinions.

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  40. I got a good chuckle out of the comment about “not needing talent to be a good photographer”. That is just plain silly. Yes is it 2009 & we are well into the digital but PS-LR etc are post processing and a photographer should always strive for the best photo possible without the attitude “I can fix it in PS later”. With that said freaking out over someone using your vibrancy setting or shutter speed etc on your own photos is just childish. With all the tutorials out there today I am sure there is one just as close to what got this guy all bunched up.

    Like you said anyone could take your exact shutter & ap settings, locations, take a photo and apply your post processing preset to their photo and not achieve what it is you have achieved. There needs to be a vision to start with. Plus people learn by using a setting as a starting point.

    I think unless this guy strips his exif the web is not a good place for him. I do not think what Mike did was unjust, stealing or otherwise. He was sharing a post processing effect. Just as there are a million post processing effects and I am sure that the one threatening him probably learned by book, tutorial, or someone explaining it to him.

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  41. I try to be very “stealth-like” when looking at EXIF data. I put on all black and wear a hood. The differences are really 3 steps vs. 4. Either way, same ‘ol same ‘ol.

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  42. BTW Matt-

    Do you condone the use of acid wash jeans when going to the pokey? That image cracks me up.

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  43. Congrats Matt. You nailed it. And I’m so happy that someone talented like you would take a stern stand like this.

    The idea is to share. And sharing is caring.

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  44. Curiosity compels me more than anything.

    I wonder if those for the use of the Extractor and those against are divided by an age barrier. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see the ages of those posters. FTR, I am 47 and on the fence. I think the tool is like anything – a tool. A screwdriver is benign until somebody pokes you in the eye with it.

    Why you would want to create a preset from someone else’s photo and apply it is beyond me.

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  45. It’s nice to see civility and intelligence surrounding controversial topics. Nicely handled, Matt.

    If the idea that a particular combination of Exposure, Vibrance, etc. are copyrighted – or at least fall under some Intellectual Property umbrella – and can’t be used by somebody else for their photos, does that apply to other EXIF data as well? Can I prevent somebody from taking a photo at the same spot I did by publishing my GPS via EXIF? What about keywords? Can I lay claim to the keyword “landscape”?

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  46. Interesting topic and I agree that it’s a case of copyright being overdone.

    I make a significant part of my living selling my Power Workflow presets. Now obviously I don’t want my presets being copied verbatim and re-distributed, but I just have to trust my customers to be honest. I treat them right and they do the same.

    That said I see NOTHING wrong with using the same settings. Like you said. “In the end, you can’t copyright and own Vibrance=15, Clarity=52, Temp=6750.”

    Besides that the same settings will effect each photo totally differently and it will on no way be an exact copy of the source. A setting is a setting and if someone is taking the time to determine what settings were used in an image (even if they use software) I don’t see how that can be copyrighted.

    I make my money on presets because I make and support a product that works really good and saves time, not because it’s impossible for people to make their own. I think re-distributing people’s actual software tools is not fair, but using the same settings to make your own. That’s just the way things work :)

    Gavin

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  47. Photographers have been fighting to protect their work from pirates sense the beginning of photo time. But that’s for the end product not the process. The process is easily achievable with a little know how and time. This program is a good thing.

    I have never come across a photographer who will not share their process. Most of us want others to know how we did it. We are proud of what we do and rightly so. It’s like several of you have said here. If you don’t want your info out there don’t put it out there.

    “IMITATION IS THE GREATEST FORM OF FLATTERY” Thank you Matt for sticking to you guns. Finally I want to say “Take snap shots not pop shots”

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  48. I look at photos all the time on flickr and ask my self how did they do that. With a little time and effort I could and can get darn close to what I see posted on your site. Does that make me wrong to want to learn from your image, no.
    So I learned how he/she did it. So does that make my mind and time/effort illegal?

    Matt said it well, if I see what your shutter & f-stop were set at, big deal. It depends on light and the time of day, if you are using a regular lens vs. an ‘L’ lens. If your so afraid of someone “stealing” your thought process on your slider choices in lightroom then don’t ever post an image on like that some one may see. They may ask them self.. “How did he do that?”

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  49. SHARE or don’t SHOW.
    Please stop wining about other people taking deep interest in your work.
    There is fashion and style-copying in almost every aspect of life.
    There are guaranteed many photos with similar presets. To copyright them would shrink our world further.

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  50. I thought about the statement, “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery”. Devil’s advocate here but…some people may feel that imitation is the arena of the unoriginal and inept. Not my personal view but just had to throw it out there. Makes me think of Elvii, actually.

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  51. I started shooting in the last days of manual focus, and began my professional career right as Minolta and the rest were making autofocus viable. So I’ve been of various minds about the “photography is easier” in the digital age. It occurs to me though that there are still limitations, digital photography really only has improved the lives of color photographers since the flexibility of digital offers roughly the same ability to correct issues as b&w photographers had for years. You can still only save a photo if the exposure is within one or two stops and sharpening doesn’t quite make up for accurate focus.

    I think it’s interesting that so many people are apparently only interested in specific camera settings. If nothing else, to use the Mesa Arch example, where’s the fun in duplicating something that’s been photographed the same way thousands of times. I’d rather produce something that was unique to me in the first place. “Re-engineering” someone else’s photo might be a good learning experience for inexperienced photographers but outside of that I just don’t see the point.

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  52. Matt, you’ve totally nailed it. (I am reminded of when Metallica tried to copyright a chord progression.)

    If it’s the Lightroom settings of a photo that make the style, then isn’t everyone ripping off Kevin Kubota too? If a photographer is using style to make a photograph usable rather than enhancing an already good photograph, they have a lot to learn yet anyhow.

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  53. I am a avid reader of this column and hadnt got the chance to download the tool (too much work not enough play time) I also live in Europe and a professional photographer. I will say that the creator of the tool should look up the Berne Convention and EU copyright laws. During the past 5 months I have been dealing with copyright infringement and people stealing my work. So needless to say Ive been doing ALOT of reading on the net about different laws (being dual citizen i have to be sure in two countries). According to our barrister an IDEA (theme, colors etc) cannot be copyrighted THUS an infringment cannot occur. Presets, no matter if “stripped” or read from Flick´r (a CC licensed community) are essentially an idea or a process. This particular metadata info can be hidden in Lightroom if a user so chooses. Look at all the Dave Hill copycats….geeze….if he had copyrighted that process he would be ONE RICH man today from just that one “look” of a photo. I myself use Lightroom as a workflow tool. I use the presets and then take it to the next level. Tweak, test and explore is my game. I agree that photographers should get their own style but more often than not people are inspired by other photographers (back again to the Dave Hill example). I agree strongly with Matt about the fact you may have the presets but you must also then have the same exact lighting, camera, lens etc as the orginal in order to create an exact copy. If “German” and the other commentator on this thread were to actually look up the copyright laws goverened by the EU and Berne Convention they would find out that what they were writing here is actually wrong. For example, one of the persons I am dealing with in this copyright infringement (being quite angry that they can no longer use the work I created) started to “re do” her photos by getting a new photographer and taking the photo sessions all over again – same place, same pose, same hairstyle and nearly the same clothing. According to Berne, Swedish copyright laws and EU copyright laws this is actually quite legal due to the fact the photo sessions are just ideas – maybe not so ethical by the model and the new photographer. (even my nice presets that I used from Lightroom were duplicated on these new photosessions). If you dont want people to see your info on your photos then hide it, remove it or better yet just share it :) Hey Mike…read up, check it out and upload the tool again! :)

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  54. I totally agree with Matt!

    Copy right is just a protection of an image from being used or sold without the creaters consent. Just like a Painter who paints an oil canvas, you can use any color or combination of colors to create your own artistic rendition of your art. Now Adobe and all the other companies that have plugins for Lightroom have only provided a set of tools from which we can use to build our art from. There for we can’t claim ownership of those tools that we use, WE DON’T OWN THEM!! So people get over it already.. Does everyone realize that we are in an industry where anybody , speaking of non pros and everyday people here, can purchase Photoshop and learn how to use it and replace us pros? Infact they can go and buy the same cameras we all use.. Those, just like the presets everyone is complaining about and so worried over, are the tools we use to make a living. I think we should be spending our energy on more important things, like networking and maintaining an industry that retains its demand. It’s our eye and artistic vision that matters, but then how many of us have tried to replicate a pose we have seen of some other pro?

    Lets move on and beyond this preset issue,

    Ron

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  55. So let me get this straight. Using Mikes software to look at the meta data of a file and save it to a preset is considered “illegal” by some, but it’s ok to download a photo, use a file editor to look at the metadata and then recreate the preset data in this way is OK?

    What am I missing here.

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  56. I think that easier it gets to take good photos more is it the question of the artistic eye and the art of photography.

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  57. What a stellar post. Concise and point-on. Thank you for summarizing what most of us are thinking!

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  58. I sat down, took a big deep breath, and …. BRAVO. Well reasoned and eloquently put :-)

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  59. Totally agree with you Mike.
    Everybody copies, that’s how we all learn right from the time we are babies copying our parents speech or their ability to stand on their legs and walk. How we apply the information we copy is the only important thing here.

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  60. In a sense, I’m amazed that I am even commenting. Personally, I could care less. Like you basically said, you can’t copy vision, you can’t copy genius, you can’t copy creativity.

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  61. I am at a total loss as to why anybody would have issues with somebody else using their presets since it is such an insignificant part of the overall creative result. Although I am no lawyer this situation raises some interesting issues.

    Copyright is a legal monopoly to copy (duplicate) an independently developed document. This right to copy can be conferred to others using licenses. There are a few exceptions allowing unlicensed copying without a license and this includes secondary copies for personal use / backup and for quoting copyrighted material as a part of an independently developed work if this is necessary given the purpose of the work.

    On the other hand, taking lightroom preset information from a copyrighted file and incorporating them into your own work is likely illegal without the appropriate license. One main issue for copyright holders here would be proving that the presets were actually copied and not developed independently particularly given the sparse language that the presets represent. Just because something looks like the original does not mean that it was copied.

    In regards to Flickr, the license to Yahoo is rather broad but it is less clear what the license is to the end user. At a minimum it will encompass copying and storing the image and associated metadata for viewing by the end-user on their computer. So clearly looking at the metadata using some set of software tools is ok.

    Finally, it is hard to say that a SW that reads metadata and converts it to another format (lightroom presets) would be illegal to distribute (DMCA in the US would be the appropriate body of law here) since the metadata is provided at the option of the copyright holder and the format is explicitly designed to be readable (rather than encrypted) just as the picture in JPEG is designed to be readable & possible to reproduce.

    The really interesting part of this topic is that the presets could potentially be interpreted as software since they essentially are instructions to be executed by a computer so in essence we are distributing a ‘snipplet’ of software along with the images. Then you can also ask what the difference is between lightroom presets and feeding your DSLR (yes it is a computer) with the instruction 1/250 f8 as copied from somebody elses file.

    Right now the lightroom presets represent a rather sparse software language but looking forward a few years, that might no longer be the case. Clearly, the more ‘presets’/software that gets embedded into images the greater the chance for copyright infringement (inadvertent or not).

    The fact is that the intellectual property laws are much older than the technology that they are trying to regulate and the courts will continue to struggle with their application. It is just a matter of time before somebody to sues somebody else over 1/250 f8…

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  62. Good post Matt. I live in NM, does that mean I can re-shoot Adams Moonrise and make $ from it? Let’s get real. It’s the photographer’s vision that makes the image. It’s not what I do with it in post processing. I shoot a lot of sports images. For me it’s not the razzel dazzel post processing, it’s the model. Great model, great images. It’s fun to play with the post processing and do something different. But, if the shot is garbage to begin with no “Magic Preset” will make it into a great image.
    I used Dr. Brown’s faux HDR on a couple images that I think look kind of cool. But, the images stand by themselves without manipulation.
    Anyway, love the blog and I do play with your presets.
    Thanks for sharing

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  63. Wait…..I created a program that has ran through every possible combination of settings in Lightroom and has created every possible preset. I have fast tracked it through the U.S. copyright office and now am the copyright owner of them all……..everyone else is in violation and can expect to hear from my Attorneys by the end of next week.
    Cue evil laughter…..Bwahhhahahahahahahaha.
    Not.
    Thanks Matt for the great blog.

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  64. Well, have got my flickr api key, will code up a replacement in the next few days and release its source code. If people don’t want exif data read, they can strip it out.

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  65. A couple of things strike me about this debate. There is the legal and moral side to this. It may be perfectly legal to copy something, but how moral is it?

    Many people it seems are too lazy to learn how to do things themselves and will happily nick someone else’s setting/ideas rather than come up with their own ideas or put in the effort of learning how to use software. The develop module in LR is not exactly hard to use, rather than waste time nicking other’s ideas why not play around with the setting and actually learn something?
    People may say where’s the harm and use the Dave Hill look as an example. I’d say that is a good example of where an interesting style developed by someone as a signature style became copied, usually poorly, which then also devalued the original look as it quickly became overused and passe. Same thing with Planets,HDR and tilt shift.
    Some have justified the nick presets tool as OK as if you have an eye or talent for such things you can reverse engineer the results. That maybe true, if you are talented, doing such things is not a problem at least some native skill was employed built on earned knowledge, but letting the lazy no-talents water down the creativity of others, by copying with no effort on their own part….

    I’ve always been happy to teach people and show them tricks, but something like presets or photoshop actions, I would not give away as they take time and effort to create and no time or effort on the part of others to then reuse ad nauseum. I will show students how to create presets/actions, no problem, but if people simply want to push a button to get a perfect end result, then they are a waste of time teaching in my eyes, as they have no art or creativity in the first place. Being inspired by someone’s work is fine, copying it with no creativity on your own part is not so fine. Anything interesting or unsual these days is instantly pounced on with the no-talents asking online ‘where is the preset so I can steal this style?’

    Something similar that’s really been bugging me of late is when I set up exterior shoots, usually unusual and different, I get people coming up and taking shots over my shoulder. Not only is it parasitical, but I bet they’d be really annoyed if I came into their place of work, invading their personal space, interfering and copying what they are doing. Next time someone does that, they will be politely told where to go.

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  66. As for the spineless defence of if you do not want your data stolen, then you shouldn’t not have put it online. I would like to leave windows of my house open in summer to get a cool breeze, but I daren’t do so as there in case light fingered muppets are around. Seems like people who would never countenance theft in meat space have no qualms about it online. Plus many people may not realised they’ve left the ‘door unlocked’, EXIF data is not always removed when preparing for web/uploading and many people may not realise such detailed data is present in images.

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  67. Heh, all I can think of to say is your last thought reminds me of the Eagles tune. Love that song!

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  68. There’s one thing that I have a problem dealing with in this discussion: If the settings of a photo has no meaning, why does the tool exist? Wouldn’t just the eye be enough to read exactly HOW a picture has been developed? Of course not. So, all you people saying that a photo is so much more than a preset: You are right. But, at the same time you should admit that the presetripper tool actually does things that would be almost impossible to reproduce just using the eyes. There are a lot of things that has been possible to do thanks to “digitallity”. Does it mean that everything possible should be legal? No, I don’t think so. It’s great to be inspired. Matt has made me a better photographer and inspired me a lot. But I would never rip his work without his permission. To me that is essential in this discussion. I guess the rule in our digital world is “If don’t want to share it, don’t publish it”. People will always use published work in some kind of way. If it’s good? No. Impossible to stop? Yes.

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  69. I believe the opinions shared here reflect two major personality traits or levels of personal development.

    Either you are relaxed and confident about yourself and your work, be it talented or only achieved trough hard work
    or
    you are one who struggle to create an impression of being special, although not necessarily without talent.

    The former shares happily anything – because he knows from within he is special, the latter nervously protects anything that could threaten the very thin layer of carefully arranged imaginary talent.

    Hopefully time will help the latter and self-confidence will slowly sink in thus becoming a person who happily accepts people shooting over his shoulder.

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  70. Hey Matt,

    Great post and good points. I am definitely in agreement with you on this whole preset discussion — but more importantly the fact that having fancy presets does not MAKE a photographer — sure it makes photos appear more interesting, but if the right photo was never captured up front — it doesn’t matter if you apply a fancy preset.

    I think that most photographers who download and use other people’s presets likely tweak a few settings before the print / publish an image. I am a huge fan of the presets you have shared on your site — but will definitely attest to the fact that I rarely apply a preset and end up happy with an image — it usually requires a few more tweaks (hue, saturation, white bal, something…).

    At any rate — there is defintely no harm in having a discussion like this — if anything, it gets more of us thinking about things that we likely wouldn’t have given a second thought to.

    Thanks Matt! BTW – I am heading out to my first Photoshop World this October and I am definitely looking forward to meeting you in person!

    Take care,

    Kris

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  71. To me, what makes a photographer great is not just the photographs they produced yesterday, but the anticipation of all the photographs they will continue to produce tomorrow. This anticipation… their unique brand… can’t be copied.

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  72. Matt,
    Flickr allows you to have your photos either Public or Private. If a person does not want his Presets or Data used, all they have to do is make their photos PRIVATE – Or at least fo family or friends only.

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  73. totally agree. how can one copyright the settings of a program, which he/she didn’t develop? some people on adobe exchange even sell the presents. is this crazy or what? i guess some people just can’t stop thinking about making money from the beginners, selling them the stuff they could come up by themselves later as they work more with the program.

    thanks for all the tutorials, Matt. they really rock. not a lot of lightroom tutorials posted lately, though.

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  74. Att – MathLind. Nothing like a bit of cod psychology to back up a bogus black or white point of view is there and to get some sly insults in as well? There are many shades of personality, assuming people are either… or…. is a tad naive. And usually such silly analysis is more informative about the person doing it, than those being commented on.

    Personally – I’m not lacking in confidence [normally I am more likely to be accused of the exact opposite] and often have people gushing over my work as it is special in their eyes too, not just mine! ;-) I just do not like parasites who have no talent of their own ripping off others. It devalues what those who have vision or ability produce. I’ve had people try to copy my work, poorly and then be given credit for their ‘unusual’ images by those who haven’t seen my better work that it was actually derived from. If my work is then seen subsequently, it is assumed to be a copy of the work they first saw, regardless of who actually came first.
    If I see something I like and done well, I don’t simply try and copy it, I try to do something different from it. I’m inspired by other’s work to do creative work of my own, not to clone it. If I have an idea and discover it’s already been done, I try + think of a new idea. But I’m also sure some of my ‘original’ ideas have been done somewhere else by others whose work I have not seen. Very hard for that not to be the case in an art form that is as old as photography and practiced so widely.

    Normally I’d post under my real name with website linked to back up my claims of photographic ability, but seeing as this thread is full of people who think it’s OK to sponge off others, I decided to use a pseudonym instead.

    Att Sara – Anybody’s style can be copied, usually poorly which is the problem. It’s creating the unique style in first place that is difficult. Now as soon as something new is produced, the web is buzzing with people asking “how is that done?”, “where’s the action/preset to copy so and so’s style?’ and people trying to reverse engineer the look or the technique to feed this insatiable demand. Up to a point there is nothing wrong with this, people have always learnt from others and by deconstruction. But now it less a case of wanting to learn how to, more a case of wanting a plugin/preset/action to do it for them and with the web, now it’s everyone in the world looking at and copying each other as it is much easier to do so.

    When it comes to teaching or passing on knowledge, I’m very much a believer in teaching fundamentals, so you can create/do whatever you want. As opposed to giving an off the shelf solution, like in this case presets. Auto focus, auto exposure, teaches one very little, learn full manual control and then you can utilize the auto features much better as you understand what is actually going on, rather than simply point and [s]pray as too many do these days.

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  75. Years ago I was taking some photography courses at a local college, one of the exercises the instructor took us through, was having a tripod set up and have each student place their camera on the tripod with specific settings (all students used the same settings) and shot the scene. And while we all shot the same scene with the same settings, the end result varied greatly. In large part to how we saw fit to process the image.

    I think a photographers style and artistic vision cannot be copied even if the scene can. I think it’s sad that we have to go to such great lengths to protect our hard work from people, who can not, or are not, willing to discover or develop their own style. I’ve always said “always give credit where credit is due”, is that too much to ask?

    Great piece Matt, and some very thoughtful replies, gives us all something to think about!

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  76. A spot on post…a voice of sanity is this otherwise sometimes mean and often confusing world! Thanks for a voice of reason.

    Keep up the good work!

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  77. 100% with ya. If someone are scared of a setting being copied then they are lame photographers. Photography is an art and there is no substitute for a good image than technology can provide.

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  78. What is the difference between learning lighting, exposure, composition, presets, etc. from others? We all have learned our craft from others who have put in alot of work to help us get better at what we do. Just because we live in an age where we are more informed and have greater access through technology, let’s not get it twisted – we all are copying our techniques from forefathers and foremothers of photographers who have gone before us. Let’s not get too arrogant to think that we are so good that our stuff is “an original.” There is nothing new under the sun. Enjoy life, enjoy your passion, enjoy the people around you and you won’t have enough time to worry about what others are gaining from your images. Our maybe you’ll have enough time to enjoy that people care about your images.

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  79. I believe ”troyhark” has makes a good job in describing the pain in getting your work and effort torn down by spineless copycats trying to pinch credit. However, copycats will remain copycats and originality will always win in the long run. I guess people who are in the beginning of their career suffer the most.
    When it comes to photography, I myself lack talent but photography makes me happy. This is truly the case and one may therefore rightly say: -It’s easy for you to share when you have nothing to lose. – Yes but let me explain:
    I’m fortunate enough to work in a company who is setting the path in an area of physics. From day one, the CEO stated that his philosophy is: share and thereby gain respect. Although not quite comfortable with exposing the magic to our competitors, I had to get used to it.
    Today, seven years later, we flourish like never before and I’m convinced that by sharing your “precious tricks”, you don’t give away the body of knowledge necessary to produce them. No one can take that away from you. So my point is, try not to worry too much about snitchers, just keep on working, share and inspire others and push yourself to become even better.
    That said, extracting presets in order to steal fame isn’t going to work but may well serve as a great source of knowledge, just like this site, Flickr and many many others.

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  80. If it were possible to own Lightroom Presets, I’m sure Adobe would be the owner of them all. They would just write it into the user agreement.

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  81. Like someone said

    “It is forbidden to forbidden”

    Ken in KY

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  82. Matt, never posted before but was drawn to the subject….in you comments about copying….lets consider back beyond recorded history, in the cave,gag to much smoke, the othert guy has marked the wall with a red stuff on a stick and looks like deer better than mine …wow I’ll try that instead!….go to any art gallery anywhere as long as they have existed….there have always been people there looking and also others trying to “copy the master”! and when they were young or aspiring they did it to! Finally! I’ve listened and watched you and learned…I’m twice your age and you have helped make me better! Are they getting it?

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  83. You guys are all keeping me amused! Thanks :oD

    Actually I am starting to wonder though, maybe *some* of you are serious…

    The first post I read on the first set of comments (a post from Dan) was a fun jibe! Dan – you really have to stop kidding about with people who can’t tell that you’re kidding about!

    Cheers to you all from a very wintery Wellington, NZ

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  84. The really interesting part of this topic is that the presets could potentially be interpreted as software since they essentially are instructions to be executed by a computer

    Not any more than an Excel spreadsheet a Word document or the actual JPEG image data itself. DATA that is interpreted by a program is NOT software; it’s data.

    – Mitch

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  85. Okay — that last one didn’t format so well, so I’m trying again.

    > The really interesting part of this topic is that the
    > presets could potentially be interpreted as software

    Not any more than an Excel spreadsheet a Word document or the actual JPEG image data itself. DATA that is interpreted by a program is NOT software; it’s data.

    – Mitch

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  86. Dear Matt,
    Talking about presets – something else came to my mind. I don’t know if this has already been aswered in one of your tips:
    Is there any way to define a default slideshow preset for ALL of your albums inside of Lightroom?
    Thank you for your excellent work :-)
    Uwe

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  87. As I review this debate, I cannot help but be reminded of Tomasz Opasinski’s Guest Blog for Scott Kelby (Apr 22 ’09).

    An equally interesting question is: What will you LEARN by stealing LR presets? The potential for learning from someone else’s metadata is great, but duplication will never equal experimentation and an understanding of the software. “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

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  88. You know, it’s funny. I think one of the reasons I enjoy doing people photography (candid, casual stuff) is that I know it won’t be copied – my style is mine. People can copy all the technical stuff, but you need an eye to shoot at just the right time.

    Don’t get me wrong, you can definitely have an eye for outdoor photography and get some stunning photos, but those are so much easier to copy. And anyone can do it if they figure out lighting, settings, location, etc. There is nothing wrong with it – well, except you lose your artistic rights to saying you shot this amazing shot when you copied someone else exactly.

    It reminds me of a class I took with an amazing local photographer. He’d written a book on taking photos in the outdoors and broke it down to a step by step process basically extracting out all the art. It was sort of depressing.

    So in my estimation, the numbers and the technical side can definitely take a photo to a new level, but those things can’t be owned. It’s the art behind it, the artistic eye that adds that something special, not the settings on the camera or the software.

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  89. I was one of the unlucky ones that followed the link to late. As i’m sure others said before me, if there are legal issues in other countries to worry about, couldn’t he just require an “OK” stating they are in the USA (from what I understand this is not a copyright issue) and release him of legal responsibility? Or something to that effect.

    I can understand the side of the preset developer that is selling their preset to make money, but someone else could create that exact preset without realizing it. As much as we’d like to believe we are original, there are others out there with the same ideas. Only now that the Internet has grown to this proportion do we realize there are others like us.

    I agree 100% that just because you use a preset, doesn’t mean you’re going to have a great photo. There are so many factors that go into making a great photo, and applying a preset is not going to make it award winning. Each preset will act differently with each photo. Personally, I wish I had been able to try this. There are some looks that I just wish I knew what was going on…from there I would have to tweek and make it my own. But to have a start…that would be wonderful. I hope he’s able to repost it.

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  90. Really liked your post Matt. Spot on in my opinion.

    “Note: Remember. Before you click the Submit button on your comment take a deep breath. Read it again and make sure you’re not a meanie.”

    an ending which I will remember .

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  91. Thanks for an excellent post. Clear and concise, good to know.

    Some useful comments here too, although here in Zimbabwe the law is an ass and worth nothing to anyone.

    You really would have an Orwellian society if you could copyright ideas and protect them in law… Thought crime, etc, etc.

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  92. This was a very nicely summarised piece, Matt!
    The argument was very sound and it highlights how silly we’ve all become over rights for this and that!
    Yes – those who are destined to be great (and are willing to work hard and not whinge about life too much) will be great.
    We are still all a bunch of silly monkeys, after all!
    ; )

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  93. I agree with the settings part, what I have a problem with is that as much as I want people to be able to see my work and critique it, give me feedback, bow to my skills (j.k.) I DON’T WANT MY WORK STOLEN.

    Unfortunately, there’s no way to show your work on the web and have it fully, 100% protected from copying. Even a Flash layout can be “print screened”.

    How do y’all feel about that? Do you post your pics to the Web without concern that they may end up somewhere else without as much as a mention that you were the photographer?

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  94. I’ve had work stolen out of one of my galleries and used by a major national publication, so in future a logo will be added to all images posted online. Only found the article and images by accident, but will be sending them a large invoice for their trouble.

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  95. Matt’s correct that you can’t copyright certain settings for a particular recipe. However blatantly ripping off someone’s recipe, making minor tweaks, & renaming it to call it your own is stealing. And any well-versed Lightroomer will recognize it if/when they come across the stolen material. Regardless of what the law states, “ethically” there’s a fine line when it comes to copyright infringement (specifically in terms of stealing someone’s artistic vision). A truly talented Lightroomer may find inspiration from the artisitc vision of their contemporaries, but in the end “your own” talent is validated by implementing your own creative twist. In other words, take advantage of inspirational artisitic vision but use your own creative ingenuity to bring forth something original. Otherwise, get out of the preset developer sandbox.

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  96. Of course it isn’t considered copying. Matt Kloskowski is the Kevin Kubota of Lightroom with 1000 presets. You don’t see Matt getting sued by copying Kevin. Matt’s The new Ben Willmor of HDR. With new DVD’s and a photoshop world class on HDR, you don’t see Ben Willmor suing Matt.

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  97. Of course it isn’t considered copying. Matt Kloskowski is the Kevin Kubota of lightroom with 1000 presets. You don’t see Matt getting sued by copying Kevin. Matts The new Ben Willmor of HDR. With new DVDs and a photoshop world class on HDR, you dont see Ben Willmor suing Matt.

    Or how about RIchard Lynch’s Layers Book? … oh wait I meant Matt’s. He didnt copy that one either. Why do I think I see a pattern?

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  98. What people fait to mention here is that Shooting a photo and developing it are 2 different step and often done by different people in the real world.

    I can’t see how “so-called” pros can justify ripping (ethical) in any sense?

    As for Matt being sued by Ben Willmore? Never going to happen. Don’t forget Colin Smith and Christian Bloch who are also huge in HDR and have been “copied”. Will they sue? I doubt it. Does that mean they are happy about it?

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  99. I especially like Matt’s call to end meany-ness. I personally think that the notion that extracting exif data into a preset is unethical is misguided. The analogy with the open door to your house (for those who don’t realize what their metadata reveals) is misguided, since nothing of substance is being stolen. Using a preset garnered from a great photo will not make a good photo out of a boring one. I use presets to help me understand how Lightroom works — I’m always interested in what can be done. I’m grateful to those who make them available and am willing to pay for collections of them.

    One thing thought — the example of the generic drug is problematic, since the generics aren’t allowed until some period of use for the original manufacturer expires.

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  100. Like many others here, I stumbled in here as a link to the debate going on here.

    As a professional who publishes a lot of material, whether it’s photography, art, music, articles, books, videos, etc… I’m a little sensitive to copyright infringement issues. But beyond that, I find this commentary a somewhat sad statement of the global acceptance of this kind of activity.

    I say that not merely as a “shame on you” to anyone, but more from a point of principle – which clearly doesn’t seem to register with the masses here. There’s more than just what’s just legal at stake here.

    Sure, people want to imitate and copy from others (as one person referred to, “the masters”) and what we do as authors and training professionals, will help people achieve many of the techniques and tools to produce similar looks, effects, styles, etc. that are comparable to “the masters” – whether it’s a cool grunge effect or an animation technique that’s commonly seen on TV.

    But we haven’t stolen anything to then pass it on to you. We’ve created a workflow and a series of techniques to show you how to imitate that look or style. It may be very close to how the original was done, but nobody gave it to us and we sure didn’t take it.

    So what’s the problem with “lifting” metadata from someone’s artwork or photo file? Well, did they give it to you? Were they providing it as instruction for how they achieved a specific effect or style?

    What have we all become in the world of rapidly-progressing technology, that allows us to create more content at break-neck speeds. We all want more and we want it know. Unfortunately, QUALITY creative work takes time. It takes skill. It takes practice. So often I witness people that want to learn everything instantly – buy the tools and the “open up my head and dump in the information” ala “the Matrix”.

    But here again a saying comes to mind:
    “A man buys a camera and instantly, he’s a photographer. But a man buys a violin, is just another guy with a violin.”

    So again, if the metadata is there to be intentionally shared and offered as some kind of guide for shooting specific stylized images or presets in color correction, etc… then by all means, let the masses be informed. But to extract it without consent is nothing short of a digital date rape.

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  101. I gave up on password protecting my site, stripping metadata and all that jazz long ago. Times have changed. We all share now, whether we like it or not. I wouldn’t have looked over Ansel Adams shoulder, that would be somehow different. “How did you do that?” is a normal and less invasive question now.

    If I’m excited about something I learned from you or Scott Kelby, I might mention it on my blog with your names all over the place, but I wouldn’t pretend I thought of it or learned it on my own.

    You are right with your key point… someone else’s setting are only a crude starting point for your own photos. That crude starting point can be a big help, but it’s exactness stopped being usable on the creator’s photo.

    Do I think one person should sell or receive any gain from someone else’s work, absolutely not. Ideas and inspiration are now and have always been everywhere. Is it easier now to take great pictures, Yes it is. Is it easier to take great and memorable photographs, no, not at all.

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  102. The problem with stripping metadata is that you also remove your copyright info and that can bite later if people steal you images because of the Orphan Works Act. (You are aware of that right?) Personally I don’t care if people know my metadata.

    But Ripping is another matter, it’s become an epidemic on the web. If we all sit by and attack people that care about their privacy, what does that make us? So if your photos get stolen by someone on google images. Don’t complain. No I say, its up to us. Sorry guys, I can’t agree with ripping, even if it’s “harmless.” If you want to know my settings, just ask and Ill tell you. Wanna knowhow I did something? Ask and Ill gladly share. Want to use one of my images? Sure, but please ask first.

    I don’t see anything illegal going on here, but I do see something very rude.

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  103. Scott Kelby wrote a book called “Scott’s Kelby 7 Point system” in which he explains 7 things that you need to do to your pictures so they will come up looking as good or better than his pictures. He did not patented those things… If anything, those “things” will belong to ADOBE!!!

    It’s incredible that some people will resort to this type of behavior in an attempt to protect something that if anybody tries long and hard will be able to copy just by looking at the picture.

    Thousand upon thousands of canvas artist have become what they have become by standing and learning from the ones that came before them…

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  104. OMG – Some really far out views here (although I’m not going to preneted I read even half the replies).

    To think that some settings in Lightroom could be subject to copyright is frankly laughable. It’s conceivable that someone could try to apply a patent to a certain combination of settings used to create a certain effect but I doubt it would ever get granted, it just not unique.

    If you were to publish your settings and someone coppied that writing word for word as their own work that would be copyright infringement. However if someone read that article and used the settings that is just learning.

    If you went to a restaurant and afterwards tried to recreate the dish at home would that be copyright infringement as well? No.

    This tool is nothing more than ab agregator for this information that people have published, like google news, putting the information that is out there in an easier to use format. Its not illegal, its not even rude, its just usefull and I hope it goes back up so I can learn from it.

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  105. @Patrick

    The programm in question does not extract information stealthily. It automatically retrieves information published openly by the photographer. It does it without the photographer knowing but if he posts the picture on a public forum (like flickr) he consents to people looking at the picture.

    Also even though you may think it (at least in Germany) you do not have complete control over your works. If you publish a picture i may copy and print it as much as i want, as long as it is for my private use. And coming back to that tool – virtually every user of this tool will use it for private purposes since a pro will use his own settings and know how to achieve the effect he wants.

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  106. Personally, I am grateful for presets shared by others. I look at them as a jumping off point for own education. I accept them “as is” and know that my mileage will vary if I use them.

    I notice the video on How to Install Presets has been taken down. Is that a glitch or intentional?

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  107. “steal my exif” but you won’t wind up with my images. If you think you will, good luck with that.

    We all should try to learn from each other, but don’t kid yourself – it’s more than just “settings” that make good images.

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  108. I only want to comment on the drug company example and point out that it actually may not a good example. If a drug company develops a new drug, which does take quite a bit of time and money in the R&D process, then they are rewarded with a patent that protects anyone else from coming a replicating that drug and selling it for cheaper for a set number of years (around 10 yrs, but can’t remember exactly). These are enforceable and usually successfully so. After that time then anyone can duplicate and sell that product for any price they wish.

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  109. I should also add that the process (algorithm, or in this case a series of presets) to generate something is not copyrightable. Processes however are patentable, if you want protection on your process you can go ahead and patent that, but it is not automatic. And like pharmaceuticals, you would be required to disclose the process to the public, and the patent would expire in ~20 years.

    Now a specific look with a specific subject (regardless of the process to get it) could be covered by trademark. Keep in mind that, like a patent, it is not automatic: you would need to get it trademarked and and there are fairly specific rules about enforcing and protecting it.

    As many have pointed out, if I managed to take a photo that was strikingly similar, so similar that people would confuse them, then you might be violating some copyrights. But this would also require the two photos look very similar and the actual process probably would not even matter.

    I am not a lawyer, I just play one on the internet.

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  110. Well I plugged in all the lightroom settings, I even used the same camera settings but my image looks nothing like the onese I was trying to copy

    Oh, wait, do I have to take the lens cap off? That wasnt in the meta (instructions) now what do I do?

    I have no great use for presets other than learning the general effects of combinations of settings, for as Matt said without the original source material the outcome will always be different.

    Lightroom “Settings” as property, completely Laughable, good luck with that one in court. Might as well copyright the temperature and time that you bake cookies for, or better yet directions from point a to point b.

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  111. Photographers who cannot, or do not, adapt to the fact they now live in a digital world will fail. It’s that simple.

    Continue to be judged by the sum of your parts.

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  112. Many individuals from other countries do not consider plagiarism as wrong, they just see it as another great idea that they should do as well. I am not excusing them, rather, I am just guessing why it happens. This Lightroom preset ordeal is not the first and unfortunately not the last of its kind.

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  113. I’ve been playing around with this tool on Flickr, and I’m finding a pattern. The photos I like most, from which I’d like to know the preset, invariably have left the EXIF data intact. Those photos I don’t care for, or are only marginally good, almost always have the data stripped from them. Gee……I wonder what this means?

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