Improvement On An Idea

Fifty Shades of Grey Photo

Photographers have more fun because we work in 256 shades of grey, not “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Criticized by such notables as Dr. Drew, Salman Rushdie, and even The Huffington Post, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, The Telegraph, plus others, the book “Fifty Shades of Grey” is considered controversial in the literary world for poor prose, and possible copyright issues. We’ll leave the latter to the courts should that ever arise, but I will say, the author, E.L. James, was obviously inspired at some point by the “Twilight” series from novelist Stephanie Meyer.

James, whose real name is Ericka Mitchell, is chastised by some critics that her Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy of books originated from her own “fan fiction,” Master of the Universe, based on the Twilight series. Many critics claim copyright issues, though Meyer has not taken any action. Perhaps Meyer is flattered that Mitchell arose from her Twilight “foundation,” and takes it as a compliment, or perhaps Meyer is just waiting for the upcoming film, Fifty Shades of Grey, to make its box office debut this coming month to increase her potential claims.

Either way, it’s controversial. According to The New York Review of Books, “Jane Litte…compared Master of the Universe with the Fifty Shades trilogy using Turnitin, a plagiarism-detection program. She found that the texts were 89 percent identical and posted sample passages, chosen at random, in which little more than the characters’ names had been changed—from Edward to Christian, and Bella to Ana.

Many photographers are inspired by other photographers in photography, as I’m sure writers are by other writers, but the difference is, I’m not aware of any “fan fiction” when it comes to photography. Fan fiction is a popular phenomena made popular with the Internet where fans write “about characters or settings from an original work of fiction, created by fans of that work rather than by its creator.” states, “Fan fiction is rarely commissioned or authorized by the original work’s creator or publisher, and is rarely professionally published.” Many argue that fan fiction is not protected under “fair use.” Again, we’ll leave that to the courts to figure out.

If we take an original photo from another photographer and duplicate 89 percent of it, more than likely it’s considered copyright infringement in any court of law. The literary world is  subject to copyright infringement claims too, but what if a photographer takes someone else’s photo or photography concept and improves upon it? Is this what happened to James in her Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy of books? Was it improvement on the Twilight series.

Hard to say but Twilight had it’s own success before Fifty Shades of Grey with record sales and several movie adaptations, but one thing for sure, both are based on romance novels and draw on many similarities. It’s not uncommon for painters or photographers to draw upon concepts from their colleagues and many photographers have recreated photos from past masterpieces of other artists—though what matters here is the “use” of such replications.

A photo recreated for commercial profit is not the same as a photo recreated for non-commercial use like a photographer’s private portfolio or an editorial. It’s a grey area, no pun intended, but it’s always safer to draw inspiration from another person’s work plus make it better than to totally recreate a copy—besides, nobody likes copy cats! Stealing ideas in the arts is not hard or uncommon, but expanding on those ideas and making them better is the real challenge plus that leans more to inspiration than actual theft.

Most photographers are often inspired by the work of others, as my inspiration draws from my mentor, Robert Farber, plus that of Helmut Newton, Jeanloup Sieff and a few others. Perhaps I should read the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy of books since I hear the book has an erotic romance flavor? Oh wait, I already add some of that plus my photojournalism background into my photos, though my true inspiration is my muse and true love, Heather Carden.

In one of my previous articles, “Inspiration Comes From Challenge,” I cover that inspiration for photographers comes in two types, instilled inspiration and incomplete inspiration, so I will not repeat what I cover there, however, inspiration is important for anyone in the creative fields. And when it comes to inspiration, I’d recommend you study other photographers’ work that you love, or that inspires you, but don’t copy it, just draw from it and find a better way to improve upon it.

Who knows, you just might wind up successful like E.L. James with her Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy of books. With that I close, and as always, please don’t forget the men and women who serve to protect our country. God Bless them, their friends and family, Rolando.

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