Sunday, August 15, 2010

Legal Issues Selling Or Using Stock Photos of Buildings Or Landmarks by Kathy Burns-Millyard

If you are trying to break into selling your photography as stock photos, or you're a small business who has recently discovered the joy of using low cost stock photography in your print or online publications, there are a variety of legal issues you need to know about. In this article we'll address a specific area of architecture: Buildings and Landmarks.

Not many people know this, but lots of new buildings are copyrighted or trademarked these days. Technically the buildings themselves may not be, but the designs of those buildings are. And if you try to sell stock photography which includes those buildings, you can be sued by the copyright or trademark holder.

The same applies to businesses who try to use those photos for their own advertising and marketing materials. Regardless of where you got the photo - or how much you paid for it - if the original stock photographer did not get a property release, then you are using the photos illegally, and this will usually get you wrapped up in a lawsuit with large amounts of money involved.

Trademarked building designs aren't the only things to worry about though. In almost any city or town across the world, you'll find a variety of statues, monuments, and other public artwork displays... and these are usually covered by copyright protection too. In some cases, statues and monuments are considered public domain because they're a government commissioned display. In other cases however, regardless of who commissioned the work, the original artist holds the copyrights.

Thankfully stock photo agencies do a great job of not allowing photos to be placed in their database if they may violate a copyright or trademark agreement. No one is perfect however, so some things slip in and get put up for licensing even when they shouldn't be. There are many websites around which have comprehensive lists of trademarked buildings and landmarks, and some of them also list those which might be problematic but no one is certain about.

Here's a few examples of common or popular architecture which could be covered by copyright and trademark laws:

- The Eiffel Tower: Only the nighttime light display is copyrighted. Daytime photos of The Eiffel Tower are still allowed to be sold and used for commercial photography purposes.

- The Sears Tower: Photos which feature this building cannot be sold for commercial purposes. In some cases a cityscape which happens to include the tower as a small part of the photo might be acceptable.

- Various Zoos, Theme Parks, and Aquariums: Entry tickets to many of these attraction explicitly state that no commercial photography is allowed.

See Kathy's excellent stock photography at

©2008, Kathy Burns-Millyard

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