Know Your Rights and Limitations When You Photograph Property

In general, if property is visible and can be photographed from a public place, you don’t need a property release to use the image in any manner. This exclusion to copyright law includes buildings located on the property, but not statues or other items that may have separate copyrights. There also are restrictions on some governmental property for security purposes, such as federal seals and insignia, and military or nuclear installations. But if the statue or copyrighted item has minimal presence in your image, your photo still may fall under the exclusion. Otherwise, you must get permission to use the image for commercial purposes.

Nevertheless, some companies have tried to prevent the use – both commercially and editorially – of photographs of their buildings or objects via trademark protection or contract law. Examples include the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the lone Cypress tree at Pebble Beach, CA, and the “Hollywood” sign. While these attempts have been unsuccessful, they can be expensive to litigate. Is it worth it to you to spend thousands of dollars to test this issue? That’s a choice you’ll have to make.

On the other hand, photographers should protect their rights, too. Don’t be intimidated from photographing what is within your legal rights. Check with an attorney to fully understand and exercise your privileges.

Take my advice; get professional help.

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