image licensing

Image licensing: Can I take pictures of everything and just publish them?

As a photographer, you’re probably somewhat familiar with image rights – what can you legally photograph and publish, and what can you not? LAPIXA is going tell you about what you as a photographer have to know to avoid legal conflicts.

When it comes to buildings and artwork, there’s Freedom of Panorama (FOP)

You want to photograph a famous building or artwork? That’s when FOP comes in. FOP means that you are allowed to take pictures in public places and subsequently distribute them (commercially).

Now, where in Germany selling photos of permanently publicly displayed art is ok; in the US it is not. Only artwork in the public domain, which means it’s been created in 1923 or before, can be reproduced and sold commercially, more recent artwork cannot.

Photographers who want to use photos of architecture are allowed to take images of facades of buildings erected 1990 or prior. The buildings have to be visible from a public space.

If you photograph inside a private post-1990 building without a permission, the copyright owner can charge you with infringement. As long as you’re not violating any privacy laws, you are allowed to take photos of the interior of an architectural structure.

But let’s say there’s a copyrighted artwork inside the building or somewhere on its grounds, such as a statue in the backyard. Snapping a photo of said statue and selling it may also result in a copyright claim.

The law says:

“The copyright in an architectural work that has been constructed does not include the right to prevent the making, distributing, or public display of pictures, paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations of the work, if the building in which the work is embodied is located in or ordinarily visible from a public place.”
— 17 U.S. Code § 120(a)

Also, here is a helpful list of copyrighted landmarks that can’t be in a photo you’re planning to sell.

What you have to consider when taking pictures of other people

Generally, as long as you are in a public space, meaning streets, sidewalks, or parks, you are allowed to take pictures of whatever and whoever you want. That’s why paparazzi can sell their images of celebrities to tabloids and make bank.

The exception of this are obviously public bathrooms or dressing rooms, because a person there secluded him-/herself intentionally. There were enough creeps doing this, so in 2004, the US had to enact the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act.

In case of a public location being an exception to the rule, you will most likely see a notice or an image which states that you’re prohibited from taking photos.

You are also allowed to shoot photos of crime scenes or fires as long as you don’t obstruct legal authorities.

Images taken in public spaces can be used as art or even sold to newspapers; however, you can’t use a photo with a recognizable person to promote a product. That means, if a big brand asks you if they can buy and use your photo, you have to get permission from the subject as well. Therefore, stock photo websites require model releases.

If your photographs are considered immoral or endanger children or invade someone’s privacy, they can be restricted.

Private or commercial? Image rights of brand products and logos

You are allowed to photograph and publish brand logos but only for non-commercial use. Think of someone posting their Starbucks morning coffee on Instagram. Which brand would say no to free promotion? Better yet, brands pay influencers to post their logo!

However, if a brand has copyrighted or otherwise trademarked their logo (or sometimes the brand name), this logo cannot show in an image you plan to sell because this would count as a copyright violation.

For a list of brands, such as adidas, Hershey’s or Scrabble, who have copyrighted their name, logo, etc., please refer to this link.

A sensitive issue: children’s image rights

As mentioned earlier, as long as you’re in a public place, taking and even publishing pictures of children is allowed. School districts protect children by prohibiting photography and videography on their grounds.

Selling images with children in them requires a written consent form signed by the child’s legal parent or guardian.

Wedding photography: Who owns the copyright of the images?

Wedding photography is a case of “work made for hire,” as Section 101 of the US Copyright Act defines it and thus, even if you as the photographer created the work, your work belongs to your employer. That’s why it’s important to create a contract that allows you to publish or sell your client’s wedding photos, which includes a model release.

This brochure by the US Copyright Office provides you with further information.

It is essential to protect and respect image rights! LAPIXA makes sure that your image rights are protected. With us, you can cover up license rights violations and enforce your legal rights. Find more information at lapixa.com/photographers/