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Trademarks and Copyrights in Stock Photography



11:11 am on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

As a designer I've never thought of this before... I use stock images all the time in various design projects...

I was reading some articles about how trademarks and copyrights can and do exist inside images themselves and you can be liable for trademark/copyright infingement having them in an image..

Example: you can't use a picture of an Coke bottle (even if it doesnt say coke just the look of it), Harley, or even a picture of the Eiffel tower at night, there are some buildings that are trademarked like the Transamerica building..

What I don't get is doesn’t virtually every stock photo have a trademarked design/product in it? (examples: mp3 players, cell phones, etc of popular brands are in many of my stock photos that I buy from various stock photo sites on the net)

Does that make us all potential victims of some company with fat pockets that could sue us saying we are diluting or using images of their trademarked products in our photos?

Another Example… lets say I used a stock photo of some business professional… aren't the persons clothes, apparel, shoes cell phone aren’t those all trademarked (the design /tradedress of the objects themselves)?

How would I know whether or not the owner of any objects has a trademark/copyright or would try to sue me if I used one of their photos of one of their products? (even if its unbranded)

I've seen stock photos of PDA's that I can totally identify as a "Palm" product or even cell phones that you can recognize as "Motorola" products

How could someone like myself or any other designer that uses stock photos, live with the potentiality that a company could say your infringing a trademark or copyright by having one of its trademarked items in a stock photo promoting your sites products/services?

What do you guys think?


11:39 am on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I think I prefer to stick to photographing natural objects for that very reason. Yes it is a problem for photographers if you want to photograph anything with a distinct design.

If I'm taking a photo of a street, with an eye to selling it as a stock photo, I have to retouch out all the shop signs and make sure no-one is recognizeable, or even looks like they might be.

Its a pain.


1:43 am on Apr 2, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

In a previous incarnation I worked on a local paper. Sometimes people made clear they didn't want their picture [usually captured outside the magistrates' court] printed, and they would make vague legal threats, which never came to anything. I've always assumed therefore that you are free to publish what you capture in the UK.

The owner of a volcano in Puy-de-Dome, France successfully prevented a photographer from pubishing an image of it, on the grounds that it was hers! A friend told me about this recently, though I can't find any more info, limited French being the main obstacle.

I publish quite a lot of pictures and would be interested to know more about this. Are my existing pictures of the Eiffel Tower [not taken at night!] a liability I hadn't thought of until now?


5:38 am on Apr 2, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member jomaxx is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

The Eiffel Tower thing is due to lighting that has been recently installed, which changes the tower's appearance. The copyright claim is obviously preposterous (IMO), at least as far as still photos go anyway, but these sorts of claims stand until someone challenges them aggressively.

You might as well argue that nobody was allowed to publish a picture of Big Ben when it had all that scaffolding around it, because the design of the scaffolding was owned by the construction company.


7:18 am on Apr 2, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

If I was a high priced copyright lawyer I wouldn't be here posting this, but here is my understanding,

It all depends upon the purpose/intent of the photo. Think of a news station. If a terrorist group was on the eiffel tower at night, every news camera (including news photographers) would be aimed at the eiffel tower. The intent of the photos is not the tower itself but the fact that their are terrorists in the tower. A person taking a photo of this could even publish his/her photo on the cover of TIME magazine with no worry of copyright infringement. A person could use this photo for the DVD box cover for their documentary of the eiffel tower terrorists.

Now, if hollywood came out with a sci-fi movie about aliens which had no relation to the eiffel tower terrorists, and used the photo, then, they could be sued.

If you have a review site about motorola cell phones, feel free to use as many photos of their phone as possible, as long as you don't use the photos in an ad campaign to promote your new vacation business. In the vacation business photo someone might assume your associated with motorola somehow. Motorola could sue you to remove their image so people don't get that misconception.

A good example would be the documentory about the guy who ate McDonalds for a month. He had hundreds of images of McDonalds and their famous arches in his movie. The reason he could do this is because in no way, shape, or form would someone think that he was associated with McDonalds.

Same applies to your situation. If you look at the photo on your website and you believe that a reasonable person would believe that you are associated with the company, then yes, they can sue you.

Another classic example would be seeing cans of coke, label blatently showing, in a pepsi commercial (and vice versa). They can legally do this because nobody is going to make the mistake that pepsi is associated with coke, even though cokes trade is clearly visible.

Taking a picture of a city street lined with businesses follows the same rules. If the purpose of the photo is 119th street, and your focus is not on one particular sign, then yes you can legally take the picture and post it anywhere you want. Your picture is not of a particular business but the street.

This is why news channels run the cameras constantly, their purpose/intent of their video is to broadcast news. Nobody is going to be watching the news and confuses them with a burger king.

An exception is people. A person can sue you for using their image without their permission, unless that person is a public figure, such as an elected official or movie star. A person that openly puts themselves in the public view becomes public themselves. This is why politicians and movie stars are hunted by the papparazzi all the time, because they can. Same rules apply to people who videotape themselves and send it into americas funniest home videos or a person that sits in a live studio audience. You can't place yourself knowingly in front of cameras and then sue someone becuase they used your image.

Still, many gray areas exist, so if you aren't sure, get a lawyer.


2:34 pm on Apr 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Some month's ago a restaurant in Brussels was forced to redesign their website. On their website, they used a photo (as background for their restaurant name). On this photo was the "atomium", that's one of the most famous buildings in Brussels(ugly IMO) with 9 ball's in iron.

Seems that the architect has copyright on the building and you need permission to use any picture!
I don't now about US laws, but this is belgian law.


3:56 pm on Apr 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member jomaxx is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I think most courts would recognize that there are limits to this protection. For example even if the image of the Eiffel Tower (or the CN Tower or the Millennium Wheel or the Sears Tower) might be copyrighted, that doesn't mean they own the whole skyline.


4:39 pm on Apr 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

they used a photo (as background for their restaurant name). On this photo was the "atomium",

The "atomium" designer did not design this building to help them sell steaks. If an average person were to look at the photo and assume that somehow, even in the slightest way, that the designers of the "atomium" support this restaurant by allowing them to use it's image in their promotion, then they can sue.

Now if you go to [en.wikipedia.org...] you will find photos of the "atomium". No one is going to make the assumption that wikipedia is associated directly with the "atomium". Wikipedia clearly defines who they are and what they are. Now if wikipedia tried selling the photos, they would be sued in an instant.


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