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Thread: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

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    FlyingSquirrel's Avatar
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    Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    I'm wondering what the legal rules are regarding photographs with houses, property, and buildings in them. I can't imagine having to get permission from every person that owns anything in the photo...yet I read/hear all the time about the need for signed releases. But then again, I see photos of cities and travel stuff all the time too. Any guidelines or tips to help me distinguish between 'OK' and 'Not OK' ? Also, does it make a difference if I wanted to sell the photos, such as through a stock agency, or sell prints, or put them in a book, etc?

    To give an example, let's say I want to shoot a panoramic image that includes a long portion of a shoreline of a lake, and the entire hillside is interspersed with houses, boats, apartments, etc...

    Thanks for any help!

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    Re: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    This is one of those things that (can) differ between countries/jurisdictions, so if this gets important (mostly when using pictures 'commercially', i.e. in advertising) check with a local and knowledgeable lawyer...

    That said, in any case where a release is needed, it'll be needed for publishing the photo, not for taking it.

    The reason you could need a release is the copyright protection on building designs. That implies that old(er) buildings shouldn't pose any problems. After that, one of the things that plays a role is whether the building is the subject of the picture, or in the view more or less by accident. Then there's the use of the image to take into consideration, etc.

    Some links relevant to the USA (no guarantee whatsoever about the information's correctness etc.):
    http://asmp.org/tutorials/photos-public-buildings.html
    http://www.danheller.com/model-release-copyrights.html

    But again, if you really need to know this stuff, get a local lawyer that knows the subject, he's the only person that can give you a reliable answer (and again, not sure about that...).

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    Re: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    The rules governing the issues you raise seem, to me, to be very common sensical.

    1. Anything visible from a public "street" is fair game; for example, think about the Google street images.
    2. If individual people are visible on private property and they are visible from a public street and they are "enjoying" a private activity, get a release.
    3. At private events, when news photographers or videographers are working, we often are asked to sign a blanket release provided by the the organization putting on an event. Think things like fundraisers or celebrations for various things.
    4. News events (I am ALWAYS be respectful of individuals who have been the victim of a crime or natural disaster; when our local stations start doing that kind of thing, I find some other channel to watch).
    5. I NEVER take a picture of a little kid whose face is in the picture in a public environment without his/her parent's permission and offer a copy of what I've taken by email to the parent. (For an example, see my picture in the themed challenge called Kid's Toys in which the picture is taken from behind the kid.)

    The details provided by an attorney will probably be more complex and, if you're expecting to make money off your images, you'd best connect up with one.

    But, common sense in public situations seems to work about 98 percent of the time.

    IJS....

    virginia

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    Re: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    I think Virginia pretty much nails it. Especially:
    Quote Originally Posted by drjuice View Post
    , think about the Google street images.
    I think we can be pretty confident that they've checked out the legality of what they do.

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    Re: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    Quote Originally Posted by drjuice View Post
    The rules governing the issues you raise seem, to me, to be very common sensical.

    1. Anything visible from a public "street" is fair game; for example, think about the Google street images.
    2. If individual people are visible on private property and they are visible from a public street and they are "enjoying" a private activity, get a release.
    3. At private events, when news photographers or videographers are working, we often are asked to sign a blanket release provided by the the organization putting on an event. Think things like fundraisers or celebrations for various things.
    4. News events (I am ALWAYS be respectful of individuals who have been the victim of a crime or natural disaster; when our local stations start doing that kind of thing, I find some other channel to watch).
    5. I NEVER take a picture of a little kid whose face is in the picture in a public environment without his/her parent's permission and offer a copy of what I've taken by email to the parent. (For an example, see my picture in the themed challenge called Kid's Toys in which the picture is taken from behind the kid.)

    The details provided by an attorney will probably be more complex and, if you're expecting to make money off your images, you'd best connect up with one.

    But, common sense in public situations seems to work about 98 percent of the time.

    IJS....

    virginia
    I note that you talk mostly about when you can take pictures (and I think you are a lot stricter than the law requires). That's actually the easy part. The problems start when you want to publish pictures of esp. people and (recent) buildings.

    After spending some time trying to figure this stuff out, I understand even less of when exactly you need a release and for what, except for a couple of main points:
    - There are rather large differences between countries about what is and isn't allowed.
    - Releases concern publication of images, not the taking of them.
    - As a result of that, it's not the photographer's responsibility to ensure the releases are in order, but the publisher's : the publisher knows what use in being made of the photo, the photographer doesn't! Of course, if the photographer publishes a picture, he becomes the publisher.
    See Dan Heller's articles, to get an idea of the American situation, and why publishers want photographers to provide releases (reasons which are not so valid for buildings IMO).

    And, in the particular case of OP's question, in France there are some buildings that you can photograph w/o any problems (most of the time...*), but when you publish the resulting pictures, you can expect a call from a lawyer, exemples are "L'arche de la Defense", "Le pyramide du Louvre", "La bibliothèque Nationale", and "Le Tour Eiffel" at night (the illumination of the latter is protected). *

    Remco

    *There's actually stories going around about the guardians in front of the Bibliothèque Nationale trying to stop photographers using a tripod (which is not illegal, as it is a public area, those guardians are not in any way policemen or such).


    P.S. We should perhaps start thinking about a FAQ list, there's some questions that keep popping up and spark more or less the same discussion each time

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    Re: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    The law is accessible in all countries, and some of the information given here is wrong. All countries that have signed the Bern convention have approximately the same rules. Publishing images of people is allowed in all countries, but you are not allowed to use images of people in advertising without a release. Again, only publishing is covered, not the actual picture-taking.

    There are a few, but very few caveats, regarding what you may see from a public place. You are not allowed to make images of works of art, or photographs, that can be seen from a public place, if their appearance there is only ephemeral. If they are permanently displayed, they're fair game. Hence even Google Street View might cross the line by taking photos of a showcase or display window of a photographer's shop, where photographs are displayed.

    Buildings always are fair game, and the Louvre pyramid or the lighting of the Eiffel Tower are displayed publicly and permanently, hence you may as well publish images of those structures without fear of persecution. It is only an urban legend. The only thing the Bern convention does not allow regarding buildings is to erect a copy of the building.

    Some objects are forbidden by law. You must not take pictures of some official buildings, military installations or jails, and there are also other publicly accessible objects that are forbidden, as infrastructure items as power plants and related infrastructure. Those objects have signs on them that you're not allowed to take pictures.

    There are details that differ in different jurisdictions, but as a general rule, you may take photos where it is not explicitly forbidden. You may also publish those photos, but in advertising, images of people need a release.

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    Re: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    So what are your comments on this: http://www.pigeon-bormans.com/L-IMAGE-ET-LE-DROIT.html? It's a bit old (2003), but seems to cover the subject.

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    Re: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    After reading about the recent case of royalty being photographed from a great distance I think I would be extra careful in France.

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    Re: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    Thank you, everyone, for your responses. Remco, I found your posts and supplied links to be most helpful. I greatly appreciate the in depth information and resources you supplied.

    I have just spent at least several hours carefully reading numerous very long articles on ASMP site and Dan Heller's site. My mind has turned to mush and I am only slightly clearer on the answers to my questions. To be honest, despite all of that research, I can't answer my original questions with certainty. I think I will need to consult a lawyer for more peace of mind.

    One thing that I feel was not covered very well in the articles was the idea of "fine art photography." Maybe I missed the details or something, but it seems not much was said about the idea of using a photo for the purposes of artistic intent (as opposed to editorial or marketing purposes). In the case of my photograph, I would potentially want to use it in my own fine art photography book that I may one day publish, where the purpose is simply to show artistic photos of natural landscapes, with no intent of assuming any endorsement by the property, buildings, owners etc. In other words, the essence of my use would just be my book saying "look at these beautiful nature photos I took."

    By the way, I'd like to add that, prior to posting this original thread, I did a few general searches on the forum to try and find other threads that may have answered my question. I was unable to find anything with ease, which is why I posted this thread.

    Thanks

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    Re: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    Quote Originally Posted by Inkanyezi View Post

    Buildings always are fair game, and the Louvre pyramid or the lighting of the Eiffel Tower are displayed publicly and permanently, hence you may as well publish images of those structures without fear of persecution. It is only an urban legend.
    The design of a modern building can be copyright, as can, say, the lighting scheme for the Eiffel Tower - the point being (I think) that you could not use an image of the Louvre pyramid or the Eiffel Tower with its special lighting effect for commercial purposes - as the centrepiece of an advertisement, or a commercial logo. I don't think there is any problem with reproducing it for editorial purposes. That is the distinction that applies to a lot of these issues.

    Someone else said that legal sanctions might be applied to the publisher, and therefore it is not the photographer's problem - that's a bit naive, as in handing over the file to the publisher, you will probably be asked to warrant that there is no restriction on its publication. So it is your problem.

    One of the problems in these litigious days is that commercial companies are playing it super-safe, so people, on both sides of the camera, are assuming that the rules have changed. I was recently involved in a publication for a bank, who demanded a release for anything that had people in it - quite unnecessarily, as it was editorial. But they were concerned that people might see dollar signs flashing up before their eyes and make trouble in the hope simply of making some money, and just didn't want the hassle.

    Anything inside a normally published book is of course editorial. The jacket seems a bit of a grey area to me, as it is a marketing tool, and therefore arguably commercial. But I remember putting a picture of somebody's house on a book jacket once. Since it was one of two houses in the shot, of no distinctive design, and not specifically identified, and the shot was taken from a public place, I won the argument. The guy was just trying it on, basically.

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    Re: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    Quote Originally Posted by jcuknz View Post
    After reading about the recent case of royalty being photographed from a great distance I think I would be extra careful in France.
    I think there is such a thing as a 'normal expectation of privacy'. Yes you can take photographs of almost anything from a public place, but if it involves standing on a ladder and pointing a telephoto lens into somebody's bathroom window, that would be regarded as an intrusion. As would pointing a mobile phone up a lady's skirt (not uncommon, judging from press reports). Common-sense rules apply to a surprising extent. Often, the issue is not one of privacy, but of harassment or some equivalent term. Think of it in terms of common courtesy and expectations. That said, the rules regarding the inclusion of identifiable individuals in editorial shots in books in France are (I believe) stricter than in Britain or the US. I'm not on top of the details though.

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    Re: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    Quote Originally Posted by timotheus View Post
    The design of a modern building can be copyright, as can, say, the lighting scheme for the Eiffel Tower - the point being (I think) that you could not use an image of the Louvre pyramid or the Eiffel Tower with its special lighting effect for commercial purposes - as the centrepiece of an advertisement, or a commercial logo. I don't think there is any problem with reproducing it for editorial purposes. That is the distinction that applies to a lot of these issues.
    And that's a distinction for which it's not that easy to fix hard and fast rules (in practice). Which is one of the reasons that I tend to start and end answers to copyright questions with a version of "See your lawyer" For another reason: see the different opinions here and in other threads. Afaik no one here is a legal professional, so we probably all have some wrong notions about how those things work (me included). Add to that that the members live in different countries, all of which have slightly different rules and legal precedents (!)...

    Someone else said that legal sanctions might be applied to the publisher, and therefore it is not the photographer's problem - that's a bit naive, as in handing over the file to the publisher, you will probably be asked to warrant that there is no restriction on its publication. So it is your problem.
    That was me, I guess. And that's the difference between theory and practice. Of course the publisher can ask the photographer for the release. But that doesn't mean that all of a sudden the photographer becomes responsible for what the publisher does, unless the photographer promised more than he could deliver. But that's a different kettle of fish.

    And personally, I wouldn't sell a picture if the publisher wants me to assume the liability of a law suit (the risk with associated costs and hassle is more than likely bigger than the profit I'd make from the sale). The photographer cannot guarantee there are no restrictions on use for any given photo, as he does not know what use will be made of the picture. All he can do is transmit the releases he has.

    One of the problems in these litigious days is that commercial companies are playing it super-safe, so people, on both sides of the camera, are assuming that the rules have changed. I was recently involved in a publication for a bank, who demanded a release for anything that had people in it - quite unnecessarily, as it was editorial. But they were concerned that people might see dollar signs flashing up before their eyes and make trouble in the hope simply of making some money, and just didn't want the hassle.

    Anything inside a normally published book is of course editorial. The jacket seems a bit of a grey area to me, as it is a marketing tool, and therefore arguably commercial. But I remember putting a picture of somebody's house on a book jacket once. Since it was one of two houses in the shot, of no distinctive design, and not specifically identified, and the shot was taken from a public place, I won the argument. The guy was just trying it on, basically.
    Well, in Europe that kind of actions/fishing expeditions can get expensive: the losing party can quite easily get ordered to pay the costs of the winning party, and (at least in certain countries) lawyers are not allowed to work for a contingency/conditional fee...

    A final point:
    Copyright is only one reason why you might not be able to use a photo commercially. This covers only certain buildings and other works of art. There are other reasons why publication may require a release, but those are not copyright related (e.g. any need for a release concerning recognisable persons for instance, or the notion of 'nuisance anormal' in the case of pictures of architecture).

    To get back a bit to OP's question, and the example he mentions of a beach panorama including boats, and a hillside with houses:
    I'd say no release would be needed in any case, as you are not attracting attention to a particular house, boat or whatever, they are there incidentally, and only a very small part of the final image (though I would not write this if your beach panorama had the illuminated Eiffel tower in view) (and that's not that far fetched).

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    Re: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    Quote Originally Posted by revi View Post
    So what are your comments on this: http://www.pigeon-bormans.com/L-IMAGE-ET-LE-DROIT.html? It's a bit old (2003), but seems to cover the subject.
    Je dirai tout le monde il est beau - mais il n'est pas toujours gentil...

    It's really scary stuff. Maybe I should refrain from going to France any more, and even forget that she ever existed...
    Last edited by Inkanyezi; 28th November 2012 at 04:58 PM.

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    Re: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    France has some quite restrictive laws in relation to the publication of images but the US, where the OP is based, is different.

    1. People have image rights, which is why you need a signed release to use someone's image in an advert.
    2. Buildings don't have image rights - you don't need a signed release from the building or its owner.*
    3. The courts have ruled that taking a photograph does not infringe the copyright on a building, even a new one.**

    * This blog post http://www.photoattorney.com/?p=1561 provides links to two cases, both of which were settled in favour of the photographer.
    ** There are a number of tests that are applied in order to decide if something infringes copyright. One is that you copy a substantive portion of the work and another is that you impact the copyright holders ability to make money. Courts have ruled that a photograph isn't a substantive portion of a building. As for money, architects make money from designing buildings. Taking a photograph in no way reduces their ability to do so.

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    Re: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    Quote Originally Posted by FlyingSquirrel View Post
    To give an example, let's say I want to shoot a panoramic image that includes a long portion of a shoreline of a lake, and the entire hillside is interspersed with houses, boats, apartments, etc...
    The ability to take such photos is called "freedom of panorama" and exists only in certain countries. The most complete overview of the international law is available at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/C...om_of_panorama

    By default, in any country with a copyright law, you can't assume you can take (let alone publish) photos of any panorama, unless all objects it contains are more than 150 years old. Additionally, many countries have cultural heritage laws, trademark laws and similar which may further impede your photographic activity.

    Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

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    Re: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    The best advice given in this thread is consult an expert in your legal code. You can very often find this FOC on the WEB. Professional photographic bodies are usually a good source. Many of the things said here are I'm sure, correct in some countries but not in all. For instance in England, in the same way you need a model release for images that feature people, you may need a property release before you can publish an image that features a particular building - "features" being the operative word. There is no differentiation for age but ownership plays a part. Buildings in public ownership e.g. your local town hall, don't need a release but a stately home owned by the National Trust does and in recent years, the National Trust has been exercising its rights in this respect (note that "Public" means public ownership not places where the public can go). I emphasise "in England" because even in the UK, there are differences between English Law and Scottish Law. Similarly, some European countries have codified privacy laws, the UK doesn't and privacy has to be pursued under Common Law. It can be bit of a mine field but common sense is your best ally.
    Last edited by John 2; 19th April 2015 at 11:26 AM.

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    Re: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    Quote Originally Posted by nemobis View Post
    The ability to take such photos is called "freedom of panorama" and exists only in certain countries. The most complete overview of the international law is available at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/C...om_of_panorama

    By default, in any country with a copyright law, you can't assume you can take (let alone publish) photos of any panorama, unless all objects it contains are more than 150 years old. Additionally, many countries have cultural heritage laws, trademark laws and similar which may further impede your photographic activity.

    Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo
    Interesting concept regarding historical, heritage laws and I wonder if tour guides are aware of any restrictions. Usually, tour guides take vacationers to specific locations and will often suggest scenes to capture; never heard a guide deter anyone from taking a photo except when it might be culturally offensive.

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    Re: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    Quote Originally Posted by Shadowman View Post
    Interesting concept regarding historical, heritage laws and I wonder if tour guides are aware of any restrictions. Usually, tour guides take vacationers to specific locations and will often suggest scenes to capture; never heard a guide deter anyone from taking a photo except when it might be culturally offensive.
    You must make a distinction between taking pictures and publishing them. I think most is publishing related.
    Funny that operahouses in Holland are mentioned as forbidden to take pictures. I don't know any operahouse in Holland, only the cityhall in Amsterdam that accomodates an opera. Thanks to creative bookkeping.
    George

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    Re: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    Quote Originally Posted by george013 View Post
    You must make a distinction between taking pictures and publishing them. I think most is publishing related.
    Funny that operahouses in Holland are mentioned as forbidden to take pictures. I don't know any operahouse in Holland, only the cityhall in Amsterdam that accomodates an opera. Thanks to creative bookkeping.
    George
    I was reading an argument to the taking photos/publishing scenario and the question was brought up "what was the intent of the photographer when they took the photograph? and what if the photographer sees a new intent for the photograph in the future. Basically, if the intent at the time of taking the photograph was purely for pleasure, does that negate any future uses of the photograph. To be more specific, if an organization states you cannot take photos for commercial purposes but does allow photography for general use.

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    Re: Legal question about property/houses/buildings in photo

    Quote Originally Posted by Shadowman View Post
    I was reading an argument to the taking photos/publishing scenario and the question was brought up "what was the intent of the photographer when they took the photograph? and what if the photographer sees a new intent for the photograph in the future. Basically, if the intent at the time of taking the photograph was purely for pleasure, does that negate any future uses of the photograph. To be more specific, if an organization states you cannot take photos for commercial purposes but does allow photography for general use.
    I'm not a lawyer. As far as I know a punishable intention is something of criminal law. This is private law. To me only the action is that counts. There is also something as military objects where the making of a picture is forbidden. Or even the possessing of a camera, depending on the country.
    And then there is something as privacy. I thought Sweden is rather strickt in this since last year.

    When I'm right, google streetview cars are forbidden in several German cities.

    George

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