Most stock photos are bought for use in advertising, marketing, and promotion. Which means that the images you’re selling as stock are often used to represent someone’s mission, message, or brand.

Because of that, you can’t sell stock photos that include anything copyrighted. No logos, trademarks, brand names, or copyrighted art.

This is also the reason why you need a model release for recognizable people, and why you sometimes need a property release.

When do you need a property release?

Property releases are needed for commercial stock photography

  • If you’re photographing on private property, and the house or building is distinct and recognizable, you should get a signed property release from the owner. Even if that person is you.
  • When a building or landmark is copyrighted. Some examples are the Sydney Opera House, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Louvre, the Hollywood sign. If you’re not sure, take a photo and then look it up later online. You won’t likely get a property release for these things. If it’s copyrighted, you can still sell the photo as “editorial use.”
  • Photos, paintings, statues, and other forms of artwork. If you have a photo, statue, or painting in the background of your photos, you’ll either need a property release from the artist (even if it’s you), or you’ll need to blur the art or otherwise make it un-recognizable to sell the photo as commercial stock.
  • Certain products, even if you remove the logo. For example, pine tree shaped air fresheners are a no-go. The shape of the tree itself is a design that is trademarked. Same for the distinctive green and yellow detailing of John Deere tractors, the shape of a Coke bottle, and the shape of many cars.

So, how do you know what you do and don’t need releases for? You can start by checking lists of known restrictions. Both Shutterstock and Getty have published helpful lists here:

Click here for Shutterstock’s lists.

Click here for Getty’s list.

If you have a great photo of something or some place that’s on the restricted list, don’t despair! Try submitting it as editorial stock instead. Or perhaps it’s a candidate to sell as fine art. You don’t need releases to sell something as wall art.

Don’t let the list of things you can’t photograph for commercial stock overwhelm you. There is still plenty out there you can shoot, just try and choose locations that are as nondescript, low-key, and generic as possible. And always get releases when you can!

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about getting started selling your photos online in stock agencies – no matter how much or little photography experience you have – in the Breakfast Stock Club e-newsletter. It’s once a week, and it’s free to join, here.]

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