Photo Tip: Think Clorox Bleach — A Lesson in Photo Copyright Law
SHOOT CLEAN: HOW TO GIVE STOCK AGENCIES THE “PRODUCT ANONYMITY” THEY WANT
If you’re thinking about shooting photos for stock agencies, they have to be clean. And by that I mean, Clorox clean.
No, there is no need to run out and buy Clorox. But if you’re photographing a bottle of Clorox, the word “Clorox” would have to come off if you wanted to sell that photo for stock. In fact, the whole label would probably have to come off as that label is likely trademarked by Clorox.
Logos, names, trademarks, and pretty much anything that identifies a product to a specific company — be it by name, design, or another type of “trade dress” — are all prohibited by stock agencies unless you have written permission from the company (which you’re not likely to get).
There are obvious things to think about — like a Coke can, a Nike swoosh, Lego products, and Mickey Mouse. And then there are not-so-obvious things, like the Rubber Duckies produced by a company called Game or the three stripes that symbolize Adidas. If, for instance, you photograph your nephew at soccer practice and while the word Adidas isn’t visible on his pants, the three stripes down the side are, you’ll have to remove the three stripes in Photoshop. And that’s no easy task.
It’s far more prudent in most cases to have your person — be it model, friend, or family member — change to logo free (three-stripe-free) attire before the shoot.
And what about the new iPhone? Well, even if you remove the name and any traces of a logo, it’s still an iPhone. And that means it falls under the term of Patented Trademarked Product Design. The Rubik’s Cube, Viewmaster, and Scrabble all fall under this “Trade Dress” patent as well. And any image of them (or with them) cannot be used as stock.
Here’s more… take, for instance, this fabulous old photograph of Ellis Island — submitted for this month’s photo challenge: http://tinyurl.com/22oms8
Most art work — including other people’s photographs, certain statuary, sculptures, and art instillations — is copyright protected (including, for example, the Wall Street Bull in New York city — the sculptor holds the copyright).
Now, it’s not always true that art is off-limits to stock. The Lincoln Memorial and the Statue of Liberty, for instance, are considered public domain and photos of them would, therefore, be usable as stock. Just keep in mind that that sort of artwork falls under “derivative work,” which means you do not obtain any rights (as in copyright) to the subject in your image, though of course, you would still own the copyright to your image itself.
Another thing to be aware of is that some buildings, monuments, and even landmarks can have commercial restrictions. Sometimes they are off-limits all together — like The Boston Public Library and the Sydney Opera House.
And some places impose limitations — like The Eiffel Tour in Paris. You can photograph it all you want during the day. But at night, that light show is copyright protected. The Seattle Space Needle and the Empire State Building possess similar restrictions. You can photograph The Needle as part of the Seattle skyline — but not as the predominate subject of your photo. Same with the Empire State Building.
And sometimes you simply need permission or a permit (sometimes for a fee) to shoot for commercial use — like at Princeton University or Ayers Rock in Central Australia.
Yes, there do seem to be a lot of restrictions and potentially problematic situations — but bear in mind: They really need only concern you IF you’re shooting for stock and/or commercial use.
If you’re on vacation or a travel writer taking photos for your articles, then by all means shoot away. Generally speaking, I take pictures as a tourist first, ask questions second, and then do my research into any potential conflict third — before I upload any stock.
That way, no matter what, I have the shots I want of my trip or adventure — even if they’re just for me.
Of course, if you’re doing a shoot as a job or for a client — do yourself a favor and do some research ahead of time. You might just save yourself a lot of time and headache. And really, the point of telling you all this is simply to give you a heads up.
Know what you’re shooting. Take notes if you have to. Do a little research so you are not spinning your wheels on images or subjects for which you won’t have an outlet. Don’t stop taking pictures — but do be conscious of your surroundings.
Next week we’ll take another look at Photoshop, and I’ll show you how to get some of those “things that can’t be in stock” out of your pictures.
Until then, happy (and clean) shooting.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]