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10 surprising objects you can’t have in your photos in WordPress

10 surprising objects you can’t have in your photos in WordPress

  • You should refrain from using free photos in general to avoid copyright issues, but especially if the photos depict copyrighted objects. There are all kind of objects of everyday life that are subject to copyright and you might not know about, and you need a property release from the owner to be able to use photos of them commercially and sometimes even editorially.
  • The legal responsibility for using a photo in WordPress –or any online publication– and any copyright infringement associated with it, always falls on the publisher, regardless of them being unaware of the infringement.
  • You can use pictures you take yourself on your publication, as long as you understand the implications of taking pictures of models, landmarks, copyrighted objects, brands/designs and the responsibilities you automatically assume when doing so.

We’ve already explained why using a photo of the Eiffel Tower with the lights on can be a big risk, whether you downloaded it from a free photo service or you shot it yourself, and how it can end in a take-down request –from the copyright owners of the Eiffel Tower’s lighting– or even with a fine. But the Eiffel Tower, as a copyrighted landmark, is just one of a million objects around you that can be copyrighted for commercial or editorial purposes.

The legal and copyright jungle does not only include landmarks or properties, models or brands that might be copyrighted, but also all kind of other everyday objects. And here we will help you know your way through it. Read on, rockstar!



10 everyday objects that might be protected by copyright and need the creator’s permission before you use them:

  1. Landmarks and buildings
  2. Literary works
  3. Artistic and photographic works
  4. Maps and Globes
  5. Cars
  6. Charts
  7. Advertisements and Logos
  8. Labels
  9. Applied art — jewelry, wallpaper, carpets, furniture, toys, fabrics…
  10. Events — like the Olympics, FIFA Worldcup or Burning Man

Most photographers know that literary, artistic and photographic works are copyright protected. But did you know that the same protection also extends to maps, globes, charts, advertisements or labels? And that it can also extend to works of applied art such as cars, jewelry, wallpaper, carpets, furniture, toys, fabrics and even mobile apps and websites?

It is far too easy to incorporate some of the listed items in your photograph without giving a second thought to the question of whether there may be rights involved, which need to be cleared.

Of course, the safest and quickest option to use photos without having to worry about legal threats is the use of stock photography services, where experts analyze the media they offer to ensure only the right photos, with the proper releases, are available for you to license.

At PixelRockstar we aim to offer you a great and reliable source for stock photos in WordPress, because it is part of our profession to know all these copyright and usage rules, and we filter the right, legally covered photos for you to use. Like most other stock experts we give our best, but can also make mistakes. That is why our PixelRockstar Digital License includes a safety net, by adding a 10.000 USD insurance in the very unlikely event there is a problem.

However, let us explain and guide your through the copyright jungle to understand why we take this position.

The global legal copyright jungle you need to be aware of before using photos in your WordPress

Before photographing copyrighted materials and trademarks –for non-private use– a photographer needs to assess if rights need to be cleared. This is determined through a number of fairly complex questions, and the legal provisions vary from country to country.

Photographers need to know the most common legal restrictions and realize what “fair use” exceptions are and mean. Having said that each situation is unique and need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis and could be different in your country.

The general legal principles applicable to taking and using photographs – for commercial or and sometimes editorial purposes – featuring copyrighted works, is challenging. Especially in the age of content marketing, where pure editorial content is a business in decline and everyone –companies and people– have the capacity to communicate with their audience in a way that is often part of a commercial strategy.

In this context, it’s increasingly difficult to differentiate between commercial and editorial use for copyrighted work, and the subtle legal differences between countries add more uncertainty about what is legal and what is not.

Most lawsuits are filed against users of photographic material in advertising, company literature, catalogs etc. as they take the legal responsibility for using them in a publication, but also photographers are often confronted with lawsuits. Most countries have similar copyright laws for photography and illustrations, but there are also important national differences. A general article like this cannot covered all the details you need to know, but we aim to share with you a framework you can use to approach these questions with local legal support if you need to.

When is permission required to photograph copyrighted objects?

The answer is complicated. It depends on a number of questions that consider the subject or object to be photographed, and what the intended use of the photograph will be.

Here we give you a resumed list of the aspects to consider to determine if it is possible to make commercial or editorial use of a photo including copyrighted objects, as explained by WIPO.

Copyright expiration for photos

Even if an object is copyright protected, this protection has an expiration date, and no permission is required to photograph it if the term of copyright protection has already expired.

In most countries, copyright protection covers the lifetime of the content creator, author or artist plus 50 years after his/her death. In some countries, this period extends to 70, 90 or 95 years after death. If several authors are involved, then the period of copyright protection is calculated from the death of the last surviving artist or content creator.

Amount of the work that appears in the photograph

If permission is required depends on how much of the work appears in the photograph.

Generally speaking approval is needed to reproduce a substantial part of any copyrighted piece of work. Having said that there are no general rules you can use to define what can be used. In many cases how recognizable a piece of work is that is being used is more important than what amount of the copyrighted item is being used. Assessing what is a relevant part of a piece needs to be done for every single case.

Fair use or fair dealing for photography and copyrighted items

Copyright essentially aims to strike a just balance between, on one hand, protecting the rights of the copyright holder for his efforts and energy dedicated to create something and, on the other hand, the wider public interest to benefit from creativity and progress through innovation.

Exceptions to copyright rules allow photographers to shoot copyrighted works without permission. These exceptions are part of what is called fair use or fair dealing, in common law, or limitations or exceptions, defined in national copyright law of each country.

These exceptions change from country to country and each case and its circumstances define if they are applicable.

Here were have summarized the most common exceptions from copyright protection:

Copyright works in public places for photographers

In some countries, you do not need permission to photograph specific works in a public place. For example any piece of art in a park can be photographed in these countries. Often these photos can be published and sometimes even be used commercially.

However, this exception most times applies only to works of certain types, usually works of art. And there’s further considerations: in some cases, only three-dimensional artistic pieces displayed in public permanently are excepted from requiring rights cleared, whereas permission may be required to photograph a car or piece of art that is only temporarily exhibited.

Many famous landmarks and and public places are also copyrighted and still require a permission to be included in photographs. Famous public locations in London, United Kingdom like the popular Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square both have specific prohibitions against commercial photography without the written permission of the Mayor, or the Squares’ Management Team, that includes paying a fee. Permission is also needed to photograph or film for commercial purposes in the Royal Parks. And these are just examples. 

Photos for news articles

Copyrighted works can be photographed for news purposed, but the name of the creator and the name of the work need to be included in the article.

For example, a photo of a piece of art that won a sculpture competition can be reported about for the news or to share with the world the results of the competition.

Photos for a review or critique

Most countries allow for copyrighted works to be used in reviews which includes photos. The name of the content creator always has to be shared with the review.

Incidental background for news photographers

Most countries don’t force you to ask for permission if the copyrighted element is only an incidental part of the background of the photo, but defining what is incidental is often complicated.

If you are a photo journalist for a magazine or newspaper and you publish a photo to illustrate a report about a summit of politicians in Paris, and the photo incidentally shows the copyrighted lighting of the Eiffel Tower in the background; most likely you will not need permission to show the Eiffel Tower lighting, as it adds no meaning to the main subject matter.

Courts are typically much more reluctant to accept free incidental use of works in cases of commercial and advertising use, than in connection with recognized news media usage. But as we mentioned before, in the age of content marketing that line has been blurred heavily.

How to ask for permission to use a copyrighted object in your WordPress?

Getting permission from copyright owners or creators of any piece can often be challenging. Galleries, agents or collective management societies representing the content creators can often help.

Authorship and moral rights when using photos

Copyright law is also structured in such a way that content creators can protect their reputation and their creations against abuses. An important moral right is that of authorship, which is the right to be named as the author of the work. Whenever a copyrighted picture is shared in public, the name of the author has to appear next to it.

Difference between commercial and editorial use for photos

Editorial Use: A property release is not needed for the majority of public news publications because of freedom of speech rights (which vary by country). Photo journalists almost never need to obtain property releases for images they shoot for news or qualified editorial publications, but this is very small and limited market. Commercial Use: If you plan to use the photos commercially, this can mean for your corporate blog, newsletter or social media profiles of your company, you always need to make sure your photos are legally covered. And the easiest way to do this is by using stock photography agencies.

The only photos you can use for free as a company are those you take yourself as long you take into account Model releases, Property rights and Brand Rights for all the subjects and objects depicted in your images.

What is a Property Release?

A property release is a legal document, in which a copyright owner of any object that is copyrighted express their permission to publish their property’s image in a photograph to be used commercially.

The legal issues surrounding property releases are complex and can vary in your country.

A property release should always be obtained for publication of a photo taken of a famous landmark or any copyrighted object, or at least be checked by your copyright attorney if used for trade or direct commercial use (which is defined as promoting a product, service, or idea).

You can find plenty of Property Release Apps for your phone here or you use Google to find some property release sample documents. Always check with your local lawyer before you actively use them.

Photographer responsibilities when shooting copyrighted objects

Risks of using Creative Common Photos in your Blog

Usually no release is needed for the act of taking the photograph. Rather the release applies to the publication of the photograph.

Liability rests solely with the publisher, except under special conditions. The photographer is typically not the publisher of the photograph, but usually licenses the photograph to someone else to publish.

Any image or photo creator needs to take into account in his/her creative process that the object (a person, building or brand) he is reflecting in his photo or illustration also has a copyright and needs to give its own permission to have their likeness or their property depicted in the image.

A photographer might release a picture as Creative Commons CC0, but that does not mean that he or she can use the object of his creativity without taking into account the copyright of the person, building or brand that is included in it.

While the creative process and the resulting image might be CC0 (or any other similar license that allows free usage), this license applies only to the image itself, not to the subjects depicted. The copyright of a landmark –and of a person or brand, for the case– is owned by someone else, and the photographer or whoever licenses the image as CC0 does not have authority over that copyright. For this reason, even when the picture is released for free usage, it will still be forbidden to share it commercially, unless the copyright owners of the subjects in the image sign a release.

Stock Photography agencies take care of all this background legal work to ensure the images they sell are safe to use. And while a stock agency can make mistakes, they are usually insured and have specialized staff in dealing with all the legal details that need to be taken into account to evaluate a photography or image before it can be sold to their customers.

The PixelRockstar Digital License difference

article-rockstar_600The PixelRockstar WordPress plugin has been created from the start to allow WordPress online publishers to easily search within WordPress for photos and images, download them to their Media Library, and add them to WordPress as a featured image or article image in a simple and quick way. Of course this includes photos in all situations of life that have been released to give your online publication the special touch.

Our custom made Digital License allows for online publishing, Social Media and Newsletter use. This means that when you publish your article, the use of the photo in your newsletter and other social media channels is covered by the standards you can expect from any stock photography company adapted to your needs as a WordPress online publisher.

Are you publishing your own WordPress corporate or personal blog? If you need images to illustrate your articles get to the safe side and use PixelRockstar! Focus on your content and we take care of all the legals for you, to make using images and photos in your online publication to be a joy without any hassle.

Why we’re doing this

This article is part of the educational series at PixelRockstar, to share our image knowledge with the WordPress community about the legal aspects of using photos in online publications. While we are writing this for the WordPress community, the content is relevant to any online publisher.

In our next article we are going to cover under which circumstances you can and cannot use a photo of your iPhone –or any Apple product– in your blog.

Disclaimer: This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.

Alex Preukschat

A WordPress publisher since 2008, Alex loves the open source Internet. During his many years of publishing experience, he had been missing a tool to help online publishers to quickly add affordable images to WordPress, without having to worry about legal issues. This is why he decided to create PixelRockstar with Amos. Alex is interested in superheroes, monetary policy and Bitcoin.

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