- You should refrain from using free photos in general to avoid copyright issues, but especially if the photos depict famous landmarks. Why? Famous landmarks, like the Eiffel Tower with its lighting on, or the Atomium in Brussels, are copyrighted, and you need a property release from the owner to be able to use photos of them commercially, 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 and brands/designs and the responsibilities you automatically assume when doing so.
What? You can be sued for using a photo of a landmark or property?
Yes, my dear Rockstars. This is true. And Paris’ Eiffel Tower, when its lights are shining at night, is the most famous example of this. In case you don’t know, the lighting of the Eiffel Tower has a copyright (the owner is Société Nouvelle d’exploitation de la Tour Eiffel), and this means you cannot use any image including it for commercial, nor editorial, uses without express permission from the copyright owner.
Say you’re in a trip to Paris, and you come up with the nice and common idea of taking a nice memory picture of the Eiffel Tower lighted up at night. If you would later decide to use this picture on your commercial blog, or in any other commercial online publication, you’ll likely end up receiving a letter from the copyright owners of the Eiffel Tower lighting. At worst it’ll be a legal threat, and in the best case a kind but firm take-down request. Even when you took the photo yourself, you would still be infringing their copyright.
The Eiffel Tower lighting is the most well-known example of copyrighted landmarks, mainly because its copyright owners proactively police and chase out any infringement they find around the world. But many famous landmarks and public spaces are also copyrighted.
Another example can be famous public locations in London, United Kingdom: 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.
When using your own photos or free photo resources, it’s better to be aware of certain requirements when you feature a landmark, property or renowned public space in the picture, to avoid these issues.
Photos of famous Landmarks you should avoid to use for commercial purposes in WordPress
Check out our short list of some famous landmarks and buildings you should avoid for commercial purposes and in some cases also for editorial uses, but there are many more examples from the whole world you can learn about in this resource form Getty Images:
- Eiffel Tower with lighting on in Paris, France
- Atomium in Brussels, Belgium
- London Eye Millennium Wheel in London, United Kingdom
- Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, United States
- Burj Khalifa in Dubai,United Arab Emirates
- Casa Mila/La Pedrera in Barcelona, Spain
- Munich Olympic Park in Munich, Germany
- Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia
- Olympic or Paralympic games
- Burning Man in Nevada, United States
No? Why not?
If you have used a free photo resource to find images for your WordPress site, you might have come across images of the Eiffel Tower lights. Or maybe you’ve found one on a site with Creative Commons licenses, like Flickr. Perhaps the fact that such image is available to download at these sites made you think it was alright to use them in your publication.
Guess what? Most people uploading or sharing images on free photo resources are unaware that they cannot use –let alone offer or share!– these pictures without a license from the subject’s copyright owner. The fact that an image is available for download with a Public Domain, Creative Commons or GNU license, does not mean it is safe to use in commercial online publications.
Truth is all private property is subject to copyright, and you need a property release from the owner if you want to use a picture including them commercially. Any image where private property is visible and recognizable might require permission from the owner to be used, although law varies depending on the jurisdiction.
In most cases property rights will not be enforced, because the property owners don’t pay enough attention and don’t police the use of their property’s image in commercial photos.
With famous landmarks, however, it’s much more likely that copyright owners will enforce their rights legally. And this is why you need to know which properties and landmarks are actively enforcing copyright law, so you can manage photos of these places with more certainty, taking into account that any of them can sue you anytime, if they desire to so, if you are using their property’s image without permission.
Because of the global differences in legislation regarding the usage of landmarks and properties in photos, the safest option is to use paid stock photography for your online publication and to avoid free services in general, but especially when famous buildings, landmarks and properties are appearing in the photos. Simply because the risk to your online business is way higher than the few dollars saved by not buying a safe photo.
Of course the easiest path is to use stock photos from an agency, because it is their profession to know all these copyright and usage rules, and filter the right photos for you. But even agencies, although unlikely, can make mistakes.
Some companies like we at PixelRockstar include a safety net, by adding a 10.000 USD insurance in the very unlikely event there is a problem.
What to do when using photos of landmarks or properties in your WordPress publications?
When using any photo or picture for your online content you need to be confident that the company you are buying images from has a property release for any landmark or private property appearing in the photos you are buying. There is no need for you to own or have the Property release form on file. Just make sure the stock agency who bought from have it available if needed.
A property release is a legal document that defines how the photo of the property can be used. Any professional stock photography supplier will always have property releases and arrange all relevant legal documents before selling photos to you.
And the better ones like PixelRockstar will make sure you’re 100% safe with the insurance added on top of each photo.
What about landmarks and properties appearing in free images for your WordPress?
For a free photo service it is very unlikely that anyone has been checking any legal documents or status for the images they upload and share. This is why it is possible to find photos of famous landmarks on this sites, but commonly they don’t have a property release to validate it. You can get into copyright issues quite easily when using these photos, depending on your jurisdiction and if the copyright owner is adamant about his or her rights.
Images with landmarks from free photo services are often used by online publishers and bloggers thinking they are safe to use, covered by a Public Domain, Creative Commons Zero (CC0) or GNU license –read our full Creative Commons and Public Domain guide for more details–, but truth is they could easily be infringing property rights.
You have to assume that the norm is that people sharing these photos in “FREE” services are not aware of the legal implications it has to share copyrighted photos without permission under those licenses, but you will be held responsible for that independently of what the intention of the person that shared the photo was or whatever was written next to the image when you downloaded it.
Can I Ever Use photos of famous buildings, landmarks or properties without a Property Release?
The act of taking a photo of a building or landmark in a public setting without a property release, as well as viewing or non-commercially showing such a photo in private, generally does not create legal exposure, at least in the United States.
In many jurisdictions it is also legal to use photos of famous landmarks without having a Property Release for editorial purposes, because of Freedom of Speech laws.
Images where a famous landmark appears but as part of the scene, and not the main focus of the photo, may also be acceptable.
Let’s go back to your hypothetical trip to Paris: let’s say instead of photographing the Eiffel Tower at night, you take photos of an evening public event on a Parisian street, with the Eiffel Tower and its lights showing up in the background. In this case, you could sell this photo to a newspaper and they could use it to run a story about the said event, and you wouldn’t need a property release. This would be only as long as the image is newsworthy and the Eiffel Tower is not the main subject.
If you run a purely editorial blog or online publication, then you could use the photo of the Parisian event with the Eiffel Tower in the background (and any other image including landmarks that you’ve taken yourself) on your own site, without having a property release. But before going ahead and publish, always check with your attorney to make sure laws in your jurisdiction allow this usage.
In any case, the image would only be alright to be used without permission for editorial, newsworthy purposes. If you would want to sell, or use the image yourself, for commercial use, a property release is mandatory.
Considering all this complexity in the legal frames for usage, would you really want to risk to be involved in copyright infringement, and with such powerful people as the owners of the Eiffel Tower lighting rights (or owners of any other famous landmark copyright)?
Regardless of your response, you should always be aware of the legal dangers when using images and pictures from free photo services, even if it’s for editorial purposes only. These sites, while free, are potentially sharing images without properly documented permission to do so.
And remember, the publisher is held responsible for any copyright infringement associated to the images they use. So copyright owner or the original photographer could always sue you if they identify an infringement to their rights in the picture you used.
In reality, nobody knows where the photo was taken, nor who took it, before it as uploaded to a free photo service. This signifies a big risk that applies to all photos, and not only to photos with models.
Difference between commercial and editorial use for photos
|Editorial Use: A property release is not needed for the majority 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 which we would cover later in further articles. But first, let’s learn more about what a Property Release is in the photo world.
What is a Property Release?
A property release is a legal document, in which a copyright owner of a building or landmark expresses 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 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 buildings
Usually no property release is needed for the act of taking the photograph. Rather the property 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 property 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
The 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 of landmarks, buildings and properties in all situations of life 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 with buildings and famous landmarks and other uses 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, in the same way you cannot do it for many other design and items that we have around us in our daily life.
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.