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Property releases

What is a “property” release?

A property release is a written statement signed by the owner of a property that gives a photographer permission to use the photographs of the property for any commercial purpose. This permission must be given by the owner or copyright owner or trademark owner, etc.

We recommend that you use our standard property release (listed below):

When is a property release required?

1. When the subject property is protected by copyright

A copyright is an intellectual property right which protects the original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, among others. For example, the copyright is what protects your photos or illustrations from the unauthorized use by others. In most cases, copyright protection will endure for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years.

Photographs that contain predominant elements of a copyrighted work may require a property release from the copyright owner. This could be the case with full images of toys, dolls, model cars, planes and buildings that might be protected by copyright.

Generally, photographs of statues, fountains, sculptures protected by copyright which are permanently located in public places do not require a property release to be photographs when the property is NOT the sole or primary subject of the photograph (ie cityscapes). On the other hand, if they are the central focus of the photograph then a property release should be required for any commercial use (Although in Spain there is no such limitation). With regards to buildings (architectural work) the US copyright law as well as the Spanish one does not prevent the making, distributing, or public displaying of pictures of the work if the building is ordinarily visible from a public space. Therefore in these cases a property release should not be required from the copyright owner. Nonetheless, in the case of France, a property release is required from the copyright owner if the building is the primary subject of the photograph and the photograph is used for commercial purposes.

There is some confusion about whether building owners (and not necessarily the copyright owners) can prevent the use of photographs of their buildings. In general, if the photograph of the building is taken from a public place (not from the inside) the owner of the building/property cannot prevent the use of the photographs for commercial purposes unless the use of the photograph violates its right of privacy/publicity. In the USA, for example, if the building identifies the owner, the owner’s right of privacy might be violated, so a property release is required. A property release is necessary if the photograph is taken from the interior of a house or other building. If you are not sure whether photos of a building need a release, or not, you should ask.

2. When the subject matter is a trademark or a service mark

Trademarks are defined as a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. It indicates the origin of the object, or goods. Examples of trademarks are the Nike “Swoosh,” the Cadillac symbol, or the shape of the Coca Cola bottle. A service mark is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product.

A photograph of an object rarely infringes a registered trademark associated with the object if the trademark or logo is not the primary subject of the photograph. In order to infringe a trademark or a service mark, the use of the photograph has to create confusion about the source of the goods or services or imply endorsement or association. It is the use of the photo which can cause problems, but to be on the safe side, photographers should avoid showing or remove logos and trademarks from the photographs.

Here again, the photographer should remember that copyright and trademark laws vary from one country to another and that a photograph that may not require a property release in one country may require one in another country. It is important for the photographer to be aware of the laws applicable in each case, and whenever possible, to obtain a property release.

What should a property release include?

Basically the information required is the same as for model releases. The person who grants the permission should be the authorized signatory for the property. A clear description of the property should be included in the property release along with a photograph of the same.

A photo with Property Release can be widely sold for commercial uses.
A photo without Property Release can be sold for certain purposes, but not widely, as it will depend on a number of legal factors such as for what use and what building is shown in the image.
If you have any doubts, or need further information, please contact
Raquel Gisbert.

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