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I have a collection of photos that I have taken while touring through display homes that were part of a home-design show. I want to publish the photos online to share with others the architectural design that inspires me.

Photography was allowed in the homes by the administrators of the tours. I may have agreed to some type of restrictions by purchasing the ticket, but I did not sign anything.

I have read other legal questions here to attempt to gain an understanding of this issue, but I want to make sure there are no other restrictions that apply to this specific case.

My questions are:

  • When taking photographs of someone else's property, can I still publish the photo legally?
  • What about when taking photographs on someone else's property?
  • If the property in the photo is "identifiable" as belonging to someone else (or as the work of some architect or designer), does that change things at all?
  • If the "conditions" of the ticket purchase did place some restrictions on photography, but the ticket holders do not sign anything, will that still hold up?

I realize that if I were to commercialize my endeavor, I would be well-advised to talk to a lawyer (and I may need to anyway), but I am just looking for some starter advice here.

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2  
See also photo.stackexchange.com/questions/10601/… –  mattdm Sep 6 '11 at 20:14

5 Answers 5

Your right to publish photos of someone else's house changes between countries, states and even between houses (as far as I understand, some buildings are copyrighted).

I think you best course of action is to contact someone from the organization that organized the tour and ask - they probably have a policy about this.

This is the polite thing to do and it will save you the cost of a lawyer.

Property owners can say "no" when they don't have the legal right to do so — and in that case you have the option to get a lawyer and do whatever you can do legally or to not be a jerk and just move on with your life.

Do you really want to get into a long and expensive saga just so you can use your legal rights?

As it stand now you don't know what you are legally allowed to do; knowing that requires an intellectual property lawyer, detailed info on the pictures and houses and whatever terms and conditions documents that may or may not exist (and the validity of those documents, etc.) — just knowing what you are legally allowed to do is expensive (I don't believe good cheap intellectual property lawyers exists).

So, your options are:

  1. spend a good sum of money and lots of time finding out your exact legal rights.

  2. post the pictures without knowing if you're allowed to and hope you don't get sued (not a bad option but don't blame me if it gets you into trouble).

  3. ask; I know it sounds strange but if you are polite and nice to people they tend to be nice to use, so just send a short e-email like:

I've been on your (ABCDEF) tour and enjoyed it very much, I've taken some pictures during the tour and I want to upload them to (my flicker stream/my personal web site/whatever) to show my friends, is it ok with you? thanks.

Note this message is designed to make it easy to say "yes" (who would say you can't share your wonderful experience with friends?). Don't ask about publishing rights unless you want to get lawyers involved. If they answer this with a "no", it's likely there is something you agreed to by buying the ticket anyway.

Obviously this only applies to art/personal use but I don't think anyone will even look at buying a picture for commercial use without a signed release.

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2  
It's very likely that they will say "no" even if (legally) they don't have the right to say that. –  NickC Sep 7 '11 at 20:49
    
@Renesis - I've edited my answer - 1. they aren't "very likely to say no" if you ask the right question (see edit in answer) 2. how much time and money are you willing to waste just to be right? (or, if this is cheap and quick in your opinion - I want your intellectual property lawyer phone number) –  Nir Sep 8 '11 at 6:31

The Short answer is No, you don't need permission: The following is from danheller.com's advice on photos of trademarked and copyrighted works:

The reason property tends to rarely ever need a release is because inanimate objects like buildings, unlike people, are not legally protected under publicity or privacy laws. Regardless of what the property is—a pet, a house, a building, or a work of art—such items do not require a release because they don't have inherent rights of privacy or publicity like people do. That they are owned by people is entirely irrelevant. People have rights of privacy and publicity because they are specifically written as laws. In no federal or state statutes is the word "property" used along side of "persons", "privacy" or "publicity."

So, though it may shock you to hear it, there is no such thing as a "property release." Well, they certainly exist, but they are almost all entirely useless legally. That's right, I said, "almost." Such items can be protected, and the mechanism to do so is via copyright and trademark registration. All this translates to a rather simple rule: property has no protections (hence a photo of property can be published) unless that property is protected by copyright or trademark. But it's not that simple either—the copyright and trademark protections only apply if the photo of the article could imply an association with the publisher. And that brings us full circle to the first paragraph above. So, the easy way to think of this stuff is this simple process:

  • Does the photo of the "thing" imply an association or advocacy of whoever puts the photo into use?
  • If so, is that "thing" protected by copyright and/or trademark?
  • If so, is the nature of the copyright or trademark one in which the test for "association" (step one) could harm or otherwise misrepresent the owner of the "thing?"
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I think it would be a good idea to visually separate what you are quoting from someone else from your own content - you can simply add ">" before the paragraph, for each paragraph you are quoting. –  Chaithanya M Dec 26 '12 at 22:23

I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but my understanding in Canada and United States, at least, are:

A1. Photos of others property may be published, advertising or other commericial use may require a release, however.

A2. If they allowed you to do so, then yes. If you took photos against expressed desires, then you run the risk of trespassing. In general, I prefer explicit permission as being safer rather than assuming in the absence of signage or statement to the contrary.

A3. AFAIK no, if it is in the public eye. However, be cautious. For example, the Eiffel Tower in Paris is pretty aggressive on this front. So there are definite jurisdictional implications to this question.

A4. I would be surprised if it didn't. It's an implied contract as a condition of purchase and I think the courts would hold you to it. At the very least, you could be charged with trespassing as a result if it is private property.

The big caveat to my answers are that it's personal/artistic use. As you said, if you want to commercialize it, get a lawyer. If you're at all in doubt on any front, get a lawyer.

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Interesting that you say taking pictures against expressed desires that it could be termed trespassing. I wouldn't have thought so, but you may be right. Looks like they would have to prove some sort of "damage" being done. If it were technically trespassing, could they do anything other than tell you to stop? –  MikeW Sep 7 '11 at 22:43
    
@MikeW - I think if the permissions defining you allowing to be there include no photography, then you could stumble on trespassing as a result of violating those conditions. Jurisdictions may vary, however, in this regard. –  John Cavan Sep 7 '11 at 23:59

If you are on private propery without permission, you certainly might land yourself in trouble for any images you took.

If you are on private property with permission, but they have stated you aren't allowed to take pictures, but you do take pictures, they have the right to remove you, but I'm not sure they could force you to delete the pictures.

In any case you were there with permission and photos were allowed. They might have terms and conditions that state you can't use them for commercial purposes, or even that you can't reproduce them at all. Whether or not they can enforce that, if those were the conditions, you accepted them by purchasing the ticket, and should respect them IMO.

I don't think "Fair Use" comes into play, unless their designs are copyrighted. Even if so, I would think a positive blog post praising the design would be welcome. You could contact the designer perhaps for permission.

If you wrote negative things, of course you could get a lawsuit, even if you're in the right. For non-commercial use, common sense says you should be ok, but if you intend to write something positive, might as well be safe and contact those involved for permission.

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My short answer is yes as long as the owner of the house permits you to do so.

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What happens if you ask for such permission, and then your photo becomes famous (used in an advertisement, say), and then the owner says "I didn't mean permitted like that!" and demands money? –  mattdm Sep 17 '11 at 12:23

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