Westminster fountain at sunset

by Jorge Córdoba

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I have an image of an old garage with a hand-painted Coca-Cola logo on an exterior wall. Do I need a release from Coke to sell copies of this image?

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Who owns the Garage? And Who did the painting? –  damned truths Mar 4 at 5:15
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I think you should consult a lawyer with this. The country will be important, also whether it is a "public exhibit", whether it is fins art or stock photography... only a lawyer will know all the local details. –  DetlevCM Mar 4 at 9:51

2 Answers 2

There's four possible copy rights to consider here:

  1. The Coca-Cola logo is a trademark, so reproduction is heavily restricted. A logo simply appearing in a photo doesn't necessarily mean you can't sell it, but if it's the primary subject then you're commercialising Coke's trademark.

  2. The logo was hand-painted by someone, and either they or Coca-Cola (e.g. if they commissioned the work) would retain copyright over the artwork. Again, selling a straight-forward reproduction of the artwork is commercialising the work, if it is the primary subject.

  3. If the garage itself is the subject, and is a work of art (seems unlikely, but just for completeness!), the same would apply to it.

  4. If you didn't take the photo, then the copyright of the photo will also be an issue, as it will be retained by the artist or whoever commissioned them.

In some cases, the concept of "fair use" applies, allowing reproduction of some likeness or trade mark, but this would not apply if the subject of your photo is very clearly the logo (or likeness/trademark) itself, especially if you're selling them, and especially if you've not significantly altered the appearance of the work for your own artistic purposes.

The actual legal requirements depend very much on your jurisdiction though, and you would need to speak to a lawyer familiar with the relevant copyright laws for your area (both where you would sell the copies, and where you took the photo).

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Another question to consider whether it is art prints or stock material - from what I understand they are treated differently in Europe. In addition, if it is art in the public domain it may be perfectly legal to sell photographs of it (to the best of my understanding true in Europe). I would HIGHLY recommend to consult a lawyer as this is very specific to the location. –  DetlevCM Mar 4 at 9:49

I would add something. Asking Coca Cola itself might clarify things. Companies are usually worried about their trademark and copyright properties being diluted. They are not worried about going after every reproduction, especially if it enhances their brand value. Of course this is subjective, and yet, it might save money if you are worried about the expense involved in hiring and consulting a lawyer.

They might just ask you to leave a statement assigning ownership of the logo copyright/trademark with their company.

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