I would like to show my skills when taking photos of products. In this case I will use “Curology” skincare. I don’t have permission to use their products. Will I get in copy right trouble if I put it on my personal portfolio website? (I live in the US).

  • \$\begingroup\$ The Mickey Mouse laws in the US are insane, but a copyright violation it's not if it's a photograph you took yourself; the copyright is yours. There may be other statutes you need to be aware of, depending on your jurisdiction. \$\endgroup\$
    – tripleee
    Apr 14, 2021 at 5:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe will be better to ask your questions here: law.stackexchange.com \$\endgroup\$ Apr 14, 2021 at 6:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ You need to research on trademark law and if it applies in your case. It might be an alternative to use generic items with a self-designed fantasy product label to avoid potential hassle. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt
    Apr 14, 2021 at 6:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why the downvote to the question? Any suggestions for the new user to improve any deficiencies would be helpful. \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Apr 14, 2021 at 14:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ IMHO you should have several brands so you can better argue that the use of a specific brand was incidental. Plus if one of them sues you can start a Twitter campaign denouncing them as a bunch of sshles because the other brands didn't complain. \$\endgroup\$
    – xenoid
    Apr 15, 2021 at 9:11

2 Answers 2


The standard "I am not a lawyer; don't rely on legal advice from strangers on the internet" disclaimer applies.

Generally, you are legally allowed to photograph products and their logos in the U.S., and publish those photos on your website.

Avoid things that imply: endorsement by the company or the trademark owner; commissioning of your photo by the company; or really, any relationship whatsoever. Also avoid somehow showing the products or the marks that can be construed as maliciously false or damaging to them, etc. Anything like that would expose you to tort claims.

Of course, the company is not prevented from filing suit against you, even if the suit has little or no merit – SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) suits are an example of this type of action (although usually, it's to silence criticism of the company, and are less often about photographs). Often times, the artist/photographer/writer settles such suits, even though they are not in violation of any laws; the cost of responding to and fighting such suits is more than the creator is willing to spend. (In those cases, often "settlement" is just agreeing to a cease-and-desist, i.e., removal/unpublication of the photo(s).) So the suits are effective in achieving their goal, even though they are never heard in court.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm curious... why does it cost anything if someone files a lawsuit against you when you are not in violation of any laws? Can't you just simply ignore it? If you are issued with a court summons, well, attend the court – you didn't do anything wrong. I don't see where you have to pay anything. \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    Apr 14, 2021 at 12:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @osullic Well, sure, but in those cases, the company probably isn't suing you in small claims court, in your own jurisdiction. So you're going to the jurisdiction most favorable to them (sometimes, those are filed in certain notoriously pro-corporate federal circuits). And for anything more than petty small claims court, it's inadvisable to appear without an attorney ("a person acting as their own attorney has a fool for a client..."). So just the cost of travel, and minimal defense attorney costs, can be enough to push most people to settle. \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Apr 14, 2021 at 12:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ To the anon downvoter, why the downvote to the answer? Anything I can do to improve it? Is my answer completely off-base? Just wondering. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Apr 14, 2021 at 14:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @osullic, in the U.S. you can sue anybody for anything without merit. It is commonly done in corporate America to cause financial grief. If you are sued, you need to respond. A lawyer is generally needed. \$\endgroup\$
    – qrk
    Apr 14, 2021 at 17:22

Legal concerns can only be addressed by a lawyer. All of the small particulars of what is being done, who is doing it, and who might be interested matter.

Even if what you do is clearly fair use, the right's holder may choose to sue. That will likely create stress. It might involve paying a lawyer. It might involve your site being taken down by your hosting provider.

If it really matters, hire a lawyer.

But legality is less a potential minefield than how people viewing your work will interpret it.

Solely thinking about "professional" as meaning someone who is paid to make pictures (and including nothing about competence or ethics), the image might shout a lack of professional experience. Because it is clearly not client work.

Even worse, it is something you have to explain to potential clients. What makes it bad is that it is a conversation about "your problem" rather than the client's problem that they want to give you money to solve.

There is a whole world full of alternatives that will showcase your talent without generating issues to think about. Without the potential to learn lessons on copyright the hard way. Talk to local merchants and restaurants. Tell them you are trying to learn and ask to photograph their products for your portfolio not for free. Some will say no. But someone will say yes so long as you are thoughtful in planning and considerate in expectations.

Even better, you will have conversations with potential clients. Maybe they won’t be clients this year or next but five or ten years down the road. And you will have experience in client relations that will serve you well as your career grows and advances.


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