Recently I played around with some lighting and macro shooting of some of my (beat-up) Matchbox toy cars from the 1970's. The results were pleasing to my eye and I had visions of making my millions by selling these images.

The Matchbox brand is now owned by Mattel, and my pics are obviously identifiable as being of those toys, even though the style is on the creative side rather than a straight pic.


  1. My assumption is that without a blessing from Mattel that I could not legally sell my images. Is that valid?

  2. If I need permission, how do you approach multi-nationals such as Mattel? (and are they typically amenable to such things?)

Update 1

Currently I am in the US and had intended selling here, but a website knows no geographical bounds.

Update 2

After reading If my photo is “copied” through a painting, is that a legal? I am of the feeling (in the US) that if my pics are considered a derivative work of the original designs, then they would stand alone as separate works.

That raises the (most likely very subjective) question of:

Are different lighting and camera angles sufficient to create a derivative work of an object?

And by different I mean wildly dissimilar to anything the original designers used to depict their designs.

Finally I am well aware of talk to a lawyer, and I am only asking this question in terms of getting a general idea of the issue.

Update 3

A comment from Chuqui has made me realize I might have been accidentally confusing people with the terms I was using. When I said commercially I was thinking in terms of selling fine art prints rather than to magazines, stock services etc. In my mind making money off something is commercial. It may be that my personal definition is not correct.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Please explain which jurisdiction you're in, and which jurisdictions you're intending to sell the photos in - it may make a significant difference. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 22:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I asked myself the very same questions with Lego bricks :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Andy M
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 22:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Would you need Ford's permission to sell a photo of a beat up old Ford pickup truck (or even a new one)? Do you need Nike's permission to sell a photo of an old Nike sneaker? \$\endgroup\$
    – Caleb
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 23:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Caleb I don't know .. which is why I am asking the question. I would expect that companies like Mattel have a good hold on the look of their works as otherwise any toy company could make knock-offs that exactly replicated them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Peter M
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 23:09
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterM Good luck selling anything that can be easily replicated in a studio for any amount at all. Rights to stock photos that would have netted hundreds or even thousands of dollars 10-20 years ago are selling for pennies on today's market. The only photos that are truly worth large sums are those that are of unique objects, individuals, or events that can not be easily reproduced by others. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 0:12

1 Answer 1


Anything with a recognizable logo is generally unusable in stock or micro stock, so those markets are immediately closed to you.

It's very unlikely you could market into the commercial market without releases on the logos and trademarks.

It's more likely you could sell them into the editorial market, but unless the publication was specifically doing an article on those toys, they're unlikely to be too interested in them, and if they are doing something specifically about them, is there any reason yours are going to interest them? (and since you can't market them through an agency because of the logos, how would they know about them?)

And as Michael Clark noted in the comments to your question, unless there's something really unique here, it's unlikely anyone looking for material like this would be interested in paying much...

Oh, even if you can figure out the rest, why is it worth Matell's time to respond and evaluate your request or issue a release? What's in it for them? If you can't answer that, expect silence from them...

In other words, not something I'd suggest bothering to put any time into...

  • \$\begingroup\$ How do you feel that fits in with my update about derivative works? For example selling them as fine art. (yes I know I am getting waaaaay ahead of myself here) BTW there are no visible logos or trademarks - except perhaps the designs of the toys themselves. \$\endgroup\$
    – Peter M
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 1:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fine Art I would think is okay legally (but I am not a lawyer). I'd be comfortable doing that. It's a bit out of my comfort zone, but if I was considering this as a project, I wouldn't see enough market to warrant doing it; as fine art, the draw for a buyer is nostalgia, and in that case, I think logos and etc would be a big advantage. \$\endgroup\$
    – chuqui
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 1:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ I can't predict what would sell and what wouldn't (Grumpy cat has brought in $120 million in license fees!)). On the other hand I don't want to be answering a lawsuit. But as you said .. I am not a lawyer either. \$\endgroup\$
    – Peter M
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 1:39

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