A follow up to a comment in this question;

"However, if you take a picture of a building which falls under trademark rules, then you would face problems. A very few buildings fall into this category - the tall pyramid skyscraper in California (San Francisco?) is in this category."

How can you find out if a building falls under these trademark rules?

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ It was my understanding that anything that can be seen and photographed from a public place was fair game, unless event organizers (e.g. sporting events, concerts, etc) had notified up front (with signage or notices on tickets) that this was not the case. In essence, if one doesn't want his building photographed, one shouldn't build it outside :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – HiredMind
    Jan 17, 2011 at 17:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Looks like my comment started something :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Mei
    Jan 17, 2011 at 17:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ PS: "The tall pyramid skyscraper" is the Transamerica Pyramid. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mei
    Jan 17, 2011 at 17:18

3 Answers 3


It seems other answers are discussing how trademark law works and advising that you consult a lawyer (not a bad idea), but here's an answer to your actual question:

The US Trademark office has an online search form to search for trademarks - it's called the Trademark Electronic Search System.

For example, searching for Transamerica returns a result which consists of the trademark for the pyramid-shaped building you describe.

These results are US-specific.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The link is dead (expired search). \$\endgroup\$
    – Unapiedra
    Mar 31, 2012 at 17:36

Google finds over 900000 photos of the Transamerica building in San Francisco.

If you are planning to take a photo of a single landmark building, in a country where these trademark laws apply, and plan to use that photo commercially in that country - you should probably approach the owner of the building and ask their consent.

For important legal questions it is likely to be better to ask a lawyer than a photographer.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "ask a lawyer", especially. The answer will depend on a number of factors, including where you are when you take the photo, where in the world the building is, how you're using the image, where in the world you're using the image, etc. It would take a lawyer from your area who is experienced specifically in trademark law as relates to photography to really get a solid answer, and I'm guessing even then there will be lots of nuance. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – lindes
    Feb 15, 2011 at 13:54

I googled a bit about this ("copyrighted buildings" and "trademarked buildings") but mostly got a bunch of forums posts.

I found this long article about photographing copyrighted and trademarked objects to be interesting. Maybe it may help.

Specifically, section 4.1 deals with the Transamerica building, and other subjects.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This article is outrageously fabulous - and long and detailed. Definitely worth reading! \$\endgroup\$
    – Mei
    Jan 17, 2011 at 17:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, Dan Heller's article is a good one, which I've read in the past. In particular, I note the phrase: "Remember to avoid mixing your notions of trademarks and copyrights." The way this question was asked gives no indication of confusing the two, but people often do, so just be careful that you're not. :) (They are very different in a number of important ways, such as rules about protecting against infringement, and when one can do that effectively -- trademark holders must be much more diligent, is my understanding. I am not a lawyer. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – lindes
    Feb 15, 2011 at 14:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.