I am a freelance fashion & wedding photographer from India, and now have started product photography. I have done a lot of test shoots at my home studio using brands like Coke, perfumes, beauty products, etc., for my own portfolio.

Can I post the photos I had taken to social media sites and my personal website as my portfolio? Will I have any copyright issues?

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    Where are you located? (Country, judicial district, etc.) It can have a significant impact on how your question may be answered.
    – Michael C
    Oct 8 '17 at 19:11
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    I think it can be assumed that the OP is in India. I presume that mentioning being from India is to suggest that is also where he/she is operating.
    – osullic
    Oct 8 '17 at 19:57
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    @osullic That was my assumption too, but it's quite unclear: the OP might be saying they're from India as a way of explaining that they're unfamiliar with the laws of their new country, whether that's the US or somewhere else. I don't think I'd describe myself as from the US if I were still in the US.
    – Caleb
    Oct 9 '17 at 19:36
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    Hire an attorney if it actually matters. Read the law if it sort of matters. If it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter.
    – user50888
    Oct 27 '17 at 13:57

I am not a lawyer and any advice or opinions I give are my own. You should neither act nor refrain from acting on any information provided by myself or others.

Indian law is largely based on British law and they are fairly similar in this area as I understand it.

The application of copyright depends on your work. If what you have done is added an obvious creative element to that image through arrangement, composition, lighting, etc then you're safe from them. If what you have done is essentially make a photographic copy of their branding then you are definitely not ok. It is also worth noting that the product you choose may be hugely iconic and you need to be careful not to reproduce images made by other photographers because that can open you up to copyright infringement cases from THEM.

You have to consider their trademark. Will your work be used in a way that they could construe to be an endorsement of you, or the services you offer? They are fiercely protective of their brand and you should consider this a very likely situation, one where you are likely to get into trouble.

Above both of those you should consider, even if you are in the right, if you can afford to defend yourself in a civil case. Your potential adversary are a multi-billion dollar global brand with deep pockets and a team of expert lawyers on call 24x7. Is that something you can afford to defend yourself against even if you are in the right? Even if you can, do you need the stress in your life?

Given what you want to do is stand out, you should consider making (or have a local artist make for you) some of your "own brand" products. In the case of cans you can vinyl wrap or repaint them easily and the results can come up nicely (with practice) car modification sites might give you a good start. Bottles are a little trickier and for that I would go for vintage ones, or for a standard bottle then you can print up your own-brand labels cheaply. Look around online at various forums for people who make film & stage props, there are usually how-to guides and examples of various materials in use.

  • This does not answer the question, "Is it legal?" and disclaims expertise.
    – user50888
    Oct 27 '17 at 15:43
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    It does answer the question of legality... legality depends on the creative input applied and to be aware of trademark challenges in addition to copyright. It also notes that the letter of the law doesn't prevent the application of it (even if you are in the right) from being ruinously expensive. Perhaps I should add a TL;DR since you haven't read it properly! The very oddly worded disclaimer is there for a good reason and you'll find similar disclaimers on webpages from law firms when discussing generic advice. Oct 27 '17 at 16:09

If you're in the US, then copyright doesn't apply to names and titles such as "Coke." However, the artwork of a logo may be copyrightable if it contains "sufficient authorship," which the Coke logo probably does. According to one legal web site, you wouldn't be liable unless the infringement was done without permission, knowingly, and for profit. So it sounds like they could sue you for copyright infringement. Realistically, however, it seems unlikely to me that Coca Cola Corporation would actually sue you.

A side issue is that the Coke logo is presumably trademarked. But taking a picture of it doesn't infringe the trademark, because you're not selling a similar product such as a soda. Here is some info from the US Patent and Trademark Office about this:

Trademark infringement is the unauthorized use of a trademark or service mark on or in connection with goods and/or services in a manner that is likely to cause confusion, deception, or mistake about the source of the goods and/or services. [...] The key factors considered in most cases are the degree of similarity between the marks at issue and whether the parties' goods and/or services are sufficiently related that consumers are likely to assume (mistakenly) that they come from a common source.

  • So you mean to say that there is no way a comapany can sue me because i have used the product photos only to show my artistic intent in my portfolio.
    – Dipin
    Oct 9 '17 at 2:17
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    You make strange conclusions based on obviously superficial knowledge. The notoriety of the Coca Cola trademark disallows usage of the trademark for any goods or services. Publishing a portfolio for self promotion or advertising of your own services is a for-profit activity. I would be very surprised if Coca Cola allows or ignores that someone is using their products as the main subject in advertisments for a completely unrelated service.
    – jarnbjo
    Oct 9 '17 at 11:42
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    @Dipin: So you mean to say that there is no way a comapany can sue me... No, I said the opposite of that. Oct 9 '17 at 19:23
  • @jarnbjo: Actually I think you're wrong and I'm right. I'll add more detail to the answer, along with a citation to a reliable source of information. Oct 9 '17 at 19:24
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    In the USA you can take a photo of a Coke can and sell it as long as there is something other than a plain old shot of a Coke can. Copyright has a doctrine called "fair use" and one of the major requirements to fall under a fair use exception is how "transformative" the work is. If you take a photo of a Coke can that is very interesting because of unique things you've done, it is probably sufficiently transformative to fall under fair use. It is not trademark dilution; unless you're selling it as if you ARE Coke, it's firmly a copyright issue. Oct 22 '17 at 23:37

IANAL, but I think that as with model releases, an important point is whether you're creating an impression of some sort of relationship or endorsement. If you put product photos of Coke cans in your portfolio, it could easily seem like you were pretending to have done work for The Coca-Cola Company. It's typical (in the US at least) for people to show examples of paid jobs they've done in the past, so someone looking at such a shot in your portfolio would likely assume that's what they're looking at.

I'd avoid the problem by taking some shots of unmarked products. You could paint a can, or buy some blank aluminum cans. Nobody could complain about such photos, and your images would implicitly say "imagine your product here."

  • This does not answer the question of whether or not it is legal in India.
    – user50888
    Oct 27 '17 at 14:00
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    @benrudgers As I said at the very beginning, I'm not a lawyer. Also, this is not a web site for legal advice. But the spirit of laws often crosses political boundaries, and no matter where the OP lives I think it's a good idea to avoid even the appearance of claiming to have worked for someone if that's not the case.
    – Caleb
    Oct 27 '17 at 14:05

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