Do I need a legal release to sell photos of things such as railroad tracks and plants/animals that are in public property? If I do need a legal release, who do I get it from if it's public property? There is no artwork, people, cars, buildings,etc. that might belong to a person.

Note: I'm in the U.S.(more specifically, Texas)

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    If you're going to ask a question like this, you need to at least include the general location because laws very from one place to the next. – Caleb Jan 4 '18 at 4:49
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    In the U.S., RR tracks are rarely on public property. Even where roads cross them, the RR usually owns the right of way and grants easement to the highway or city authority responsible for the road. Having said that, as long as you were standing on public property when you took the image of the private property there is no reasonable expectation of privacy by the property owner in most locales in the United States. – Michael C Jan 4 '18 at 6:05
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    "Can I sell photos of public property?" Not that Ansel Adams made a living doing exactly that. – Olin Lathrop Jun 3 '18 at 13:33
  • Some of Adams' most well known work was a special case: work done for hire for the U.S. Government. Such work paid for with taxpayers funds are public domain in the U.S. Adams made his living selling uniquely produced prints of those negatives. – Michael C Jan 23 '19 at 7:04

In the U.S., photos of private properties taken from public places can be used for artistic and editorial purposes. Even commercial usage is allowed as long as nothing seen in the image is trademarked. Some building designs, such as distinctive buildings like the TransAmerica building in San Francisco, are trademarked.

Even then, if it is not the dominant feature of the photo usage may be allowed. May as in maybe you can, maybe you can't - the only way to know for sure in many matters of civil law is to go to court and find out. For example, if you take a portfolio photo of your friend riding a bicycle and the TransAmerica building just happens to be one of a handful of tall buildings in the background, you're probably safe. On the other hand, if your friend is a fashion model doing a catalog shoot while standing on a rooftop and the TransAmerica building fills the frame behind her you're likely standing on a lot shakier ground.


First thing, selling photographs is not easy. A photograph which you may click and like may or may not be liked by someone else.

How long have you been doing photography? The quality of your photographs will wary in accordance with your experience and skill and your photography gear.

Selling photographs can be either for:

A. Commercial purpose (sell them to agencies for marketing, branding, etc)

B. Personal purpose - eg. Wedding Photographers clicks and sells the event photos to his customer who has hired him for the job

C. Editorial purpose - used by news and media agencies

A photograph taken by you - of a bird, plants, flowers, fruits, natural elements, etc (which are not owned by anyone) - are called your own "copyright" photographs. You can go ahead and sell them for commercial use.

Photographs of properties - buildings, shops, homes, etc (which are owned by someone else) would require a "property release" from the owner of the property for you to go ahead and sell those images - even if you have clicked them. If you have a legal release document then you can sell them for commercial use.

Photographs of branded items - cars, mobile phone, shoes, watches, perfume bottles, etc (in which the brand logo is visible) also require a "property release" or appropriate license from the brand manufacturer to sell. (By "brand" I mean - Apple, BMW, Nike, etc). If you have a legal release for this then you can sell them for commercial use.

Photographs of someone else's artwork - like a painting, drawing, sculpture, etc would require a legal release from the artist before you can sell those images.

Photographs of people - weather friends, family or strangers, would require a "model release" - to sell the photos - even if you have photographed them. If you have a legal model release document then you can sell these images for commercial use.

Photos of rail-road tracks, trees, roads, mountain landscapes, public benches, garbage cans, etc. which do not contain other brand elements (like people, cars, prominent buildings, logos) - would not require any license to sell and can be sold for commercial purpose.

Photographing public places - gardens, a Church, A Government Building - like a Court, photographs of public streets with people inside - like shop vendors, children playing, bridges, cars and taxis on streets, street plays, etc (these images can contain brands or buildings or people or all of them) - can be sold using an "editorial license" - These are generally used by news and media agencies and the images can only be used for editorial purpose and not for commercial use.

The difference between such editorial pictures and commercial pictures would mean that editorial pictures cannot be used for commercial purpose - like using them on an advertisement on a Billboard or Hoarding.

To understand licensing and start selling photographs, I suggest you subscribe yourself as a "Contributor" to any of the Stock Photography websites - like Bigstock, Shutterstock, iStock. These websites provide you with very clear licensing and copyright guidelines as to what you can sell, what you cannot and what legal releases would be required.

Check these two links for better understanding:

  1. https://stockphotolicense.com/faq/
  2. http://www.alamy.com/contributor/how-to-sell-images/model-property-releases-stock-images/

Click here to start selling your images on Stock and learn a log along the way - this website will not accept bad quality photographs and your rejected photos will make way to better photography - https://submit.shutterstock.com/

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    You need no release to sell images of most types of private property taken from public places for editorial or even artistic usage. A release in most circumstances is only needed for commercial usage (that is, used in a way that implies the owner is endorsing a product or service). Just because someone pays you for a photo does not make it "commercial" usage. This answer implies otherwise. – Michael C Jan 4 '18 at 15:55
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    Similarly, in the U.S., no model release is needed to sell photos of people for editorial or artistic usage. It is good business practice to do so because even though they will lose if they tried, someone could sue you for using their image and you would be forced to spend legal expenses defending yourself. – Michael C Jan 4 '18 at 15:57

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