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Some photos of mine which I took downtown shows several stores in the background. These stores have their sign showing their company name or logo and are for various internationally known brands. The signs are recognizable in the photo.

Does this constitute fair use or does it infringe upon the copyrights or trademarks of those companies?

This may differ by region but I have much such photos taken in Canada and the US but also in some other countries around the world, at least in Europe and Asia, although almost certainly South America and possibly Africa.

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    what do you intend to do with the photos? – osullic Feb 24 '18 at 17:36
  • It depends over time. Today I was wondering because I was looking to enter one in a photo contest. As I said, these signs are background that just happen to be in the picture. they are not subjects by themselves. – Itai Feb 24 '18 at 19:05
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    Not an answer, not a lawyer - they paid to put those signs up to advertise. They can hardly complain if they appear in photos. At minimum it's free advertising, & I wouldn't think they'd entertain being charged to advertise their product in your photographic business, so all is equal in the end. – Tetsujin Feb 24 '18 at 19:52
  • I would expect you should have no issues with a photo contest, or even selling it as a print. Using it for stock might be a whole different matter though. Of course, jurisdiction will matter as well. – Robin Feb 26 '18 at 17:51
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IANAL, but I think it'd depend on how you use the photo. If your photo just happens to include someone's sign because it was there in the scene, that should be fine. Many cities have signs that have become icons in their cities, and nobody would reasonably claim that you couldn't photograph them. Here are a couple examples:

On the other hand, you shouldn't use an image of someone's sign to imply endorsement by the brand advertised in the sign.

  • Many of my photos would be similar to the second above, a street scene with more things going on let's say, but essentially a sign appears in the background, in contrast to the last image that is basically the sign plus a bit of building that it's attached to. – Itai Feb 24 '18 at 19:07
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The usual disclaimers apply - I'm not a lawyer, and this, as you mentioned, is likely to vary by country/state/city/etc, so if you need a better answer, find yourself a lawyer in the region in question.

But, I would think that for the most part, as long as the corporate logos are essentially background elements of the image - i.e. they're not what you're taking a picture of - then you should be fine. At least where I live in the US, it would be difficult to take photos in public without some sort of corporate logo showing up, even if just in a soft drink can or candy wrapper. On the other hand, if you're going around taking pictures specifically of those logos, that's a completely different question...

  • Also who's region are we talking about? Today I asked myself the question when selecting images for a photo contest in Japan, it is of a photo taken in the US by a Canadian photographer (me). – Itai Feb 24 '18 at 19:09
  • @ltai That's a good point. I was thinking within the region where the company owning the copyright/trademark is, but consulting one where you will be displaying/selling/competing the photo wouldn't be a bad idea either. – twalberg Feb 24 '18 at 19:50

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