Let's say I am participating in a motorsports event, someone captures a photo/video of my car (and I am driving it) - can they use the photo/video without my permission? And also the other way round: Do I have to ask for permission of the same photo (of my car) from the photographer before using it for my own promotion?

I know this can be country-specific, but let's say there is no specific law for this kind in that country yet and the form of the dispute is a well-known forum e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Youtube etc

  • 10
    \$\begingroup\$ If "there is no specific law..." then there's likely no such thing as copyright. I don't think that asking this without any sort of legal system context makes a whole lot of sense. \$\endgroup\$
    – twalberg
    Apr 9, 2018 at 13:44
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Voting to close as too broad. It seems like you're fishing for a pseudo-legal excuse to use someone's image for yourself. If you are truly interested in either using the image or stopping the photog from using it, a jurisdiction is required for this question. \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Apr 9, 2018 at 15:49
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Also - you should read the waiver that you signed for the motorsports event. There's probably a clause in there giving the venue the right to take photo/video and distribute/sell to their heart's content. If the photog in question worked for the venue...that changes things a bit as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Apr 9, 2018 at 15:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Imagine how many concurrent legal cases someone like Lewis Hamilton would be fighting if it wasn't clear who owned the photos of him &/or his rather expensive, highly secretive car design with copyright/trademarked logos... \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetsujin
    Apr 9, 2018 at 16:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you want a truly bizarre legal example, how about the 'monkey selfie' debate - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monkey_selfie_copyright_dispute \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetsujin
    Apr 9, 2018 at 18:44

7 Answers 7


I'm going to answer mostly in terms of US copyright law. As you noted, it does vary--but perhaps less than you'd expect. There have been efforts to keep copyrights similar between countries for a long time, starting from the Berne Convention of 1886. There have been quite a few more international treaties on copyrights since then, and most of the "civilized" world has signed them.

The person who took the picture/video normally owns the copyright.

There are exceptions, such as when/if it was done as a "work for hire", in which case whoever hired them is considered the author of the work and therefore the owner of the copyright.

There may be more than one copyright in play though. If your car has a unique design, there may be at least some room for argument that you own a copyright on it. Under the Berne convention, copyright is allowed to cover: "every production in the literary, scientific and artistic domain, whatever may be the mode or form of its expression." If your car has a basic, factory paint job you probably can't claim copyright on it. If it has a unique and recognizable design, however, you probably can. Even if it's factory paint, you may be able to claim copyright on the lighting (if you've added any).

To give one example of that, the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (which manages the Eiffel Tower) claims copyright on the lighting of the Eiffel Tower, so most night-time pictures of the Eiffel tower are protected. They can't do much about your simply taking a picture, and it would probably be impractical to try to stop people from sharing such photos with their friends--but if you try to sell such photos on a stock photo site, they may well demand royalties.

So, getting back to your question, even if they own the copyright on the video, you may be able to claim copyright on the design of your car. Assuming you can, you may be able to prevent them from using or distributing that video (or at least the part of it that includes your car).

Copyright is a kind of a negative right though. Holding a copyright on your car's design doesn't give you a right to use their video. You have a right to prevent them from infringing the copyright on your car's design, so they can't distribute the video. They have a right to prevent you from infringing their copyright on the video, so you can't use their video without permission.

In a case like this, it's usually to both parties benefit to come to some agreement allowing both you and them to use the video--but that's pretty much outside the law.

Well, there are (probably) laws covering it too, but that would be contract law, not copyright law. Contract law varies much more widely than copyright law, so it's almost impossible to guess at how it might limit such an agreement without getting into a lot more detail about the jurisdiction.

Non-Commercial Use

In comments, questions have arisen about whether non-commercial use would still constitute infringement of a copyright.

US copyright law has a provision explicitly recognizing "fair use", so that (for example) a review of a book can contain some limited quotes from that book without its being considered copyright infringement. Most other countries also recognize a fair use doctrine, but don't have any explicit statements to that effect on their copyright laws--i.e., in most countries, fair use is purely common law, not statutory.

The mere fact that a use is not commercial, however, does not necessarily mean that it falls within fair use. For one example, consider Society of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Inc., v. Archbishop Gregory of Denver, Colorado. In this case, Archbishop Gregory posted some copied material to a web site. The intent was purely educational and non-commercial.

Nonetheless, the first circuit court ruled that this was copyright infringement, and did not fall within fair use, despite recognizing that there was no intent of commercial exploitation.

The case was appealed, and the appeals court upheld the lower court's judgement.


A long string of comments has resulted in people talking about trademarks and whether trademark infringement could be involved. It was purely a straw man argument, but since it was brought up, perhaps it would be worth writing a little about the basic intent of trademarks, and why they're utterly irrelevant to the question at hand.

The basic intent of trademarks is consumer protection. Let me give a photographically-oriented example. Nikon owns trademarks on names like "Nikon" and "Nikkor". Trademark protection is what prevents me from doing something like buying up some lenses with Nikon mounts from (say) Cosina, slapping a Nikon nameplate on them, and using that to convince people that what they're buying is a real Nikon lens (though as the trademark owner, if Nikon chooses to buy lenses from Cosina and sell then under their own name, that's entirely legal).

So, to repeat: it's about consumer protection. If you tried to sell your Dodge as a Mercedes by Photoshopping a Mercedes hood ornament onto it, that might qualify as trademark infringement.

Looking at the instance Michael Clark cited of taking a picture of the TransAmerica building, we'd get pretty similar results. If I simply take a picture, that might infringe a copyright, but won't infringe their trademark). If, however, I start to sell insurance (from some other carrier) and use my picture of the TransAmerica tower in the letter head, that would probably be considered trademark infringement, because a reasonable person looking at my letterhead could be led to believe that the insurance I was selling was from TransAmerica.

Of course, it doesn't always have to be specifically about selling per se. For one obvious example, if you were deceived about the brand of a car you were renting, that could be trademark infringement as well.


Copyright and Trademark are separate and mostly unrelated. Trademark infringement is primarily about a consumer being deceived into believing that they're getting something different that what they really are. There's nothing in the original question here to indicate that trademarks would be involved in any way.


Usual disclaimers apply: I'm not an attorney. None of the preceding should be mistaken for legal advice.


Let's say I am participating in a motorsports event, someone captures a photo/video of my car (and I am driving it) - can they use the photo/video without my permission?

In the US, yes, they can use it, but there are limitations on what they can use it for. For example, the photographer can take photos of you or your car in public, make prints, and display them, but he/she can't use that photo to promote a product. You should read up on model releases and property releases, what they do, and when they're needed, and what's allowed without one. A release grants a photographer the right to use a photo of a person or property in ways that he/she couldn't without the release.

Do I have to ask for permission of the same photo (of my car) from the photographer before using it for my own promotion?

Yes, if you don't own the copyright, then you need to get permission to use the photo, even if you or your property are the subject of the photo.


The answer to this question is fairly simple: unless you own the copyright to photos of your car, you do not own the copyright to photos of your car.

Few things can be copyrighted in such a way. The Eiffel tower’s night lights are. Some artwork is. And some celebrities are. If your car had such a copyright, you would know.

An exception could be if you could get the photographer to accept an agreement that you get the copyright, but that would usually involve work-for-hire.

(I’m talking about distribution and/or publication rights here, specifically.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ That's not what work-for-hire means. If one party hires another to take specific photos for them that is covered under contract law, because the photographer is a 'contractor' in that context. Work-for-hire is a situation where taking photos is part of a job description as an 'employee' in which the rights to the work produced by the employee are owned by the employer as a condition of employment covered in the employment agreement. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Apr 9, 2018 at 23:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I doubt that most people who hold copyrights on cars realize they do. Quite the contrary, I doubt that most painters or car owners know much about copyright law, and fewer still probably even consider the possibility that it could apply to a paint job. The reality, however, is that if something qualifies for copyright protection then all that's needed for it to be copyrighted is for it to be created. E.g., if I write a book, it's immediately copyrighted. I can register the copyright, but even without that, I have a copyright anyway. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 10, 2018 at 0:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JerryCoffin I was talking about the copyright to the photos, not to the car(‘s paint job). Those are two separate copyrights. \$\endgroup\$
    – Belle
    Apr 10, 2018 at 4:42
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @JerryCoffin yes, the type of copyright where you also own the copyright to photos taken of it. That’s pretty rare. \$\endgroup\$
    – Belle
    Apr 11, 2018 at 17:10
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Belle-Sophie Just a minor nit. No one holds a copyright to the Eiffel tower at night. They actually hold the copyright to the lighting scheme used to illuminate the Eiffel Tower at night. If for some reason the power went out and the lighting upon which the copyright is based were not illuminating the tower, it would be fair game for anyone who wished to photograph it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Apr 12, 2018 at 20:20

In the case of a motorsports event it is highly likely that the competitors, the paying guests/patrons, and any media representatives allowed to attend have all agreed to the policies of the sanctioning body and/or host facility. Anyone working directly for the sanctioning body/organizers/host facility as paid/unpaid contractors or as employees are also governed by their mutual agreements.

Who owns the copyright of images taken at such an event will be governed by the terms of those policies and agreements that may be written and signed or implied by participation in the event.

In order to use an image, even if it is of you, you must have the permission of the copyright holder of the image, whomever that may be. The copyright most likely exclusively belongs to the photographer, but it may be shared or assigned to any of the other parties involved with the event.

Further, in the case of images posted to social media platforms such as facebook, instagram, youTube, etc. the user agreement for those social media platforms will also come into play. In general, the user account that uploads the photo must affirm that they own the rights to an image or have uploaded it with the permission of the rights holder. In general, the rights holder retains the rights to the image but agrees to give the social media platform permission for certain usages as outlined in the user agreement to which the user agreed when they created their account.


If you're participating in a Motorsports event then you should probably be looking at the contract you signed with the event administrators. It's pretty common practice for organizers to say by agreeing to participate in the event you consent to them photographing and video recording you for any and all usage they deem fit. In which case if that particular photographer was the official event photographer then its likely the event that owns the rights to the photo.

Now, if it wasn't the official photographer than you may have more options. It depends on how identifiable you / your property is as well as what they're using it for.

To answer the second part about whether you also have the rights to it. No, you absolutely have no rights to that photo. Does that mean they will come after you? Maybe yes, maybe no.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Whether the participants agree or not to allow publication of the images taken has no bearing on who has the copyright... cf. releases in studio photorgaphy: the model allows publication, but doesn't get the copyright (use right perhaps, though) \$\endgroup\$
    – remco
    Apr 10, 2018 at 6:03

People while in public have no reasonable expectation of privacy. Therefore they can be imaged with impunity. The photographer is the holder of a common-law copyright which is valid until superseded by an awarded copyright or voided when the photographer if he/she surrenders it by some act. The photographer is thus free to use the image in any way he/she sees fit. If you think you were harmed, you can seek satisfaction through the courts.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Expiation (reparation for guilt)? Expectation (strong belief)? \$\endgroup\$
    – Stan
    Apr 9, 2018 at 15:38
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ He wasn't in public \$\endgroup\$ Apr 9, 2018 at 16:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ RyanFromGDSC -- A motorsport event is a public event before an audience. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 9, 2018 at 16:21
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @AlanMarcus But not necessarily on public grounds. \$\endgroup\$
    – remco
    Apr 9, 2018 at 16:25
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @ remco -- Still no expiation of privacy. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 9, 2018 at 16:34

Very simply put:

There are two different "roles" here that should not be confused: copyright holder and publisher

In principle the photographer owns the copyright to his/her images simply by taking said images. (some special situations can apply, but they are not relevant to OP's question). There are situations in which copyright can be transferred, those are dependent on local law.

But, there are restrictions on how and where (s)he can publish those images. In the case of the Eifel tower, there's a copyright on the lighting scheme, which under French law prohibits publication of representations (i.e. photos) of that lighting scheme... The same goes for buildings, where the architect has the rights to the building and representations.
When there are recognisable persons in the image, the publisher might need permission of those persons to publish the images (depends on use, how the person is presented in the image, and local law).

But a person (or any object belonging to him) present in an image has no automatic right to obtain, let alone publish such an image.

(all the above is in the absence of any contracts, things like event rules you signed, contracts between you and the photographers, etc; can change a lot of it, again depending on local law).

In any case, I'm not a laywer, and all of this is not to be taken as legal advice. If you really want to know which rules and laws are relevant for you, talk to a local laywer that knows this stuff (laywers also specialise).


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.