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Can I take my own photos of landmarks in Los Angeles and sell them?

Los Angeles, CA |

I have taken a lot of photos of in and around LA. Places such as the Santa Monica Pier, the Hollywood sign, and wide shot photos of downtown LA. I want to sell the photos on the Venice Beach boardwalk. I know all about setting up a booth on the boardwalk. I was wondering if I am able to sell photos of these landmarks and not be sued for copyright or trademark infringement? Can a photo of the beach without any identifiable landmarks be sold? These are my original photos that I have taken myself.

Attorney Answers 7

  1. Yes, you should be able to do this. I believe there is even a statutory prohibition against trying to use copyright to protect public buildings. If I am wrong on that, hopefully someone here will correct me.

  2. It's not just copyright that you need to think about.

    For example, certain structures may also have trademark protection, and can't be used in or as a commercial product. Selling Art prints might be different than selling postcards or coffee-table books.

    For example, the Hollywood Sign is such a structure, as is the Disney Hall in downtown LA.

    Consult an attorney to evaluate your specific situation in greater detail. The answer isn't black-and-white, I'm afraid.

  3. As my colleague notes, you're free to create photos from public BUILDINGS, as the Copyright Act statute set out below states. But non-buildings such as the iconic Hollywood sign and the Santa Monica Pier may be copyrighted as SCULPTURE, and/or maybe trademarked.

    No one owns the ocean or the skyline (which includes buildings, mountains, etc.) so images of those would be ok, and uyes, photos you create and their copyrights should be owned by you, but you really should hire a lawyer to make sure your images are copyrightable and not infringements of any works or rights of others.

    17 USCS, sect. 120.
    Scope of exclusive rights in architectural works
    (a) Pictorial representations permitted.

    The copyright in an architectural work that has been constructed does not include the right to prevent the making, distributing, or public display of pictures, paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations of the work, if the building in which the work is embodied is located in or ordinarily visible from a public place.

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  4. Based on some quick research, apparently before 1990 buildings did not have copyright protection and thus photos of pre-1990 buildings taken by a photographer where not copyright infringement (American Society of Media Photographers website.) Be very careful of Disneyland and the Getty Museum who are very protective of their rights. As to skyllnes, you would need someone more expert than I.

    The above is general legal and business analysis. It is not "legal advise" but analysis, and different lawyers may analyse this matter differently, especially if there are additional facts not reflected in the question. I am not your attorney until retained by a written retainer agreement signed by both of us. I am only licensed in California. See also terms and conditions item 9, incorporated as if it was reprinted here.

  5. The answer is it depends on the "landmark" in question.

    While you can generally photograph buildings and other landmarks from areas available to the public, you need to know that the owners of certain buildings and signs aggressively pursue anyone trying to sell images of those particular landmarks (see first link below for a partial list).

    Some of the owners base their claims on trademark, while others pursue actions based on copyright where there are artistic elements (such as special painting, a sculpture or special lighting involved). In the list below, some of the claims were based on contract law because the photographers were given access to areas not available to the public.

    In addition to the items on the list (which includes the Hollywood sign), I know Paramount is very aggressive about photos taken of its main gate (see second link below), and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation is protective of the house-specific "textile block" designs used in the Storer, Hollyhock and Millard houses in Hollywood and Pasadena (see third link below).

    So, while pictures of the beach, generic shots of the Santa Monica pier (without identifiable people or signage), and long shots of the L.A. basin are likely fine, other landmarks can give rise to claims. Before you launch a large production, I would suggest that you meet with an intellectual property attorney who can review the specific shots and offer specific guidance.

    Good luck!

    Any answer or other information posted above is general in nature and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice. This posting does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the posting attorney, and you are urged to engage a qualified attorney who is licensed to practice in the relevant jurisdiction.

  6. 17 USC 120(a) Pictorial Representations Permitted.— The copyright in an architectural work that has been constructed does not include the right to prevent the making, distributing, or public display of pictures, paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations of the work, if the building in which the work is embodied is located in or ordinarily visible from a public place.

    You neglected to mention, but must consider that YOU have a copyright in your photos and since you plan to sell the photos in the form of postcards you should protect them by registering that copyright.

    See an intellectual property attorney with your collection of postcards for review and advice so that you can be more assured there is no hidden problem that you have not mentioned here.

    So far, this is free to you. Until you pay a fee, I am not your lawyer and you are not my client, so you take any free advice at your sole risk. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.

  7. The Picture Archive Council of America has compiled a list of problematic properties and objects with regard to photography. According to PACA, the owners of these properties have claimed copyright and/or trademark protection in the properties and/or objects.

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