When licensing images for commercial purposes, it’s important to know when to get a proper release. At 500px there are two types of releases that Licensing Contributors need to know about.
A model release and a property release.
A model release is needed for any identifiable people in a photo. If a person is underage, then the legal guardian signs on their behalf.
A property release is a little more complex, and refers to both physical and intellectual property.
This article series is aimed to help Licensing Contributors know when to use a property release, and how to avoid property releases in general.
This article will focus solely on intellectual property, while future articles will venture into physical properties, such as street photography and skylines, residential interiors and exteriors, and private property vs public property.
First and foremost, 500px Licensing Contributors need to know that 500px only accepts commercial use content, NOT editorial content. Commercial content is intended for advertising, while editorial can be used for news outlets and journals, etc. Editorial has more wiggle room when it comes to not needing a property release vs commercial content. That is why it is very important for 500px Contributors to understand the role of a property release.
What is intellectual property?
Intellectual property, or IP, is the umbrella term that covers several property types, such as, but not limited to, trademarks, patents, copyright, and designs (Aughton Ainsworth International Law Firm).
The full list of IP examples would need to be covered in several articles, so for your benefit we will cover the most common uploads we receive that overlook a property release due to IP infringement. We will break it down into two parts: Copyright and Trademarks
When shooting for Licensing, it is not always easy to spot intellectual property infringements, especially if you are shooting content in your daily life that you are typically used to seeing.
However, training yourself to look very closely at your environment, models, and other little details will help you save any headaches down the road. Copyrights are tangible and protect the right of original creator.
Some of the most common copyright risks we see are the following:
Common issue: Artwork on walls in homes.
How to avoid: Take down artwork, appropriately blur the background, edit out the artwork but ensure the frame is not in breach of copyright.
Common issue: Illustrations, sheet music or written works shown on a computer, notepad or other tangible form.
How to avoid: If you are photographing a model creating a piece of work make sure you know the original creator and have them fill out a property release.
Common issue: Discernible text in or on books.
How to avoid: Remove books or use photoshop to stamp out text.
Common issue: Clothing and fabric with designs or characters. Especially seen on children’s shirts, curtains, wallpapers, and designs on dog collars or clothing.
How to avoid: Ensure you are shooting in an environment that does not have particular designs on furnishings. Communicate to your models to wear clothing that is free of logos, brands, fonts, characters, and designs.
Common issue: DVD, VHS, CD and Vinyl covers and artwork.
How to avoid: Ensure that all artwork or identifiable names, logos, etc. are stamped out.
Common issue: Any visible software applications such as but not limited to smartphone interfaces, social apps, screen captures.
How to avoid: Technology can be used for commercial purposes; just ensure you stamp out any identifying features and screens are blank or blacked out.
Common issue: Playing cards.
How to avoid: Show the backs of playing cards—face cards (Queen, King, Jack) and jokers are subject to copyright.
Common issue: Sculptural buildings.
How to avoid: Many buildings designed by well-known architects and designers hold copyright. This will be discussed further in future articles. It is best to do your research on the building and take some shots in areas where the building is obscured.
Common issue: Graffiti and public art.
How to avoid: This is a very common photo type. Historically, there have been many claims for copyright infringement by artists and designers for companies and brands featuring artwork in ads. Make sure to avoid having this art in your photos, or blur it out.
Common issue: Notable people (e.g.: Albert Einstein, Bob Marley).
How to avoid: It is best to stay away from all notable people to err on the side of caution.
Common issue: Tattoos on models.
How to avoid: Request the artist fill out a model release if the tattoo is in a place that is unavoidable to photograph.
Common issue: Bitcoin and currency.
How to avoid: Physical bitcoin coins are not acceptable in images; however, the logo is in the public domain. For banknotes and coins, the general rule is that banknotes cannot be shown or scanned in their entirety. However, each country has different rules. Canada’s banknotes and coins, as an example, can only be used for editorial use.
Common issue: The Eiffel Tower at night.
How to avoid: How the Eiffel Tower is lit up at night is considered an original work, therefore shooting the Eiffel Tower at night should be avoided.
Common issue: Perfume bottles.
How to avoid: Perfume bottles are commonly flagged for copyright; it is best to avoid having any in your images.
Common issue: Flags.
How to avoid: It depends on the country or organization. Research is needed before you shoot. 500px does not accept any content of flags being disrespected.
Trademarks refer to logos, colors, symbols, and identifying features that belong to brands, companies, and other organizations holding the trademark.
Some of the most common copyright risks we see are the following:
Common issue: Logos and branding (e.g.: McDonald’s, Apple, Nike).
How to avoid: Stamp out logos and brands on shirts and equipment/technology. In some cases, such as skylines, having multiple logos on building with no one logo the center focus could be okay. However, some parent companies own multiple brands, so research is needed to identify who owns the brands.
Common issue: Colors (e.g.: John Deer green, Tiffany & Co blue).
How to avoid: Colors can be trademarked. It is best to avoid trademarked colors to save time in post-production and photo manipulation that may not be suitable for commercial use.
Common issue: Cars and automobiles (e.g.: headlights, exterior and interior designs, public transportation)
How to avoid: Cars can be used in commercial content, but there needs to be very specific crops to avoid trademarks. Avoid headlights, steering wheels, buttons, and console controls. The car should not be the focal point of the photo.
Common issue: Discernible technology (e.g.: camera features on smartphones, buttons, camera equipment, Oculus technology).
How to avoid: Technology can be used for commercial purposes, just ensure you stamp out any identifying features. To be safe, use technology that looks as general as possible, and not identifiable with known brands or aesthetics.
Common issue: Sports teams and sport equipment.
How to avoid: Professional sports, designs and colors on jerseys, stadiums, and sporting equipment should be avoided.
Common issue: Children’s toys, cartoons, comic characters, and other well-known movies or franchises (e.g.: Lego, Disney characters, Star Wars)
How to avoid: It is best to preplan a shoot with toys that are generic, and remove any toys on shelves or in the background of your environment.
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