Copyright, Creative Commons, and the Public Domain

The person who told you this may have sincerely believed it, but its not true. Fair use allows you to photograph anything in a public space (people, objects , buildings, whatever).

What’s a public space? Anyplace that is open to the public: sidewalks, parks, government buildings, malls (yes, malls), etc.

Let’s say that you were taking a photo of 3 people laughing while eating around a small table. The background has other people in it , but the depth of field of the pic makes everyone but the 3 really out of focus. And, for arguments sake, it’s outdoors in a public park. In the pic, turned away from the camera is a can of Coke. You can’t read the name , or see the Ribbon Device (yep, that’s the legal name for the Coke ribbon). The pic turns out great and you want to sell it through a stock photography company. You get permission from the models (even though there is a legal argument that you don’t need it cuz it was a public space - but that’s a whole different discussion !).

Are you legally allowed to sell the photo without Coke’s approval? Yes (cuz it’s incidental to the image and not showing anything trademarked or copyrighted). But, and it’s a huge but, if Coke sues you it doesn’t matter that you’re right… you can’t afford to fight a company with pockets that deep. So you’ll stop selling it, not because you’ve done anything wrong, but because you can’t afford to fight.


From the Eiffel Tower’s web site (apparently everything has a web site now) FAQ:

"Are you allowed to publish photos of the Eiffel Tower?

The views from the Eiffel Tower are rights-free. Permission and rights must be obtained from the “Société d’Exploitation de la tour Eiffel” (the Operating Company, or SETE) for the publication of photos of the illuminated Eiffel Tower."

Publication in that case may specifically mean for profit publication, but it’s hard to be sure.


I just can’t place exactly why this rubs me the wrong way, but it does. So you go through all the trouble of lighting this amazing landmark and then prohibit the capitalization/exploitation of it.

I checked the Statue of Liberty web site. They recently redid the lighting. Couldn’t find anything about the commercial interests in that. Fascinating.


It’s not free (or expensive ), but doverpictura is a good source for images. You can buy a single image or an entire collection, and they’re organized by theme. I think most of the images in their collections are public domain, but the easy access and peace of mind makes it worthwhile, imo. A lot of their collections are pretty obscure, too, so it’s a good place to browse when you don’t have a specific thing in mind.


In the US if it is public property and tax dollars paid for it, it is generally in the public domain. There are exceptions of course because lawyers exist and are paid by the hour.

Also, I can’t imagine suing someone for taking a picture of the Statue of Liberty is the kind of kerfuffle a public servant wants to deliberately instigate.


and an image or a page is usually only 99 cents!


So if a police chase is on the news and they passs the tower at night does the TV station “black box” the landmark? What about dashcameras that end up showing a crash on youtube and tower is seen in the background ? How strange…


News and education are, for the most part, allowed “fair use” of copyrighted material for the purpose of news reporting , providing critiques, or commentary. Of course anyone can file suit for any reason.

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This would be considered editorial usage for which model releases, property releases, etc are not required.

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