Logos And Trademarks

Posted on 6/24/2019 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Robert Kneschke’s story on Unsplash last week got me thinking about trademarks and logos. Professional photographers tell me that the inspectors for the major stock agencies – Getty, Shutterstock, AdobeStock and iStock – are increasingly rejecting photos with any identifying brand marks for fear of legal action by the brands.

For photographer this means that an increasing amount of clean-up work is required before images can be submitted to the agency. Often it is also necessary to re-submit the same image multiple times before it is accepted. Everything must look generic, or there needs to be a property release from the brand (almost impossible to get) in order for an image with any brand identification to be accepted. Agencies have been sued in the past for unauthorized use of images with brand identification. They want to avoid that in the future.

Unsplash does not require model or property releases and yet a huge percentage of the images in their collection contain easily identified logos and trademarks. And those images are being used extensively.

Unsplash has a little over 1 million images in its collection and they average 57 million downloads a month. Thus, on average, each image is downloaded 57 times a month.

By way of comparison, Shutterstock has 274 million images in its collection and less than 16 million total downloads each month. Thus, only one out of every 17 images in the Shutterstock collection is downloaded each month. At least, 258 million of the images are not downloaded at all.

One of the reasons for Unsplash’s download dominance may be that many of their images look more natural and realistic because they haven’t been heavily manipulated. An increasing problem with images found at the major stock agencies is that they look fake. And there is certainly a trend that customers are looking for more real and natural images.

Another explanation is that many brands want more pictures that show their logos and trademarks out in the marketplace. Such identification helps sell their product. They may not want anything that makes their product look bad, but as long as the image is used in a positive way the identification of whose product it is help them. They are unlikely to sue anyone for such positive promotion.

In addition, many of the art directors doing design work for major brands may actually be posting images created for their internal projects on Unsplash as a way of getting more exposure for the project and the brand. The Timberland and Dose Juice examples as described in Kneschke’s story are a good example.

Brands could also tell their suppliers, distributors and retail outlets that if they need photos for any of their online or print marketing just go to Unsplash, search for the brand name and use any of the images they find there. This saves the brand the problems of setting up an internal web site for this purpose. It seems logical that Unsplash would be encouraging graphic designers to do this.

How Can The Professional Stock Photo Community Respond?

Stock agencies might want to contact some of the brands found on Unsplash (and any others they can think of) and ask for blanket permission to include identifying marks in the photos on their site as long as the photo itself is not a negative representation of the brand. While the agencies would still charge a fee for any use of such images (unlike Unsplash) at least there would be a greater variety of images available to all potential customers.

It would be helpful if the agencies could then publish a list of brands that have agreed to the use of their products in stock images so creators would know the “safe” brands that might be included in their pictures.

Of course, this would require some work on the part of agencies (which they probably won’t want to do). Otherwise, they should anticipate increasing use of Unsplash by brands and a decline in sales of images that contain certain types of subject matter.

Photographers might want to contact the marketing departments of certain brands to see if they can negotiate an assignment to photograph the brands products being used in certain ways and then upload approved images to Unsplash. At least, that way photographers would receive some revenue for the free use of their images.

The following are some examples of images found on Unsplash that probably would not be accepted on any of the stock agency websites.

Google Chromebooks





logos on the ball and shoes

the happy face balloon design is trademarked

equipment logos in this operating room shot

Scrabble is a known brand

the shape of Fender guitar is trademarked, shape would need to be altered to be acceptable

maps are trademarked and must be changed and proven as changed, upc symbol on pencil must be removed

the out of focus CocaCola logo and the VW logo would need to be removed

non-english signs, even if generic, are problematic and often rejected. In this situation it is not clear if that is a brand name or generic word.

this picture of a building is not generic enough and would need a property release

Getty now requires that extreme retouching to smooth skin and change body shape must be declared upon submission, or cannot occur

tattoo on woman’s arm would need a property release or removed

despite the fact that there are no logos, the color is a known brand of Southwest and must be changed.

Copyright © 2019 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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