Products and Locations Prohibited To Photograph

Posted on 1/5/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Photographs of many products and locations can not be used for any type of commercial purpose without a release. Blanket releases for images of these subjects are almost impossible to obtain. It is sometimes possible to get a release for a very specific, clearly defined use, but not for an undefined “stock use.” Therefore, if the stock photographer’s goal is to license rights to the images he or she produces the photographer may be better advised to avoid wasting time photographing this subject matter. In some cases such images may be used for editorial purposes.

Out of ignorance some customers make commercial use of images of such products and locations, but the photographer runs the risk of legal action if the eventual use of the image is spotted by the property owner. In addition most agencies won’t accept images of such property unless a release has been provided or all identifying marks have been removed and an attempt has been made to make the product look generic.

This has some interesting implications. For example Apple Corporation’s MAC logo is a registered trademark. Thus, must agencies won’t accept an image of someone using an Apple computer unless the logo has been airbrushed out. However, the shape of an Apple computer is so unique that it is hard to imagine that it won’t be recognized for what it is even without the logo. In addition, art directors who want to use such pictures complain that they look fake.

NASCAR racing cars are very distinctive and the promotional value of anything related to NASCAR is worth a great deal of money. Thus, car owners aggressively protect their rights. Getting permission to use the images for stock is impossible. One stock photographer solved this problem by building minature race cars that looked realistic and photographing them in ways that looked like race day.

In September iStockphoto announced the introduction of its Technical Wiki where photographers can search for a particular product or location to determine if a release is required.

BigStockPhoto has just released its Problem Keyword & Subject list to assist photographers in staying clear of trademark, copyright and intellectual property infringements. Use of images of these subjects could infringe the rights of the owner. The listed items should generally not be made a key part of a photograph or artwork. At BigStockPhoto these items can be marked for Editorial Use only if they are newsworthy. BigStock defines newsworthy as, “editorial shots such as celebrities at an event, an auto show, or a special event. However, even something mundane such as a person using a Blackberry can be newsworthy if it becomes a news topic, or an Adidas store could be OK, and used if the Adidas company was in the news.”

However, it is important to keep in mind that just because an image is newsworthy, the use made of it will not necessarily be editorial.

Copyright © 2010 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, 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:  


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