You would never guess, what is copyrighted these days...


posted on 6th of october, 2010

Copyright issues are one of the most confusing and frustrating among contributors in today's dynamic and profit-driven world. Where ever there is some new architectural structure or a new product or even word of speech - there is always someone who wants and has it protected from unlicensed use. Believe me, it makes you feel that just about ANYTHING can, under circumstances, be copyrighted these days and the vision of a free world and free speech is a daydream. You have to be cautious when you take a step, because it might be someone's property you are stepping on; even more so, you have to be educated when posting a picture you've made, because it might contain elements that are prohibited public exposure (without written consent). Things get even more complicated and strict when money is involved (ie. when you get paid for the piece or when you sell it directly to customers).

We, editors and admins, must constantly update our knowledge base and be up to date with relevant court cases regarding what is a "go-go" and what's a "no-no". During the years we've accumulated quite a list of objects and architecture that we must refuse as RF stock. Not to restrain your creativity so much, we have created the Editorial section, but as everyone knows, it is quite elaborate to get images into that section and to use them as well.

Below I have compiled an index of not EVERY restricted aspect of photography, but rather a list of the most CURIOUS ones, that are not so obvious. Some of them surely will bring out a smile ;)

• The word "Javascript" is copyrighted by SUN and cannot be visible in screenshots. The code itself is not copy, of course.

• Eiffel Tower illuminated at night, this is common knowledge already, but still puzzles many. Daytime captures of it are all fine (not that we have a too few of them already online).

• Not far from that is the Louvre Museum. Everything else is ok, but the two glass pyramids, which cannot be in the picture - entirely or partially.

• The Red Cross emblem. This is relatively new case and, personally, was a jaw-dropper. It has become so common, that you cannot imagine someone might still claim rights upon it. But if you think of it, indeed, the pharmacies are using rather a green version of the cross. More can be read here »

• The Vitruvian Man. Yes, the same Da Vinci's naked man with stretched out arms and legs and within a circle. The work itself appears to be public domain, but direct photographs of it must also be public domain - if you sell them, they are not - hence the restriction.

• Adidas stripes. Apparently Adidas has acquired the rights to all parallel 2, 3, or 4 stripes that appear on clothing and accessories, and footwear. 5 stripes, curiously, is considered not too similar to Adidas 3-stripe trademark and is not an issue. Read more »
Go figure...

• The words World Cup and derivatives. That includes FIFA World Cup 2010, Football World Cup 2010, South Africa 2010... It is neatly laid out in this article »

• Related is the Jabulani football, also by Adidas - http://www.jabulaniball.com

• The word "Champagne" cannot be used in images and in descriptive fields for the image, unless the image itself is of the region Champagne, in France.

• The five Olympic rings, the olympic torch - WIKI link »

• Shapes of cars: Porsche, Ferrari. There is a gray area about other exotic supercars like Lamborghini, Lotus, etc. This means, that a photo will be rejected even though the LOGO of the manufacturer is not visible, but the image is recognizable as one of the two manufacturers' products (can apply to details even).

• Lego figurines (little yellow men), and proprietary parts. Case here »

• Monopoly houses (little red and blue houses).

• John Deere yellow/green machinery. It is accepted as an abstract trademark, hence it should be dealt with like any other trademark - omit from images to be sold as RF. Reference »

• Rubick's Cube. Applies for photography and illustrations. Clear statement »

• Uluru aka Ayer's Rock in Australia.

• The word ASPIRIN on pills, or with a capital "A" spelled in the image. WIKI. Please DO NOT include the keyword "aspirin" to every kind of pill or tablet. It is irrelevant.

• One of the funniest and most curious cases is the one of "Rubber ducks with black sunglasses". The copyright of these ducks (and their devilish friends) belong to Accoutrements, Inc.

Well, and everybody surely knows that: Sydney Opera House, The London Eye, Millenium Bridge, any Calatrava building, The Empire State Building, Filatron Building, China's Olympic "Bird's Nest", intricate tattoos and walls of graffiti (recognizable details as well), and others, are all prohibited in RF stock.

Feel free to add, but with accurate links for reference please.

Happy shooting! :)))

Comments (67)

Posted by Mani33 on October 07, 2010
Thanks for these reminders!

Bluetooth connection sign for icons & technology symbols is copy righted as well! Wiki Bluetooth Logo

PS: DT are already aware of that!
Posted by Demonike on October 07, 2010
Regarding the Vitruvian Man, I think it is a licensing question and emerges from the labyrinth of various laws that might combine to give this somewhat absurd result... If other admins chime in, they might remember a better source for the issue.

The Ayer's Rock is on the PROPERTY of native Australian landowners, given back to them recently. It would require a property release, actually. Here's a good article about it »
Posted by Inganielsen on October 07, 2010
The Ayer's Rock is probably the strangest one. How can nature be copyrighted?
Posted by Dnavarrojr on October 07, 2010
Do you have a source on the Vitruvian Man? Once something is in the "Public Domain", no restrictions can be placed on its use.
Posted by Sobek85 on October 07, 2010
great info thanks
Posted by Morrbyte on October 07, 2010
Nice article,
Have kept myself upto date with most copyrights and there is always some that surprise and the word "Champagne" is another one that surpised me that i had not known about.
Thanks for the update.
Posted by Rosedarc on October 07, 2010
Thanks for this update.
I was very surprised when I visited Uluru, that I needed a permit to photograph the rock for commercial use - it's actually the whole National Park, so it includes Kata Tjuta (the Olgas). Although photos of the rock can be sold for commercial purposes, if one has the permit, there are many restrictions (such as can't be used to promote things such as a 4WD) so I uploaded all my pictures as Editorial. It is also forbidden to photograph some areas of the rock that are considered sacred by the aboriginals.

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Photo credits: Ali Mazraie Shadi, Alfonso De Stefano, Yali Shi, Uros Ravbar.

About me

I am a graphic designer, webmaster, photographer. Live in Estonia. 3 kids. Mac-person. Nikon-person. Initially gave my images for free back in 2003. Then discovered that some people would actually be willing to pay for my random photo experiments. Found Dreamstime, had lots to say in the forums and Serban invited me into their family :) • I am totally self taught. Through trial and error. Mostly latter :) • What makes an ideal microstock photo? I think it is broad usability. Solely. • I have studio experience, but am not so active lately. Mostly shoot events, family, object... [Read more]

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