Monday, July 11, 2011

Can They Use Photos of Our Home in Magazine?

Dear Rich: We are restoring our home in Atlanta and our architect had asked me near the beginning of the restoration to fill out a questionnaire about the experience of working with him. I did so very positively. The relationship has since cooled a little, and recently we became aware of an article published about us and our home in which my responses were modified and used extensively as direct quotes by the writer as if she had talked to us. We had never talked to the writer or knew anything about the article. Many quotes were attributed to my wife who had never seen the questionnaire. The article also included pictures taken of the home from on our property. And, the writer had us quoting someone from the Historical Society saying something that he never said and that we never said he said. The feature ended with a bold-faced paragraph saying, "Look for an update...in an upcoming issue." We do not want another story done by this publication. Do we have legal rights to prevent them from using photos of our home--interiors and exteriors shot from our property--that are taken by the architect?  We assume that the architect instigated the article, so practically we think the best course is to notify him and ask him not to publish any more photos of your home or publish any more statements attributed to you or your wife. We think the letter will work best if it is flat and matter of fact, not harsh, legalish, or argumentative. The prudent response from the architect would be to comply.
The Legal Analysis. In answer to your specific questions, a magazine would need permission from the copyright owner of the photos (the architect, apparently) and would only need a property release for the interior pictures assuming they were taken without the authorization of the homeowners. That may be the case here but it's probably not worth hassling over and it may be difficult to prove without losing money on attorney fees.  Exterior photos of your home taken from public locations can be used for editorial purposes without your consent. Using your quotes without permission is probably a violation of copyright law, unless the architect can demonstrate that you consented or that your consent was implied, or there is a fair use defense.
Ennyway ...  all you really want is for people to behave properly in the future and most of the time, you can accomplish that with a well-written letter. Of course, if this isn't one of those times, then it may be worth having an attorney write them a letter to set things straight.