Friday, January 18, 2013

Can I Photo Miami Landmarks?

Dear Rich: I am a professional photographer that recently moved away from fashion and commercial photography to artistic photography. Currently I have a show in Florida composed of highly manipulated images of several structures among them the notable Miami’s 1111 Lincoln Road parking lot. The property managers have recently sent me letters claiming I have infringed on their copyright, trademark and patent rights. What do you think? We don't understand why property owners are hassling you. But then again, we don't understand a lot of things -- for example, why people are stealing Tide to buy crack, why so many people were taking their clothes off on the most recent episode of Girls, or why things ended so badly for Paul Masson wines and Orson Welles.
Right, you had a question. We've said it before in other blog entries, but we're happy to repeat it here: Anyone is free to photograph publicly viewable buildings in the U.S., (even those constructed after architectural copyrights were legitimized). Under copyright law, building owners cannot prevent you from taking photos from a public spot and they can't hassle you over manipulations or other "pictorial representations." As for hassling you over patents, that's a non-starter. The design and appearance of a building can't be protected by a utility patent. Arguably, it may be protected by a design patent but that could only be infringed if someone created a similar building. As for trademark protection, it's possible that uniquely shaped structures such as the 1111 Lincoln Road parking lot may claim trademark rights (we found a registration for the mark, "1111," Serial No. 77816143) but even if the parking lot achieved trademark/trade dress status, the owners can't stop artistic or editorial uses such as a photo exhibition, or a book from an exhibition (or even for use on postcards).

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