Two Sample Pages from How to Use Images Legally

Written by Scott Tambert

Public Domain Images - National Press Building

Suite 296 Washington, D.C. 20045

People (continued)

In using images, be careful not to:

  • defame the person in the image through captions or narration
  • portray them in a false light
  • libel them or slander them with falsehoods
  • injure their reputation
  • subject them to hatred or contempt
  • hold them up to ridicule
  • distort their image by cropping or altering

In all of these cases, an individual can sue for monetary losses and mental anguish.

If you are shooting original imagery of people to be used in a possible defamatory context, include this context in the model release you have them sign. For instance, Park Avenue Productions in Winter Park, Florida produced a slide presentation about a residential treatment program for disturbed youngsters. State Law prohibited them from photographing the actual children, so models were required. Because the models would be shown as disturbed youngsters, Park Avenue Productions made sure this was understood by the models and their parents and got a signed release stating so.


For images of places, if the image was shot on someone's property, you need their permission. A signed "location release" proves the photographer had permission. If the photographer walked off their property and shot the same scene from a distance, you're probably okay unless the image intrudes on a private individual's privacy or the photographer was shooting people surreptitiously.

Many businesses prohibit photography or videography for reasons of security, to protect trade secrets or to protect their "trade dress". (For more information on trade dress, see page 51). Retailers and themed restaurants try to protect their unique merchandising in this way.


While since 1990 copyright law has covered architectural works, pictorial representations of buildings are specifically permitted by the law. The copyright in a constructed architectural work is not violated by the making, distributing, or public display of pictures, paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations of the work, if the building is located in a public place or is ordinarily visible from a public place. A building may, however, enjoy trademark protection.

The technical drawings for a building, which may be copyrighted separately, enjoy copyright protection like any other printed work.