A Beginner’s Guide to Property Release: Trademarks, Copyrights, and Intellectual Property

When licensing images for commercial purposes, it’s crucial to know when to obtain a proper release. At 500px, there are two types of releases that Licensing Contributors should be familiar with: a model release and a property release. A model release is necessary for any identifiable individuals in a photo, and if a person is underage, their legal guardian must sign on their behalf. On the other hand, a property release refers to both physical and intellectual property.

This article series aims to help Licensing Contributors understand when to use a property release and how to avoid the need for one in general. This particular article will focus solely on intellectual property, while future articles will delve into physical properties such as street photography, skylines, residential interiors and exteriors, and private property versus public property.

First and foremost, it’s important for 500px Licensing Contributors to know that 500px only accepts commercial use content and not editorial content. Commercial content is intended for advertising purposes, while editorial content can be used by news outlets and journals. Editorial content has more flexibility in terms of not requiring a property release compared to commercial content. That’s why it’s crucial for 500px Contributors to understand the role of a property release.

So, what exactly is intellectual property? Intellectual property, or IP, is the umbrella term that encompasses various property types, including trademarks, patents, copyright, and designs. Although there are many examples of IP, this article will focus on the most common uploads that overlook the need for a property release due to IP infringement. We will break it down into two parts: copyright and trademarks.

When shooting for Licensing, it’s not always easy to spot intellectual property infringements, especially if you’re capturing content from your daily life that you’re accustomed to seeing. However, training yourself to pay close attention to your surroundings, models, and other small details will help you avoid any issues in the future. Copyrights protect the rights of the original creator and can be tangible.

Here are some common copyright risks and how to avoid them:

1. Artwork on walls in homes: Take down artwork, blur the background, or edit out the artwork while ensuring the frame is not in breach of copyright.
2. Illustrations, sheet music, or written works shown on a computer or notepad: If photographing a model creating a piece of work, ensure you know the original creator and have them fill out a property release.
3. Discernible text in or on books: Remove books or use Photoshop to stamp out text.
4. Clothing and fabric with designs or characters: Shoot in an environment without designs on furnishings and ask models to wear clothing free of logos, brands, fonts, characters, and designs.
5. DVD, VHS, CD, and vinyl covers and artwork: Stamp out any identifiable names, logos, etc. on the artwork.
6. Visible software applications such as smartphone interfaces and social apps: Stamp out any identifying features, and make sure screens are blank or blacked out.
7. Playing cards: Show the backs of playing cards as face cards (Queen, King, Jack) and jokers are subject to copyright.
8. Sculptural buildings: Many buildings designed by well-known architects and designers hold copyright, so do your research on the building and take shots in areas where it’s obscured.
9. Graffiti and public art: Avoid featuring this art in your photos or blur it out.
10. Notable people (e.g., Albert Einstein, Bob Marley): It’s best to stay away from all notable people to be cautious.
11. Tattoos on models: If unavoidable, request that the artist fill out a model release.
12. Bitcoin and currency: Physical bitcoin coins are not acceptable, but the logo is in the public domain. Rules regarding banknotes and coins vary by country.
13. The Eiffel Tower at night: How the Eiffel Tower is lit up at night is considered an original work, so avoid capturing it at night.
14. Perfume bottles: Perfume bottles are commonly flagged for copyright, so avoid having them in your images.
15. Flags: Research the specific rules for each country or organization. 500px does not accept content that disrespects flags.

In addition to copyright, trademarks can also pose risks when licensing images. Trademarks involve logos, colors, symbols, and other identifying features belonging to brands, companies, and organizations. Here are some common trademark risks and how to avoid them:

1. Logos and branding (e.g., McDonald’s, Apple, Nike): Stamp out logos and brands on shirts, equipment, or technology. Research the parent companies of multiple brands to identify the ownership.
2. Colors (e.g., John Deere green, Tiffany & Co blue): Avoid trademarked colors to save time in post-production and ensure the use of non-trademarked colors suitable for commercial use.
3. Cars and automobiles (e.g., headlights, exterior and interior designs, public transportation): Cars can be used in commercial content, but specific crops should be used to avoid trademarks. Avoid focusing on headlights, steering wheels, buttons, and console controls.
4. Discernible technology (e.g., camera features on smartphones, buttons, camera equipment, Oculus technology): Stamp out any identifying features on technology. Use technology that looks general and is not identifiable with known brands or aesthetics for safety.
5. Sports teams and sport equipment: Avoid professional sports, designs, and colors on jerseys, stadiums, and sporting equipment.
6. Children’s toys, cartoons, comic characters, and well-known movies or franchises (e.g., Lego, Disney characters, Star Wars): Plan shoots with generic toys and remove any toys in the background.

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