Is it legal to take pictures of buildings? Photography law questions and answers

Is it legal to take pictures… of industrial installations?

Reports of photographers being harassed for taking pictures in public places are becoming increasingly common, particularly among photographers taking pictures of buildings – both public and private. Reading these reports you can be forgiven for wondering, ‘Is it legal to take pictures of buildings anymore?’

Rest assured, it is. Learning the fine points of photo composition and how to use your camera, is one thing. But something the guide books often don’t tell you about are photographers’ rights.

It’s important, therefore, that we know exactly what we can and can’t photograph, and where. In this new series we aim to answer many of the common questions about photography law and look into the legality of taking pictures of different subjects and situations.

In this first post, we look at some of the common photography law questions around taking pictures of buildings. In subsequent posts each week we’ll explore the legality of taking pictures of people, animals, landscapes and even other people’s art.

All of the responses are provided by our legal consultant who is an expert in intellectual property and photography law. All responses are given according to UK law.

Is it legal to take pictures… of buildings without getting a building release form?

Is it legal to take pictures… of buildings without getting a building release form?

Image by Ben Birchall

It’s not strictly correct to say that ‘buildings can’t be copyrighted’. Buildings may well be protected by copyright, although any copyright would have expired in many old buildings.

However, section 62 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 expressly permits certain copying in relation to buildings, and also to sculptures and works of artistic craftsmanship that are permanently situated in a public place or in premises open to the public.

Section 62 provides that copyright in such a work will not be infringed by making a graphic representation of it (that is, a drawing or a painting) or by making a photograph or film of it, or by making a broadcast of a visual representation of it.

Nor would copyright be infringed by what the Act refers to as the ‘issue to the public of copies, or the communication to the public, of anything whose making was, by virtue of this section, not an infringement of the copyright’.

This means that photographs of buildings can be sold or otherwise published without infringing copyright.

But there are other reasons than copyright for obtaining a property release, depending on how the image will be used.  If the photograph is to be used in advertising, the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the CAP Code) states that marketers should obtain written permission before portraying members of the public or their identifiable possessions.

The Advertising Standards Authority has upheld complaints when photographs of private residences have been used in advertising without the owner’s permission. In addition, certain uses of a photograph of a building may amount to passing off, or may infringe a trademark, though there have not as yet been any cases of this in the UK.

PAGE 1: Building release forms
PAGE 2: Shooting courtooms
PAGE 3: Industrial and commercial buildings
PAGE 4: Overseas buildings, charity work and taking pictures of houses


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