Photographing a product--where do I stand legally when publishing?
March 15, 2011 2:31 PM   Subscribe

If I photograph a product and use it in a publishing project, what legal redress would the manufacturer have if they decided to sue me?

Let's say I photograph an iPhone face-on and use it in a magazine I'm publishing. What legal troubles can a company like Apple drum-up for me? I know this is MeFi but I'd really like to know the legalities of the situation.

Could Apple sue me saying that I'd reproduced the iPhone trademark or Apple logo without permission, for example? What about icons on the screen of the phone? Could they claim copyright infringement?
posted by deeper red to Law & Government (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
IANAL, but what are you using the photo for? There are photos of iPhones all over the place - in the context of product reviews, for example. I don't see how that's illegal.
posted by desjardins at 2:53 PM on March 15, 2011

Look up proprty releases. My understanding is that property release don't have a lot of solid legal history like model releases do in th US. Releases are needed for commercial use of images and not editorial usage. There was also a recent case of ford threatening a local car club that was selling calendars with images of members' mustangs. Ford backed down eventually. On my phone, otherwise I'd have some links for you.
posted by msbrauer at 3:17 PM on March 15, 2011

Can they sue you? Anyone can sue you, at any time, for any thing.

Now, to WIN... For trademark violation (which is the usual reason people get upset about copying logos) they'd have to show that you were likely to confuse people and make them think e.g. that your store was an Apple store, or that you were selling iPhones - without a chance of confusion on the customer's part, it's not going to happen.

It's the difference between an artist taking a picture / painting a Campbell's Soup can, vs. taking said picture and plastering it on the front of some cans of whatever that you're trying to sell (or putting it in a big display picture over a bunch of unlabeled cans, using it as your storefront and calling yourself Cambell's Soup And Bakery, etc).

I am not a lawyer. But this looks pretty straightforward to me.
posted by Lady Li at 11:32 PM on March 15, 2011

I would consult an actual lawyer if you have any fears about being sued, because even if you win in the end, is it worth all the time, money and effort you'll have to expend to fight the suit? A company as big as Apple could drag that out indefinitely until you just gave up.
posted by desjardins at 7:31 AM on March 16, 2011

Well, in the Ford case, if the Ford spokesperson was telling the truth, they had no problem with the calendar. Ford had previously sent cease and desists to CafePress about other, actually-trademark infringing items. Because they wanted to avoid more problems with Ford, CafePress on their own initiative refused to print the calendar, even though it was not infringing.

If you're talking about an object that you can just walk into a store and buy and not a secret prototype or something, and if you are not violating trademark (as explained by Lady Li) it's hard to see how publishing the photo would be illegal.

The issue of property release is that you may need the permission of the owner to photograph and publish the photo of an object. In this case, it wouldn't be Apple who could have grounds to sue you, unless your photo was taken in an Apple store of an unpurchased iPhone; it would be the iPhone's owner.
posted by phoenixy at 10:33 AM on March 16, 2011

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