Can an artist sell works showing buildings with logos on them?
August 28, 2014 12:39 PM   Subscribe

Can an artist sell works showing buildings? How about buildings with logos on them?

I would like to create and sell a coloring book featuring local landmarks. I am not entirely certain how far I can go, however, with what landmarks I feature. I am planning on taking pictures myself and then hand-illustrating each page based on those pictures. I am assuming that I should be just fine illustrating parks. But what about buildings owned by private companies that have logos on them?

Some of our landmarks include a shopping mall with a copyrighted mall logo and store logos on the outside. Some would be semi-public (partially funded by the city) facilities such a zoo, museum or art center - all with accompanying signage. Yet another usage might be a skyline illustration, again utilizing some of the logos on the building facades. Some of the logos belong to small local businesses, others belong to massive international businesses and some belong to non-profits.

I am also assuming that I will need to avoid illustrating modern public art, which I am fine with. That is understandable. But I would like to include an illustration of a full-size bronze reproduction of Michelangelo's David that is on display in our city. Obviously, the original is quite old. I don't know how old the reproduction is, but it was gifted to the city in 1971. I assume that it isn't much older than that. Should I just avoid David altogether?

Any advice on how to approach this would be appreciated. I'm not scared to go to business owners, but if I don't have to, I won't. Honestly, I am thinking that many might want to carry the book in their stores, or would appreciate their exposure in it. I cannot assume these things, however, and want to stay out of trouble as best I can. Thanks in advance!
posted by bristolcat to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Warhol did it... Campbell's soup
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 1:06 PM on August 28, 2014

Think how many photos and paintings of Times Square there are for sale.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:33 PM on August 28, 2014

You may be confusing copyright with trademark. The rules are entirely different.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:34 PM on August 28, 2014

Response by poster: Yes, you are correct. It is trademark I mean.
posted by bristolcat at 1:38 PM on August 28, 2014

Freedom of panorama
posted by elgilito at 1:43 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

You should be thinking about copyright and trademark, though neither should be a serious obstacle here. Copyright law does protect architectural works, but there's an exception for photographs of buildings visible from public places.

17 U.S.C. 120(a) Pictorial Representations Permitted.— The copyright in an architectural work that has been constructed does not include the right to prevent the making, distributing, or public display of pictures, paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations of the work, if the building in which the work is embodied is located in or ordinarily visible from a public place.

With regard to trademark, your display of any trademarks displayed on the buildings are not likely to be considered infringement, because in context, people won't think that the brands are affiliated with your coloring book.

I am not your lawyer. Ben Benson isn't even my real name!
posted by benbenson at 1:46 PM on August 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: My gut says I'm fine, but it's articles like this that make me pause:

Forbes - Resolving conflicts between trademark and first amendment rights
posted by bristolcat at 1:51 PM on August 28, 2014

Perhaps relevant, TVTropes: Bland-Name Product
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:59 PM on August 28, 2014

The Forbes article needn't give you pause. It's in your favor.

"In applying the test, the court concluded that Moore’s realistic paintings of historical Crimson Tide football scenes are embodiments of artistic expression protected by the First Amendment that do not violate the University’s trademark rights."

Ben Benson has it right. IANYL, TINLA
posted by JimN2TAW at 4:33 PM on August 28, 2014

Response by poster: But the court concluded that he could not transform his art into items for sale. This coloring book is an item for sale, and I assume they are apples to apples?
posted by bristolcat at 6:36 AM on August 29, 2014

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