Copyright in Architectural Photography

November 18, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Last weekend I attended the highly stimulating INFOT conference at Derby University, organised by the British Institute of Professional Photography.  I would like to thank Denise Swanson for her ongoing work on the subject of copyright, which was the subject of a very lively talk and discussion; while the issues are uppermost in my mind, it is a good time to set out some of them in relation to architectural photography.

architectural photography copyrightarchitectural photography copyright

Whilst copyright has always been a contentious issue, buildings have, arguably, many layers of copyright, representing different participants.    Here are some scenarios:

1.  A contractor asks me to photograph the interior and exterior of a new building.  Assuming I have the permission of the owner or management of the property to take photographs, I find myself asking who owns the copyright to the constituent parts.  

The architect will, of course, have the copyright to the design of the building.  If an exterior is taken from a public place, then this does not present the photographer with any problems.  But under some proposals being considered, this has become contentious.  If the photographs are commissioned by the architect, then it should be relatively simple to make a contract specifying permitted copyright and usage.  But if the contractor is the commissioner, then the permissions and copyright may become more blurred.  Could an architect force an outright ban on the use of images of their building, particularly interiors?

But having mentioned interiors, what of the interior designer, or even the house dresser?  Such participants might equally be deemed to be the authors of elements of the project.  How could these relationships work in terms of copyright?  Who could permit whom to take or use such images?

2.  Let's turn this on its head.  A manufacturer commissions me to photograph some luminaires in a hotel bar.  Obviously they can't be shown in isolation, and there will, for example be bar fittings in the background, which will be someone else's IP.  What can or can't be photographed in that situation?  The architect or interior designer might claim rights to any interior in which the luminaires are situated.  And what about the owner, franchisee or brand owner?

 

It has generally been assumed that copyright of photographs lies with the photographer, but this now seems to be more contentious.  Particularly, the question of identifiable brands or creations within the context of private (interior) settings seems to be becoming to be seen in line with the use of products in films or advertisements.

My own hope is that people will be sensible and, by and large, maintain the status quo because it makes life simpler for everyone, and less appealing to pricey lawyers.  But I do think it is worth participants in the construction industry considering their copyright arrangements with each other and photographers.

I would, of course, be interested to hear what architects, designers, contractors and proprietors (and fellow photographers) might have to say on the matter.

 


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