For years, it has been espoused that, in order for you to use someone else's property in a commercial way, you needed permission from the owner of that property in the form of a Property Release, much like a Model Release. No so, says the U.S. District Court in Northern California, in a rare case that likely will have far reaching consequences.
In the case of Robinson v. HSBC USA, Mr. Robinson's home, an often-photographed Victorian-era home in San Francisco, was used in advertising for the HSBC bank. (Read the decision here). The case, interestingly enough, was brought against the bank, one can assume, because they had the deep pockets for an award, as opposed to being brought against the photographer, who had far shallower pockets than a multi-national bank.
The front of the brochure, is at right, where Robinson's home is the yellow one.
With the court's decision, it was dismissed "with prejudice", which barrs Robinson from bringing another case on the same claim. At right is the inside of the brochure - a second use of Robinson's home.
Over at the Property, Intangible blog, there is an excellent dissection of the case by an intellectual property lawyer that's well worth the read. Carolyn Wright, over at A Photo Attorney, discusses that there is almost no need for property releases in the United States, and she writes a bit about it here.
Essentially, there was no libel or defamation, nor even the suggestion that Robinson had a home loan with HSBC. Further, there was no trademark issue (like a logo visible in the image), nor a copyright issue. Further, the image was taken without trespassing on private property.
While I'm not a lawyer, and further, this isn't legal advice, it seems that unless you're going to use an image of someone's home and say "hey, here's a great place to open a brothel", or "this house looks like a crack house", a property release isn't as necessary as we have all been led to believe in the past.
Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.