On fair-use of images

A few weeks ago I have stumbled upon an newspaper article ( Le Temps in Switzerland or at least in the french speaking part of Switzerland) which I believe is worth discussing here.

© Bogdan
© Bogdan
The swiss authorities had previously found that a image of the mighty Matterhorn (located at the border between Switzerland and Italy, with the famous side facing only Switzerland) was used by a German travel agency to advertise a travel package in the mountains of Austria. Further more, a German chain of supermarket stores used the image of the famous Castle of Chillon (located in the french speaking part of Switzerland, near Montreux) in one of their advertising campaigns, somehow in a manner that upset the administration of this historic building.

The Swiss authorities are now attempting to protect themselves and their national symbols from such unfair uses. Regarding the Matterhorn, there is nothing they can do about protecting its image, being a natural monument. However the logo of Zermatt Tourist Office, depicting an illustration of the mountain is a protected trademark.

They are now attempting to protect the image and the name of Chillon Castle as a trademark. It is yet unclear if they will be able to and under which terms, as the castle is a historical building and the copyrights of the architect (if any that could be identified) are long expired by today. Even themselves, they state that it is most improbable to succeed. However, there is also the possibility to protect the night image of the Castle, similar to the protection of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, after the installation of some modern illumination (currently planned). We will all loose something if this happens. The usage of images of copyrighted buildings is limited to editorial uses, both designers and photographers suffering.

I am sure that the microstock industry made images more accessible to anyone, increasing in the same time their improper use. I am sure the above examples of improper use are not the only ones, and more discussions are taking place over the world to protect such symbolic buildings. Today, most of the architects choose to protect their creations by registering their designs for copyright protection, and I would not be surprised if soon enough a photographer will not be able to freely commercialize a street photograph without infringing the copyright law. We will all loose something if this will happen.

I am not pointing any fingers, but I would like to raise the awareness of our large-enough community on the improper use of images taken place. If we all pay a little more attention to such details, maybe our freedom as photographers or designers will not be restrained so much by copyright protections in the future.

Dreamstime, as a microstock agency has provided us a way to market images of building protected by copyright using the editorial license, a decision which I've saluted. As photographers, we should inform ourselves of copyright restrictions and choose to market our images falling under their restriction only through editorial licenses, while the designers should respect the restrictions of this type of license. Additionally, by taking some time to research and populate our description field with information about the exact location, name and other characteristics of the buildings depicted in the image, maybe the buyers will be more informed about the product they are purchasing and will choose to use them in a fair manner.


Photo credits: Andrea Paggiaro, Bogdan Lazar.

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Thanks Bogdan, for this useful blog. I took some photographs of a beautiful installation of columns at the National Arboreteum in Washington DC. Before uploading them, I was working on keywords when I discovered that they were protected. So as you indicated, I uploaded them under the editorial license. You are correct I think that it is incumbent upon us as photographers to respect copyrights if we expect others to respect our own.


Very interesting and informative. Thanks!


Very interesting, thanks for the info.

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