Intellectual Property or Just Clever Buildings?

Some of the iconic buildings and structures in the North East have built up a resonance with the public in a way that makes them very tempting to use for commercial purposes in advertising and promotion. The Angel of the North, the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, Bamburgh Castle to name a few.

Is the use of photographs or other representations of these buildings and structures without risk?

What is protected by Copyright?

Work that is protected by copyright under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA) includes artistic work which includes a work of architecture being a building or a model for a building; and graphic works which includes diagrams, drawings, maps, charts and plans.

What is permitted?

Copyright in (a) buildings, and (b) sculptures and models for buildings, if permanently situated in a public place or in premises open to the public, is not infringed by making a graphic work representing it, photographing or filming of it, or making a broadcast of a visual image of it (the so called section 62 exception).

So, in general, it is permitted to take a photograph or drawing of a building which is in a public place. If you are the photographer or artist, you will also be the first owner of the copyright in the photographs or drawings and be entitled to commercially exploit your work. However, there are always exceptions and other areas of risk to watch out for. I have set out some tips to help you avoid problems in the future.


  • You need to ensure you know the building is in a public place, as many areas that you may think are public are in actual fact privately owned. For example, many museums, art galleries, stately homes, public attractions, churches and football grounds are on private land and you would need the permission of the landowner in order to be able to commercialise your photos, or even just take photos, in these places.
  • There are also some public places that have byelaws preventing commercial photography without obtaining prior written consent, such as in Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square.
  • The Eiffel Tower in Paris falls within the public domain but its lighting and sparkling lights are protected by copyright so professional use of images of the Eiffel Tower at night require prior authorisation.
  • Care should also be taken when taking photos of 2D graphical works such as posters, artwork or commissioned murals which are located in public places. Making copies of those works could be an infringement of copyright and therefore you should carry out some due diligence as to ownership and permissions required.
  • If the building is still within the term of copyright protection (which normally lasts for the life of the architect plus 70 years) then you will need the permission of the copyright owner to make a physical 3D reproduction of a building.
  • Permission may be required to reproduce any trademarks (names and logos) that are visible on a building.
  • Although the law in the UK is uncertain regarding privacy, you should be careful when including in your work, pictures of people in a public place.

Legal advice should always be obtained prior to embarking on a business venture that reproduces images of iconic buildings or other artistic or graphical works.

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