I was messing with some pictures I took and this one was making me smile and I wondered if I was supposed to find the property owner and get permission. The Short Answer is: "NO". I found the answer on www.danheller.com and well, it was on the internet so it MUST be true!
The reason property tends to rarely ever need a release is because inanimate objects like buildings, unlike people,are not legally protected under publicity or privacy laws. Regardless of what the property is—a pet, a house, a building, or a work of art—such items do not require a release because they don't have inherent rights of privacy or publicity like people do. That they are owned by people is entirely irrelevant. People have rights of privacy and publicity because they are specifically written as laws. In no federal or state statutes is the word "property" used along side of "persons", "privacy" or "publicity."
So, though it may shock you to hear it, there is no such thing as a "property release." Well, they certainly exist, but they are almost all entirely useless legally. That's right, I said, "almost." Such items can be protected, and the mechanism to do so is via copyright and trademark registration. All this translates to a rather simple rule: property has no protections (hence a photo of property can be published) unless that property is protected by copyright or trademark. But it's not that simple either—the copyright and trademark protections only apply if the photo of the article could imply an association with the publisher. And that brings us full circle to the first paragraph above. So, the easy way to think of this stuff is this simple process:
- Does the photo of the "thing" imply an association or advocacy of whoever puts the photo into use?
- If so, is that "thing" protected by copyright and/or trademark?
- If so, is the nature of the copyright or trademark one in which the test for "association" (step one) could harm or otherwise misrepresent the owner of the "thing?"