Saint Louis, MO asked in Copyright for Missouri

Q: Can I sell prints of photos of cars that I took while hired by a car dealership? Some could be labeled “artistic.”

I own a small two-person photography / videography business. One of my clients is a car dealership that has the brands Volkswagen, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche. I’ve taken photographs weekly for them for years and am looking to see if I can legally sell prints of these vehicles. I’m afraid I probably cannot since they’re major brands, but I don’t know for sure. Thank you.

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1 Lawyer Answer
Barbara Berschler
Barbara Berschler
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Rockville, MD

A: Interesting question. The situation you describe has copyright and trademark implications. Because the cars have insignias and other marks on them, in addition to their overall look, the trademark owners likely would not like the public to think they authorized you to take the photos. Similarly, while you may own the copyright in the photographs, you should inquire with the dealership as to under what authority were you able to take the photos. Alternatively, if you took the photos at the direction of the dealership, they may be "works made for hire." Best to work with a copyright attorney who is also familiar with advertising to help you sort out to what extent you may be able to sell copies of the photos.

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