Q: Is it illegal to mark a photo containing a restaurant logo with a CC0 license?
I'm working on some open-source exercises for Russian language students, and for an alphabet-related exercise it would be very helpful to display pictures of Russian signs with English cognates that beginner students can read easily. However, I'm unsure of the legal implications of using, for example, a Бургер Кинг (Burger King) sign in the exercise—I know full well I can't just grab one from Google Images, but the thing is, I found one on Flickr that the photographer deliberately marked with a CC0 license. I have a sneaking suspicion that he wasn't actually allowed to do that because it has someone else's logo in it. Is that sneaking suspicion correct?
I'm working on the assumption that I don't have any fair-use protections for using the logo either, since I know "educational purposes" is a more iffy defense than most people make it out to be, although if there's any chance I'm wrong about that I'd appreciate having some light shed on it as well.
Here, you are describing the intersection of copyright and trademark law. While it would be trademark infringement to open your own restaurant called Burger King, or to sell a hamburger wrapped up in a wrapper that says Burger King, you certainly can take a picture of a Burger King restaurant and use it for other purposes. You don't violate any trademark rights by using a picture of a Burger King sign to teach Russian or English. The photographer doesn't either. Also, there is no fair use for trademark infringement, so good thing you're not infringing.
You are right also to be concerned about infringing the photographer's copyright rights. If we assume that the person who posted the photo was the copyright holder, then the Creative Commons license puts the photo in the public domain, so that you can freely use it for whatever purposes you want. Be aware, though, that sometimes the person who posts a photo is not the photographer or copyright holder, and thus doesn't have the right or power to put the photo into the public domain. Anyone who uses such a photo, even though they reasonably believe that the photo is in the public domain, is infringing the rightful owner's copyright rights, and would be liable. A fair use defense to copyright infringement would be appropriate here, but probably not successful.
So, in conclusion, so long as you are satisfied that the image was properly posted by the copyright holder, then you should be fine using it for educational purposes.
Marcos Garciaacosta agrees with this answer
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