I understand that if I want to take a picture of an area for commercial use, I am beholden to copyright laws.

As per 17 US 120,

The copyright in an architectural work that has been constructed does not include the right to prevent the making, distributing, or public display of pictures, paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations of the work, if the building in which the work is embodied is located in or ordinarily visible from a public place.

The inside of a mall is an open space, but it is privately owned. Is it considered a "public place" by this definition?

  • 2
    As a practical matter, that only covers architectural works (i.e. buildings and their designs/blueprints). Advertising, decorations, and even graffiti might have their own copyrights which are not exempt (but in practice, good luck enforcing a graffiti copyright).
    – Kevin
    Commented Nov 24, 2020 at 18:27

1 Answer 1


The mall is a privately owned public space

At least while it’s open to the public.

A photograph of architecture taken from within it would not violate copyright. However, photographs of other things (like art) do not have the public space exemption.

Additionally, the owner can limit or restrict photography. This has nothing to do with copyright, just that an owner has the right to control what happens on their property (within legal limits).

  • It should be pointed out that in California only (due to phrasing in their Constitution), the concept of a mall as privately owned public space grants one all of your First Amendment rights in the mall's open space only. This is not true anywhere else in the U.S. SCOTUS has ruled that this is constititutional as this is offering more freedoms than the U.S. Constitution, which is always constitutional in nature. Mall owners may not unduly burden speech in an interior mall space unless that speech enters an actual store space.
    – hszmv
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 12:38
  • @hszmv interesting - I am aware of SCOTUS affirming that free speech can’t be restricted in a private thoroughfares like in a “company town”.
    – Dale M
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 13:22
  • The ruling only applies to California because of the way the California Constitution worded it's Free Speech Clause. The general rule if that the public has a non-transactional access to a private property (one does not pay for the right to enter a mall's common space between stores) then it counts as a public place when laws regaurding free speech come up. So they can't restrict access to the mall for content of speech, but could restrict acess because the mall closes at 9 pm+
    – hszmv
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 13:48
  • It also doesn't cover anything that would charge admission, so if you go to Disney Land and start protesting the latest princess song that all the kids won't stop singing, Disney secruity will not just Let It Go.
    – hszmv
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 13:51

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