This sign is posted on private property in New Mexico, USA at: 35.47212, -106.15719

COPYRIGHT NOTICE Photos and videos taken of Lone Butte Mountain may not be directly or indirectly published, reproduced, stored, modified, published, copied, transmitted, sold, projected, redistributed and used in any way without the permission of the owner, to avoid copyright infringement.


  1. Just a comment. Given the poor writing, this sign does not appear to have been written by an attorney.

  2. Is it legally valid to copyright a land feature?

  3. Does this make it illegal for me to photograph (and publish) a photo taken while I'm standing on public land (in this case County Road 45)

  4. Same as 2, but supposed I own the land on the other side of the road and take the photo

  5. Supposing that the land owner has no legal right to copyright, is it illegal to post this sign?

I showed this to an attorney friend this morning and he said "kind of like trying to copyright air".

  • 7
    The "poor" writing (poor in what, being as clear as possible? it's entirely grammatical compared with most signs) is not evidence of being drafted by a non-legal professional.
    – user4657
    Dec 20, 2020 at 22:24
  • 11
    Of course, you making a copy of the sign probably infringes copyright in the sign.
    – Dale M
    Dec 21, 2020 at 3:49
  • 5
    @Nij the "and" instead of "or" and the totally silly "to avoid copyright infringement" are pretty glaring.
    – hobbs
    Dec 21, 2020 at 7:32
  • 10
    @vsz it’s not the literary component alone - it’s the artistic elements as well: font choice, the colours, layout, aspect ratio etc.
    – Dale M
    Dec 21, 2020 at 8:25
  • 9
    What the sign says is literally true. If somebody takes a photo of the mountain, it may not be published without the permission of the owner of the photo, and doing so infringes copyright. It's an excellent prank sign.
    – user6726
    Dec 21, 2020 at 19:28

2 Answers 2

  1. Who knows. It doesn't matter.

  2. 17 USC 102 lists the kinds of things protectable by copyright under US law. These are:

(1) literary works;
(2) musical works, including any accompanying words;
(3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
(4) pantomimes and choreographic works;
(5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
(6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
(7) sound recordings; and
(8) architectural works.

A landscape feature is none of these and is not subject to copyright protection under US law, nor I think under the law of any other country. The "copyright notice" has no legal effect.

  1. 17 USC 120 Specifically prohibits copyright being used to prevent the taking of pictures of a building from a public place. In many countries Freedom of panorama (FOP) specifically permits publication of photos taken from public places. Se also this article on FOP. FOP is an exception to copyright protection, which applies to copyrighted architectural works and publicly posted works of art, such as sculptures. Since landscape features are not copyrightable at all, FOP does not strictly apply to them, but all the arguments for FOP would apply to them even more strongly.

In US Law, particularly under the Fiest vs Rural case, only works with original content, created by a person, are protected by copyright. (Other countries generally have similar limits on copyright.) But a feature of the landscape is not the original creation of any person. (If someone carved the landscape into a designed shape, it might be protect able as a sculpture.)

3 and 4. If it were a building, you could take pictures of it from a public place or a private place where you have a legal right to be, under 17 USC 120 . But since a part of the landscape is not protected by copyright at all, this is not really relevant.

  1. No under the US First amendment there is generally a right to say even false things. But if the landowner attempts to enforce this "copyright" it would be considered frivolous and any court proceeding would be promptly tossed out. The sign gives the landowner no rights s/he would not otherwise have.
  • 11
    A landscape feature might qualify as an "architectural work" or "sculptural work" if there's been significant human modification of it.
    – nick012000
    Dec 21, 2020 at 10:34
  • 7
    @nick012000 E.g. Mount Rushmore.
    – Barmar
    Dec 21, 2020 at 15:14
  • 3
    @Barmar Also Stone Mountain in Georgia, which was apparently made by the same guy as Mount Rushmore, according to the Wikipedia articles I just read on the subject. TIL the guy who made one of the most famous symbols of American patriotism also made a giant memorial for the Confederates, as well.
    – nick012000
    Dec 21, 2020 at 15:44
  • 3
    @DavidSiegel: Re point (5): Freedom of speech doesn’t exclude falsehoods in general, but there are exceptions for various kinds of “threat” — e.g. in the UK, this seems like it might well fall under “groundless threats of legal proceedings”. Does the US have no such provisions? Dec 21, 2020 at 16:46
  • 2
    @Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine in the US that would be a matter of state law, and would vary by state. I think in most states such an offense would require a message directed to a specific person, not a general notice such as the sign in the question. Sending a cease and desist order might cause a problem, but I'm not sure. That should perhaps be a separate question. Dec 21, 2020 at 17:31

Now wait just a danged minute. Isn't this simply a joke sign? Read what it says:

Photos and videos . . . may not be . . . published [etc] . . . without the permission of the owner. . .

The sign maker is not referring to the mountain, he/she is referring to the photos. Of course your photos can't be published without your permission. Everybody knows that. The sign is a joke!

The weird guy down the road from my house when I was a kid put up a yellow sign that said

Caution: Monogoggle area!

I got that joke too!

  • 4
    You misoverestimate the mindset of rural New Mexico, cityslicker. Dec 21, 2020 at 23:44
  • 4
    It could be intended as a joke. If "owner" is read as "owner of the copyright" not "owner of the land" the sign is an accurate statement of the law, although who it is supposed to be warning is less than clear.That could be the joke. That is a question of intent, for which there is no evidence at all. Dec 21, 2020 at 23:53

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