I was reading a book which had a picture of a car on it. I started wondering whether the author needed to get permission or a licence from the brand, or could they use the picture without infringing copyright. (For sake of discussion suppose that the author took the photo himself.)

  • 1
    +1. I too believe this is an interesting hypothetical. Commented Dec 23, 2020 at 16:13
  • Let's say you do need such permission. Then imagine how the world of reviews, discussions, etc would be different if you had to ask for permission to show a picture of some brand's widget. Think about all the times some B-roll on the news shows cars, to get permission from all brands would be an industry in itself. Heck even posting an example picture in say the Auto StackExchange would require you to reach out to ford/whomever just to show a picture of the thunderbird you're working on?
    – BruceWayne
    Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 19:30

2 Answers 2


A car, or other useful object, is not generally a copyrighted work. There can, in come cases, be a copyright on the aesthetic aspects of the design, which might prohibit a different car maker from making a different car with a very similar appearance, But taking a picture of a car is not an infringement of copyright, and the photographer does not need permission from the car maker to take the picture.

Such a picture would itself be protected by copyright, and the book author would need permission from the photographer or other copyright holder to use the image, unless that use came under fair use or fair dealing. (If the book author took the picture, this would not be an issue, of course.) This would be true whether this was a "commercial use" or not. Such permission is often granted freely if proper credit is given, but that is the choice of the copyright holder, and in some cases a fee would be charged, or permission might be denied on any terms.

  • At least in the UK design rights are not copyrights, they are a different kind of intellectual property governed by different laws.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 7:32

Your title and your question are two different questions. The answer to the title's question is the photo of a copyright document has the copyright of the original plus the copyright of the photographer, assuming any creativity in the photograph. So, no it can't be used commercially without the permission of the copyright holder or under fair use or similar doctrine.

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