Can photographs of historic landmarks be used commercially?

For example, let's say a bank used a picture of Marble House in Newport RI in advertisements of their banking services. Could the trustees of the society that owns Marble House legally prevent the bank from using the image of their property?

For the purposes of this question, assume that the photograph is a view that is not available from a public location, for example, it is a view of the back of the house.

  • The answer here varies widely depending on the country. I have given a US answer, with a link that provides info on other countries as well. – David Siegel May 13 at 22:20
  • @DavidSiegel U.S.A. I added the tag – Cicero May 13 at 22:36
  • Marble House is not protected by copyright. It's too old. A newer building probably would be protected by copyright. – phoog May 17 at 1:17

Yes, such pictures can be used

At least in the US they can be.

17 USC 120 provides that:

(a) Pictorial Representations Permitted.—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 owner of a non-public place could prohibit the taking of photographs, or require a contract not to take photos as part of the price of admission, as many picture galleries and other exhibits do, but could not prohibit the publication of such a picture. The owner might have grounds for a breach of contract action, however.

Many other countries have a legal doctrine of freedom of panorama (FOP). Indeed some have wide protections for FOP than the US does. Others do not protect FOP at all. The Wikipedia article linked above gives a map and detailed per-country information.

If the "landmark" is not a building but a natural feature such as a hill or waterfall, there is no protection for it under the laws of any country that I am aware of. Also if a building is old enough that it is not protected by copyright, there is no protection.

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