What Is a Property Release?

Property releases grant permission to be used in a commercial photo

Copyright symbol representing property release

HT-Pix / Getty Images

A property release signed by the owner of a recognizable property used in a photo or video grants permission for its commercial use. Property releases are to property what model releases are to individuals. If you want to use them in your photos for most types of usages and the pictures contain clearly recognizable places, buildings or other property such as pets, automobiles or artwork, a property release protects you from legal claims by the owner of the property.

When Do You Need a Property Lease

Usually, property releases are necessary when you use images of a person's property for commercial purposes, such as in ads or brochures. Editorial use — news photos, for example — do not require property releases. Photos destined for your personal family albums don't require releases either. Do not rely on verbal permission when taking photos for eventual commercial use. Obtain a signed release and keep it on file with the image. That way, you are covered when you choose to use or sell the image in the future.

Do not assume that photos of public buildings and historic locations can be safely used without a release. Vacation photos for your scrapbook are not a problem, but using the same photos for commercial purposes may require a property release from the person or company that owns or manages the vacation property or tourist sites.

Property releases do not cover people. You'll need a separate model release if the image you are using for commercial purposes has an identifiable person in it.

When Using Photos From Third-Party Suppliers

When obtaining photos from third parties services or photographers, be certain that the image is accompanied by a property release. Most reputable stock photography sources and professional photographers have model releases and property releases for their images. If you choose to sell your images through a stock photo website, the images will require appropriate property or model releases.

Property Release Content

If you take your own photos, download a sample property release from the internet and use it. If you upload your photos to stock photo sites, they often have their own forms for you to use. The release lists the name and contact information of the photographer, the name and contact information of the property owner, a description of the property, signatures of both parties and (usually) witnesses.

Sites That Require Property Releases

If you photograph an amusement park, museum, palace, estate or national park, be sure to get a property release before using any of the photos for commercial purposes. If the photos are not identifiable — if they are just of generic houses, for example — you don't need a release. You might be surprised at the locations that require property releases before using a photo of the property for commercial use. Here is a short sample:

  • Graceland 
  • Disney theme parks, images from theme parks, characters, and products
  • The Royal Residences in Britain
  • The Hollywood Sign 
  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
  • Sydney Opera House
  • Universal Studio and its logos, theme park images and characters
  • New Orleans Superdome
  • Space Needle in Seattle
  • Hearst Castle
  • Eiffel Tower (when lit at night)
  • The Louvre
  • Burning Man Festival
  • Las Vegas Hotels
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