For a comic, I wanted to make a drawing with buildings in the background. The drawing is inspired by several photographs of a skyscraper and the New York skyline. I combined a few photos and changed some of the details before tracing the image in Illustrator.

I am worried about copyright however, since the building actually exists. Does copyright apply to buildings and skylines? If so, how can I make sure I don't infringe copyright and still have a realistic background?

2 Answers 2


In case of photo or video you should have a property release. Property release is a legal release signed by the owner of property used in a photograph or video granting permission to sell. More info can be found in this blog post from Shutterstock, where you can also download a sample release form.

In case of drawing, the best solution would be to 'make' your own building, not just outline an existing one. Of course, you can use pictures of buildings as a reference and inspiration, as long as the resulting building is not recognisable as a specific one.


Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and this personal opinion is not legal advice.

Architecture/buildings are indeed often protected by copyright, however copyright laws for making images of these differ by country.

In the UK we have a Freedom of Panorama exception to copyright which means that images of buildings/architecture/public art are exempt from infringing the copyright of the buildings themselves, for any purpose: either commercial or non-commercial, as long as they can be seen, drawn/photographed from a public place.

As far as I am aware, I believe the US has something similar, but sadly they don't extend the same freedom to commercial use (such as advertising). From what I've been able to ascertain, some images of buildings are trademarked, for example the Empire State Building. So you'd probably need to obtain permission/a release to use such an image for commercial purposes. Perhaps you should really ask a lawyer.

The Empire State Building has a website to apply for permission to use the name, and the image. http://www.esbnyc.com/business-esb/licensing

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