YouTube presenter Tom Scott isn’t willing to chance a lawsuit, so he pixelated the famous Hollywood sign in this video of the classic LA landmark.
But does he really have anything to fear? I reached out to Betsy Isroelit Press/News Contact for the Hollywood Sign for some thoughts. Clearly this would have fallen into the news category as it is a story about the Hollywood Sign and therefor Scott would not need a license for his video.
And you won’t need a license to grab a selfie after a leisurely hike around Hollywood Hills.
The only time licensing becomes an issue is when you’re using this trademark for commercial purpose. In regards to trademark, this is mostly in regards to using the image to sell something (like putting the Hollywood sign on your album cover, movie poster, as a splash page for your website or featuring it prominently in your department store).
The Hollywood Sign along with Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame are owned by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce (a non-profit organization) and the licensing is handled by Global Icons. Now there is incidental use – if the sign can be seen in the background of your shot and it’s not featured prominently, you may not have an issue (though it’s best to clear it) – the problem occurs when you utilize or feature the sign in your branding or in your film. Even if you purchase stock footage you may still need to license the use through Global Icons (Getty Images and Istockphoto won’t even accept images of the Hollywood Sign for their library because of this)
Some people may balk at idea that such a prominent landmark could be under trademark protection – but the simple truth is the Hollywood Sign is a very important symbol of a big industry and there’s plenty of people out there who just want to exploit it for a quick financial gain. But the fact is there are a lot of protected buildings and structures under trademark protection such as the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, the Wrigley Building in Chicago and the Citicorp Center and Guggenheim Museum in New York. Donald Trump’s buildings are under trademark protection. Even the Eiffel Tower, which is in the public domain and free to photograph during the day, is under copyright protection at night.
So in conclusion – no one is going to sue you for taking a picture of the Hollywood Sign. But if you want to make money off the imagery that’s not protected under fair use such as news or commentary about the sign itself – then you need a license.