Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is a trademarked building - what does it mean for photographers and bloggers?

There is something curious happening in the world right now. Some of the most well known and renowned buildings in the world are applying for and being granted a trademark protection. Till 2017, there were only three such iconic buildings in the word - Eiffel Tower in Paris, Empire State Building in New York and Royal Opera House in Sydney. This year a iconic building from India also joined this rather exclusive list - Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai. The hotel opened its gate in December 1903 when Mumbai was still Bombay, and is today one of the most recognizable icons for the city, even more so after the 2008 terrorist attack.

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai (image credit: Rajarshi Mitra)


The first time I heard about the trademark protection granted to Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, I actually felt rather nice. I almost felt proud that Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was the first in India and only fourth such building in the word to get this status. But once I started researching on this out of curiosity, the actual meaning of this dawned upon me, especially in context to what it means for photographers like me.

My Taj experiences

The one and the only time I stayed at Taj Mahal Hotel was more than a decade back when I joined my ex in Mumbai while she attended a conference. She had a great job while I was still a student, so it was certainly a treat to stay at one of India’s most iconic hotels without paying a dime. Plus I had complete days to simply roam around the hotel and around while she worked, and this gave me a good opportunity to see the hotel closely.

We stayed at a higher floor in the Taj Tower, a later 1973 edition, and the view was simply marvellous. However, this isn’t where I wanted to be - I wanted a room in the oldest part of the building. Anyway that never happened, and I never quite got a chance to live in the old and actual heritage wing, though we did go that side for coffee (I didn’t drink tea at all back then - so odd) and possibly some finger food.

I might have taken a few pictures too, but those are long lost and I actually don’t have many pictures of the hotel at all in my repository. It’s really sad to lose memories like that...

What is a trademark?

Now that we are done with my completely unnecessary Taj story above, let's quickly see how the term trademark itself is defined:

"A trademark, trade mark, or trade-mark[1] is a recognizable sign, design, or expression which identifies products or services of a particular source from those of others,[2][3] although trademarks used to identify services are usually called service marks.[4][5] The trademark owner can be an individual, business organization, or any legal entity. A trademark may be located on a package, a label, a voucher, or on the product itself. For the sake of corporate identity, trademarks are often displayed on company buildings."

Source: Wikipedia

Why did  Taj Mahal Hotel apply for trademark?

"We have done this to protect the distinctiveness of the building," said Rajendra Misra, general counsel of Indian Hotels Company (IHCL), which runs the Taj Mahal Palace. We can dig a bit deeper into this as well. There are multiple reasons why IHCL could have done it and some of the reasons are detailed out here.

In short some of these are:
1. Prevent copycat architecture
2. Prevent artistic and pictorial representation
3. Prevent its usage such that it can tarnish its image, like on an alcohol bottle 

What does it mean for photographers/ bloggers?

Now that Taj Mahal Palace Hotel has been granted a trademark, here are some of the things that can’t be done:
1. Selling of a product with an image of the building - like tee shirts, calendars, posters, Mumbai souvenirs etc
2. Any sort of commercial use of the image or illustration of the hotel - like logo of your brand

So in short as a photographer, it’s perfectly fine to take a picture of Taj Mahal Hotel, but in case you want to sell that image, you will need to take a prior approval from the hotel as well as share a part of the revenue generated from the sale.

Grey areas

This might actually be perfectly clear on the following points, but for me there are some grey areas here as well:
1. Shooting a model with Taj in the backdrop - is that an infringement? Will 20% blur work or should it be 100%?
2. What happens if someone chooses to use the image clicked on their website/ blog which has ads (let’s say Google Adsense ads) which generate revenue for the owners?
3. How about people on social media handles - like Instagram, who might shoot in front of Taj for a paid campaign. Do they also need to share revenues with Taj or need prior permission?
4. What if I review the hotel on my blog (unpaid) - can I then use the image to go with the review? (Assuming I have ads on the blog)
FirstPost has been especially scathing to the move and this is a short excerpt from their analysis:

“The strongest argument for disallowing trademark over buildings is that with time, architectural structures (both public and privately-owned buildings) become synonymous with the cultural heritage of a place. Famous examples in India are India Gate in New Delhi, the Charminar Fort in Hyderabad and the Victoria Terminus building in Mumbai. A private individual/company should not be allowed to own monopoly over the cultural heritage of a city which in fact belongs to every person who resides in that city (lending the building the character of a ‘public good’).”

Being the first in India, Taj Mahal Hotel is certainly leading the movement for trademark protection. With its successful application, many more iconic buildings might vie for it. Though it may not mean much to the general public, it does mean something for photographer and bloggers.

What are your views on this?

Comments

  1. I studied IP Law as Company Secretary.
    Trademark and copyright is different things. No confusion.
    A building is trademarked not copyrighted. Even without registration of trademark the building concern is well known trademark which is now opted to be registered officially.
    Enjoy click it , use it in any creative manner but do not use its design for selling your work.
    Your fridge is trademarked item. is not it? If you sell your photograph solely saying "photo using of XYZ fridge" it will violate trademark.

    AishMGhrana.Me
    gahrana.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have read somewhere that this trademarked building system has an expire date.
    The Eiffel tower for example have long expired its copyright for photos, but the lights on the tower itself had just been put in 1985. So the copyright is still legit but only at night.
    So, Eiffel tower by day = not copyrighted
    Eiiffel tower by night = copyright!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Every registration of Trademark and Copyright has its registration. However, moral ownership with Trademark and Copyright remains there.
      Valmiki own Moral rights over Ramayana without registration, same way a trademark without registration and with expired registration have certain moral rights. A well known trademark (even without registration) have almost equal rights as a registered trademark.

      Delete
  3. Wow! So beautiful! It is majestic and ancient.

    ReplyDelete

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