Preemptive Universal Copyright. Planning a trip to a park or garden? You may want to check with the curators or owners first. Your neighbor or local city park may not care if you’re taking photos of plant life and submitting it to a competition or using it commercially. However, more enterprising gardeners, landscapers, and facilities may claim the intellectual property rights and copyright to plants they watch over. This is similar to Monsanto claiming they own the corn in your field if it has their GMO signature on it.

Purpose. One may wonder why such aggressive, possessive, and opportunistic policies would be in place. Here are a few reasons:

  • Revenue. Capture all revenue of photos and ensure nobody is out there benefitting from the images either through sale or indirectly.
  • Image. Control the perception of the gardens’ image to ensure that all photos of the garden are of the highest quality.
  • Brand. Control the branding of all media including logos and fonts to be included with images.
  • Value. Limit public viewing to just a few images to ensure people will come to the garden and pay a fee to physically see the plant life. This helps retain the value of the physical on-site experience.
  • Contract. The contract with a hired photographer may promise their exclusive rights to take and display photos. A photographer known as the ‘official photographer’ of a certain museum or destination won’t want someone else out there sharing pictures that could be confused with their own work.

Gardens. The Denver Botanic Gardens is an example of a garden where images of the plant life are strictly controlled. Here is their policy:

“Photographs are a wonderful way to remember your visit to Denver Botanic Gardens. We encourage visitors to take casual photographs or shoot videos for their personal use. Personal photographs and videos are not to be used for commercial purposes. You may post your photo on our Facebook page – “Like” our page and share your photos with us!” [source]

Venues as Backdrops. It’s also common for images of venues, spaces, streets, and architecture to be strictly controlled. Here is the policy for York Street:

The photography session guidelines outlined below are intended for all guests, but a permit is necessary for those who wish to use the Gardens setting as the background for portraits or other posed photography. Denver Botanic Gardens considers a posed session to include wedding, engagement, family, graduation, prom photos, as well as senior photos or those for a modeling portfolio. It also includes any photographs for commercial use, such as fashion, advertisement and promotion, even if the photographer is not a professional. We appreciate your cooperation. … Visitors and members are permitted to take photographs and shoot videos for private, non-commercial use, except in specific exhibits or areas where photography may not be permitted. … We ask that all photographers honor these policies when using Denver Botanic Gardens as a backdrop for any photography or filming.” [source]

Future Considerations. It’s common for personal non-professional photos to later be used in a professional capacity. For example, let’s say a couple gets their engagement photo taken at a location. It’s a private personal photo. Later, in a documentary (video, print, or online) the photo is used as part of a montage. That photo is now being used illegally. Or, something as simple as including such a photo in a YouTube video may be a violation of policies of any monetization is connected to it.


Photo Credit. The photo at the top of this page is from a Wikipedia article about the Denver Botanic Gardens. The photographer claims they have rights to use the photo in this way. However, because it’s not being used privately, but instead being used publicly and online where it can be widely viewed, this could likely represent a violation of the Denver Botanic Gardens’ policy on photography usage. The derivative work used here includes the caption of Denver Botanic Gardens. It’s possible the garden curators may prefer that the garden be credited whenever pictures are displayed.