While driving in the car recently I noticed a Google Streetview car go by outside. Once I got home I went onto Google Streetview and looked around for a bit.

This is when I noticed the copyright notice:

google maps screenshot showing copyright notice

My question:

How is Google able to take photos of already possibly copyrighted/licensed objects, and how is it that they are able to relicense it?

  • 1
    The probably claim that the panoramic images they take are not copyrighted and copyrightable.
    – user490
    Jul 14, 2015 at 13:26
  • 1
    I don't understand this question. What exactly do you mean by "prevent photographing already open source licensed, copyright, material"? Are you asking about cases where a truck photographs, e.g., a copyrighted painting visible from the street? Also, you point to the date in your image; are you asking about why the copyright year and photo-taken date are different?
    – apsillers
    Jul 14, 2015 at 13:56
  • 3
    @EricGärtner Freedom of panorama is a thing but not in all countries Jul 14, 2015 at 14:24
  • 3
    I'm voting to close because this has to do with copyright, not open source.
    – overactor
    Jul 14, 2015 at 15:09
  • 2
    This belongs on Law. Jul 14, 2015 at 21:22

2 Answers 2


Photography is a lovely thing. I can take a picture of my school, from one angle, and it will be my own work. Also, someone else can take a picture of my school, from the same angle, and it will be their work. Really, it depends on who clicked the button. Take this for example:

My Shot
This is my shot, and I totally reserve all rights Darn user contributions

Other shot

I'll tell you right now, they are the same model (Airbus A330), same location (Amsterdam Schipol), same a lot of things. But the works are distinct, in that I took the shot on top, and someone else took a shot on the bottom.

When people apply licenses to their photographic work, it is normally only to their work, not the object that they took a picture of. Hence, if you were to open source the road, and I take a picture of the road, then the picture will be my work, and under full copyright.

Therefore, Google doesn't really need to do much. Many things that Google blurs out is for privacy reasons, if I walk beside a street view car, they'll have to blur out my face. So, if there is any issue, they simply blur it out.

The pictures that Google takes is their own work. Therefore, they are able to license/place a full copyright... etc. And because the photos belong to Google, they are able to do whatever they want, regardless of whether a similar shot has been taken.

Bottom Line:

Google is able to relicense these works because the photos belong to them. Since it is their own work, they are able to do whatever they would like with it.

  • 1
    I think (but I'm not sure, per my comment above) that this question is asking about photographing other copyrighted materials that happen to be displayed in the street; i.e., the Street View photo might be considered a derivative work. (Also, this might be a better fit for Law.SE, but I'll postpone that discussion until I have a better of what this question is actually about.)
    – apsillers
    Jul 14, 2015 at 14:04
  • @apsillers Alright, I'll see what I can do. Thanks :)
    – Zizouz212
    Jul 14, 2015 at 14:05
  • @apsillers Quite frankly, I think just leave it here. It's not directly related to Open Source, but to licensing and Creative Commons, so I say leave it.
    – Zizouz212
    Jul 14, 2015 at 14:19
  • 4
    I totally reserve all rights... hate to tell you, but you've just open sourced that image, by posting it here.
    – ArtOfCode
    Jul 14, 2015 at 14:26
  • 1
    I didn't DV, but this doesn't appear to address the question asked (at least as far as I can understand the question asked): a plane certainly is not a "copyrighted object" -- its design is overwhelmingly functional and therefore mostly not eligible for copyright. (I realize that you yourself edited that language into the question to replace the more confusing original.) The only sensible interpretation of "a copyrighted object" I can think of is "a physical copy of a work under copyright," which your answer doesn't seem to address.
    – apsillers
    Jul 14, 2015 at 17:09

It's because they're licensing the work not the content.

I could take a picture of Van Gogh's most famous painting, and copyright it. I could take a picture of the Milky Way, whose ownership cannot be claimed by anyone under the Outer Space Treaty, and call it mine.

I can do these things because in those situations, I'm copyrighting my work - i.e. the photo. I'm not claiming to have any rights to the content of the photo - the painting isn't mine, and I certainly don't own the Milky Way.

It's the same for Google: even if they're taking pictures of copyrighted art installations, they're copyrighting their photos, not those installations.

  • Photos of copyrighted art installations are tricky: you need to deal with things like freedom of panorama (which varies wildly from country to country), fair use (which varies almost as wildly) and de minimis.
    – Mark
    Jul 14, 2015 at 21:46
  • @Mark true, but it's generally OK. Though Europe is rethinking FOP...
    – ArtOfCode
    Jul 14, 2015 at 21:47
  • I must say, under what legal condition is Van Gogh's most famous painting?
    – Zizouz212
    Jul 15, 2015 at 2:20
  • @Ziz probably public domain by now, but you get the point
    – ArtOfCode
    Jul 15, 2015 at 6:58

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