Generally, no. While certain works of architecture are protected under copyright law from being copied or reproduced by other architects and builders, there is generally no copyright infringement in simply showing an existing building in your photo or video. The distinction to understand here is the difference between protecting the design of a building from being reproduced by other builders, versus someone simply showing a picture of the building.
The source of law for this can be found in 17 U.S.C. § 120(a):
Scope of Exclusive Rights in Architectural Works - PICTORIAL REPRESENTATIONS PERMITTED.
The copyright in an architectural work that has been constructed does not include
the right to prevent the making, distributing, or public display of pictures,
paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations of the work, if the building
in which the work is embodied is located in or ordinarily visible from a public place.
Like almost every law, there are, of course, exceptions, and it is always best to consult with an attorney if you’re not sure if you’ll have an issue or not. Here are some examples of when the lines begin to blur.
Works of Art
Sometimes buildings will have works of art attached to them, such as famous carvings, statutes, gargoyles, painted frescoes, and sometimes even famous graffiti. Showing these works of art, if the design element is conceptually distinct from the building itself, may result in a copyright infringement claim if the works of art are still protected by copyright law and not already in the public domain. The key takeaway to remember is that a work of art does not loose it’s copyright protection simply because it is attached to a building.
You should also be aware that some famous buildings may be protected under trademark law. Several famous buildings such as the New York Stock Exchange, the Transamerica Pyramid, the Louvre Pyramid, and the Chrysler Building all carry trademark protections that may impede you from using the building’s image in your commercial photography or film shoot. Some famous landmarks may have other trademark protections, such as the trademarked lighting design on the Eiffel Tower, which may prohibit you from showing the building in your commercial project even if the building doesn’t have copyright protections under the law.
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