A recent story on the sale of the Brady Bunch house got me thinking about other famous fictional residences, such as stately Wayne Manor in the Batman TV series, the apartment buildings in Seinfeld and Friends. Specifically, I'm wondering whether using real-life buildings or private homes purely as establishing shots requires the permission of the property owner.

I'm familiar with the concept of Location Releases, but my understanding is that these are used when you're actually filming on someone's property. If you're just using static footage of a property to establish location, do you need permission? If so, how far does this extend?

For example, if a filmmaker needs a release to pass off a specific private home as a key location, would he also need to do so if he's showing multiple homes just to establish the kind of neighborhood you're in? Would he need permission to show the Empire State Building if it were just to establish that a film takes place in New York?

There's obviously a hundred different variations on this theme, but are there any general rules of thumb that the film industry observes?

3 Answers 3


To turn my comment into a bit of an answer and to be able to inline a photo you might find interesting...

The UK does have slightly different rules for military bases and airports; but essentially, so long as you film from a public location, you can film or photograph pretty much whatever you like. The 'permit to film' is for where you're standing, not where you're pointing the camera. You only need owner permission if you are on the property you are filming.

For instance - permission required to close off The Mall and park a Spitfire and a dozen WWII German Army trucks there for the day. None required to get the rather spectacular backdrop to the shoot.
This is from the opening scene in the TV series SS-GB.

enter image description here

And, incidentally, the photographer who took this shot of us filming needed no permission at all, nor can any attempt be made to stop him other than stand in the way of where he's trying to shoot. You sometimes see photographers on ladders trying to get shots of active filming locations, with a bunch of security guys standing in front, waving their fluorescent jackets to try spoil his shot. They can't touch him or force him to leave by any means whatsoever.

From Paulie's answer...

A building could also be considered to represent an individual, company or institution so you should be careful not to use this association to either endorse or exploit any product or service; or in a way that might defame such individual, company or institution.

Sometimes they can take liberties even with that in mind. This is same scene from the show, after the CGI team had been hard at work...

enter image description here


In general you will require permission from someone.

In the UK for instance for public spaces...

Filming the exterior of a building does not infringe its copyright. This means that you do not need copyright from the building's owner to film its exterior but you may need to get permission from the relevant authority or property owner based on where you have physically placed your camera in order to shoot.

A building could also be considered to represent an individual, company or institution so you should be careful not to use this association to either endorse or exploit any product or service; or in a way that might defame such individual, company or institution.

Filming on Private property though, does generally require permission of the owner.

To film in private locations such as residential properties, you will need to apply directly to the property owner.


The US is similar but each state may have different requirements regarding public property and spaces.

In Southern California, Riverside County offers fee-free permits and even allows free filming on county property. In Santa Monica, you can shoot on private property without a permit as long as you have the property owner’s permission. To learn about the costs and requirements of shooting in public property, contact the film commission in that city.


  • In the UK and in Australia, you do not need permission to photograph or video a building if you are on a public right of way (pretty much any footpath or road). The only real exception being national security, which is rarely invoked and sometimes even overlooked (MI6 eventually allowed Vauxhall House to be used for Bond) - do establishing shots there generally wouldn't require permission
    – HorusKol
    Jul 27, 2018 at 14:42
  • As a solo photographer that's pretty much true, but with a film crew you're significantly more of an obstruction & the police will ask you to move on if you don't have the paperwork with you. It's not an indictable offence unless you get awkward with them, but they could turn it into one if you did ;) Guerilla filmingdoes happen, though - I've done a few shoots where there was no paperwork. One of them had 2,000 extras in Piccadilly Circus, possibly the biggest guerrilla shoot ever - i.pinimg.com/originals/50/6b/6e/…
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 27, 2018 at 14:53
  • @Tetsujin that's more about creating an obstruction on a public thoroughfare than photography and permission for imagery
    – HorusKol
    Jul 28, 2018 at 14:11
  • Correct. I'm not sure what point you're trying to make.
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 28, 2018 at 15:38

In France, Buildings don't have image rights and an owner cannot oppose to the use of a building image except if it generate abnormal trouble (lots of tourists/fans).

Some people found clever way to work around it, for example the lighting of the Eiffel tower is protected and can't be used without owner authorization.

For other countries, I don't know. But keep google street view in mind.

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