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I am working on a commercial card game based on the middle east. We would like to have famous buildings and monuments in the game, such as the Burj Al-Arab in Dubai.

Are there laws that would prevent us from using pictures or drawings of famous buildings in commercial games?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm guessing that will be country and region specific. Here's a brief article in regards to the United States: asmp.org/tutorials/photos-public-buildings.html#.UPq3Ix3WISE \$\endgroup\$ – user24851 Jan 19 '13 at 15:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does this question actually have anything to do with games? This is purely a legal question, right? \$\endgroup\$ – Trevor Powell Jan 23 '13 at 8:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that if someone else took the photo or made the art, that has copyright protections separate from the building. \$\endgroup\$ – Draco18s Oct 11 at 18:29
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I'm not expert at copyright law, but according to this article relating to U.S. copyright laws, it seems to be permissible to commercially use depictions of famous buildings. One copyright law mentioned in this article states:

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.

However, that article only specifically mentions famous buildings in the U.S. as examples. I can only assume that famous buildings from other countries are also acceptable for U.S. citizens to create depictions of.

Unfortunately, after doing a bit of Google searching on the topic of Middle East copyright laws for buildings, the only relevant articles I found were discussing how copyright buildings couldn't be copied in actual construction.

To add to the complexity, the age of famous buildings also affects how much copyright protection they have. One of the articles I found stated this in regards to Middle East building copyrights:

Building copyright is not indefinite, but is only of limited duration. For instances, the pyramids, the Taj Mahal and even the Eiffel Tower are now out of copyright. This means that these iconic buildings can be freely reproduced in new developments and amusement parks such as Dubailand, and other projects which feature replicas or scaled models of these ancient monuments. Buildings such as the Burj Al Arab, Emirates Towers or Burj Dubai are all buildings that have been built recently and therefore remain within the laws of copyright, and will continue to enjoy copyright protection for a number of years.

Thus, to answer your question, there may or may not be non-U.S. laws protecting some famous buildings from being depicted in drawings and pictures without permission. However, even if these laws exist, they might not be applicable if you don't live in the countries with these laws.

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Note: my answer is assumes US legal jurisdiction. And as usual, this is not legal advice - when in doubt, ask a lawyer.

The short answer is: it's complicated.
As cited from Wikimedia Foundation’s preliminary perspective on matter (emphasis is mine):

Copyright Status of Memorials and Monuments

Federal law removes copyright protection from works of the U.S. government, but the U.S. government may not have actually designed and created any given memorial or monument. Works merely commissioned by the government may still enjoy copyright protection, as one U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled that if the government contracts with a third party to create a work, and the work, as commissioned, is not related to official duties of any government employee, the work will enjoy copyright protection.

Freedom of Panorama as it Relates to Memorials and Monuments

U.S. law provides for a concept known as Freedom of Panorama, which gives people the right to take and distribute pictures of architectural works visible from public places. However, the law defines architectural works as “the design of a building as embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans, or drawings.” Federal regulations further specify that the term ‘building’ “means humanly habitable structures that are intended to be both permanent and stationary, such as houses and office buildings, and other permanent and stationary structures designed for human occupancy, including but not limited to churches, museums, gazebos, and garden pavilions.” These definitions seem to exclude sculptures and other three dimensional graphical works from architectural works, and in fact the Copyright Act puts three-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art in a separate category of protected works: pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.

Additionally, there's the matter of source material. In a 2010 the United States Postal Service referenced a Las Vegas-based replica of the real Statue of Liberty instead of the actual statue. The copyright holder of the replica sued in 2013 for ~$3.5M and was upheld in the court's decision.

In summary: check your sources, don't use sources you're unwilling to cite & seek legal council.

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