Portland Now Charging Photographers for Use of Iconic City Sign


Drive across the west end of the Burnside Bridge in Portland, Oregon, and you’re bound to see the iconic Portland, Oregon sign, commonly known as the “White Stag sign.” It’s an oft-photographed sign that was named a historic landmark back in 1977.

If you were planning on featuring it in a photo shoot, however, you’ll now want to bring your checkbook in addition to your camera — the city of Portland is now charging fees for anyone who would like to use images of the sign commercially.

Portland purchased the sign back in September 2010, and began paying a monthly fee of $2,000 to maintain and power it. Now, it appears that the government would like to see some of that money return in the form of licensing agreements.

A new notice was recently posted to the city’s website, detailing the terms for “Portland Oregon Sign Licensing“:

The Made in Oregon sign, also known as the White Stag Sign is located in downtown Portland in the Skidmore/Old Town Historic District; listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The sign was revamped in 2010 to the “Portland, Oregon” Sign and serves as a symbol of iconic National History for the City of Portland and its Citizenry.

We’d like to invite you to be part of that legacy by including the Portland, Oregon Sign in your next project. If you’d like to use an image of the Sign for any sort of commercial purpose, such as licensing, filming, or photography please contact the Bureau of Internal Business Services.

The page also lists the amounts that will be charged for commercial use of the sign. If you’re a photographer running a small business, a single use will cost you at least $100. Larger businesses that hope to use photos of the sign in merchandise will have to pay a minimum of $1,100.

Here’s a recent news report on the new fees by KATU:

If the city discovers you using photos of the sign commercially without paying up first, you may receive this warning letter in the mail:

It looks like Portland residents (and photographers) aren’t too pleased with this new development… Check out the comments left over on KATU’s piece covering this story.


Recognize the sign above? We’re guessing you do. It’s the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign that you’ll come across when driving into the Las Vegas Strip, and is one of the most recognizable city signs in the world. Guess how much it costs to use it commercially?


That’s right: after creating the sign, graphic designer Betty Willis decided not to copyright the design, as she wanted the sign to be her gift to the city. The sign itself is currently owned and trademarked by the Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO). While the company could charge photographers for commercial use (just like the city of Portland), its policy is to not restrict usage unless the use has a negative impact.

P.S. The iconic Hollywood sign is another famous city landmark that will cost you money to shoot commercial photos of.

Thanks for sending in the tip, Kelly-Shane!

Image credits: white stag & old town water portland oregon by Photos by Mavis, Fabulous Las Vegas by Cimm

  • varunkrish

    sounds ridiculous !

  • Leonardo Abreu

    That`s sucks

  • Pablito

    The Eiffel Tower does the same … IF you shoot it at night. The tower isn’t protected, but the lighting is …

  • Leslie Burns

    You’re incorrect about the Las Vegas sign being free to shoot because the designer may have released the design to the public domain (which, btw, may not be what she did but rather gave the design as a gift to the city–which is different). Anyway, please don’t muddle the issues with some sort of public domain argument. It has to do with whether a city has the right to control the use of the likeness of something that is publicly viewable. That is a different question entirely.

    Cities do have the right to charge for permits for commercial shoots–ostensibly those fees help to offset the costs to the city to provide police or traffic to enable the shoots. This is different, though, as they aren’t demanding fees to shoot but rather to use the resulting work. I have to question whether that would hold up if challenged–see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame case.

  • sheckie

    “Merchandize?” You can’t even get through one sentence in your warning letter, Portland, without a typo?

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    who would want to use that sign in a shoot? it’s a horrible looking sign :|

  • Mick Orlosky

    And remember, if you take an Instagram of the sign, that’s commercial use now. So watch out!

  • Michael Zhang

    Hi Leslie, Thanks a lot for pointing out the copyright/design trademark/sign issue. We’ve updated the text to be more accurate in this regard.

  • Nick Rondinelli

    piss on that sign

  • Scott M

    The lone cypress, near Pebble Beach on the California coast has a sign next to it warning that taking photos of it are prohibited. What?

  • Christian Fleury

    totally stupid. Some private owners sometimes want to cash in, that’s almost predictable. But for a city to charge include landmarks images is simply narrow minded. The landmark being seen locally, nationally and internationally will benefit the city way more than any fee collected. Imaging a city deciding to charge for views of their parks, cityline, roadside signs..

  • Mosley Hardy

    With budget cuts everywhere I think we can expect to see more and more of this sort of thing. Our city now charges a license fee for portrait or commercial photo shoots in public areas.

  • keith mckenna

    Wow.Minneapolis MN’s Grain Belt Beer bottle cap sign is way cooler, and we don’t charge for it. I’m sure that it would be pretty easy to photoshop it over the albino deer. Think about it!

  • Tony Thomas

    If it’s in the public view, you don’t need permission to shoot photos or videos of anything or anyone. It’s not illegal, no matter what anyone tells you. There is no expectation of privacy. Guess what my next YouTube rant is going to be about?

  • Matt

    there are a lot of things in public view that you need permission to use commercially.
    You can use it non-commercially with no restrictions, and art falls under non-commercial.
    So, it really is not a big deal. It is targeted towards marketing of commercial
    entities. If you were to shoot it for an
    ad campaign, someone would need to pay for the use, most likely not you.

  • John B.

    The sign copyright would preclude the manufacture of an identical sign, but in no way is a photograph a copyright violation. If they can do this, they can also copyright every government building, park, or other structure, and make commercial photographers buy a license to use an image of those things. This is a sign (pardon the unintended pun) of hard times when governments are looking for money.

  • armorfoto

    They can. Buildings erected after 1990 can be copyrighted, and photographing them for commercial use without permission is a copyright infringement. Check out the excellent book “The Photographer’s Right” by Bert Krages for more.

  • Nathan Blaney

    My thoughts exactly.

  • Geoff Manasse

    Seems to me Portland got it backwards. They should be paying people to make images of that sign. Otherwise, so very few will bother to do anything with their images of it. I thought the local government in that pretty town was smarter.

  • Halfrack

    When did this take effect? Anything shot prior should be fair game, so then it’s just a matter of when did that photo shoot happen.

  • El_Fez

    Wow, the people on the news page are all up in arms over nothing. Everyone completely missed the whole “anyone planning to use the sign for news stories, commercial filming or photography” clause. Shooting it for fun? Fine. Shooting it for advertising or t-shirts? Pony up some cash.

    People seemed to have missed the distinction.

  • Crabby Umbo

    I think someone needs to check the whole outcome of the lawsuit over the Rock and Roll Museum in Cleveland, I think it really is legal to photography anything from public property without charge. Even if it used commercially. It would only be illegal to try and use this as your own logo or a representation of this as your own intellectual property.

  • Mantis

    I think you miss the point.

  • JoanieGranola

    I agree. However, many people don’t really understand the whole “copyright” laws in this country (I sure don’t — I’ve read a lot about it and it’s still confusing). Our copyright laws are bastardized versions of far better copyright laws in other countries. Municipalities aren’t just handed free money — in this economy, they need to do what they can to earn money to keep their town/city/state/whatever running. There’s nothing wrong with that.

  • Mike Penney

    Seattle claims such nonsense for everything in any city park…. and at the seattle center… except the space needle and they are not much for enforcement since they like publicity. Eventually the “Monsanto corporate mentality” will kill us all.