The word ‘photovoice’ is trademarked, registered by PhotoVoice in the UK and EU territories. Our logo and branding were registered in 2014, and the word ‘photovoice’ in 2017. This was done to protect the specific activities PhotoVoice delivers, and to ensure that we avoid confusion with other organisations who may be making reference to photovoice as a shorthand for participatory photography.
PhotoVoice has been around as an organisation since 1999, and the trademark registration took place to reflect the synonymity our work was having with the term. It was also done to avoid confusion when people were referring to the historical academic methodology and the activities of our organisation.
We have been aware of times in which individuals and organisations have confused our work with other projects, or vice versa, which is unhelpful for most people involved. We refer to the methodology as ‘participatory photography’ to distinguish it from the organisation, and we encourage others to do the same.
If people are referring to ‘photovoice’ by making reference to the academic theory, we ask that they clarify the distinction between the organisation and however it is being referenced.
This could incorporate wording such as: “The term photovoice is being used in reference to the academic theory, and not in reference to the UK organisation ’PhotoVoice’ (photovoice.org), which specialises in designing and delivering participatory photography projects, and holds the trademark to the word.”
We are less comfortable with people using ‘photovoice’ in a commercial sense, as we have worked hard over the years to establish a reputation as leaders in the design and delivery of participatory photography projects. Such commercial use could include trading or seeking funding incorporating the name ‘photovoice’, describing activities as ‘photovoice workshops’, individuals or consultants as ‘photovoice practitioners’ or similar, as this has led to confusion in the past, which we are keen to avoid.
We’re also aware that some projects might not meet our ethical standards, and the implied association with us could be damaging to our reputation.
Similarly, we have developed a number of resources over the years, so we are less comfortable with resources which incorporate ‘photovoice’ in their title or content, particularly if these could be confused with our work or outputs, and especially if they are made available commercially. This could include guides, manual, exhibitions, flyers etc.
Finally, we want to be clear when developing partnerships or seeking funding, as we have been aware of instances where funds had been given to organisations mistaking the project they were developing as part of our portfolio of work.
If you have any specific questions, feel free to contact us here.
I’ve seen reference to a photovoice project. Was that you?
It might have been, but similarly, people are increasingly recognising the value of participatory photography, so it might not have been. If you’re unsure, do contact us. We will usually try to accompany descriptions of our work with our branding and logos.
Photovoice existed before your organisation. How can you use the name?
The academic theory was established in the late 1990s by Wang and Burris. PhotoVoice the organisation was first established in 1999, gaining charitable status in 2003, and converting to a Community Interest Company in 2022. It’s fair to say that the organisation owes a debt to the original theory, but in the subsequent years, we have developed our own methodology, applying principles of participatory photography in over 130 different projects. The trademark protects our use of the word to describe the specific types of activities we undertake, and the unique methodology we have developed.
If you’ve had the trademark since 2017, why are you posting about it now?
We’re becoming increasingly aware of people contacting us about activities that we’re not part of. We’re proud of the ways in which we’ve promoted participatory photography over the years, the projects we’ve developed, and the achievements we’ve been able to deliver. If people are trying to use their own version of participatory photography to deliver social change, we commend them and support their efforts. If however, they’re using the term ‘photovoice’ as a way of branding their activities, this has implications to our work, which we’re keen to avoid.
You write ‘PhotoVoice’ with a capital P and V. Can I use it with lower case?
Previously, we’ve tried to distinguish our work from others with the addition of capital letters. However, we’re increasingly aware that many organisations and activities are using our favoured capitalisation, likely based on the synonymity of our work in the field of participatory photography. Unfortunately, this has provided even more compelling reasons for us to safeguard our work and reputation.
Fundamentally, our trademark doesn’t distinguish letter cases, and nor do search engines…
I only want to talk about it in an academic sense – can I still refer to it?
If you’re referring to academic theories which underpin participatory photography, then we wouldn’t make any objection, so long as there is an accompanying clarification. But if it’s intended to be used in a commercial sense, to raise funds, or to design and deliver participatory photography activities which could be confused with our work, we may have understandable concerns, which we’d welcome the chance to discuss.
Can I license the word from you?
No, unfortunately not. We only use it to describe the activities of our organisation. We wouldn’t feel comfortable with people using it for programmes and projects we’re not directly delivering, as we couldn’t guarantee they meet our ethical standards.
I’ve completed PhotoVoice training – doesn’t that make me a photovoice facilitator?
No, unfortunately not. We only refer to PhotoVoice facilitators as those directly involved in activities delivered by our organisation. Feel free to state that you’ve completed the training course.
You provide photovoice training – surely you expect people to use it?
We’re very clear that we’re providing training in participatory photography, as delivered by the organisation PhotoVoice. We do provide a range of training courses to individuals and institutions, and we support the use of participatory photography to deliver community engagement. However, we don’t think it’s reasonable that people could then deliver activities which could be confused with our own, or use the materials and content that we’ve worked so hard to develop without our permission.
We’re happy to share how we deliver participatory photography activities so people can benefit from our extensive experience of project delivery for their own work, and we promote and champion PhotoVoice worldwide, having worked in 50 countries for over 20 years, delivering projects and training. But we do feel it’s important to be able to distinguish and protect our hard work.
I’m working in a different country. Can I use photovoice without infringing your trademark?
If your work is being communicated worldwide through the internet or on social media where geographic boundaries are less applicable, and there’s a risk of confusion with our work, we would argue that this has the potential to infringe on our trademark.
Can I see the links to the trademarks?
Of course. There are three covering UK and across EU territories available here: