Written by: steve
By Steve Russell
I’ll start with the requisite disclaimer.
I am not an attorney. This article is presented to raise awareness of the subject and to encourage discussion. The article is not presented as, or intended to be legal advice. For specific legal advice, please consultant your attorney.
Now that I have that out of the way, let’s get to the basics.
There is probably more gray than black and white when it comes to the rules regarding model releases and the rules and laws can vary from state to state and from country to country. As the photographer, it is your responsibility to be familiar with the rules and laws where you’re taking the photos and to follow those rules and laws.
What is a model release?
A model release is an agreement between the model and the photographer that states what the photographer can do with the images captured during a photo shoot. Generally, a photographer will secure the release so that the images can be used for commercial purposes – advertisements, product brochures, etc. In exchange for the release the model normally receives some form of compensation. The compensation may be in the form of a modeling fee or it could be as simple as copies of the images
There are three categories of model releases:
1. Adult’s model release – usually signed by the photographer and the model if the model is legally considered an adult where you’re taking the photos.
2. Model release for a minor child – used for models who are not considered an adult and must be signed by a parent or guardian
3. Property release – allows the photographer to use images that have recognizable commercial products or product logos/names in the image. It must be signed by someone that is authorized by the company to sign the release
When do I need a model release?
As indicated above, if the images are going to be used for commercial purposes such as a sales brochure for a particular product, on a billboard advertising a product, as part of an advertising campaign printed in ad form in a magazine or in some electronic format.
A model release is not needed if the images are not going to be used for commercial purposes. Legally, if the photo is going to be used for editorial stock photography a release isn’t necessary. Courts have long held that news reporting and social, political and economic commentary are protected under the First Amendment. However, if you are trying to sell your images for editorial or documentary uses, the purchaser/publisher may still require a release before they will purchase the image.
When should I get the model release?
Since the model release also grants permission to take the photo, the obvious answer would be before you take a photo. However, sometimes that isn’t always practical. Keep in mind that if you take a great photo that may require a release at some point in the future, you have to get the release of every recognizable person in the photo. If someone refuses to give their release, you still own the photo and you have a great shot. You don’t have to delete the photo; you are just limited to what you can do with it.
If you’re paying a fee to a model, you definitely want to have the release signed before you start shooting. Models that work for a fee have probably signed releases many times before and understand that if they don’t sign the release you won’t take any photos and you won’t pay them.
From a practical perspective, if you’re taking a photo on the street and you ask for a release first, you’re probably not going to get the photo you wanted. Generally speaking, people that aren’t use to working in front of the camera may not behave naturally if you ask for the release first. Just remember that if they don’t give the release, you probably won’t be able to sell the photo.
Where do I get a copy of a model release to use as a template?
The internet is full of model releases. By using your favorite search engine and searching for “Model Releases” you can easily find one that is right for you. If you are planning to become a serious free-lance, stock photographer, you may want to consult with an attorney to make sure the release you’re using fits your situation and complies with the laws in your area. It’s always better to be safe than sorry in this situation.
How do I apply all the rules in a practical manner?
Here’s where a huge dose of common sense comes in handy. The following are a few images I’ve taken with a short commentary regarding the situation and my thoughts about a model release.
I was out doing some street photography when I took this image. These two people, who I assumed were mother and daughter, sitting on the bench on the sidewalk juxtaposed against the image on the music store window caught my eye. Okay, no problem taking the picture – see last week’s article on Photography and the Law – I was on a public sidewalk as were they. However, because I took the photo, moved on and didn’t request they sign a release, I can’t ever sell the image even if someone wanted to use it.
This is more street photography. I was interested in the two older gentlemen engaged in conversation. When they saw I was taking their photograph, they turned and faced the camera and posed – not what caught my eye in the first place and I asked them to go back to what they were doing. After I took four or five images, I went over and talked with them for about thirty minutes. I never expected to use the image for anything but the class I was taking and didn’t ask for a release, but the camera opened the door for a great conversation.
Here, it was obvious that I was taking this woman’s photo and because I was quite close to her and essentially “putting the camera in her face,” I asked permission before I took any photos. Common sense and courtesy was rewarded with an “of course” and a very interesting conversation. It’s important to remember that even if you’re not planning to ever sell the photo, there are times when it really is common courtesy to ask permission before you take the photo. If they say no, then it’s always best to respect their wishes and just move on.
This is one of my favorites and I’ve used it in an article before. I did not get a model release from her. However, because I know her, I could always go back and request one. I did give her compensation in the form of electronic copies of the images which was part of the agreement between us for her to allow me to take the photos in a studio setting.
In none of these instances did I get a model release. Without having them, I can’t ever sell the images. If you think you might someday want to sell some of your images, then it’s always better to be safe than sorry and get the release.
Good luck and good shooting.
Photo Credits: All photos Steve Russell on Flickr.
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