Essential for Royalty Free images, otherwise better safe than sorry

The suggestions on this web site should be regarded as guidelines only and not as substitutions for professional legal advice. Laws and their interpretation differ from country to country, and these notes relate mainly to the prevailing situation in the European Union and North America.

Take a photograph of Kate Moss outside the Villa Rotonda in Vicenza and you can happily stick it in your family album — but you can't sell it.

Unless you get the clearances.

Before an image can be used commercially, rights clearances have to be obtained by the photographer. These mainly consist of Model Releases, Property Releases and sometimes Special Releases. These allow the image to be sold to end users.

In the case of the example above, you would need the permission from Kate Moss's management and also from the owners of the Villa Rotonda. And they would want to know exactly what the picture was going to be used to promote.

If the picture was not going to be used to promote anything, i.e. it was simply going to be used editorially in a book, then clearances are good to have but not essential. There could still be trouble ahead.

First and foremost, any signed Release is better than no signed Release. If your subject has signed a Release acknowledging that you have the right to use the photos you took of them on a given date, then you're pretty much covered.

Secondly, if you are selling Royalty Free images of people, you MUST have model releases.

There are no absolute rules as to when you do or don't need a Release, except for Royalty Free images, but these are the important things to know — if the image has a possibility of being used commercially (which means to advertise or promote a service or product), full clearances are required — both model and property releases. If it is to be used editorially, then better safe than sorry — try and get the releases. If you can't, then unless you are extremely unfortunate, or you have clearly transgressed in taking the photograph, then editorial use is regarded as fair comment.

Legal rights vary from country to country. Here is a guide to photographers' rights in the UK: Sirimo's UK Photographers Rights Guide.

Here is a US firm of attorneys which is aware of photography and the law in the US.

And this is for Australian photographers.

Other countries and territories will have their own laws.

fotolibra Model Releases fotolibra Property Releases fotolibra Special Releases