Model Releases

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.

If you're going to sell an image of a person (or sometimes pets and property as well) for commercial use (i.e. advertising), then you need a Release. On the other hand, if you're going to sell an image of the person (or pet or property) to a newspaper for a news story, then you probably don't need one.

If you photograph a pretty girl in a number of poses, you must get her (or her parents if she's under 18) to sign a Model Release or you could get into trouble if you sell the picture without her permission.

Here's another example: you take a picture of your neighbour tripping over a broken paving stone. It's a good photo. Even though she wasn't hurt, you've caught her in mid-air arms flailing and a look of alarm on her face as she frantically struggles to maintain her balance.

If a local newspaper buys the usage rights and runs it as part of a news story on uneven pavements, you probably don't need a Release from her. But if a firm of personal injury lawyers wants to use the image in their advertising, you must have a Release to sell it to them. However, if your neighbour wasn't recognizable — say her back was turned and the picture just shows is a female figure taking a tumble — you probably don't need a Release.

What if your subject is a public figure or celebrity — Brad Pitt or some supermodel taking that tumble? Public figures may have less of a right to privacy, but their right to prevent use of their photographic likeness for advertising or trade purposes is as strong as anyone else's. So, once again, you don't need a Release for a news story but you definitely need one if the picture is to be used commercially. Just try getting Mr. Pitt's signature on a Model Release form!

So be advised — if you fail to get model releases from people you photograph and whose images you upload to fotolibra, picture researchers will be reluctant to buy them.

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