Save yourself time, money, and your good name by knowing if you need a model release or not. A model release is a document that the person, or people, you photograph sign releasing their pictures, giving you permission to legally use their likeness.
I’ll boil it down first: no one ever got hurt by having a model release (okay, here I’m just assuming…). Better safe than sorry.
But in actuality, in most cases you probably don’t need one.
Follow Privacy Laws
If you sneak up and take a photograph of someone through her kitchen window, you invaded her privacy. If she is in a public place, then you can take her picture.
How Will You Use the Image?
#1 Reason You Need a Model Release: Advertising
The only reason you need a model release is to use someone’s likeness in advertising. If the way you use the image implies that they support or advocate you, your business or your product, then you need a model release. Otherwise you’re clear (according to all the lawyerly articles I read on the subject).
You can sell the image without a release, but the people who buy the image might need a release if they’re using it in a way that suggests the person in the photo supports or advocates something. So having a model release for an image you plan to sell makes it more sellable. But if you sell it without a release, and the person who buys it uses it for advertising, the buyer is legally liable – not you. You didn’t use it. You just sold your work.
You can post the image to sell without having a release.
You’re not saying the person in it supports you – you’re just presenting a product to sell. If you want to use an image in something that presents information, for example in an article like this, you don’t need a release.
What about Your Portfolio?
A gray area seems to be a portfolio for your photography business. You are presenting your product – that’s legal. But is it implied that the people in the pictures endorse your business? You may decide this a better safe than sorry situation and get a release. I often just verbally ask my clients if they care. I’ve never had anyone say they’d rather I didn’t.
The worst thing they really can do is ask you to remove it from your site. Legally, they probably don’t have a leg to stand on – or the money to hire a lawyer to stand their leg up for them – but it’s good business sense to respect what people want in a situation like this.
Also, remember when using a photograph of a minor, make sure it’s cool with the parents. They’re the ones who would need to sign a release.
There you have it – my readers’ digest version. If you’d like to learn more specifics, I recommend Dan Heller’s site or contacting a lawyer who specializes in the first ammendment.
Sample Model Release
As part of my client-studio agreement outlining the session date and payment terms, I include the following:
MODEL RELEASE: The CLIENT(S) hereby grants to (insert photographer/business) the unrestricted right to use and publish photographs of the CLIENT(s) or in which the CLIENT(s) may be included, for editorial, trade, advertising, and any other purpose in any manner and medium; to alter the same without restriction.
Google “sample model release” and you’ll find several more detailed and model-specific releases.
Final Words: Be Considerate
Basically, it seems as long you are considerate of the people you photograph, you’ll likely be safe from lawsuits.