Dan Heller Photography: Model Release Primer


This looks like some excellent information about model releases, which will probably come in handy for any of you photographers out there who are planning on shooting portraits for groups such as “100 Strangers” on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/groups/100strangers/)…

Before we begin, let’s test your basic understanding of when a photo needs to have a model release:

  1. Do I need a release for a photo I took of someone in a public place?
  2. Should I get a release even if the person in the photo is unrecognizable?
  3. Does profiting from the sale of a picture trigger the need for a release?
  4. I’m going to put on a public display. Is a release required?
  5. What if the person is dead?
  6. Do I need a release if the subject is naked?
  7. I have tons of pictures of my ex-girlfriend. Can she sue me if I sold them?
  8. I own a portrait studio. Do I need clients to sign releases?
  9. I took a lot of pictures as a hobby, and now I want to sell them. Do I need releases for all my pictures of people?

To score your knowledge, give yourself one point for each item you answered “Yes,” and two points for each item you answered “No.” In fact, make it three points. Now, total up all your points. If your score is above zero, you have a lot to learn about model releases.

Yes, none of these questions have an answer at all, and no, these were not trick questions. These are the most common questions I get from people just like you. The reason the questions have no answer is because none indicate a use for the image in question. Unless and until there is a specific use for a photo, there is no answer. In fact, it doesn’t even make sense to ask the question in the first place. So, if you have already shot pictures, or you are about to shoot them, and you’re concerned about whether you need a release for the pictures you shoot, the answer starts out no. However, if you plan to license the pictures to someone for publication, then a release may be necessary.

And here is where the wonderful world of Grey opens up to you. Is the image to be used in an advertisement? Or, is the image to be used in conjunction with an article in a magazine or newspaper? Understanding the difference between images used commercially or in editorial contexts is only the beginning. And while many people clearly understand that those differences exist, it’s the over-simplification of them that gives a false perception on what you actually need to do. There is a tizzy of what-if’s and exceptions that go to the very core of the First Amendment of the US Constitution. And once you go there, Whoa Nelly! You’re in for some serious, eye-glazingly boring, sleepy time.

To save you from that, I’m going to try to characterize this stuff in ways that are fun, simple, and will make you a millionaire.

Ok, maybe not. But it’ll be easier to understand. The reason why any of this is discussed to the degree that it is, is rooted in one of the most perpetuated fears about photography: that the photographer can get sued unless he gets a signed model release from the people (or properties) he photographs. The source of this anxiety is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the law: they think photographer’s are the ones who are responsible because they take the photo and sell it to someone. But that’s actually not where the real concern is. To address that, let’s ask the most basic question, “who is ultimately responsible for a photo being released?”

(continued via Dan Heller Photography – Model Release Primer)

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