You enjoy taking pictures and love hearing the praise of others. At some point you might even try to sell your images. Selling your work for commercial purposes opens the doors to great financial reward but also includes new challeges when it comes to pictures of people.
When you take a picture of a model, friend, or stranger, and try to sell the image commercially, you must receive written permission from all recognizable persons in the image. If the photographer does not obtain such release they are left open to legal action from all the subjects and property owners in the image. A verbal ok from friends and family is not ok. Once you have published the image they will surely come back for money.
Why do you need a model release?
All 50 states have a law protecting a persons right to privacy. Capturing the likeness or image of a person for commercial gain without the subjects permission has been defined an invasion of privacy. You might have the perfect picture for the next Nike ad but without a model release all you have is a pretty picture.
What does a model release do?
A model release if written appropriately authorizes the photographer the rights to use the likeness or image of the subject under the terms of the agreement. It releases the subject from their rights of privacy, future payment, compensation, or dispute against the use of the images. The photographer owns the image. The photographer may then transfer those rights to another company or use the images in any way.
Personal and editorial pictures do not require a model release since they are not for a comercial purpose. But if you are in doubt get a model release.
Keep Accurate Records
The burden of proof is always upon the photographer to produce a model release or prove that the image is not of an accuser. So after you receive the model release make sure you keep an accurate file of all this information.
Stock photography agencies including Fotolia require a model release of all images that has a recognizable person in it, even if that person happens to be you. Most require you to provide a copy of the release before the image is sold. Fotolia has an interesting method of capturing this information they require the photographer to upload a picture of the signed release for their files. Other agencies require photographers to provide model releases with in 48 hours.
Obtaining a model release is not inconient or hard when considering the time and expense of legal action from your subjects. Some have learned a hard and costly lesson avoiding model releases. If you are new to model releases using them is really quite easy. With some practice of your pitch and overcoming your fear the process is really very simple. It might go like this.
“Hello my name is_________ and I am shooting a picture for __________ I really liked what you were doing in the background of my picture, or I thought you might be able to help me make a great photograph. I am unable to use or take your picture without your written permission. If you will sign this form and provide me with your address I will send you a copy of the photo at no charge. Here is my card so you can contact me for more prints.”
Most people are friendly so give it a try.
Sample Model Releases
The internet is full of sample model releases but make sure you find one that is simple to understand, short, and enforceable in your state. Make the release also explains your intentions with the images. The Amercian Society of Media Photographers ASMP has a whole team of legal experts that provide model releases and legal support to its members. Here is a link to sample model release forms we found on the about.com site. They are orignally provided by the ASMP. We recommend that you contact an association like ASMP for more information.
Stock photography can be a very rewarding and profitable field. Don’t let a simple model release stop you from producing great pictures and making some money. Place a few copies of the forms in your camera bag and just like the old American Express advertisement Don’t leave home without it!