What is a model release and why is it important?

Working in the photography industry can be complex. There is a very specific vocabulary to the commercialisation of photographs and we often hear about “royalty free images”, “property release” but also “model release”.

You might come across this term but wonder what it means and, more importantly, what it implies for you. Let’s guide you through the basics.


What is a model release?

A model release is a document authorising the photographer to use a person as the image’s subject and publish it, as defined by the release. This may include conditions as to the payment of the model, the commercialisation of the picture, the possible uses etc.

A model release is therefore similar to a property release in the way that it constitutes an authorization form enabling the photographer to publish a photograph featuring a specific subject. To put it simply, model release concerns people while property release concerns private properties such as buildings, designs and anything with identifiable features.

Although a model release is not necessary to simply take the pictures, it will be necessary for them to be published and used for commercial purposes (in marketing or advertising for example).


What does a model release regulate?

A generic model release stipulates terms of use and restrictions on the images (for marketing purposes, non commercial…) as well as the payments the model might receive for this use. They might receive payment only once, everytime the picture is used, depending on the length or not get paid at all.

In addition, the model release should make it clear who has legal rights over the images taken: the photographer, the company...

The model release must specify how the photographs can be used (on social media, a website, printed products…), and in which ways (promotional purposes, endorsement...).  After signing the model release, the subject will no longer have rights over how the picture will be used as long as it falls within the agreement.

However, do be aware that you could face legal action if you are using the picture for anything that can be considered defamatory, scandalous, harmful, or in any way that could be regarded as a false portrayal.

When do you need to have a signed model release form?

Photos of people in public are regulated and you cannot take pictures of simply anyone on the street and publish them freely. A photographer cannot sell a picture for commercial use without having the subject sign a model release or they could face legal repercussions. But do you always need one?

The number one rule is: if someone is identifiable, then a model release is needed.

Even if you photographed a group of people in a public setting, this form will need to be signed by each person who is recognisable in the picture. That can be due to their appearance, dress, tattoos, or other distinguishing features.

Furthermore, private events such as weddings, funerals or birthday parties have an implied right to privacy, even if taking place in public, so you may not take photographs without permission.


Why should you care about model release forms?

As a photographer

As the photographer, you are the one responsible for the model release form. That is to say that, should there not be one before commercialisation of the photographs, you will be the one held responsible.

Moreover, many stock agencies refuse pictures if you do not provide such a form and you will not be able to sell your images through their network.

Getting a model release form template can be very quick and easy to print with a home printer too. The only thing you then need, is to ask for a signature from your subjects.


As an image buyer

When you buy images, you often do not need to worry about model release as it has more than likely been taken care of beforehand by the photographer.

However, many untrustworthy websites do not check and control the images they receive, and it is often forgotten. As you might expect, using images not properly authorised can have its own set of legal issues which you want to avoid. You might be suddenly forced to remove the image immediately or even pay compensation to the model.

Imageselect automatically controls if an image comes with the required model release form or not. If it is missing, we will make sure to find the photographer and the model to get the authorisation required. This means our clients can browse stress free and only worry about finding which images they want. Furthermore, you can immediately see below each picture if a model release has been secured or not.

Any doubts or questions about stock photography? Let our team know! We will help you with all your projects and offer you the best image solutions.

(Sep 21, 2021) Clemence Servonnat Getting started

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