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Model release

Model release

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A model release, known in similar contexts as a liability waiver, is a legal release
Legal release
A legal release is a legal instrument that acts to terminate any legal liability between the releasor and the releasee, signed by the releasor. A release may also be made orally in some circumstances...

 typically signed by the subject of a photograph
Photograph
A photograph is an image created by light falling on a light-sensitive surface, usually photographic film or an electronic imager such as a CCD or a CMOS chip. Most photographs are created using a camera, which uses a lens to focus the scene's visible wavelengths of light into a reproduction of...

 granting permission to publish the photograph in one form or another. The legal rights of the signatories in reference to the material is thereafter subject to the allowances and restrictions stated in the release, and also possibly in exchange for compensation paid to the photographed.

Publishing an identifiable photo of a person without a model release signed by that person can result in civil liability for whoever publishes the photograph.

Note that the photographer is typically not the publisher of the photograph, but usually licenses the photograph to someone else to publish. Liability rests solely with the publisher, except under special conditions. It is typical for the photographer to obtain the model release because he is merely present at the time and can get it, but also because it gives him more opportunity to licence the photograph later to a party who wishes to publish it. Unless a photo is actually published, the need (or use) of a model release is undefined. And, since some forms of publication typically do not require a model release (e.g., news articles and other editorial use), the existence (or non-existence) of a release is irrelevant.

Note that the issue of model release forms and liability waivers is a legal area related to privacy
Privacy
Privacy is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves or information about themselves and thereby reveal themselves selectively...

 and is separate from copyright
Copyright
Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time...

. Also, the need for model releases pertains to public use of the photos: i.e., publishing them, commercially or not. The act of taking a photo of someone in a public setting without a model release, or of viewing or non-commercially showing such a photo in private, generally does not create legal exposure, at least in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

.

The legal issues surrounding model releases are complex and vary by jurisdiction. Although the risk to photographers is virtually nil (so long as proper disclosures of the existence of a release, and its content is made to whoever licenses the photo for publication), the business need for having releases rises substantially if the main source of income from the photographer's work lies within industries that would require them (such as advertising). In short, photo journalists almost never need to obtain model releases for images they shoot for (or sell to) news or qualified editorial publications.

Photographers who also publish images need releases to protect themselves, but there is a distinction between making an image available for sale (even via a website), which is not considered publication in a form that would require a release, and the use of the same image to promote a product or service in a way that would require a release. Whether or not publishing a photo via the internet requires a release is currently being debated in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. It is likely that any and all exposure to the public of unreleased photos via any vehicle will constitute civil liability for the photographer.

Types of Releases

  • Adult Release: This is the form most commonly referred to as a "model release". The language of this release is intended for use by models over the age of 18 (the age of majority
    Age of majority
    The age of majority is the threshold of adulthood as it is conceptualized in law. It is the chronological moment when minors cease to legally be considered children and assume control over their persons, actions, and decisions, thereby terminating the legal control and legal responsibilities of...

    )
  • Minor Release: This variant of the model release contains language referring to the model (who is a minor) in the third-person, and required signature by a parent or other legal guardian
    Legal guardian
    A legal guardian is a person who has the legal authority to care for the personal and property interests of another person, called a ward. Usually, a person has the status of guardian because the ward is incapable of caring for his or her own interests due to infancy, incapacity, or disability...

    of the model. A release which is not signed by a parent or guardian affords no legal protection to the publisher.
  • Group Release: This is a modified version of the Adult Release which includes additional signature lines to accommodate use by multiple models or subjects in a single image.

Related publication

  • A Digital Photographer's Guide to Model Releases: Making the Best Business Decisions with Your Photos of People, Places and Things (2008) ISBN 978-0470228562

Sources