There is a TON of misinformation out there about model releases. Many photographers and models alike are clueless as to why model releases are required, let alone the details involved. I’ve been asked about them time and time again, so I figured a great topic for one of my first blog posts would be to share a little knowledge on model releases and related issues.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This blog post is going under the assumption that the photographer is neither shooting as an employee or shooting a commissioned work!!! If so, the laws usually change greatly. The information below may very a bit depending on what state you live in. Consult an attorney in the area that the photos will be taken if you have any doubts!!!
A copyright owner has the final say so on publishing, including print AND other media (such as the internet). Whoever is responsible for the shutter release that creates a photo (photographer) owns the copyrights to it. Simple.
A model owns the rights to his or her likeness. In order for a photographer to use a photo with the likeness of another person in it, he/she must first get permission from that person. That is what the model release does. Again, simple.
NOTE: This does not apply to journalistic photos. Press shots are fair game, so if your photo is plastered all over CNN.com with your hand in the cookie jar don’t think you can sue to have them taken down.
For some reason people seem to mix the two up. Some models walk away thinking that they may now make whatever edits they want to the photos, then post them online and make prints. Some photographers believe they can edit faces onto other bodies (and other likeness altering Photoshop magic) without fear of a lawsuit. Neither is true!!!
Technically you don’t gain anything by signing a model release. You may have a CD full of images, but at any point in time the photographer may block you from publishing them. You may have experienced something similar to this if you’ve ever taken digital photos to Wal-Mart or Costco for prints. Often times they will ask you to come back with a letter from the photographer if the photos look too “professional”. In extreme cases, photographers may send a “Cease and Desist” order to websites that you have posted photos on to have them taken down.
However, you are NOT giving the photographer the right to alter your likeness in an unflattering or compromising way! This is a double edged sword though. Although rarely contested, technically you haven’t given rights to edit in a flattering way either (blemish removal, skin smoothing, etc).
Just know that signing a release doesn’t give you, the model, any additional privileges, nor does it give the photographer rights to change your likeness in the photo. If a photographer has altered your likeness in a way not agreed upon, you may send a Cease and Desist order of your own.
Always always always get a model release!!! You have absolutely ZERO rights to use a photograph with someone else’s likeness in it for non-journalistic purposes unless you’ve received permission to do so. That said, if you do have a signed release, know that you are setting yourself up for a serious lawsuit by making crazy unauthorized edits to someone’s likeness in a photo. Basically, hash out what is/isn’t acceptable editing with the model first and put it in writing, this will save you both a lot of time & heartache…
I hope this helps!!!