A model or property release is a consent form signed by a person featured in an image or the owner of property or intellectual property for the purposes of agreeing to give permission, to the owner of an image, the right to use their likeness or property. Once consent has been given the flexibility for the use of that image increases greatly. Without that permission the use of the image has to be strictly controlled to avoid any person or property owner suing the photographer and/or the clients who might use that image. So there are legal reprocussions to having or not having this document and the type of photography you shoot will determine if you can acquire signed releases for your images. If you shoot stock photography you are expected to have a release with an image that features a person or recognisable property and you may be asked to either include it when you upload the image or have it available should there be a need for it in the future.
If you are shooting with models then it would be expected that the models sign a form to give consent for their likeness to be used. However if you are shooting a street scene where there are many people going about
their lives and have nothing to do with your images then getting a signed form for each of those people would be impossible. A scene where there are a small number of people featured might be different especially
if you ask permission before you take the picture. Remember too if you have minors in your images then permission from parents or legal guardians would be required.
If your model's face doesn't feature in the picture, but another part of their body does, you should still ask them to sign a release.
Property releases are useful when you have used a recognisable location as the backdrop to your shoot. Obtaining a signed form from the owner of the property will be important if you intend to use the images commercially. Some locations would be very unlikely to sign over those rights to you such as public buildings or well known locations. Obviously before you start a shoot in a location that featured such a building you would have confirmed if you can have permission to shoot and if you can obtain a release. No release would almost certainly mean no shoot. Some places might allow you to work if you pay a fee before you start. Each place will be different so research is required beforehand.
If your image is to feature a logo or recognisable product like a car then an intellectual property (IP) release may well be required for commercial use of the image. It's likely to be highly unlikely that you would obtain this release so it might be prudent to avoid using recognisable products, logos or other copyright protected items in your work.
What you can do with a picture will be determined by your possession of a signed release. If you wish to use a picture for commercial purposes, ie to sell a product or service or where the image is to be used
in a feature about sensitive or adult issues then it would be critical to have a signed release from all the people that featured in the image. If the image includes recognisable property then the same applies.
If you don't have a release the uses for the picture are restricted. If your picture is destined for the stock market then no model or property release means you can't offer it as a royalty-free image. Rights-managed
would be the only option. Anything shot for commercial purposes would only be used if all of the releases were available therefore a picture would be useless without those forms.
Some images without signed releases are considered for editorial use rather than commercial use however this would depend on where the image was going. Not every stock agent offers images for editorial use for instance.
Remember, the release form is a document that would be recognised in a court of law and could protect you against large lawyer's bills and damages. It's important that the expected uses of the image are included in the
contract or at least not excluded. So if your image is about sensitive issues you wouldn't want to have an exclusion in the terms of the release. Also it's wise to have a witness to the signing of the form by the releasee and to get the
witness to also sign the release form.
If you are shooting stock you should check with the libraries to ensure you use approved releases. Most agencies will supply you with an approved form you can use.
Keep in mind too for future reference you should note what images are covered by the release.
This guide is meant for general reference purposes only and comes with no guarantee or warranty whatsoever. You are encouraged to seek the advice of a lawyer or solicitor regarding any legal matters including the use of model and property release.
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