We all take pictures of people all the time. But do you ever ask yourself if you need permission to take photos of someone? The answer most likely is yes, and this is where a photo release form can help you.
SepiaStock recommends hiring a lawyer to draft a form for you. Doing so ensures your document is legally sound. However, if you cannot afford legal fees, here are some FREE TEMPLATES that you can download and take to your lawyer for review.
What Is a Photo Release Form?
A photo release form is a contract between the photographer and the entity that takes part in a photo. It’s written permission that allows the photographer or another party to use the image.
The agreement provides rights to publishing on various media platforms. This agreement includes social media, websites, print, and television.
A photo release form ensures there are no grey areas when it comes to using an image. Its conditions can be as simple as allowing one party to publish pictures. But it may also include limits of use and contract expiration.
So why do you need a photo release form? Using someone’s likeness without a set agreement can have some severe consequences.
In the United States, it’s illegal for a photographer to use someone’s likeness commercially without a photo release form. Likewise, it’s illegal for a client to use images from a photographer without the same permission.
There are two main types of photo release forms:
Model release forms contain conditions on working with people, and in some cases, animals.
Property release forms include terms on working with buildings and objects.
There are plenty of variations when it comes to model and property releases. We will discuss the most common options below.
When Do You Need a Release Form?
You use a photography release form to inform the client what you intend to do with the images. And it also lets them know what they can do with your work.
Conditions on your form may include how you want your client to use your images. You have the right to tell them whether they can use your files online and print copies.
But the client can also give a photography release form to the photographer. This time, the use of the document is to protect their likeness. With this written agreement, they can tell you how you can use your photos of them.
Just because a client gives a form to the photographer doesn’t mean that the client gets all the benefits. In most cases, a single photo release form is enough to protect the client and the photographer. After all, both parties need to agree to the terms before signing.
To make it easy to determine if you need a form or not, ask yourself these questions:
1. Can people recognize the subject in the image?
2. Is the photograph going to be used for commercial purposes?
3. Is the picture going to be used for advertisement?
Did you say “yes” to number 1 and yes to either number 2 or 3? Then you need a release form. If you answered “no” to numbers 2 and 3 or number 1, you don’t need it.
Tips for Using Photo Release Forms
Prep your paperwork ahead of time.
Make sure your document is legible.
Be specific about the images, date, and location you write on your photo release form.
Never leave anything open-ended or up for interpretation. Be specific.
A photo release form is a contract. The law states that the client needs to have plenty of time to review a contractual document. So be sure to send your client the paper before the photoshoot. Allow them a few days to read it and negotiate the terms.
Do not present it without notice on the photoshoot date. Otherwise, they might say they signed the form under duress.
Always ask your client to sign two copies of the photography release form. Then give them a copy for them to keep.
Types of Photo Release Forms
The term photo release form is an umbrella term for various releases. It’s most common use is for photographers granting their client the use of photos for commercial purposes. But there are other reasons for using this legal document as well.
I use photo release forms when I photograph bands. Within the document, I include the conditions of release. For example, I want my clients to credit my name every time they use a photo I took.
MODEL RELEASE FORM
A model release form states that the model gives the photographer consent to use their likeness for commercial purposes.
The agreement often includes the right to use a photo for advertising a business or portfolio. But it can also stipulate rules on printing the images for commercial use.
A model release form protects you from lawsuits your subject might file against you. The issues you may encounter could be anything from claims such as the invasion of privacy to defamation of character.
But by default, the photo release form protects the models as well.
If the model agrees on the limitations of the image usage, they will know if the photographer violates their agreement.
MINOR RELEASE FORM
Anyone under eighteen years old in the United States and many other countries can’t sign a contract. So a parent or guardian must sign this photo release form on behalf of the child. Since you’re dealing with a minor, you should use this photo release form even if you’re not using the pictures for commercial purposes. This document protects you and your subjects from legal issues that may occur.
BUILDING RELEASE FORM
You’ll need this type of photo release form if you plan to take a picture of a building. A lot of famous landmarks require a photo release form. But what’s even more surprising are the iconic places that you can’t photograph for commercial purposes. These locations include the Louvre and the Sydney Opera House. Of course, you’re allowed to take photos of the Louvre for personal purposes. But you just can’t sell them to commercial entities at all.
PROPERTY RELEASE FORM
A property release form focuses solely on the property. The property could be a private space, such as a building or plot of land. They can also stretch to public places that aren’t owned by the state, such as fountains.
You’ll need this release form if you want to publish photos of another person’s property. It doesn’t matter if it’s a car or your neighbor’s garden.
The use of this document depends on whether or not the place is recognizable beyond a reasonable doubt. If you photograph a fence outside a house, you may not need this document at all. Why? Because every other property also has one that looks like it.
Many likely think of physical locations when it comes to this type of photo release form. However, the law in the United States also considers animals to be property. Ultimately, you will still need a photo release form if you want to use photos of pets commercially.
But do you know what’s even more curious? If an animal reaches celebrity status, you will need a model release form, not a property release. Grumpy Cat and Lil’ Bob are perfect examples of famous animals.
The owners of these celebrity pets earn money. So it only makes sense that their owners require a photo release form. That way, they can control the use of the images.
Each photography release form will contain different terms. Some might include a time period, licensing regulations and/or financial details. There are a few things that the product release form needs to make it legally binding. It will require the names, addresses, dates, and signatures of both parties. You will need to include this information in addition to the agreed terms.
If you are a landscape, street, or architectural photographer, you will find these necessary. They will allow you to use the images for all sorts of things, from magazines to advertisements.
Apart from exteriors, they also include details and interior shots of houses, buildings, shops, restaurants, et al.
A property release form gives a photographer or advertising company the right to use a photograph of or captured in a private property. Problems arise when photographers try to capture public spaces. The problem is that many areas seem public but are privately owned. For example, shopping centers, city squares, streets, all allow the thoroughfare of people. Yet, they are controlled and paid for by companies.
Generally speaking, to be able to use these areas on social media, you need a permit. Especially if you look professional and wish to use a tripod, you can get away with the odd snapshot.
Capturing the images isn’t the problem. It is what you intend to do with the image that matters. Companies do not want you to photograph their spaces without some sort of control. – this is mainly because these companies have their own photographers. They are worried your images do not reflect the area positively or that you could benefit financially from their design or space.
There are quite a few famous buildings that require a property release form. The Burning Man Festival, Disney theme parks, and the Space Needle in Seattle are just a few.
COPYRIGHT RELEASE FORM
This type of photo release form is one of the rarest on this list. Signing this document means giving up your rights to an image to someone else. Copyright release forms are common in e-commerce photography. But large brands also use them for advertisements and other commercial uses. A lot of photographers don’t like copyright release forms. But most photo projects that involve this document tend to pay a sizable amount of money. For some artists, it becomes a matter of choosing between profit or retaining ownership of the work.
The Difference Between a Public and a Private Location
Commercial photographers use the photo release form all the time. But what about the street or candid photographers? Where do they fall into place with the photo release form? First, we must explain the distinction between public and private areas.
Expectation of Privacy
The expectation of privacy states which situations where privacy applies to a person. For instance, a person has the right not to be photographed on their property without permission. But the protection of privacy does not cover public areas. So anyone can take pictures of other people without the need for a photo release form. They can even sell it commercially without having to ask permission.
If you’re a street photographer, you can take pictures of anyone as long as they’re on public property. But even if what you’re doing is legal, it’s best to ask permission for ethical reasons. Keep in mind that taking photos on public property isn’t a free-for-all pass. There are limits to what you can do with the pictures you take in public.
You can sell photographs to news organizations for editorial purposes. But you can’t use the images for commercial purposes. Furthermore, you’re not allowed to use the pictures in any derogatory, defamatory, or slanderous way.
It doesn’t matter if you’re taking pictures of a celebrity or a regular Joe. Every person automatically has a likeness. And everyone has the right to protect their likeness. Of course, you can take a picture of someone in public for personal use. But you’ll be in legal trouble if you use that same photo to profit from it. That’s why you don’t just see pictures of random people on advertisements.
What Is Commercial Use?
We already mentioned the term commercial use several times in the article. But what is it exactly?
Most people think of commercial use in terms of selling a print. But commercial use is far more complicated than that.
Anything created with the intention of profit is commercial use. It includes marketing and advertising. But it also pertains to posting a photo of someone on your Instagram to promote services. From this definition, commercial use seems easy to understand. But there are times when commercial use can be a little fuzzy.
Selling a photo in a newspaper is a great example. You may think that it’s commercial use since there’s a payment involved. But it wouldn’t be considered such because it falls under freedom of the press. Of course, freedom of the press only applies if your image is “news-worthy.” Unfortunately, a lot of photographers misinterpret the meaning of “Newsworthiness.”
There are plenty of elements that make a photo news-worthy. But the main prerequisite is that it has to depict real events. It also should not be staged. And most of all, it has to fit into the narrative of current events. A photo of a person walking at a public park isn’t newsworthy. But a person protesting human rights falls under this category.
Commercial Use of photographs has a lot of grey areas. If you’re thinking of selling or promoting a photo, it’s best to consult an expert first. If you don’t want to take any legal risks, be sure to use a photo release form to be safe.
Generally, for editorial or news, you don’t need a property release. If you plan to sell your images through a stock photography website, you need permission by way of a release form.
The company releases the right for you to use those images. If you are making money with your photographs, they may charge you and have a say in which pictures you are allowed to use.
These forms need to be submitted and signed, along with a proposal before the shooting takes place. They allow the photographer to use the images and stop the company from suing or stopping the photographer later.
If you plan on using the area for a photography shoot by using models or clothing, a property release form is essential.
The photographer might not make money from the images if they’re working for a client. In this case, the property release form allows the photographer, and therefore the brand to use the photos.
Without a property release form, there could be a slew of problems. First of all, magazines and stock photography websites might not allow you to use the image without one.
Two, if a company spots your images are shared on social media without proper documentation, you open yourself up to legal problems.
It might be beneficial to carry a few property release forms around you just in case. Usually, these documents need to be read and signed in advance of any photoshoot.
Familiarize yourself with how a photo release form works. Keep in mind that a photo release form is not a one-size-fits-all document. You need to make sure you have the correct type to use for every photo shoot. It may seem a lot of hassle at first, especially if you just want to take pictures. But remember that photography is also a business, and you should treat it like one.
DISCLAIMER: SepiaStock is NOT an attorney or a lawyer, nor does it provide legal advice. The information presented in this article is not intended to act as your legal bible. This article is solely a reference material. Please consult a lawyer for any legal matters. SEPIASTOCK WILL NOT BE LEGALLY RESPONSIBLE OR LIABLE FOR THE PHOTO AGREEMENTS AND RELEASES BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR MODEL/CLIENT. The laws mentioned in this article are based on the United States legal system. The information can vary by country, provinces, and districts.