DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. I AM NOT A LAWYER. DO NOT DEPEND ON THIS.
“Images with clearly visible people require a model release form for legal reasons.”
By Andrew Hudson Published: June 7, 2011 Updated: January 19, 2017
A model release is the written consent of someone to use their likeness. This is necessary for any recognizable person significantly shown in a photo before you can use or license that photo for most commercial use. It gives the photographer immunity from liability for actions that would otherwise violate the model’s legal rights.
For example, this nice woman pictured above signed a written model release confirming that she was OK with her face appearing in a photo for commercial distribution and public viewing, such as on this page.
Why Is A Model Release Necessary?
By law in many states, a person owns their likeness. Their recognizable face is their property. If you make money partly based on someone’s image — for example by licensing a photo of them — and you don’t have their permission, then you might be stealing their property.
As we know, theft is not tolerated. The person could sue you for misappropriating their likeness. More significantly, they may also be able to sue everyone else in the pipeline, such as a microstock company that distributed the photo, a printer that printed the photo, and a company that published the photo.
Microstock companies, printers, and clients don’t want to get sued (and they don’t want to be an unwitting partner to offending someone) so all such companies insist on getting written approval from any recognizable person in a photo. They require that you, the photographer, obtain this before submitting the photo. Thus, for practical purposes in commercial photography, a model release is necessary.
Where Can I Get A Model Release?
Most major microstock agencies provide their own model releases, often available as a one-page PDF that can be downloaded online from their websites.
Even if you have your own release, or some other company’s release, many agencies may insist on having their own releases signed. So, if you intend to submit a photo to six different agencies, you’ll need to get your model(s) to sign at least six separate releases (and a seventh for you).
Here are links to downloadable model releases from major microstock companies:
- iStockphoto (PDF)
- Shutterstock: Adult / Minor (PDF)
- Dreamstime: Adult / Minor (PDF)
- Fotolia (PDF)
- Bigstock (PDF)
- Can Stock Photo (PDF)
Do You Have A Sample Model Release?
Yes. Here’s a release that I use (based on one that Bob Krist uses). (Be aware that I am not a lawyer and I don’t guarantee the coverage of this text.)
I hereby grant permission to <photographer name>, their agents and successors, to publish, license, and use photos of me in any way including for commercial and/or advertising purposes without restriction.
Name of subject: _________
(Parent or guardian signature if subject under 18)
Notice how this release is very short, so that the reader can quickly understand the agreement.
You are free to use the text above but you should consult a lawyer before working with a model release.
Apps: Easy Release, ASMP Releases, Image Release, The Model Release, Visual Media Release, Top Model Release, Release Me.Next page: Model Release FAQ