A Photo Release Form is a legally binding document that grants an individual or photographer the right to use photographs for personal or commercial use. Also referred to as a photo copyright release form, it serves as proof that the authorization to use certain photographs has been given, securing the rights of an individual to publish and share photos taken and owned by a third party, eliminating the fear of legal consequences and penalties.
Verbal permission to use copyrighted photographs is not enough. It is prudent and beneficial to have a photo release form that serves as a legal agreement between two parties. This secures the right of an individual to use law-protected works just in case the original owner changes his or her mind down the road and file for an infringement case. In any way, it is necessary and a smart move to prepare and complete a photo release form to avoid problems.
In general, a photo release form should be used when a recognizable image of a person will be used in an attempt to gain profit. When a person is hired as a model, a photo release form is needed to distribute and use the photos taken with that person for profit. Alternatively, a photo release form is not needed when taking photos in public. In any case, individuals have the exclusive right to the commercial use of their images under the right of publicity, anyone who uses their photographs requires permission before publishing and sharing their photographs.
As an agreement, a photo release form involves two parties. The first party is the photographer and the other party is the person being photographed. If the person being photographed is a child, the guardian of the child should provide consent. In case an object or a property is being photographed, the owner of the object or the property becomes the other party. Before signing the form, because it may be legally binding, both parties should review and understand it and ensure that every listed condition is agreeable to all people involved. Doing so saves both parties from possible legal consequences and penalties. Therefore, before snapping the picture of an individual, a photo release form should be completed.
A photo release form provides legal rights to a photographer to publish or use images of another person. As an agreement between a photographer and a photographed individual, it must contain important information regarding payment, royalties, and revocation. Before filling it out, both parties should confer and ensure understanding of the intent of the photographer to use the images for different purposes including advertising and commercial business.
Using PDFRun’s Photo Release Form can help an individual create and fill out a legally binding document. Follow the guide below to fill out the form accurately.
The agreement statement should have the name and address of the Releasor and the name of the Releasee.
For proper identification of the photos that may be used under legal conditions, provide their descriptions.
Payment — Address any payment the person photographed receives for the release. No payment is also an option. Mark the appropriate checkbox to determine payment information.
Royalties — Mark the appropriate checkbox to determine if there will be royalties or compensation paid for a certain amount for continued use of a person’s photographs or none.
Revocation — Mark the appropriate checkbox to determine if the model has the ability to revoke his or her authorization by notifying the Releasee in writing or none.
Both the Releasor and the Releasee should provide their names, signatures, and dates when they signed.
What is a picture release?
A picture release is a document that gives the owner of a photograph, video footage, or other recording media — the licensor — permission to use and distribute printed and electronic copies of their work — the licensee.
The primary reason for having picture releases is to protect your rights as a photographer or videographer. Allowing another person to display an image without first obtaining consent could open you up to a lawsuit.
What are the reasons a photo release is needed?
There are a number of reasons why you might want a photo release:
- Publicity Releases for Editorial / News Use
A photo release is needed when you photograph or videotape someone who might be recognizable. The person may not be a celebrity in the traditional sense, but his or her picture could still generate a lot of interest from the media and general public. In today's society, becoming famous overnight has become a real possibility. Not only may the subject of your photograph or videotape be a celebrity, but they could also become a politician or public figure down the road. It's important to document their early career and capture them in "candid" moments even before they're famous.
You don't necessarily need to contact the person beforehand for a photo release. If the person is a public figure and you are taking a picture of them "in action" — for example, cheering on a sports team or giving a speech – you don't need consent because it's considered newsworthy. You can simply credit the photo to the individual who shot it (e.g., Photo Courtesy of John Doe). However, you should list the source as it may help your picture find its way back to that person.
If you're photographing someone who's simply a bystander and not part of the news event, then seek consent from them first (and don't use their image without written permission). So if the photo is going to be used for publicity or commercial purposes (e.g., magazine cover, newspaper ad), then you need the photo release to be signed by the subject before you can proceed.
- Personal Photos for Advertising and Commercial Purposes
Since publishing photos on the Internet is becoming more common among companies, professional photographers are constantly presented with this question: Is using someone's photo of your product without their permission legal? It is if the photo does not have a recognizable person in it.
The Golden Rule for using personal photos on websites or blogs, or anywhere else on the Web is: If they can recognize that person and know where they live — or work, then you need written consent by that individual before you can legally use their image.
If you are using someone's photo on your website, brochure, or blog for commercial purposes without a photo release, there is always the possibility that they could come forward and file suit against you. And if you won't give them credit for their photo, most people are willing to go to court over it.
There is a good chance that you could win the case if it goes that far because most people who photograph others in public and use their images commercially don't get permission. But just think about how much time it would take to go to court and defend yourself against someone you unintentionally offended. You may be better off simply getting the release signed by the person in your picture.
- Permission to Photograph and Publish Photos of Celebrities
Although you don't need written permission to photograph or videotape public figures while they're in action, it's always best to get a photo release just in case the celebrity sees the picture later and doesn't like it.
- Assignment Photography for News, Books, and Magazines
If you're working on an assignment for a magazine, newspaper, or book publisher, then the photo release is just part of doing business. If you don't have one signed when you hand in your photos, chances are that the company won't accept them. Some companies even have special forms to use especially for this purpose!
- Professional Photographers and Model Releases
For professional photographers, the legalities of shooting photographs are taken very seriously. They must be aware of all federal and state laws regarding copyright infringement before they can get paid for their work. These photographers need to know everything about what they can and cannot do, including whether or not a photo release is needed in order to protect themselves later on down the road.
- Photo Releases for Social Networking and Personal Websites
If you're using someone's image on your website, blog, or social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace, then you need to get a photo release signed by that person before you upload their picture. This is because the owner of any property has a right to say how that property is used. If someone doesn't want their personal photo on the Internet, then you could be sued for copyright infringement!
This can even include your children's photos if they are under 18-years old. So the best thing to do is to get a signed model release form from them before you upload or use their picture. It's also a good idea to talk about the Internet and what can happen by showing their picture on it before you approach them for a release form.
How do you write a photo release?
Write a photo release by following these steps:
- Step 1: Gather the information you'll need to write your release. What do you want to use the photo for? Who is publishing or hiring you? Do they have specific requirements? Keep all of this information readily available as you start writing and editing your release. If you can't find a specific reason why someone would need a photo, you probably don't need a photo release.
- Step 2: Open with the date and make sure to include contact information for both yourself and whoever is requesting the photo. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to get in touch with you, and vice versa. Include the specifics on how they can use your photo (i.e. "on the cover of ___ magazine," "on our website," etc.)
- Step 3: Include information on who is in the photo and what they're doing, if appropriate. Avoid being too wordy or long-winded, otherwise, it'll be hard for a busy person to read! Remember that you're trying to make it as easy as possible for them to use your photo, so the easier you make it on them, the more likely they are to agree.
- Step 4: If there are specific conditions that apply (i.e. whether or not they can crop out part of your image), include all of this information here. If you're using the photo for personal use and don't mind if they crop your head out of the shot, then this is unnecessary. If you want to be credited (or not), include that information here as well.
- Step 5: Sign off with something like "Sincerely," or "Best Regards." Remember to thank them for their time and consideration, and mention that you're looking forward to hearing from them.
- Step 6: Include the following statement in all releases: "Photo by ___." If someone else took the photo, include their full name right here. You can also include your full name or any other identifying information in this space.
- Step 7: Don't forget a photo release isn't legally binding. It simply gives someone permission to use your photo for a specific purpose.
Is a photo release required?
A photo release document is required before using any photographs for any television, news media, or advertising use. A photographer must always ask permission to take someone's photograph while out in public. This can be accomplished by asking the subject if it is acceptable to take their photograph. If the subject agrees, it's standard practice to provide the person with a release form in order to attain legal use of that photo when you sell or publish your images in any format.
Press or News Releases are an effective way for news outlets and other members in the media industry to stay in contact with professional photographers who can always provide original photography for a variety of newsworthy events. Some major magazines and newspapers have their own designated photo editors that work with specific freelance photographers, some on an exclusive basis.
Photo releases are also used as contract agreements between the photographer and the subject(s) of a photograph(s). In other words, if you are only using the photograph(s) for personal use, you may not need a release form. However, if you are contracting your images to others for publication or reproduction purposes, a photo release form must be obtained from each person who appears in any of your photos.
In addition to being good public relations, some clients may also require you to obtain releases before using their images. If you're using photos to illustrate an article, either written by yourself or someone else, the magazine, newspaper publisher, etc., may request that you submit a release form signed by the subject(s) of your photo(s).
Photo releases are also used to protect photographers from possible legal action resulting from their published images. A release protects the photographer from any liability issues that may arise as a result of the usage and provides them with legal rights to their images.
For Personal or Private Use Photo Release Forms are not required for personal, non-commercial use because it's an infringement on the individual's right of privacy if you take his or her photo without their permission. However, obtaining written consent is always the best way to go so that there are no misunderstandings about the image's use.
For Commercial Use Photo Release Forms are required for commercial use, which is the usage of a photo to promote or advertise a product, service, business, or idea or to sell an image. In this case, your images become part of a commercial enterprise and may be used in many different ways by many different people without any input from you. This means that you cannot control how your images are used, what they're used to promote, who will see them, etc. You may not even know where or when they'll be published or reproduced.
What are the guidelines when using photo release forms?
When using photo release forms for commercial use, there are some guidelines to consider:
- Be sure to specify the exclusivity of the images, such as "exclusive use for one year." This means that the subject alone will not sell the same image to anyone else during this period of time.
- Be sure to state exactly where and when the photographs may be published or reproduced.
- When offering an image as part of a stock photo agency, be sure to state the terms of the agreement. For example: For exclusive rights to that image for one year, the photographer will receive forty (40%) percent commission on all sales. All other rights, including the right to resell that image, remain with the photographer.
- IIf you are allowing unlimited use for one year of your images, be sure to state how much you will charge for future usage. For example: Unlimited use for one year; Thereafter, rates are negotiable.
Photo releases are not required for editorial use because newsworthiness overrides privacy issues. However, obtaining a release is always good public relations and will show the subject(s) that you respect their right to privacy.
In most cases, it is not necessary to have an individual sign a photo release if you only intend to use the images for personal or private use--in other words, if you do not plan to publish the photograph(s) in any form.
However, obtaining written consent is always the best way to go so that there are no misunderstandings about the image's use. For instance, if someone finds out that you have taken their photo and they didn't give their permission, they may become angry and try to sue you. It's also always better to have permission in writing so that there are no misunderstandings about what was agreed upon between you and the subject.
Can I photographer use my photos without a release?
A photographer cannot use your photos without a photo release form if he or she is going to use it for commercial purposes. He or she is not entitled to use your photos even if you are standing right next to him or her at the time of the shooting. If he or she is going to publish it in a newspaper, magazine, blog, or advertisement then he or she requires a photo release form. Moreover, if the photographer wants to display your photo on a gallery wall or sell it as a fine art print, then he or she requires a photo release form from you.
What is the difference between a model release and a photo release?
A model release and a photo release are not the same. A photo release deals specifically with a photograph or image and the model's consent to its use in a printed medium, for commercial purposes, and in association with products or services. Model releases deal more generally with all manner of portrayals of the person (i.e., in writing, film, and video).
A photo release is a contract that informs the model, or other person being photographed, of his or her legal rights and obligations. It states that the subject agrees to have his/her image used in any manner, for example for commercial purposes or for advertising.
It does not authorize anyone to use the photograph itself without payment or permission. If you wish to sell the photo to a third party, you must get the model's permission to transfer the rights.
A model release should be executed before any photography begins. By signing this release, you are granting rights to photographs of yourself or your property (such as pets) that would otherwise belong to you. For example, if you took a picture of your house with your digital camera, it would belong to you. But if the flash bounced off of another house or a fire hydrant and onto yours resulting in an interesting shadow effect, you wouldn't have any legal claims because the photograph was not intended to be artistic.
The use of model releases for commercial photography is common practice today. Releases are used by advertisers, publishers, newspapers, and magazines to document that they have obtained permission for using a photograph. This legally prevents them from being sued by the person in the photograph if they were to object to it later.
What should a release form include?
A release form should include the following terms:
First and foremost, a release form should state that the person signing it is not acting under any duress or coercion. Any party who coerces an individual into signing a release form could be held legally responsible for such actions.
Second, a release form should explain what specific rights of privacy and publicity are being waived by the person signing it. These rights typically fall into the following three categories:
The release form should include a statement that identifies who is authorized to use the signatory's name and/or likeness. This individual is called an "authorized representative." For example, if a parent agrees to let his or her child participate in a photoshoot, the parent would be the authorized representative. If an elderly parent, who is now incompetent, agreed to let her daughter use a photo of her as a child in an advertisement for the daughter's company, the mother would be the authorized representative even though she no longer has the ability to enter into legal contracts on her own.
Sometimes a release form will require that certain pieces of information be included in the authorized representative's identification. For example, if a company wants to use an individual's name and likeness on its website, the release form may require that the authorized representative provide his or her full legal name as well as state exactly which names can be used (e.g., first and last name only, first initial and last name only, full legal name, etc.).
The release form should include a list of individuals who are explicitly not authorized to use the signatory's name and/or likeness. This may include siblings, other relatives, or friends for whom consent was not acquired or any other person without proper authorization. In general, if an individual does not appear on this list, he or she is allowed to use the name and/or likeness. However, if a person appears on the list, that arrangement should be made clear.
The release form should indicate where the authorized representative must send written notice of intent to use an individual's name and/or likeness. The location of this information could vary depending on the project. If a release form is being signed for an advertisement, for example, this section may include the company's mailing address and telephone number. This will ensure that any legal disputes can be handled in a timely fashion.
A release form should also include language that prohibits individuals from seeking additional compensation after signing it (i.e., "You may not sell this release form to another party"). This language will ensure that consumers are not required to sign multiple forms for different uses of their name and/or likeness.
A release form should also include a statement that specifies whether or not the individual signing it is entering into this agreement as an employee, volunteer, or independent contractor. The terms of this agreement should be tailored to the specific category that applies. For example, if a person is entering into an agreement as an independent contractor, the release form should include language that ensures he or she will receive no benefits.
Language in a release form could also indicate whether or not it must be notarized. If so, the individual signing it should be required to disclose all of his or her current addresses. This will ensure that any legal documents are sent to the correct location.
If a release form is only used in particular states, this information should be included on the document as well.
Finally, a release form should clearly disclose whether or not any third party is allowed to retain a copy of it. This could be potentially problematic if that third party becomes involved in a legal dispute over the document's use. For example, if an individual signed a release form allowing his or her name and likeness to be used by Company A for advertising purposes but later decided to sue Company B for libel because of how the individual's name and likeness were used, Company B would want to be able to produce the release form as evidence. The release form should clearly indicate whether or not this is permissible (e.g., "My signature may not be copied, transmitted or otherwise duplicated by any third party").
The bottom line is if you are even slightly unsure about what you are signing, so this is not the document for you. An experienced entertainment attorney can help draft a release agreement that will protect your interests and ensure that your name and likeness are used in accordance with the terms of your arrangement with whoever is receiving them.