When a photographer takes a picture, based on copyright law, they automatically own the copyright to that picture. But they don’t own the identity of their subjects. This is where the model release form comes in.
When the photograph in question is of another person, copyright law turns out to be only one of the laws governing the use of the picture; concepts such as “invasion of privacy” and “defamation” also come into the picture.
When do I need a model release form?Technically, the lawsays that only when a photograph is used for commercial purposes is a release form legally necessary. This includes using that photograph for things like commercials, advertisements, and outright sale.
You might just be taking pictures for fun—but are you certain you won’t want to use one of your “hobby” pictures for some sort of commercial use at any point in the future?
1. You could be approached at any time.
Let’s say you take a picture of a couple in a park, just for your own purposes. You didn’t ask them to sign anything, because you didn’t have any particular plans for the image.
However, someone in your City Council saw the picture, loved it, and wants to purchase the rights to it for the cover of the Parks & Recreation Department’s new brochure. What do you do? Without permission from the individuals in the photograph—perhaps even without their names—you have no way of knowing how they feel about being published in this way.
2. You might not be able to track down your models later.Even if you do know the names and even the contact information of the subjects of your photograph, is that enough to locate them? People move, change email addresses, and take unlisted phone numbers. And despite what Mark Zuckerberg wants you to believe, not everyone in the universe has a Facebook account.
It’s generally a good idea to get permission preemptively, just in case. This is why a lot of photographers I know carry model release forms around with them and require their subjects to sign it simply as a matter of course, whether or not they have commercial plans for the photographs . . . yet.
3. Your models might be unwilling to sign if they suspect there’s money at stake.
Of course, you don’t have to tell your model directly that someone is approaching you with a lucrative offer—that’s up to you. But if you haven’t seen this person for years and suddenly you’re asking them to sign something, don’t you think they’ll be just a little bit suspicious of your intentions . . . and, possibly, try to get a piece of the pie for themselves?
A model can refuse to sign this form at any time. Mitigate this risk by asking for a signed release form at the time the picture is taken—not months or years later, when they’re less inclined to help you out.
[Click&Copyright provides fully customizable Model Release Forms so that you can retain all of your creative rights and profit from your work!]