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Expert Advice: Model Releases

Tuesday July 20th, 2010

by Asad Haider

This unique news story shows that paperwork can be just as important as lighting when it comes to getting the right photo. In July, 2010, a Greek man named Minas Karatzoglis was awarded two million kronor after suing the Swedish yogurt company Lindahls Mejeri for using his image on a popular tub of “Turkish yogurt.” (Someone should probably send them an atlas along with those release forms).

You need a signed model release any time you use someone’s “unique likeness” for commercial use (such as to help sell a product). Legal responsibility to have a signed release falls on whomever is publishing the image, but as a practical matter, it’s the photographer who generally obtains it. Similarly, images of other people’s property are generally legal if taken in a public space, but require releases if they are used commercially or if they contain representations of trademark material.

Don’t forget the paperwork. Image by Scott Ferguson.

Stock photography is much more valuable with a proper release than without. Without a release, a photo can only be used for fine art display or for editorial (newspaper/magazine) use. However, application of the law can ambiguous. The liability can vary depending on the kinds of contracts that have been established between photographers, stock agencies and clients, and some agreements ultimately hold the photographer responsible.

Knowing that the general tendency is for litigants to sue everybody, it’s in everyone’s interest to avoid all this trouble by regularly getting releases. These days, of course, it is possible to have the process automated. You can fill in the blanks to have a form produced for you by, and the Australian company Fullframe Photographics has designed an iPhone app called iRelease that allows you to conduct the whole process onscreen. This way your model’s hair can continue to blow in the wind, while her signature is safely stored in your iPhone. If your iPhone is getting reception, iRelease will sync with an online account and back up all your waivers.

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3 Responses to “Expert Advice: Model Releases”

  1. Irene Abdou says:

    Thanks for this post. I haven’t tried irelease (iphone app), but I did recently purchase the “EasyRelease” app, which also got good reviews. I like the app (especially the ability to take a photo of the person with the iphone that goes onto the model release), but unfortunately, it’s impossible to get a good signature. The first stylus I used produced such choppy signatures that I’m not sure it would hold up in court! I then bought a second stylus which got much better results, but still too choppy for my comfort. A friend of mine uses the same stylus on his ipad with no problems, so it appears that it’s a problem with the EasyRelease app. I’d love to hear from users of irelease about whether they can get good signatures.


  2. […] of the images, so some developers are beginning to release apps for this purpose. (We recently covered the introduction of apps that allow photographers to streamline model releases.) Douglas has named […]

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