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.
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 Lawdepot.com, 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.