The Model Release..Facts and Fiction

April 27, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

CuriousCurious Facts and Some Fiction about Model Releases

If one stays in the photography field even for a short time, he/she will likely hear about model releases.  Laws can vary significantly from state to state with some spelling out the absolute need to have a release for a published image, some states barely mention the topic at all within the United States.  Laws in other countries may also vary significantly even with neighboring countries.  At the very least, a model release is signed by the model and gives the photographer permission to publish the image. The following should be considered general principles held true within the USA.

  1. I have copyright to the image, I can do anything I want with the image... right?!
    • FALSE. Copyright states that the photography owns the image unless it is specifically assigned to someone else. It does not give the photographer any rights to publish the image. 
  2. The model said that I could use the image, that should be enough..right?
    • FALSE. In most cases, unless it is in writing, it did not happen.  In some cases a group photography event (shootout) may have a blanket release signed by the participating models. Photographers should make an concerted effort to receive a copy of this statement.  A verbal statement made by a model to the entire group MAY be held binding, but only if photographers in attendance would be willing to legally witness to that statement.
  3. If the photographer plans to promote, service, or organization, including his/her own, a model release is necessary.
    • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​TRUE. A model may not be attending the local opening of a restaurant in your area, but if you use an image of her sitting at a table eating a meal, you better have a release signed if you plan on using her image to advertise the grand opening.
  4. A payment, or at least a print of the image is necessary for a model release to be valid
    • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​MAYBE NOT. It depends upon the wording of the release and the overall environment. Keep in mind if there is an understood expectation of some form of consideration, that must be delivered to the model. A common example of a non monetary compensation may be TFP (Trade for Print) or TFF (Trade for files). Failure to deliver may or may not invalidate the model release.
  5. ​​​​​​​We are not professionals and are just playing around with the camera. A model release is not necessary.
    • TRUE. IF two people are just photographing each other to place in an album, on a computer, with no intention of promoting or selling anything then a model release is generally not necessary. Publishing the images on social media may or may not get a little tricky but images of family or friends MAY not cause a problem. Of course, it is always a good idea to let anyone know, even a family member, that you are posting on social media. It may not get you into legal trouble, but your person life may get a little rough.
  6. ​​​​​​​A model release is a contract.
    • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​MAYBE NOT. A contract typically is a signed document that typically offers some form of compensation, promises or duties that must be met by all parties.  Depending upon where you live, a release may or may not be considered a contract. Most informed people recommend that a release be written according to the laws in your particular jurisdiction.
  7. ​​​​​​​If an image is taken in Vermont, and later shown in New York promoting a product , the model release from Vermont will suffice.
    • MAYBE NOT. It depend on how the model release in Vermont was worded. If photographer Pete whipped up a quick release from his home computer based on what he thought should be in the release, he may be looking a some problems if the model decides to sue from the image published in New York. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
  8. ​​​​​​​Editoral, fine art, and newsworthy images may be exempt from needing a model release.
    • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​YES, Generally speaking.  If a news crew photographer takes an image of you standing outside of a burning building, a release is not needed since the photographer is not advertising or promoting the fire (we hope!).  Now, if the editor of his agency used the image as an advertisement as to how great his news crew is and looking for contributions from others, there could be a requirement for releases.
  9. ​​​​​​​I can use my images for anything I want once I have the release.
  • ​​​​​​​NO. If any image is used to falsely portray an individual without their consent, a lawsuit is possible. IF someone is photographing the subject of drug abuse and the model during the shoot is modeling with drug paraphernalia then the model is aware of the intent of the shoot to portray drug abuse. On the other hand, if the model was shot as part of a fashion shoot and sometime in the future syringes and drugs made it appear that she was associated with drugs, a serious lawsuit could exist.

10. A Release is forever

  • YES. Unless the terms of the release specify otherwise, a release is forever.


If it is not obvious from above, it is a good idea to have an attorney look at your model release. It may only take 30 minutes of the attorneys time, so any fee should be considered well worth it. One can not go wrong getting a model release in any case. Sample model releases are plentiful on the internet and also available from the Professional Photographers of America.  If an issue goes to litigation, something is better than having nothing at all. 


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