In Photographic Copyright Law, we covered the rights of a photographer and how he/she owns the copyrights of their images. They can set restrictions on how an image may be used; that is their right by law. However, the model in the photograph also has rights. If a photographer takes pictures of a model and wants to use those images for public display or commercial use (i.e., catalogs, posters, magazines, etc.), he/she must present the model with a model release form.
In general, a model release is a contractual agreement between a photographer/company and a model that states usage restrictions of the images (or video) taken, especially if the model is recognizable in the images. In this agreement, the model “releases” rights to the photographer or company to use the images for commercial purposes and possibly earn compensation. It is imperative that models read the contract in it’s entirety and comprehend the legalese.
A model release should be established before the photo session to avoid confusion about the images later. If the photographer is unsure if the images will be used commercially, it is advised that a model release be used just to be safe. This contract no only protects the photographer but it also shields the model as well. If the model is a minor the release form protects him or her from exploitation. In this case a parent or legal guardian’s signature is required. The release form should be written in compliance with local and federal laws within your region; not all model releases are equal. Also, a model release can be tailored toward a particular situation. For example, the photographer and model can draw an agreement that clearly outlines the use of the images (how, when, where, etc.), who owns them, and even include the details of compensation for all parties involved.
A model release is designed to protect both photographer and model should a dispute arise. Most people are intimidated or highly apprehensive about signing a legal document but that’s only because they don’t understand the legal terms and conditions of the contract. Read, ask questions and get understanding! If it’s your image and likeness in the photographs, you have a right to know how they are going to be used. Respect the rights of the photographer but know your rights as a model. A smart model is a successful model.
See an example of a model release: General model release