Model Release Forms

A brief overview on Model Release Forms hopefully of use to models and photographers alike.

Photographers; how many times have you had a popular photo or series of photos on display only to have the model contact you saying that a) her new boyfriend doesn’t like her assets being on display for the whole world to see or b) that she has new found respectability and will lose her job if her new employer Googles her and finds her naked all over the www? Either way she wants you to remove her images from your portfolio and in the worse case scenario destroy them.

Models; have you ever come away from a shoot, only later to see the images that you consider the worst of the day and definitely portraying you in a less than favourable light on the www? Have you ever trusted a photographer not to post the nipple slip he inadvertently caught on camera only to later find a less than salubrious crop showing that nipple in all it’s glory?

Yes? Then this article is for you.

The Model Release Form: What is it? A Model Release Form is a legal and binding written contract drawn up between a photographer and model either before or after a shoot detailing where and how the images from the shoot may be used by the photographer.

It does not deal with copyright, or give the model ownership of the images. The copyright by law always remains the photographers unless he issues a separate Image Release Form effectively sharing copyright with a third party. The copyright is never owned by the model unless the photographer shares his. Fact!

In the US and most other countries sharing similar usage laws a Model Release is only valid if the model received some kind of compensation for the shoot. This can be anything of value; A CD of images from the day (TFCD), prints of best of shoot photos (TFP), clothing worn during the shoot, a pub lunch or monetary compensation (a paid shoot). Most Release Forms have a section where the compensation can be written in. It doesn’t have to show the monetary value, only that compensation for the shoot was given somehow.

For Models: Most photographers, especially those just starting out, the intermediates and those working in a sole ownership professional capacity will use a standard form based on the many to be found on the www. The majority of photographers will not have the resources to have a Release legally drawn up by a lawyer on a company or case by case basis. The form will require you to give your ‘legal given name’ not your modelling alias. Your address and probably phone number (a mobile number will suffice), the date and your signature which means you have legally agreed to the usage terms stipulated against the compensation given. The photographer will usually fill in the location details and details of the compensation given.

For models under the age of 18 a legal guardian must countersign the form on the models behalf.

Models, I cannot stress enough that you read the usage terms. My own usage form is thus:

“I understand that the photographs taken of me during this session can be used by the photographer wholly or in part, printed or electronically in Magazines, Books, Calendars, Internet, Portfolios, Exhibition and for Editorial or Advertising use

The photographs may be used to represent an imaginary person and any wording associated will not be attributed to me personally unless my name is used.

I acknowledge by signing this form and, subject to restrictions stipulated and agreed, that I give up all claims of ownership, income, editorial control and use of the resulting photographs and assign all copyright ownership to the photographer and no further payment will be due. Use of the photographs may be granted to third parties, however the photographs will remain the property of the photographer

I have read this form carefully and fully understand its meanings and implications. I acknowledge that by signing this form I understand that Andy Craddock has full copyright ownership and the authority to publish the photographs and that I agree with the terms listed above. I am 18 or over.”

Note the usage; It is very open to interpretation and basically allows me to publish anywhere. This is a coverall form and recognises that I need not contact the model at a later date to agree to new publishing terms as I would have to if I only listed internet publishing on the form.

Notice also that even if I earn millions of £s from the images at a later date you cannot come to me asking for further compensation. The compensation given on the day of the shoot is where your income stops.

This is the standard form, the one that most photographers will ask you to sign. Read it, discuss it where necessary, amend it where necessary (for you are within your right to do so) and be happy with your compensation.

Points to be aware of: By signing this form you are giving the photographer ‘full’ publication rights to ‘all’ images on his camera taken of you during that particular session. Yes, even the ‘nipple slips’ that you’d hate to see published. To avoid this, either amend the form by adding a note that both you and the photographer can sign that only those photos that are upto implied nudity or lingerie levels may be published. Ask for a copy to protect your own rights. No nipples or pubic areas may then be published and you have legal rights to call the photographer on it if they are. Secondly, though more time consuming, you may ask the photographer at the end of the shoot to show you the photos either on camera or when downloaded and ask him to delete those that you are unhappy with. If you feel there might be the odd (explicit) slip then you are within your rights to ask to see the images and you have a right to not sign the release form if you believe the photographer is being deliberately obtuse.

By signing this form you are giving the photographer ‘full’ publication rights to ‘all’ images on his camera taken of you during that particular session. Please be aware of those implications from the outset. If at a later date you no longer wish to be a model or have explicit images of yourself on the www, it’s too late. You have no legal right to retract the contract; the Model Release at all. It is effective from the date of signature forever. You cannot tell the photographer to take the images down from the www, you cannot threaten him to take the images from the www or other forms of publishing. All you can do in this case is to ask politely and appeal to the photographers better nature.

Models; please note the above. I said ask politely! Never think that you have the right to ‘tell’ the photographer to remove the images from his portfolio. You don’t. Having fallen foul of this request a couple of times now, I refuse to be told and will only dig my heels in. Especially if you were paid for the shoot. What gives a model the right to be paid a ‘going’ rate on the day only to leave the photographer later with nothing that he can use for the compensation paid? If you were paid, have the decency to offer to return the compensation in full plus extra over for his patience, time and if prints have been sold and can be proved to have been sold, compensation for lost print sales. Understand the implications in the first place.

If you for any reasons you do need the images taken from the photographers portfolio for any reason, approach the photographer politely stating the reasons and hope that you can at least come to a compromise. You will often find that a compromise works for both parties and is usually the better solution. If you model under your legal name and don’t want topless photos turning up in your workplace for example, consider modelling under an alias and ask the photographer to change names and keywords on all electronic documents to that alias thereby leaving the photographer with his images intact and you being safe from being Googled.

Photographers: By reading the above, if you previously had no clue as to what a Model Release was for, you now have an overview.

Whatever level of photography you work to, if you shoot a model one on one or in a group shoot and she is recognisable from those photos obtain a signed Model Release for the model or all of the models involved. For each session. Even if you shoot a model or models on a regular basis you will need a new Release form for every new shoot.

I would also now advise to go one step further and obtain a photograph of the model holding a valid photographic ID; a passport or driving license and attach this photo to the Release form when filing it. I would also further advise, given the legal implications of shooting an under age model (trust me that some girls ‘do’ lie about their age) that the ID is checked and the model is photographed with it before the shoot.

Please do file the forms away properly and not keep them jumbled in a stack of paper. They are a legal document and you have a right to protect the models data and private information. (I believe that in the UK, especially if you are a company or a studio this information falls under the Data Protection Act and as such you have a legal obligation to keep this information safe). Remember also that the Release is the only proof you have that the photos were yours and taken legally if the model decides at a later date to cause difficulties by asking that you destroy all images of her or that you have shown images of her that she feels are too explicit for the usage terms given.

Most commercial publishers will also require a Photo ID now as well as a signed Release Form from the model before publication and it makes sense to obtain it at the time if you decide to publish or are asked to publish in a serious medium. From my own and from other photographers that I talk to experience, obtaining the Photo ID after the fact is nigh on impossible however well you thought you knew the model.

As much as this is only a very brief overview of a legal document as far as I understand it, there are far more detailed explanations to be found by doing a Google search. Also there are forms to be downloaded from various sources if you do not already use one.

As always, whichever side of the camera you work on, be safe and have fun!