Would you ask Louie the car mechanic about your lumbago? Would you ask your newspaper delivery person what you should do about that green lump on your neck that showed up in the morning? Are you the type that questions your bank teller about copyright infringement issues?

Yet photographers have no problem asking and taking serious legal advice from other photographers. reps, stock agent and various other non-lawyers. By serious advice, we mean advice that can cost them serious money. Why shooters would risk their businesses, homes and futures by relying on non-professional advice has always escaped us.

Recently we were given some materials authored by non-lawyers regarding model releases and asked to comment on them in the classes that we teach on the business of photography in the Masters program at The School of Visual Arts.

Remember that the requirement for model releases in New York, California, Florida and other states are governed by that particular state’s statute (a/k/a written law).  That means that whatever article, or blog piece that some photographer, author or “wannabe lawyer” has written which does not mention your state’s statute and the statutes of the states in which your images may appear, is virtually worthless.  The only thing about this issue that is in fact a “one size fits all” answer, it that is always better to have a signed model release than not having a signed model release. You are always better off having a signed release in your pocket.  But since each state has different model release statutes, why not have one that is really buttoned up with the correct terminology for the state you live in? Unless of course you prefer to reside in either the State of Confusion or the State of Denial, as many creative people do.

If an image is used in the State of New York, as almost all ads are, the New York Civil Rights Law Sections 50, 51 require (under criminal penalty in some cases) that if the photo, portrait or likeness is to be used for trade, commercial, or advertising purposes, than a writing signed by the subject authorizing such use is required PERIOD.  That writing may take the form of a voucher, release, contract, agreement or any other duly executed writing. Heck, you can have a release written on a napkin, but it has to be in writing. We don’t advocate napkin releases, but just want to point out that an oral release is not worth the paper it’s written on.

We have also been getting a rash of questions from photographers who photograph local politicians during election season. We have a few, very important points to pass on to you if you do shoot, uuhhh…… rather lets say “photograph” any local politicians (never let your emotions get ahead of you).  Many  portrait photographers who are not versed in commercial usage tend to get these requests ahead of the local election season.

First, since some election photos will most likely only be used within your state, make sure you know your state model release laws and use a proper release.  The second issue – song stays the same – REGISTER your images. We keep hearing that a photographer photographs Candidate Jones, and then sees their photo show up, without payment, in an attack ad from Candidate Smith. Without registration of their copyright, photographers find out asking for payment or asking to remove the photo will fall on deaf ears.  And no one can play deaf better than a politician and their aides. Our best advice for dealing with any politician, incumbent or new, is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS get your money upfront.   Remember 50% of all campaigns “go out of business” on election eve.  The vast majority of the other 50% promptly “disband” and disappear or offer pennies on the dollar to all of the vendors dumb enough to have extended credit to the campaign.  You will be doing business with an entity which will cease to exist 95% of the time within days of the election.

We will soon be posting some additional model releases both new and old.  This is but one of the ongoing subjects covered regularly here in “The Copyright Zone”.