One of the areas we get asked about the most concerns model releases. As a reminder to readers, model release laws are not national, but rather are specific to each state are usually referred to as “right of publicity”, “right of privacy” or mash up of both. Whatever they are called they cover the unauthorized use of a person’s image, photo or likeness in connection with trade or commercial use. Typically that is defined as use in the promotion of a product, service, brand or entity.

When folks can’t be bothered with reading and signing a one-page model release trouble often follows. Even when the photographer and/or model least suspect it – like at a test shoot.

For example: Suzy Model and Joe Photographer orally agree (meaning nothing was in writing) that they will engage in a photo shoot for their mutual benefit. It is “understood” between them that either or both, model and photographer can use any of the images created in their portfolios, websites and/or other self-promotional materials. Often the model will also supply images to her modeling agency for possible use by the agency in promoting the model.

Similarly, the photographer may supply images to his agent for use on the agent’s website which promotes photographer’s services. Each party may also use the images on their own websites and other self-promotional media. If that is in fact what occurs, they both benefit. Ahh, but all humans are flawed and thus often things do not turn out as planned.

Scenario A: Photographer may be sleazy or simply ignorant of the laws that govern the use of images of subjects who have not provided written consent. Typically, the image, portrait, photo or likeness of the subject of a photo may not be used for trade or commercial purposes. Fine art and (legitimate) editorial uses typically do not require that the written consent of the model be obtained.

So, even though photographer has no written model release of any kind, he submits the images to a stock agent for licensing to third parties for editorial uses. Stock agency may or many not be aware that there is no model release but relies on photographer’s representation that the image is “released for editorial purposes only”. Unknown to the model, her image appears in a newspaper or magazine via the stock agency (or licensed directly to the publication by the photographer).

Model and/or her model agency is/are furious! Neither ever wanted any image to be submitted for stock licensing or to appear anywhere, for any purpose without the model’s permission and certainly not without compensation.

Scenario B: Model and/or her agency with her consent, employs one or more of the images for editorial purposes in say a prestigious fashion magazine with or without a photo credit and with or without some form of compensation to the photographer whether in the form of payment or otherwise. In other words, the photographer is completely left out and feeling, let’s just say “not happy” about this setup.

So how to avoid the resulting flaring tempers, the retention of attorneys and the inevitable sleepless nights? The answer is so simple that even a caveman/cavewoman can do it (with apologies to GEICO, but we love that campaign). Use of a simple, one-page form serves as the proverbial ounce of prevention. In our experience model agencies, models and photographers all love using it especially if they have had an unpleasant “incident” in the past.

The plain language form is so clear it is almost impossible to misunderstand it. It need not contain any legalese. A simple release prevents use of any of the image for ANY purpose other than self-promotion of the model and/or photographer only. It is in writing as all model releases should be. Best practices dictate belief in the adage, “An oral agreement is not worth the paper it is written on”.

Permission to copy and employ the below form is hereby granted. And please, preprint your name in the first blank, eliminating that underline. Looks more finished than handwriting it in. The model’s name can be preprinted or hand written in. As with all these forms, every blank needs to be filled in, including the dates, the witness info, everything. You can also add your logo in the header. Just please utilize it.