If you ever use photographs
of private individuals in any project, getting written releases should be a
routine part of your business that you never neglect. This is true
even—or perhaps especially—if you are a cottage-industry,
spare-bedroom entrepreneur. If you use the name or even a recognizable
description of a living individual in any literary project, you may need a
similar release; check with a lawyer regarding your specific project.
The form release below is not
sufficient if you want to use the name, likeness, or performance of any
celebrity or public figure in any advertisement or to sell any product. You’ll
need a license from any such celebrity to avoid a suit.
Here are a few rules to remember about
using photo releases.
● Have a lawyer prepare a
release that is designed to work for you. Generally, the broader the release,
the better. That is, the less specific your release is in stating the uses to
which a subject’s photo can be put, the more leeway you have later. However, if
the intended use for the photo is something the subject could object to (such
as use in a book with highly sexual content or in an ad for guns or
cigarettes), include the specific purpose contemplated in a handwritten
addition to the general release. Put the handwritten addition on the same piece
of paper as the general release, preferably in a space reserved for such
additions, even if it must be on the reverse of the page, and have the person
who signs the release initial it at the time of signing.
● Be sure your release gives
you permission to alter the photo, since permission to use it only “as is” may
make it unusable for your purposes.
● Have your release printed
on your letterhead, and carry a supply of blank release forms with you so you
will have them when photo opportunities arise.
● Make sure your employees
and any freelancers you hire to take photographs know that you expect them to
secure signed releases on your behalf.
● Get a signed release from
everyone who appears in any photo you may use in a published work, in an ad, or
in any other way. Make no exceptions. Get releases even from people in the
background of street shots, party shots, or other group shots, unless their
faces are not visible and their own mothers wouldn’t recognize the set of their
shoulders and the color of their hair. Get releases even from paid models. And
be especially sure to get releases from private individuals who are not paid
for their services.
● Get Mom, Dad, or a legal
guardian, not just Aunt Linda or the child’s agent or chaperone, to sign a
release for anyone under 21, the upper-limit age of majority in some states,
because the signature of a minor may invalidate the release.
● Never obtain a release by
trickery or in any circumstances that could lead to a later challenge by
subjects maintaining they were misled. If you don’t tell the truth, and the
whole truth, about the uses that will be made of the photograph of a person who
signs a release, how can that person validly agree to allow that use?
● Keep a central file of all
releases you obtain for any project, arranged alphabetically according to the
names of the people who signed the releases. Or, even better, keep one copy of
each release with the corresponding photo and one in a central file, for
insurance against loss. It is wise to give a copy of the release to the person
signing it, but you are the one who needs proof that the release was signed,
not the model or subject.
● Connect the name of each
subject in each photo to the corresponding photo files in some permanent way,
so that things don’t get mixed up and Jim sues you for using his photo because
the permission you relied on was from Paul.
Never make an exception to your
policy of obtaining releases from everyone whose photo you take or pay someone
to take. And never use a photo or copy from an outside source without seeing
and keeping a copy of the release from the subject of the photo or copy. Never.
Lee Wilson is a Nashville
intellectual-property lawyer who often writes on copyright, trademark, and
other media-law topics. Her most recent book is <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Fair Use, Free Use, and Use by Permission: Using and
Licensing Copyrights in All Media, published by Allworth Press.
Sample Release for Photographs
I hereby grant to
______________________________________________ and its assigns, licensees, and
successors the irrevocable and unlimited right and permission to use, publish,
and disseminate my name and any of the photographs (hereinafter called “the
Photographs”) taken on _______________________, 20__, by
_________________________________ that include my image, in a book
[tentatively] titled ___________________________________, to be published by
___________________________________________, and in other print publishing
projects and in all media in connection with that book or any other publishing
projects, for advertising, trade, or any other lawful purpose.
I further grant to
_____________________________________________ and its assigns, licensees, and
successors the right to crop, modify, and otherwise alter the aforementioned
Photograph or Photographs, including preparing composite or distorted
representations, and to combine it or them with any written copy, photographs,
or illustrations. I waive my right to inspect that Photograph or Photographs as
so altered or combined with other elements.
In return for the grants made
herein, I agree that I shall receive as my only compensation _________ (__)
copy of the book _____________________________________, when such book is
published. However, I understand that, in the sole discretion of
_____________________________________, the book may not contain any photograph
I understand that by signing this
Release, I am waiving any claim I might otherwise make for invasion of privacy
or infringement of the right of publicity. Furthermore, I represent that I have
read this Release before signing it and understand its provisions.
I affirm and warrant that I have
reached the age of majority and have full authority to make the grants herein
Print Name Signature
Mailing Address Address
I am the parent or legal guardian
of ___________________________________, a minor, and hereby make the grants and
representations set out above on behalf of him or her.
Print Name Signature
Mailing Address Address