What is a Legal Release?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 July 2018
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A legal release is an agreement in which a party releases liability, interest, or obligations, depending on the nature of the situation for which the release is being drafted. Legal releases are commonly written agreements, for the purpose of having a permanent record which includes a signature, but they may be oral agreements in some cases. When creating a legal release, it is advisable to consult a lawyer to make sure that the release is appropriate to the setting and that there are no loopholes.

A classic example of a legal release is a form used by a photographer or journalist. The form is signed by anyone who is photographed or interviewed, giving the releasee the right to use the releasor's image and words in a project. Without a release form, there could potentially be legal challenges in the future.

A simple release might state, for example, that someone gives permission for a photograph to used in promotional materials. A more complex release might also release rights over reprints and different publications. For example, if a university receives permission to use a student's picture on its website, the form would also include a release for brochures and a note that the photograph could potentially be reprinted, as for example if a newspaper doing a story on the university asked for campus photographs.


Legal releases are also used to collect information which can be used to verify age and other data. This is especially important when the material under discussion is adult in nature and the releasee wants to confirm that the releasor was of legal age at the time a photograph or video was taken.

Liability releases are common in any situation where people contract for services which might potentially come with risks. For example, when someone gets a tattoo, the artist usually has a release form which the perform signs to indicate that he or she will not hold the artist or shop liable. Likewise, a legal release may be used when someone is about to engage in something which might be physically dangerous, such as skydiving or rafting. A legal release may also need to be signed before receiving certain medical treatments so that doctors have a record that the patient understood the risks and consented freely.

At the close of litigation over a contentious issue, or in a private agreement to settle a matter, a release form is often used to ensure that the releasor does not come back in the future with additional claims. For example, an insurance company might offer someone a single lump sum payout to replace a totaled vehicle if the person agrees to sign a legal release indicating that she or he will not hold the insurance company liable for other expenses, such as future medical expenses related to the crash which totaled the car.


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