What is a Model Release?

Dan Cavallari

A model release is a type of liability waiver often signed by a model and a photographer or videographer. The model release aims to protect both parties in the event of a dispute, and more specifically, it outlines the terms of the model and photographer relationship. It may include sections that outline payment for the photographer and/or the model, sections that allow the photographer to use images of the model for financial gain or advertising, sections that outline the restrictions of use for images taken by the photographer, and any other legal issues a photographer or model may encounter as a result of the photo or video session.

Releases allow the photographer and model to understand the terms of the job.
Releases allow the photographer and model to understand the terms of the job.

Many photographers issue a model release to the person they are shooting before taking any photos. The model release will outline the terms of the photo or video session, and if the model is underage, a parent or guardian must sign the document. The release may address underage models as well, clearly outlining the rights, restrictions, and so on of both the photographer and the model. Most photographers will also include a clause that states the model cannot use any of the images taken for his or her financial gain without the photographer's written permission. This is done to clearly indicate who owns the photos taken, and it may be included with a clause explicitly states ownership of the photographs.

It's recommended to get the written permission of parents or guardians when taking photos of children.
It's recommended to get the written permission of parents or guardians when taking photos of children.

Compensation terms are almost always included in a model release. If the model or the photographer is to be paid, the amount should be clearly indicated in the model release, and the date by which each party should be compensated is often also included. If no compensation is being awarded to one or both parties, this should also be clearly stated on the model release to prevent misunderstandings in the future, especially after the images have been used for commercial purposes.

A photographer may modify model releases depending on the shooting situation. A group release, for example, is designed to accommodate several models or people posing for photographs. It addresses many of the same topics addressed in a regular model release, but it often features signature lines for several people rather than just one or two. A minor release may address children's photography specifically, and such a contract needs to be signed by a parent or guardian.

The release should address both federal or countrywide laws as well as local laws that can vary from region to region. It is best for the photographer to research local laws and common lawsuits that have been brought against photographers and try to tailor his or her release to cover such issues, should they arise.

Model releases detail the type of photographs that will be taken.
Model releases detail the type of photographs that will be taken.

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