Author Topic: Model / property releases and copyright.  (Read 3260 times)

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Offline Akshay Jamwal

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Model / property releases and copyright.
« on: May 31, 2008, 11:58:49 PM »
I don't claim to be an expert about legalities, but we don't seem to have a thread with this kind of topic so I thought I'd start one. If anybody is knowledgeable about specific laws in your country or state that pertain to model / property releases or copyright, please post here.

Everything posted below is according to how I have come to understand it. I've been stopped and told not to shoot by people who haven't had any legal precedent or right to do so. The first time, it was a cop who actually had me believing that I was breaking the law -this was years ago  and I've kind of wizened up since then.

About model releases

For anybody unfamiliar with the term, a model release is a liability waiver allowing public use of a photograph or likeness of a person by a publisher (anybody responsible for publicly printing / displaying said photograph).
A sample of a stock agency model release may be found here (PDF):
http://www.istockphoto.com/docs/modelrelease.pdf
Terms and conditions of a model release can vary depending on local / national laws of a country, but the intent is a legal acknowledgment of public use of a photograph. It has to do with the right to privacy or publicity. The crux of a model release is to get someone to sign a paper that pretty much just says, "You can publicly display a photograph of me for whatever reason except porn or defamation".
It does not have anything to do with copyright. Also, it only concerns photographs that contain clearly identifiable people.

Photographer's do not require model or property releases to sell images. There is no legal obligation whatsoever to procure a model or property release for photographs of people or places, even if you intend to sell images. All you have to do is state whether or not you have one. This may not even limit its sales, since you can legally sell such a photo to a news agency. The liability lies with the publisher, not the photographer -unless of course the photographer is the publisher.

In most places (certainly the U.K., U.S.A., Canada and India), the press has the right to print a photograph if it visually represents a story or the photograph itself is newsworthy. The press can even use an image to represent a story, which is when you might see "For representational purposes only" -or some such copy- beside the image. Images with no model releases can be are thus sold to newspapers and magazines all the time.

Stock agencies ask for them not because they're afraid of litigation (the stock agency and the photographer wouldn't actually be liable as long as they're stating whether the image is released or not), but because many clients demand them.

My personal take is that if a model's posing for a camera for a paid assignment, I don't see why a model release should be necessary (isn't publicly displayed photos the whole point?), but I can see why publishers would consider them a requisite.
The weirdest thing I've learnt is that the most legally sound ones are actually the most short and concise, but people in general (even signees) are more impressed with impressive sounding verbosity. Go figure.

About copyright

Copyright, as the name suggests, is the right to copy (publish/display) intellectual property.
Photographs are usually bound by the same intellectual property laws that protect paintings, music, literature or movies.
So unless one is signing anything, a photographer is the sole copyright holder of photographs created by him/her.
Different countries have different laws regarding what might be considered 'fair use' of copyrighted material.

Practically every country in the world has laws on copyright expiry, meaning any work of art can be deemed publicly available after a stipulated period of time. It's usually a number of years, anywhere between 50 and over a 100.

About property releases

These do have to do with copyright and are a little harder to explain than a model release.

I've been stopped by security guards or personnel when shooting on occasion, where they've used the 'that is private property, you can't shoot it' argument. The truth is, anybody telling you not to shoot usually doesn't have the right to tell you to do so. There are exceptions of course -military establishments, for example. But these are few and far in-between.

Property has no inherent rights.
A photograph of somebody's property isn't his or her property.
Just because something is privately owned doesn't mean you require a property release to license the image for publishing.

Famous and unique buildings like the Empire State or the Sydney Opera House (as winjeel is saying in the following post)  are protected by trademark or copyright -it's usually the design by the architect that is registered at a copyright office. It is to protect this copyright from abuse that a property release is recommended.

If you're shooting, say, the Sydney harbour and the Opera House does not predominate the image, you don't need a property release to license the image for sale. Nor would it apply to the Empire State building (or any other) in a city skyline type shot.

The following is from the ASMP website, it's relevant and concise:
"Conversion. The second theory is that there is an offense called conversion, which means that you used another’s property to your own personal gain without the owner’s permission. It is a bit like copyright infringement, which covers intangible property, except it covers tangible property. If I rent out your house while you are away without your permission, I have converted it to my personal gain. That is conversion. The question is this: Is it conversion if I rent out a picture of your house for an advertisement without your permission? The picture of your house is not your tangible property. Is the photo of the house the equivalent of the house (at least for these purposes)?

We know of no case that has ever settled those kinds of questions. ASMP advises that property releases be acquired whenever possible because we don’t want to see you be the test case."


Again, you aren't required by law to have one made if you're shooting somebody's property like some people would have you believe.
« Last Edit: June 01, 2008, 08:11:12 AM by Akshay Jamwal »
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Offline winjeel

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Re: Model / property releases and copyright.
« Reply #1 on: June 01, 2008, 04:50:38 AM »
Typically for Royalty Free (RF) sales, Model Releases (MR) are required, mostly so the end user (say, an advertising agency) doesn't get sued by your model who might be looking for money out of some new found 'fame'.

Rights Managed (RM) sales typically don't require them, though a higher asking price can be expected with an MR.

For property releases, yes, copyright is the main reason. Did you know that the Sydney Opera House is under copyright, and written permission is required to commercially use an image? Despite the fact it is public property.
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Offline Stef.

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Re: Model / property releases and copyright.
« Reply #2 on: June 01, 2008, 12:10:41 PM »
If you use images for "educational purposes" i.e. exhibitions and so forth pretty much anything is allowed. It is a grey area so far at least here in the UK. You are allowed to make money with those images to recuperate your costs which can include the photographer's fee.
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