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Model release form

This Agreement is entered by and between Jonas Adam, individually or collectively as the "Signee" and Jane Smith, as the "Signer", together referred to as the "Parties".
The Contract is dated [the date both parties sign].

1. Agreement terms

The Parties agree that the following agreement is dependent on the terms presented as follow:

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Model release form

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What is a model release form?

Ultimately a model release form is a contract between a photographer and subject that gives the photographer permission to use pictures of the subject for specified reasons. Like most contracts, it can be as complicated or as simple, as detailed or as vague as you want and need in your specific situation. That’s why it’s important to really understand why you want the form and what you want to happen or protect against in using that form.


Why do you need a model release form?

Like all contracts, the model release form is all about protecting everyone involved by clearly outlining the expectations and outcomes of different scenarios. The form is a critical means of protecting everyone involved in taking and using the picture: the photographer, the model or subject, and the client or whoever ultimately uses the picture.


It can be easy to think of taking photographs as a hobby or as a form of art, which it is! But in many cases, taking photographs is a commercial activity and the pictures themselves can be used in commercial activity, such as advertisements or other marketing, product instructions or demonstrations, training materials, and more. In that case, whoever is ultimately using the pictures is likely making money with them or using them to make money. Similarly, whoever is taking the pictures -- if they’re not the same person that ultimately uses the pictures, which they could be -- is also likely making some money from taking and selling the pictures. So, especially in cases where money is changing hands and personal details like personally identifiable pictures are being used, it’s important to have a very clear contract.


So, to summarize, a model release form is critical to protecting everyone involved in what is effectively a commercial transaction between the photographer, subject, and possibly the buyer and user of the photographs.


Is it legally required to have a model release form?

While it’s not legally required to sign a release form, it’s considered by practice for everyone involved in taking and using the pictures to protect them. Because taking pictures is often ultimately commercial in nature, it’s better to be safe than sorry and to cover your legal rights. You never know what can happen after a picture is taken and used!


When should you use a model release form?

Any time you’re doing commercial photography -- where the picture will ultimately be used for commercial purposes -- you should definitely use a model release form.


What should a model release form contain?

That’s a great question! As mentioned above, model release forms can contain a variety of information based on who is taking the picture, what they’re taking a picture of, where they’re taking the picture from, how they’re compensating the subject (or not), how the picture can and will be used, and much more. 


Another consideration is what country and what state you’re taking the picture in. Many United States states have different laws about many things and that can impact how you create your model release form. So it’s best to just be safe and check with a lawyer on the requirements of your specific state and case if you have a question about it. 


However, generally your model release form should contain information about who is signing the agreement, when and where the pictures were taken, and expectations on how those pictures will be used. Even if you’re not 100% sure a picture will be used commercially when it’s taken, it’s best to be proactive and add that into the form to save yourself having to go back and get it in the future.


Does the photographer or the subject create the model release form?

There are no clear restrictions or rules on whether the photographer or subject creates the model release form. Either one of them can create it, although it’s recommended that both parties review the form thoroughly before signing it. The form doesn’t need to be very long or complicated, so it should be easy for both to do so. 


If the photographer is doing many commercial photoshoots, it’s recommended that they create and maintain the release form. Especially if they’re doing many photoshoots of the same kind, with the same subjects, or for the same commercial purposes, it’s best and easiest if they were the one that manages the form.


What are some considerations in creating and signing a model release form?

As simple as some model release forms can be, whether you need one and what it should contain can be tricky to figure out. Let’s start with the easiest case, which is you are taking pictures for commercial purposes, such as using them in advertisements. In that case you should definitely sign a form.


However, beyond that, it gets a little murkier. Where the image is published ultimately dictates whether you need the form. This is where the concept of editorial or “fair use” comes into play. Let’s walk through an example to explore the different ways the same picture can be used and have different requirements regarding the model release form.


So, you’re a local photographer and take a picture of a local politician who is running for mayor at a big speech. Very newsworthy! So you sell the picture to the local newspaper and they publish it in the paper alongside a story about the politician’s campaign. The image accompanies the news story about that politician, so it counts as editorial usage. Just because money changes hands between you and the newspaper doesn’t necessarily mean you need a model release. However, let’s say that politician sees the picture you took and loves it! They want to use it in ads for the rest of their campaign. Do they need a model release form? Is you thought yes, then you thought right! Whether you need a model release form or not all comes down to how the photograph or image is used, not necessarily whether you’re paid for it or not.


Another important consideration is whether subjects can be identified in the picture. If the subjects are identifiable, then you need a model release form. What determines whether someone is identifiable or not in a picture can be a bit tricky too. It depends on what notable characteristics the person has (hair, tattoos, etc), as well as even how famous and otherwise recognizable they are. As you can see, this can get very tricky very fast. So it’s best to consult a lawyer if you have specific questions.


Yet another consideration is where the picture was taken. Often if it’s taken in a public area, such as a park, street, beach, or other place, then a release is not necessary. However, if possible, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and if it’s easy and possible, just get a model release form from your subject. It shouldn’t take a long time and it’s always better to be safe than to be sorry.


Are there any drawbacks to having a model release form?

There really aren’t any major draw backs to using a model release form. Typically they are quite short, simple, and straightforward, and don’t need much additional review or revisions. It’s very easy to create one also. If the form is written fairly and fully understood by both parties, then it can only really provide benefits to them as they protect everyone involved.


What format does a model release form need to be in Word Document, PDF, Text, etc?

You can really provide and sign a model release in any format, although PDF is most popular because it’s easy to save and share digitally. Many people will use popular e-signing tools like Docusign or HelloSign. And don’t worry, e-signing is a legal and accepted form of signing a document in the US and many other countries. You can learn more about e-siging here  and here.


However, since photography is done in person, often it will be easiest to just print and sign the model release form on paper. That’s no problem, although there are a few considerations here. Make sure you fill out each piece of the form, and make it’s signed and countersigned properly. If you only sign one copy, make sure you get a photocopy and save it for your records.