Westminster fountain at sunset

by Jorge Córdoba

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Do I need to get photo releases from people in the images I capture at public events?

For example, do I need photo releases from all wedding guests pictured in order to use my photos for self-promotional purposes (i.e., my website or portfolio)?

I'm refraining from mentioning a specific country in my question so that the answers are relevant to as many people as possible.

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possible duplicate of Is a model release needed for all commercial photo sales? –  mattdm May 16 '11 at 0:27
2  
I don't think this is a dupe - this question is about portfolio use, whereas the other question was about selling prints. –  ahockley May 16 '11 at 0:36

2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

IANAL, but I do have a lawyer that I consult with in my own photography business, and his legal opinion to me for my photography business was that the public has no right to an expectation of privacy when in a public place, or at an event 'where photography is a common and expected thing' (e.g. a birthday party, wedding or other similar event), so as long as the following conditions are met:

  1. The people are 'background players' in a photograph (e.g. Guests at a wedding, not the bride)
  2. The use-case is portfolio and advertising of my own business (e.g. Selling to a stock site, or using it as a commercial work is a different story with different release requirements)
  3. I'm not altering the people in the picture in a way that could be construed as libelous or scandalous (e.g. I can't use Photoshop to alter a picture to falsely portray a wedding guest snorting coke off the wedding cake... Unless it actually happened!)

As long as those three requirements are met, according to my lawyer, I'm all good to use the picture for portfolio or advertising purposes. In practice this means that I get model releases from any main subject(s) in a picture I take (for weddings I generally have the entire bridal party, minister, etc. sign releases), and even though they have no legal right to ask me to, if someone pictured asks me not to use a picture with them in it I generally comply because I'd rather take down a picture than have to field a lawsuit (even one I know I would win). I've never actually had to take down a picture, however.

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"snorting coke off the wedding cake... Unless it actually happened!" - you and I go to MUCH different weddings. –  rfusca May 16 '11 at 2:54
    
+1 for the coke ;) –  AJ Finch May 17 '11 at 12:10

Given the standard IANAL disclaimer, this is not a scenario in which I've ever heard of one obtaining releases. I know that many wedding, and event, photographers include clauses in their contracts that specify that a photographer will use images for portfolio or other promotional purposes, but I've not heard of anyone obtaining a release from event guests.

Since right of publicity issues revolve around whether or not someone could reasonably think that the subject of the photo was endorsing a product or service (such as your photography), assuming you're offering the images as examples of event photography work I would be surprised if anyone would be successful in a lawsuit against a photographer for such usage.

While it's possible for anyone to file a lawsuit for any reason, valid or not, this is an area where you don't need to worry about releases from event guests.

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+1 - I agree, I've never heard of this being an issue. –  John Cavan May 16 '11 at 0:42

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