Not Your Everyday Banana

by Bart Arondson

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I would like to take photos of strangers out in public, but I'm worried that I might get in trouble if I use the image (even non-commercially) in any way - like posting online in a blog.

I've heard about model releases, but I am not sure what makes a good one or if there are any short, easy to read versions out there which I can get strangers to sign. It also seems like a lot of trouble to take a photo with no commercial intent.

In the US, I know that reporters don't need releases for photos that are "newsworthy", but that doesn't include me.

What kind of paperwork do I need to take photos of people and where can I find it?

Edit: I found one here.

Sample Model Release

Are all these fields required? Could I just ask them for their first/last name and email so I can send them a copy?

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See also photo.stackexchange.com/questions/29181/… –  Clara Onager Nov 14 '12 at 9:10
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4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

When it comes to these matters I often refer to the microstock websites that sell photos. Even if you do not intend to sell your pictures they do have some good information about model releases and general dos and don'ts.

On the Shutterstock website http://submit.shutterstock.com/legal.mhtml you can find a form for adults and minors as well as other information. iStockPhoto has a very extensive document library about what to do and not to do. As well as model release forms. http://www.istockphoto.com/help/sell-stock/training-manuals/illustration/legal-requirements-model-releases

However as you said, I don't see many strangers signing them just like that. I did meet some people at hostels and after a wee chat asked them "If I buy you a meal can I take your picture and sell them?". It worked surprisingly well. But I've never even tried on a streetshot.
I suggest you read some on the iStockPhoto site, if you can't see identifiers on people it's no problem for example.

Hope you find something that helps, and good luck!

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The requirements vary by jurisdiction, but the overall tone is the same.

You need to have the nature of the agreement fully spelled out. A verbal contract would do, but there's no easy way to prove to a third party that a verbal contract exists, so you need to get it in writing. For the same reason, you need to have sufficient information to be able to identify the contracting part(ies)—identifying yourself is easy, of course, but identifying the subject is somewhat less easy, and any third party is going to want a little more assurance that they have permission to run the photo than a name. It's a CYA thing; a name and a deed (a signature or other mark, something that the subject actually does) is all that's legally required in most places, but it may not be good enough for the people who want to buy a license to use the photo.

Where it can get tricky is in the consideration area. You need to get some sort of regionally-specific advice as to what constitutes valuable or good and valuable consideration in your jurisdiction. In Canada, for instance, until relatively recently the picture itself (or a print of the picture) would not have constituted good and valuable consideration for a model release—there had to be a payment, and the amount of the payment that would be considered sufficient varied by the apparent intent at the time of taking. (A nominal amount, like a dollar or even a penny, might do on the street, but for anything done in-studio, you'd need to crank it up to a hundred bucks to make the contract enforceable. To do TFP, you'd need to spell out the value of the prints in the contract to make sure it met the hundred dollar requirement. But that's now just historically interesting.)

Get local advice. If you have a professional photographers' association locally, find out what they're using. If not, you may have to enlist the aid of a lawyer (there may be legal clinics that can provide the information free or at a greatly reduced cost if there's a commonly-accepted boilerplate). "Local" is the key—it doesn't matter what works in another country or state, it has to work where you are.

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A lot of this is required because of Personality Rights - or Likeness rights. This is to provide controls on privacy and libel as well as place some controls on commercial use for false endorsements, etc.

Rules on these rights vary by country.

What these documents show is your intent to respect privacy and a way for recourse in the event further negotiations are required.

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Google is your friend here. IANAL and legal information from forums is worth what you pay for it. As others have said, get local legal advice.

In the US, If you take a photo of someone in a public place, they have no right to privacy, its your photos. So you can post use them for non-commercial use. But no advertising buyer/photo editor is going to talk to you if you don't have a signed model release.

If the photo is "news" then you can get it published and get paid for it by news media. What counts as news media is a subject best left to arguing lawyers.

Note: in nearly all cases, a shopping center/mall is not public property. Its owned by a property manager, and its not the same as a sidewalk on a public street.

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Good point about the shopping center/mall. –  Xeoncross Aug 20 '12 at 2:56
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