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Is a model release needed for all commercial photo sales?

I have read many question here on SE looking for this answer and if I missed a question please point me in the right direction. Now for the question:

If I am in a public venue (be it street or public building) and take a photo that has a person who is identifiable in the photo what rights do I have as a photographer to use that photo commercially.

Notes: The photo is not used for print but used online (commercially). I am based in Colorado, USA but will accept answers that can apply worldwide. Also I know a lawyer could provide a definitive answer, however, I am looking for a general idea.

With that said I know the best solution would be to always get permission if possible. What is the best way to obtain those rights from a person? (I don't believe you would carry with you a model release with you when you go shooting in public.)


If you are a commercial photographer, then yes you would carry model releases with you, or use an app to record the information. Otherwise you would get the person's name and contact details and obtain permission later.

You have the right to take photos on public property, in public places where people don't have the expectation of privacy.

That doesn't give you the right to take those images and use them for commercial/advertising purposes without consent. By commercial I mean putting them on a billboard or website selling a product. You might be able to sell your prints as artwork, or enter them in competitions, if the rules of the competition didn't require waivers, which most seem to do these days.

There is a country-specific table of rights, including commercial here

A good reference on the subject here, which includes

Typically, before you can use a picture of someone in an advertising campaign or for other commercial purposes, you need to have the right to copy the photograph (a copyright license from the photographer) and the right to use the individual’s image (typically achieved with a “Model Release” from the individual).

  • You mentioned an app to record the information. Do you have an app you can recommend or prefer?
    – L84
    Mar 15 '12 at 13:45
  • See my answer here (I haven't used this app myself): photo.stackexchange.com/questions/19646/…
    – MikeW
    Mar 15 '12 at 23:51

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