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I have a non-profit that regularly puts on public events that are free and open to everyone. We recently installed a photo booth at our events that anyone is free to take part in. We created a release form that let people know these pictures may be used on our website, Facebook page, pamphlets or brochures and they release the photo to us.

Do I need a release for this if it is a public event?

Do I need a guardian signature for people who are under 18 to participate in the photo booth?

  • In the US, if you're using the images commercially you need a release, even if the subject is in a public place. – user4894 Mar 17 '15 at 15:58
  • But whether using an image to promote a non-profit is commercial usage is open to a lot of interpretation... I would suspect similar cases in different judicial districts might wind up with varying results based on previous precedence in each district. – Michael C Mar 17 '15 at 23:55
  • Marlena, Where are you based? (as user4894 and Michael Clark suggests this will make a big difference to the answer) – MarkP Apr 16 '15 at 11:42
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Often, the question of whether you need a release is more a commercial than a legal question.

To put it simply, you need a release if the agency or client you are selling the images to require a release. For example, if they're going to be using the images in advertising, they want to be sure that the model knows their image may be used to promote a product. This is fairly standard practice in the world of commercially selling images.

From the description you've given I don't personally see a reason you'll need a release, unless you want the possibility to use their images commercially (selling to agency or using in advertising, for example) in the future.

That said, it's up to you to decide if you want a release for your own use, just so there's a slim chance it may help you in case anyone ever accuses you of using their image to sell or promote something. But as far as I know it would be rare for a company to ask for releases just for showing photos of their own events on their own website/social media.

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I've asked about this before and another professional photographer said that most people will expect that if they participate it will be subject to use, and that most likely if someone didn't want their photo up, would just ask you to remove it. I have found a release on another photographer's site that was for the client hiring for the photobooth, to basically sign for all that participate, and that doesn't really make sense. An idea I had come up with was to have a little sign that says "participation in the photobooth may mean we use your photo, please tell us if you wish for us not to!"

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I see many organizations with several more zeroes in their lawyer budget than I've got use the "notification via sign" route.

BUT

Usage matters. Having a gallery of "people having fun at our event" probably doesn't require a release. No evidence of it being litigated far enough to generate precedent at least. So you've got people using a dubious release methodology in circumstances where they probably don't need a release anyway.

In other areas there's at least vaguely the idea that "a sample of what we do" doesn't need a release. In one notable case a newspaper got away with using an unreleaseded photo of Joe Montana in advertising on those grounds.

But for most orgs winning in court is nearly as catastrophic as losing. Safer to make a lawsuit so clearly hopeless you can get a summary judgment rather than going to trial.

Anything with the faintest whiff of endorsement absolutely does require a release. At which point I'd want one all signed and legal.

Also: you don't say what your non-profit does. If any unwelcome conclusions could be drawn about someone due to their presence at your event (think AIDS charity maybe) you need to be hyper-careful.

But online advice is no substitute for a real lawyer.

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