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I’ve signed a model release – what rights do I have?

Person screaming and looking scared
© Adam Drobiec / Stockimo / Alamy

There are 2 reasons why you might be featured in a stock photo

1. You‘ve recognised yourself in a photo that was taken in a public place without you knowing, and the photographer is selling the photo on a stock site – read our previous blog to find out more about this one.

2. You’ve agreed to be in the image, given permission to the photographer and signed a model release, which we’ll cover in this blog.

So, before you sign a model release you need to consider a few things

Read what you’re signing and ask for your own copy
Model releases can vary so the permissions you are giving to the photographer can be different depending on what release they’re using e.g. some model releases will cover sensitive uses* and some won’t. (See a copy of our standard release here). Keep your copy safe, you never know when you might need it.

Model releases don’t tend to expire
If you signed one 20 years ago it probably still stands. But, our advice is always check!

If you’ve signed a release there’s not much you can do
So… make sure you’re happy with what you’re signing.

A model release isn’t needed for editorial use
…Even if it’s being used in a sensitive* way. It’s good practise for image users to accompany the image with the caption ‘posed by model’ but it’s not a legal requirement. If the image is defamatory (explained below) you might have a claim…

You might have a claim is if the image has been used in a sensitive or defamatory way

Sensitive use…
The term ‘sensitive use’ can include references to mental or physical health, social issues, sexual matters, drug/substance abuse, crime, political issues, or any other subject matter that might be considered offensive.

In our contributor contract we ask that all model releases from our photographers cover sensitive uses, but this might be different for other stock agencies. Remember, there are a lot of different model releases, so make sure you know what you’ve agreed to.

If your image is being used commercially* for a sensitive use without your permission then get in touch with the stock agency selling it to find out what to do next.

Defamatory use…
Defamatory use* of an image is not ok, even with a signed model release (that has a sensitivity clause). If your image has been used alongside a statement that was false, caused harm, or was made without adequate research you should seek legal advice.

Quick definitions:

Editorial use – Editorial use generally means when an image or clip is used to illustrate a newsworthy article, a critique or an educational text. A model release is not required for editorial use.

Commercial use – Commercial use generally means that an image is used to sell a product, promote something or raise money for a cause. This includes use in advertising, marketing, promotion, packaging, publication covers, advertorials and consumer or merchandising products.

Model Release – A legal release form signed by the person or people in a photograph, giving permission for the photographer to use or sell the photo in one form or another.

Sensitive use – Sensitive use includes references to mental or physical health, social issues, sexual references, drug/substance abuse, crime, political issues, or any other subject matter that would be reasonably likely to be offensive, defamatory or unflattering to any person in an image.

Defamatory use – Use of an image that damages the reputation of the people in it. Defamation occurs when information is published about a person that creates a false impression and injures the person’s reputation. Read more about defamatory use in this great article from Stanford University.

*Friendly disclaimer, we’re not lawyers and this advice could change. If you’re unhappy about the use of a specific photo that we’ve sold please give us a call or get some legal advice

If you’re a photographer you can download our model and property releases here.

If you see yourself in a stock photo and haven’t signed a release find out what you need to do in our blog ‘what to do if you see yourself in a stock photo’.

  • Stefano Brunesci

    Without some indication of which jurisdiction the article is talking about, this is nothing but hot air. In the UK for instance, a model release is NOT needed in law AT ALL, even for full commercial use.
    As usual, a stock house is effectively justifying its demand for a model release for every photo, regardless of the actual legal position of the photographers it could be compromising by doing so.

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