Model and property releases explained

To avoid legal issues down the line it’s really important that as an image buyer you understand the legal side of working with images. We’ve created this blog to explain model and property releases – what they are, and when you need them. Click on the image above to see our releases infographic which will help you decide if you need a release for your image use.

5 things you need to know about releases when you’re buying stock images or clips.

1. What is a release?

A release is a signed document stating that permission has been given for an image or video clip containing people or property to be used commercially.

2. When do I need a release?

Releases are only needed if you are going to use the image commercially – if an image or clip is being used to sell a product, promote something or raise money for a cause. You don’t normally need a release for editorial use, which is when you’re using the image to illustrate an article or story, or in educational text – there are a couple of exceptions to this which we explain on our releases page.

A property release is needed if property is featured in the image. This includes buildings and pets, but also covers intellectual property such as trademarks, brands, logos and works of art.

In this example, if you’re using the image commercially you would need a property release from Apple for the iPhone, and a separate one from Instagram and Twitter, as the app icons on the iPhone are also trademarked. If you’re using it editorially it is fine to do so without a release.

iPhone 4s On Table With Cake And Cappuccino
© Graham Hughes / Alamy

Model releases are needed if anyone in an image is recognisable; this includes crowd scenes and team sports. Even when a face is not visible, if someone could recognise themselves from a part of their body or silhouette, a release is needed. For a picture of two people shaking hands, where only the hands are in the frame, you still need two model releases.

In this example there are five people. You can see the faces of two, but there are three more who are partially visible, so you’d need five releases.

Young people toasting
© Shestock / Alamy

3. Why do I need a release?

If you’re buying the image to use it commercially and it doesn’t have the right releases, you could end up in difficulty with the model or property owner, and your company will need to take care of any legal issues.

4. How do I know if an image has a release?

You can check for releases on each individual image page, or use the filters during your search to find images that have the relevant releases.

5. Are there any exceptions?

As with most things, there are a couple of exceptions to the rules. Releases generally don’t cover uses that could be seen to be controversial, sensitive or defamatory. Find out more by looking at the infographic, or over on our releases page.

If you have any questions about whether you need a release for your image then give our image experts a call.

Read more about model and property releases on the ASMP website.

Other blogs you might find useful

Is it safe to use Google Images?
11 helpful blogs for anyone buying stock photos online
Make your budget go further with these top tips