Do I Need A Model Release?

Do I Need A Model Release?

Maybe you have noticed that several stock photo agencies ask for so-called “model releases” – in some cases even if the submitted image is a self portrait. This raises the question of whether your photographs warrant a signed release or not.

Truth is, the answer could not be less clear. Laws change from time to time and differ from country to country. So whenever you need legal certainty, consulting a specialist lawyer is advisable. However, in most cases the answer can be simplified by saying: “No – but it doesn’t hurt.”


Model Release

What is a model release? It is a document signed by the photographed person which allows the photographer to publish their photo in one form or another. This is especially needed if the photographer plans to use it commercially.


Editorial vs. Commercial Use

A big distinction can be made between photos used for editorial and commercial purposes, the latter requiring – as mentioned – the model release.

“Commercial” does not refer to the photographer’s intention to make money with the photo, but the purpose of the publication. This means, when someone photographs you walking along the street, this photo cannot be used in an advertising campaign – but could be sold by the photographer for another purpose.

The situation looks different when it comes to editorial use. The same picture could rightfully be used in a magazine, a documentary film or a blog even when you did not grant permission. So licensing news photos, like those you can find on, is less complicated.




Still …

Does that mean you should forget about the whole thing? If you are 100% sure that the picture taken will never be used for commercial purposes and/or know the person on the image personally, yes. Still, it is possible that a news agency will ask for permission, if only to ensure legal certainty.


Which Form To Use

Thankfully, you won’t need a law degree for using a model release at work. The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) offers different templates on their website, including a general model release for adults, a general model release for children, a simplified adult release, a pocket model release, a photographer’s portfolio release, and a property release.

Another option is to download a mobile application for your smartphone, e.g. Easy Release. This model release app by Application Gap is one of the most popular in its category and is available for Android and iPhone. A full list of (free) apps for this purpose can be found here.



Please be aware that the writer of this article is not a specialized lawyer, and thus this information does not replace any legal advice!