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The Model Release
As some of you may not be aware, Kristen (Spitzer’s escort) was in some Girls Gone Wild videos. Regardless of what you think of those videos, the owner has her signed model release and can happily sell her tapes without her permission and pocket the profits (I believe he’s chosen to simply distribute the tapes for free — either way, he can do what he wants with the footage).
A model release is usually a one-page document that states what rights the photographer retains over the images and what rights the model has. The model is required to sign their legal name and date. The model release is signed before the photo shoot begins. In the case of adult-oriented photos, the model will be required to state their date of birth and usually a copy of their ID is made to go with the model release.
A model release doesn’t require a law degree to understand. Simply reading the document before signing is usually all that’s needed to understand what you’re signing.
Make a copy of the release your own records.
For legal reasons, photographers need the protection of a model release, especially when shooting photos with nudity. They need proof you’re over 18. And the model release protects them from lawsuits if they use the pictures in the way the release states — even if you don’t like it.
For you, the protection comes in the form of what rights the photographer does and doesn’t have with your image. If the photographer is using your pictures in a way not clearly stated on the release, you could legally compel them to stop.
Most model releases, at least with print/digital still photos, is boilerplate. It usually gives the model the right to use the photos for their own self-promotion but not to sell. It almost always gives the photographer the right to use the photos in their own portfolio, to sell or to use in any other way they need to promote their business (e.g., advertisements, Web site).
If you don’t like any of the things contained in the model release, you need to change the contract right there and make sure the photographer signs. Discussing this well before the shoot will keep both of you from wasting time if you can’t come to an agreement.
But you must change the model release if you don’t like the terms. You can’t just make a verbal complaint and expect the photographer to follow your wishes.
It obviously matters if you get caught up in some scandal and an opportunistic photographer is free to use or sell your images however he wants. That’s not a worry most people have, of course.
A more realistic worry is the photographer displaying you in his portfolio. If you’re an masseur escort who does not show your face or had heavy retouching, you’re not going to want your very-identifiable shots in his online portfolio — showing your identity to the world or revealing how much retouching you had done (this isn’t a discussion about the ethics of retouching, so I’m not going to get into that). Maybe you don’t mind if he has prints in his actual studio portfolio, but you object to showing the photos online. Time to change the model release.
Maybe you don’t wish for him to display your pictures at all, in any way....
A professional photographer won’t take a single picture until the model release is signed. It is a document you sign and it could impact your life. If you have questions or concerns, don’t sign.