What Every Photographer Needs to Know About Copyright and Model Releases

Copyright issues are an integral and undeniable part of a professional photographer’s job. If you are shooting for money and employ models, locations, or anything else that is identifiable in commercial usage you could get sued for improper usage of the pictures unless you have specific permission to use these images. Though this sounds quite simple, in real life there are many twists and turns. In this video, photographer Jack Reznicki and lawyer Ed Greenberg clear some of the myths around copyright issues:

Is a simple model release enough?

Most professional photographers take a signed model release from the model specifically mentioning how those pictures are going to be used. But is it that simple? Not quite. While getting a signed model release is a good start, there is a lot more that you need to know. Copyright infringement is a minefield, and that means you need to be extra careful.

Ed Greenberg explaining the nuances of copyright infringement to the audience

Ed Greenberg explains the nuances of copyright infringement.

Photography Copyright Tips

Here are just some of the pointers that the dynamic photographer/lawyer duo touches on:

  • Copyright infringement is surprisingly commonplace. Sometimes people do it because they don’t know any better and sometimes they do it because they don’t care. A recent case involved an anti-piracy group stealing a photo and using it in one of their ads!
  • Understand the value of your work. Ripping someone off is bad, but allowing someone to rip you off is just as bad. Know your rights.
  • Check whether someone who is signing a release is authorized to do so.
  • If you are shooting weddings, take care that you have individual releases for every adult that you shoot and plan to use. The bride and the groom cannot sign for the other adults at the wedding.
  • Verbal agreements are no good. A signed model release is often the most conclusive proof that you have the necessary permission to use the images in the way that is agreed upon in the release.
  • General model releases are okay. But if you are going to use the images for a specific purpose—say to sell depression pills or in any other ways that may seem objectionable, you need specific releases mentioning such use.

Does your model release specify how your images will be used?

  • The concept of fair use is a very contentious topic. It is better to be on the safe side than to tread the line.
  • The release that the model gives to the photographer is not the same as the copyright that the photographer gives to the publisher or business to print the images, post them on the Internet, or use them for advertising a product.

For more invaluable information on photography copyright and the importance of a signed model release, check out the full-length video above.

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One response to “What Every Photographer Needs to Know About Copyright and Model Releases”

  1. karen johns says:

    if i do not register my copyright to my work and a company uses my photo, i then sell my photo to someone else or give them permission to use it or use that photo myself…can that original person who was perhaps very successful with my art work, then sue me or someone else for using it?

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