As I’m sure you’ve noticed, there are a lot of photography contests out there and many of them these days are requiring entrants to have a model release form if they submit an image with a person in it. All of these requirements compels the question: Is it always necessary to have a model release form when photographing someone?
Well, as with most things in life, it depends on what your purpose is.
First of all, a model release form is a liability waiver that the person who is the subject of the photograph signs, granting permission to the photographer or publisher to use their image.
When you’re using someone else’s image for commercial gain, you’re going to want to use that release form to be legal. This would mean images used for brochures, websites, catalogs, ads, tradeshows, kiosks, etc. Because model release forms pertain to privacy, using one for commercial purposes protects you from civil liability.
In contrast, if your image is appearing in an art exhibition, a trade publication, magazine or newspaper, a model release form isn’t necessary because those contexts are considered to be for educational purposes. It’s also unnecessary to use a model release form for casual photographs, such as for street photography. There’s no expectation of privacy when you’re out in public so there’s no need for the form so long as you’re not taking that picture to specifically promote a product or service.
Additionally, if you’re a photographer and want to publish such an image on your website that is for sale, you still don’t need to a model release form. As of this blog post, whether it’s required to get a model release form for publishing an image on the internet is being debated in 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. I’ll be sure to post an update when there is a decision.
In the meantime, if you are going to use a model release form, it’s helpful to have one exclusively for adults and one for minors. You can get a very simple sample release form right here.
So if you’re ever unsure whether or not it’s okay to shoot people, get a form for it. Wait…that sounds really messed up.
But in all seriousness, if you’re unsure, always err on the safe side and get the release form.