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Photography Question 
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/8/2007

Release Forms

Can anyone explain the law or rules around when a release form is required when taking pictures of people and publiclly displaying them or selling them.

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8/29/2007 6:10:48 AM

Jesse C. Plummer
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/2/2007
  This is an age old question. Here goes. But first, my disclaimer. I have taken some Paralegal classes but this in no way qualifies me as an attorney. What I am telling you is from Photog to Photog. Nothing more, nothing less.

The short and simple is this, when you take a picture, you own the copyright. With that said, technically you do not need a release. However, lawyers have worked the copyright law and now the basics are this. If you take the picture for documentary or news recording purposes, no release needed whatsoever. If you take the picture with the intent of making money or using it to promote you as a photographer, you need a release. If the image is of property, and it is recognizable as belonging to someone, then you need a release from the owner. If it has unrecognizable people, you will not need a release regardless of the use. If the face is recognizable, then you will need a release.

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8/29/2007 8:33:42 AM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/8/2007
  Jesse...thank you for this very percise explanation. I have two follow up questions. What if the person is playing a character in a public place. I.E. a clown at a state fair. And finally, what is the penalty for breaking this law? Just curious.

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8/29/2007 9:48:06 AM

Kai Eiselein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/21/2003
  Just remember that clown's faces are often registered and protected.
Believe me, I know, I used to clown and I'd be pretty upset if I saw my "face" being used without permission.

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8/29/2007 2:06:54 PM

Caitlin M. Veteto   I basically have the same question as Dennis. Could someone show an example of their release form please?

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12/22/2007 5:19:59 PM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  I'll give you the brief synopsis Dennis from my perspective as both a lawyer and working photojournalist.

First, this is a bad place to get legal advice. The general release laws are discussed in a number of books including law for photographers and one in particular published by

Next, the release law has nothing to do with the intent of the photographer when he captured the image. It has to do with the use AFTERwards. The news exception that Jesse mentioned, is being eroded in a number of states and most news publication editors are asking photographers to get a release if it's at all possible. The reason is because the public doesn't always have a "right to know" as disclosed/ printed by a legitimate news publication. The best rule is to get a release whenever possible. If it gets published in a legitimate newspaper or news magazine, the editor is going to stand by the decision to not have a release.

If you display an image in public or publish, either electronically or in the print media, chances are you'll be required to have a signed release for that purpose from an adult or a kid's parents if the kid is less than 18 years of age. If you don't, you run the risk of being sued primarily for invasion of privacy or misappropriation of a reconizable likeness of someone for commercial use (which arises from the laws on privacy) and which vary somewhat from state to state.

Private property always requires a release, again unless the newsworthy public has a right to know exception applies. Notwithstanding whether people depicted in the photo of that private property, you need a release for the property AND if there are recognizable, then you need separate releases for them as well assuming they are recognizable or not. The protected interest at that point is the property usage itself, not the privacy of the individuals.

My suggestion if you don't get the books available, then you (and Jesse) need to talk to a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property and privacy law. As to copyright, (and this is not a copyright issue) that's been discussed here a million times. Privacy and copyright are two completely different areas of protection under the law. Just do a search for that term here and read the threads for some examples in that regard.

Oh and Kai is quite right in that clowns are generally recognizable and their particular make-up is right protected or even trademarked. Hence, a release should be obtained for non editorial use.

I've said this repeatedly here, and I'll say it once again: A release won't prevent you from being sued but it's a first line of defense if you are sued for invasion of privacy, etc.
Take it light ;>)

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12/22/2007 11:21:16 PM

Raymond H. Kemp
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/2/2004
  Mark you say that the internet is a bad place to get legal advice and yet you do just that in three paragraphs before suggesting the purchase of legal books or retaining an attorney.

Furthermore Mark, you should better qualify yourself if your going to start hanging your law shingle here. In previous posts, you indicated that you haven’t been practicing law since Moby Dick was a minnow. And I only think it would be appropriate that you provide folks here some sort of proof that you are in fact an attorney and what you {did) specialize in. Maybe your bar number?

There are a lot of “sheep” out here and throwing out the “I’m a lawyer” would tend to confuse those not better informed that you are someone to listen to when it comes to intellectual property law.

You also stated, “The news exception that Jesse mentioned, is being eroded in a number of states and most news publication editors are asking photographers to get a release if it's at all possible.” Where did you obtain this information? I’m currently working with two large publishers and this has never been an issue with any of my editors. I’m doing a photography presentation in Las Vegas this April and I would like to look into this further for possible use in my class.

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12/23/2007 8:17:27 AM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  " Mark you say that the internet is a bad place to get legal advice and yet you do just that in three paragraphs before suggesting the purchase of legal books or retaining an attorney."
What sounds like a lawyer more than that?

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12/23/2007 12:45:31 PM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  If nothing else, ray, your response here as with the others you've proffered is certainly predictable and rancorous as your previous ones.

I think of many of the people here at BP as friends of mine. Your characterization of them as "sheep" suggests complete and obvious disdain for people asking legitimate questions. I find that comment of yours highly insulting to people here at BP. Nice ray "sheep".

I do my best to provide people here with generally solid, accurate information. I also direct them to known sources of additional information. That's a whole lot more than I've ever seen you do.

I know the legal authority I use based on what I read and understand including the Reporters, slip-ops and advance sheets. As many BP people have pointed out both here and privately, you have yet to find and note anything specifically wrong with what information I have imparted to people here. OTOH, you openly acknowledge how and why the newsworthy exception is being eroded by state trial courts while claiming to be an expert it it based on how much you've spent for legal advice on the subject. Buy the revisions buddy. Please ray, before criticizing someone else, do your homework and don't ask me to do it for you. Here's a hint. Start with trial court decisions in Florida in the past seven years or so and Shepardize the holding of the decisions to other states. Remember the law is in a constant state of flux. Hubba hubba buddy.

I use the word "generally" and at the same time, specifically refer people to local legal counsel, not an internet site other than or NPPA. I also refer them to local lawyers who presumably are going to know the specific laws in THAT jurisdiction, not someone purporting to be an expert in order to capitalize on a book they wrote. Of course, since you're not a lawyer, although you apparently lay claim to knowledge of the laws in every jurisdiction in the United States, I guess you probably wouldn't know how and when to express the caveats of what you're telling people here or elsewhere as I do.

As to your two [large] publishers, you don't tell us what the word "large" means so I take it to mean nothing. Nor do you say what you're working with them for. I think I see what you're implying but it's real meaning is truly unclear just like the word "large" is unclear. Further, why
do you need to qualify nearly everything you say with something to do with size or how much you've spent, or what publication, etc., or at times, how big your lens is. LOL !!! . Your implications, by their very nature, are very misleading.

For example, as to your publicist-like statement regarding your "publishers" for all we know, "working with two large publishers may be a presentation about how to put on turn-out gear and pose for a photo-op during a rural MABAS training exercise. And would these be trade magazine publishers ray like the kind you don't have to pay for subscriptions to because the magazine itself is a just a conveyance for selling the products of their advertisers? It's not exactly a real news source like Newsweek or the NY Times is it? Are we talking TIME corp. or "large" vanity publishers (if there is such a thing) or the Weekly Reader? And just how would you know what is or isn't an issue to these "large" publishers or their editors? Would that be all editors? All news editors ray? Or just the two you may work with? Are you one of their in house counsel or just working from the out-house counsel point of view? Are you on their board of directors? How would you know, exactly. Just because they haven't discussed it with you doesn't mean it's not an issue with them or that it's a requirement to discuss it with you before it becomes a concern to them. See what I mean? Implications. Yep. Very misleading to many.

Oh and if I'm wrong about releases for recognizable individuals in editorial and internet work let us know when YOU start posting photos of recognizable accident victims here or elsewhere. It's easy to get a release from a municipal employee you drink coffee and eat with. Accident victims and their families are a different story and that's among the points I've made.

Congratulations though. You picked a great place to do a presentation. Please ray, go to Vegas, take in a show, blow a few bucks, have an important meeting or presentation with your 2 [large] (important?) publishers and as the saying goes, when you're through in Las Vegas, please stay Vegas and leave us sheep to graze in the troughs of learning in peace.

Take it light and seasons greetings to you and all the Missouri herd. :>) Good luck.

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12/23/2007 2:27:43 PM

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