Model releases - when and when not
If you straddle both commercial and editorial stock (and it isn't easy), here's a simple clarification of when you do and don't need a model release:
Say a film company is producing a movie in your hometown and it stars Anthony Hopkins. You get a photo of him (close up) enjoying an ice cream cone. You decide to print the photo on T-shirts and sell them for $10 each. Anthony Hopkins' attorneys will contact you and you'll find yourself forking over all of your revenue to Mr. Hopkins and his legal team. A model release would have been needed here, and no doubt the celebrity would not grant it for such a purpose.
On the other hand, if a publisher is producing a coffee table book on ice cream and they need a photo of a celebrity eating an ice cream cone, you might score with your Anthony Hopkins photo. If your picture qualifies, you'll make a sale, and you'll never hear from the Hopkins legal group. No model release is needed. Why? Because with the photo in the editorial coffee table book you are informing and educating, and our Freedom of the Press feature of the First Amendment of the Constitution allows you this right. The attorneys at large magazine and publishing houses are continually defending this right--and in so doing, are defending you as an editorial photographer, who captures your visual diary of the world as you see it.
A good test also is the Golden Rule. If a photographer captured a good picture of your teenager on a public tennis court swinging a racket, and placed the picture on coffee mugs for a tennis club and didn't share the profits with your teenager, you would probably be upset. The photographer should have gotten a model release from you, if your teenager was under 18. No doubt you would begin legal action if the photographer were not cooperative and refused to share the revenue. If the picture, however, appeared in a textbook on teen sports, such use is the right of the photographer and publisher. No model release would be required, unless the accompanying text were derogatory in some way.
Getting model releases is a must if you want to become a full-time pro in commercial photography. As a commercial photographer you'll receive requests for photos to be used in ads, on billboards, record covers, promotional brochures, etc. Even as an editorial photographer you may want to get releases with certain of your photos, if you want those photos eligible to be used in ads or promotional material.
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Rohn Engh, Photosource International.