On the subject of model release forms

Today I attended an art nude studio day, more about which I will got into in a different post. However, the subject of model release forms came up and how they are necessary for this type of work. First of all I went to the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) website, to see what they say about it.

Bath, 18 May 2015 – With increased public concerns over privacy and the need for photographers to protect themselves and the people they photograph The Royal Photographic Society has produced a generic model release form which it has made freely available for all photographers to download here: www.rps.org/MRF

The RPS has worked with a top UK law firm to produce a RPS Model Release Form template with supporting notes to give guidance to amateur and professional photographers over how to use it.  A model release forms specifies how pictures can be used and is there to protect both the photographer and his/her subjects. Properly completed a signed form will protect the photographer in the event of any future claim. (RPS, 2015)

The principle behind the model release form (MLF) is that if one is using a photograph for commercial purposes, then there is the possibility that the model may sue for invasion of privacy. You and I might think that because the model has been paid to come along and pose for you, they have given their permission implicitly, but legally they have only agreed to the taking of the photograph at that stage. If you then decide to sell it to a stock library, for example, you need their permission again.

There seem to be three types of circumstance where MRLs are advisable

  • where you plan to sell the image to a stock photo library
  • where you plan to use it for advertising purposes
  • where there is a more diffuse promotional element to it.

The last is the one that applies to this blog, Facebook, Instagram etc. Because my pages are public, and can be viewed by anyone who finds them, I should really be covered by an MRF if I am making staged photos with a paid model.

As a general rule, MRFs are not necessary in the following circumstances:

  • if you will only be using the image for personal use
  • if you are shooting in a public space, and are not planning to use it for commercial purposes, although it is often better to get one signed where any individual is easily identifiable and is the subject of the image.
  • if it for editorial purposes, although this is a grey area again, and one needs to watch out for potential pitfalls. The one most easily accessible for a general photographer is probably the Royal Photographic Society’s one, which is available here: The RPS Model Release Form.

Thinking this through, initially I thought a form might be a bit over the top for many circumstances, but a few situations where one could get into trouble without one are:

  • paparazzi images, where the subject does not know they are being photographed on private land.
  • an image which the subject hates, but which is made publicly available. (This makes me wonder about the legal position of photos on social media where the subject is in a private area, e.g. school and has not given permission for the shot.
  • where an image taken in a public space is used for advertising, and the subject was unaware that it had been taken. We occasionally hear of situations where members of the public find their faces on billboards as part of advertisements, and they knew nothing about it.
  • Finally, one needs to think about those situations, such as the previous case, where potentially the model would have been able to make a commercial gain if they had known about the use of their image.

In the art photography world, an example of where a case has been taken to court is outlined in this article. It refers to Arne Svenson’s series The Neighbours, where he has taken images through the windows of his neighbours’ flats, without them knowing. In all cases, the person is not identifiable, but a lawsuit was made for invasion of privacy. It was an American case, and Svenson won on the grounds that the series of images was protected under the First Amendment, which is about freedom of speech. My own, non-legal opinion would be that in the British legal system he should also have won, as the subjects were unidentifiable even though they were in private spaces. Contrast his work, for example, with a similar series by Sharon Boothroyd, The Glass Between Us  where people are again photographed through their window, but in this case their faces can be seen and Boothroyd has asked each of them to sign a model release form.





When Does Photography Become an Invasion of Privacy? Perhaps Never


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