One More Necessity in Your Camera Bag

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Don’t let a missing model release create a situation that drags you into the court system!

Sadly we live in a litigious world with too many people ready to pounce the minute they think there’s an injustice in the air.  So, before you go to the next event, there’s one item so many photographers forget about, a model release.  

John Harrington, in More Best Business Practices for Photographers, an incredible resource book all of you should have in your library, dedicated a section to model releases and includes two samples, one for an adult, another for a minor.  Don’t get caught short without a stack of model releases in your bag. Learn to know when you need one and when you don’t, but always opt on the side of caution. Better to have a signed release and not need it, than not have one at all.

I’ll wrap it up with a quick true horror story from our industry.

One of the best known professional photographers in the world sold an image of a bride and groom to a mass merchant for use in their picture frame line. It was nothing more than a decorative element to their packaging. The photographer was paid $750. There was a signed model release and the photographer absolutely thought she had the rights to use the image.

The client, being a young hope-to-be-successful attorney some day, saw the image from his wedding while walking through the store and sadly, saw it as a remarkable opportunity. He sued the photographer for using the image without authorization. He played off of a number of different issues…

He never signed the release, the mother of the bride did. As a budding attorney he claimed the use of the image in a mass merchant store like Target, Kmart, BigLots etc. damaged his ability to be taken seriously as an attorney.

In the end the photographer’s insurance company, thanks to PPA insurance, handled the claim and if I remember right, this bonehead wound up with a six-digit settlement!

At this point, just like me when I first heard the story, you’re rolling your eyes and shaking your head. It’s absurd that somebody could do that, but there are two points to remember:

Always have a model release or equivalent on images you’re going to publish and always have the right insurance coverage, but that’s another story and another post!

An add-on after several comments…

P.S. At the time this all happened, approximately ten years ago, the market was different. Facebook, posting, Twitter were all pretty non-existent. The model release was signed by the client, the mother of the bride. Today, without question, nobody would move ahead and sell an image for
a picture frame without notifying the client, in most cases even if you had a model release. My comment using the expression “bonehead” was based on the approach of the “victim” when he saw potential dollar signs.  It doesn’t matter if you agree with my opinion of the whole thing or not – the issue is don’t shoot without a model release…and, make sure you’ve got the right kind of coverage for your insurance.

Photo Credit: © Jerry Sliwowski – Fotolia.com


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