Model Release Forms – Legal Issues To Consider

Written content is king on the web or so goes the cliché. In this day and age, most sites now include video, audio and photography content as well. If the content incorporates models, site owners must obtain valid model release forms. The failure to get a release can lead to royalty claims down the line.

Model ReleaseModel Release issues

A model release is a contract. A model has the right to control the use of their image. In a model release, the model authorizes the content producer to use the photograph in particular situations in exchange for compensation. The contract should spell out the date of the shoot, price and be signed by both parties. Most people understand this inherently, but run into problems with releases in three other areas.


Record Keeping

A model release must be in written form, and you must keep a record of it until the day you die. Okay, the last part isn’t a legal requirement, but you should store your releases regardless because you never know when a model might change their mind. Models can appear years later and claim they never authorized the use of their image. IMG model Yuliana Bondar recently made just such a claim in relation to the use of her image in a large retail marketing campaign.

Age of Model

How old is your model? If there is one area where people get into a heap of trouble, it is in using underage models without getting the proper legal permission.

In California, the age of majority is 18. Anyone under the age of 18 cannot legally agree to a contract because they are not considered to have the mental capacity to understand the ramifications of signing a contract. If your model is 16, your model release form is worthless, and so is the content the model appears or speaks in.

Fortunately, there is one way around this problem. The parent or guardian of the child can agree to the release on behalf of the underage model.

It is vital to understand you need proof of a model’s age as part of this process. It does not matter if a model tells you they are 18. You need evidence, so make a copy of their driver’s license and keep it with the release. “She said she was 18” is not an acceptable position in a legal dispute.

Scope of Release

The scope of the release clause in your model agreement is also a critical issue. The scope must be broad enough to allow for the use of the image on a variety of platforms. An example can help show how this can be a problem.

Let’s assume I ask an attractive 25-year-old female model to do a video pitch for the home page of my website. She agrees, signs a release form and I pay her. The release language, however, only authorizes me to use the content on my site.

A few months later, I decide to launch a viral video campaign on YouTube. I incorporate part of the model’s performance in my viral video and upload it to YouTube. The campaign goes well, and the video gets a million views. Then I get a letter from the lawyer for the model demanding the video be removed because the model never authorized the use of her image on YouTube. The letter is followed up with a lawsuit demanding monetary damages.

What is my defense in this case? I don’t have one. Don’t make this mistake. Make sure the scope of your model release is sufficient broad to cover any anticipated uses.

In Closing

The model release agreement is a critical part of your content creation process. Anyone appearing or speaking in your media content must sign a release.

Contact me today to obtain a proper release or learn more.

Richard A. Chapo, Esq.