Bullet Proof Model Release

Posted on 3/15/1999 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



March 15, 1999

Photographers need to start giving a lot more attention to model releases and

specifically what they cover. They also need to track a lot more carefully the

eventual use of their images, or if an agent handles licensing for them, be sure

that the agent limits uses to those covered by the release.

There are two strategies commonly used by photographers in getting releases. One

is to use a relatively simple general release that is usually the easiest to get

signed. The other option, often used with professional models, is a much more

detailed, lawyer prepared, release that tries to anticipate and specify every

possible use. This second type is often referred to as a "bullet proof" release.

The problem with the "bullet proof" release is that it is often difficult to get

models to sign. If they fully understand the implications of what they are

signing, the "bullet proof" release gives users of the image carte blanche to say

anything about the character of the model and possibly destroy their reputation.

The chances of such a damaging use may be slim, but the potential liabilities to

the photographer for a single improper use may be so great (see "Model Sues RF

Providers," Story 181 )

that even one such event can be a disaster for the


Another thing that affects the need for good releases is the trend toward certain

types of rights licensing (RF and certain on-line uses) that allows anyone who pays

a proper fee to make unlimited use of an image. In these cases there is no

checking of who the user is or of the intended use.

For several years most agencies have had language in their paperwork prohibiting

use of their images for "sensitive issues." During the process of negotiation the

questioning has gotten much more specific about the intended use, not only so the

sales person can more accurately price the usage, but so they can identify

potential problem usages. Some agencies do a better job of checking than others.

At first glance, taking the sales person out of the loop appears to be only a tiny

move toward greater marketing efficiency. But photographers need to recognize that

this tiny change is big enough to let in a herd of lawyers and unhappy models.

To deal with this problem, many agencies are getting very particular about the

model releases that accompany any pictures they select. They want "bullet proof"

releases, and will reject all images that don't have them because they want to be

able to license these images in the new environment without any checking.

They are also restructuring contracts to lay more liability on photographers. (See

"E-Commerce," Story 208 )

What is a "bullet proof" release?

In theory a "bullet proof" would allow the user to modify the image in any way such

as removing the head and placing it on a different body. The user is allowed to

imply in accompanying text that the model is an advocate of any political position

from saving the whales to abortion rights, or that the person is a user of alcohol,

tobacco or drugs. The user can imply that the model has, or is recovering from, a

medical condition such as aids, or has had a sex change, or has been a victim of a

rape. The image could be used in an ad promoting fertility drugs or indicate that

the model was conceived as a result of using fertility drugs. The usage can imply

that the model is in therapy or have some psychiatric condition. The use can say

that the model is a practitioner of or supports religions and/or sects, that are

not necessarily the actual religion of the model. It can say the model is

homeless, an illegal drug user, fired from a job or in bankruptcy. Text used in

conjunction with the image that implies that the person in the picture endorses a

product or service.

Even with a "bullet proof" release, many such uses may be challenged in court by

the models. Models have a reasonable chance of success in the courts if they can

argue they were not fully informed at the time they signed the release and that

they didn't understand the implications of what they were signing. They also may

be able to prove significant damages. The photo sellers, will at the very least,

have to defend themselves in court and risk letting a jury decide who was right or


What Are Your Options?

  • Handle the licensing of rights yourself and check the specifics of the

    potential use before you license rights to an image and authorize the user to use

    it a way that might upset the model.

  • Work with agencies that will do this kind of checking before they license


  • Try to get the agency to take responsibility for any claims that the model

    release doesn't cover (very difficult), but at the very least do not sign an

    agreement where you indemnify the agency if they license rights for some sensitive

    use. It should not be the photographers responsibility to cover any part of legal

    costs in such a situation, as long as the photographer has given the agency

    truthful information about the release, because it was the agency's decision alone

    to decide to whom they will license rights.

  • Be sure you have very accurate internal tracking of model releases. Many

    photographers maintain a file of original releases in a safety deposit box.

  • Check into errors and omissions insurance.

    Sample Release

    Arie Kopelman of Direct Stock has taken the best features of a number of model

    releases and put them together in what we think is a good "bullet proof" release.

    Remember, however, that even this release may not be sufficient protection for

    certain "conceivable


      Photographer: _____________________________

      Model: ____________________________________

      Address: ____________________________________________________________________

      Phone ______________________ Age _________ Soc.Sec.No._____________________________

      In consideration of Model's engagement as a model, and for good and valuable

      consideration herein acknowledged as received, Model hereby grants to Photographer,

      and his designees, assigns, agents, heirs, affiliates, successors, those acting on

      his authority, and the like, the absolute right and permission, in perpetuity and

      without time limit, to use Model's likeness and photograph, in whole or in part,

      however blurred, altered or distorted, in any medium, for any purpose and in any

      manner whatsoever, with or without written copy, including, but not limited to

      advertising, art, publicity, promotion, editorial, trade or commercial purposes, in

      any and all print or digital media, including but not limited to magazines,

      newspapers, television, billboards, brochures, reports, point of purchase, CD-ROMs,

      Internet, Royalty Free (unrestricted use) Collections, and the like, world-wide.

      Model hereby forever releases, discharges and agrees to hold harmless, Photographer

      and any individual or entity acting in conjunction with or on behalf of

      Photographer, from any liability whatsoever, including but not limited to claims

      for libel, slander and-or invasion of privacy, arising from the use of Model's

      likeness or photograph (or any fictitious name used in connection therewith) in

      whole or part, however blurred, altered or distorted, whether intentional or

      otherwise that may occur in the completion of such utilization, including any uses

      in all of the above stated media, whether or not such likeness or photograph is

      used to depict or illustrate flattering or unflattering situations, and-or everyday

      or sensitive social situations and whether or not publication of such likenesses or

      photography subjects hold up the model to ridicule, scandal, reproach, scorn,

      indignity or embarrassment of any kind.

      Model agrees to waive all rights to inspect or approve the finished photograph or

      likeness and the finished product in which it may be used, or such words or copy

      used therewith.

      Model warrants that Model is of Legal Age, and acknowledges receipt of, and agrees

      to accept as full compensation for all of the above stated permissions and grants,

      the sum of $ _______

      Model (sig.)_________________________________ Witness ____________

      For Parent or Guardian of Model 18 years old or under:

      I, Parent or Guardian, have read the above authorization and release prior to its

      execution, am fully familiar with the contents thereof, and agree to Models grant

      of permission.

      Parent or Guardian (sig.)_________________________ (print)_________________________

      Address ________________________________________ Phone_____________________

  • Copyright © 1999 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-251-0720, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

    Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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