207 BULLET PROOF MODEL RELEASES
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.
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
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
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
Parent or Guardian (sig.)_________________________ (print)_________________________
Address ________________________________________ Phone_____________________