Protect Your Models

Posted on 1/13/2007 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



January 13, 2007

More and more companies have been asking for signed model releases for every image submitted and photographers need to consider, and confirm what will be done with those releases once delivered.

There has been a lot of discussion in the industry about making model releases available for customer review online and this could be a very bad idea, particularly with relation to model releases of minors.

Current releases usually contain the subject's real name, address, telephone number and the date on which the picture was taken. When that information is connected to a photograph of the subject it seems to me that it reveals a great deal of personal information that should not be open to public scrutiny.

All parents are now encouraged to monitor their children's activities on My Space and other similar sites due to the risk of predators. Making complete release information available to anyone doing searches, or even those actually purchasing rights to an image, could result in an unintended use by the predator element of society.

I can understand that customers need some assurance that a given release is sufficient to protect them from suit if they use the images. And I can understand that portals needs some assurance that the photographer has obtained a valid signed release. But, in my opinion making specific information easily available to anyone accessing a site would be very dangerous.

It would seem to me that a compromise position might be to redact the specific information in a release and make the general release language -- without the name, address, phone number or signature - available for customer review so the customer could determine of the language is sufficient to cover the planned use they intend to make. Of course this might be more work for the portal because they wouldn't be able to simply post the digital file the photographer was required to send.

However, the identity of the individual signing the release would be protected and only revealed in the event of a legal challenge to a specific use.

Undoubtedly, different portals will have different policies and photographers need to confirm the specific policy of the portal they are dealing with before submitting any releases.

I asked several agencies three specific questions and received the following answers.

1 - Will releases with identities of the signer ever be made available online for customer review?

Getty Images said: "As it has been our policy for many years, Getty Images does not disclose the private information of our models for review to anyone outside of Getty Images. We will not ever make this information available online for customers to review."

2 - Under what conditions will releases be made available to customers?

Getty Images said: If a Getty Images customer wishes to see a model release to determine for itself that the release is adequate for its purposes, we will provide it with a redacted release. With this release, they will not see any model information at all. If one of our customers has a demonstrable need for the name of the model -- for instance, when there is additional payment due for SAG fees to the model and as long as that customer is a SAG signatory required to pay those fees, we will provide the information with an unredacted model release along with a confidentiality agreement regarding the personal information of the model.

3 - Will customers be allowed to use actual names of models in anything they publish?

Getty Image said: No.

Getty also indicated that the policies and practices of iStockphoto will be the same as the rest of Getty Images and that iStockphoto has had these same policies in place since its inception in February 2000. Under no circumstances would iStockphoto release a model's information.

James West of said:

    "Our expectation is that at some point in the future we will offer downloadable model and property releases. To this end we are encouraging our contributors to start storing releases as digital files if they are not already doing so.

    "The exact details of how this will be implemented will be determined nearer to the time and we will be seeking legal advice as well as comments from customers and contributors to establish a sensible working policy.

    "Having said all that, it is very unlikely that releases will be available for download that contain contact information of the models concerned."

Serban Enache of said:

    "Thank you for asking our opinion on this very serious matter. I have expressed our official point of view in several discussions I had with our contributors on the message boards. We do not disclose any specific information from the model releases we have on file and do not plan to do so in the future, no matter if the buyers would request that or not (and btw we didn't have a significant number of requests for something like this, although we license millions of images each year).

    "We believe this is a serious issue that regards the privacy of the model. Even if the photographer would agree to something like that, we would have no right to do it, as this concerns the model, not the photographer. Even if the model would agree, we would still not do it.

    "The only situation when we will release a MR is when a legal authority or similar will request it. Otherwise, we can provide the buyer with the content of the MR document, but no specific information (no name, no address, no ph number etc.) just the legal terms that concern the photograph's usage.

    "I never heard about such thing and really do not believe that an agency can have a high number of requests of this kind from buyers. Can you share with us which agencies expressed this need and what arguments do they have?

    "Dreamstime is one of the agencies that licenses most files, thanks to our business model.
    The diversity of our customers comes with a diversity in requests. There are things for which the demand is higher, but not for disclosing the private information of a model.

    "As an agent, I believe that we should act ethically and as a "binder" between the buyer and the contributor. We need to hear their needs and answer them ethically. If properly advised, they do realize when there are problems due to the nature of their request. Once again, if what they need is to be sure the usage is accepted by the model, that can be done without disclosing the model's private information."

All in all, it sounds like all of the agencies contacted are protecting model's identities in a responsible. But, just because a few agencies are doing the right thing, doesn't mean that everyone will. When asked to submit releases, it behooves the photographer to get a clear understanding of exactly what the portal's policies are in this regard.

Copyright © 2007 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 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, 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:  


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