Elan Vital Media | Article on Release Forms
Article on Release Forms
release forms, agreements, contracts, licensing, copyright, photographer, model, makeup artist, hair stylist, fashion designer, creative, designer, stylist, artist, copyright holder, licensing agreement, commercial use, trade shoot, photoshoot, paid shoot, collaboration
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Signing your name

A perspective on release forms

The U.S. opinion

First, and foremost, I will point out I am not a lawyer, and any substantial issues you have between the copyright holder should be handled through the appropriate means.

With that being said, the individual clicking the shutter button on a camera (yes, cell phone cameras count – all you selfie fans) is the copyright holder of that image. While there’s a lot of other legalese that go into it, in short, you own the copyright of that image you just snapped. It means no one can use it, sell it, reproduce it, copy it, take credit for it, modify it (including filters, writing – you know, adding their website or IG name on it), without YOUR permission as the copyright holder.

Why this is important in a digital age: your understanding of the aforementioned basic principle of copyright, as the intellectual property owner, means it comes with some responsibility. Part of that responsibility is ensuring you know when, and when not, to take images, and video, of people, where to and not to take pictures, as well as making sure the people you have permission to take photos of understand that you, clicking the shutter button, own the image – not them, even though they’re likeliness is apparent in the image. I say likeliness due to edits and modifications made typically in the creative world. Sometimes it can be overly deceptive, as can be seen typically in any medium that uses professional images. No, people’s skin is not always that soft, or they may not have had elective surgery to remove something they don’t like.

Okay, so what does this have to do with signing a release or not?

This is where it becomes important to sign a release form. For those of us in the creative industry specifically, and not necessarily those involved in public photography, photoshoots that happen are typically private affairs, limited to only a few people involved, whether it be in a studio, in an abandoned park, in downtown somewhere, or in a train station. It’s important that everyone involved with that shoot understands the in’s and out’s of the end goal of the photographer, whether they’re being paid or not, the photographer is still ultimately responsible for educating the entire creative team on what it means. This is typically done in the form of a release/waiver/contract/agreement being signed. Somewhere amongst all the words jammed together on that page, should be a small blurb saying that whoever is signing the document understands they do not own copyright. It’s critical that this is in there.

I see it all the time on social media where a model – I say model, as this is a majority of the case on my personal newsfeed – will boldly claim on social media that they are getting screwed over by the photographer because the photographer won’t allow them to use the photos for whatever reason, or submit somewhere specifically, or post them in certain places, a whole slew of different things, and it’s been more frequent the last few months as I continually add more creative minds to my social media friends list.

This is actually a pretty standard thing in the industry – release forms. They aren’t new, by any means. I was told by a model one time that the whole area (where they were geographically) “basically didn’t use release forms because everyone just knew”, yet when asked to submit to the magazine, they never responded back nor ever followed up to submit later down the road. It’s a shame, the model was phenomenal and the work they showed was pretty conceptual in nature. I wonder if they ever got back to the photographer about submitting. I guess I’ll recognize it when it eventually comes through to my virtual office.

Everything said, that doesn’t mean that other creatives cannot also have release forms, or agreements, ready for the photographer to sign as well. I would consider these forms to be more agreements than releases. Releases are more for not holding people responsible and such, while agreements and contracts are for “this is what we plan on doing with the images, etc”.

Models can have an agreement stating they understand they don’t own copyright but they’d like to do XYZ with the images. If XYZ entails the selling of the images, it should be stated as such. I’ve been on shoots, provided an image to a model for preview, then later come to find out that she’s selling prints of the singular image I sent her as a preview, as the rest of the set would be published, on her Etsy site. While that model happens to actually be fairly popular, what she did is illegal, and when she asked if she was going to receive any more images from the set, I blatantly told her no and why. The part that bothers me the most, she never said she would be selling the images or using them in that way. They aren’t her images to sell, but maybe I would have worked something out or said yes had she just asked and I would have sent her an agreement to sign in regards to it. But she didn’t ask, and it was after I told her I’d be using the set to specifically submit to tattoo magazines.

There are also agreements that people can create that say they own copyright. This is why it’s important to READ. R-E-A-D. Actually read, and not skim through. I emphasize this word, read, as we see it here at the magazine all the time. Our agreements are pretty explicit on what we are using the photographs for, if they’re going to be used for resale or not outside of publication, among other things, and when the payout periods are, which we’ve since added to our submissions page to clarify things since people don’t read and are constantly asking when they’ll receive their payouts. To clarify, we are not purchasing copyright, however we do have licensing rights and we copyright our publication.

It’s never okay to steal other people’s works, edit them without permission (which if you’re creating something with the photographer, why would you shoot with them anyway if you’re just going to change the way the image looks after they’re done editing it – do you enjoy getting sued or looking rude?), and it’s critical that creatives understand what it is they’re getting themselves into when they do photoshoots, whether it’s a paid shoot, trade shoot, or test shoot.

If you’re a photographer – ALWAYS have a release available. This is the piece of paper that protects you in a legal sense.

If you’re a creative that isn’t the photographer – create an agreement with the photographer that everyone agrees to for the purpose of the images – whether it be poster sales, publication submittals, portfolio use, whatever. This is the piece of paper that protects everyone from future misconceptions, and in the legal sense if something goes bad.

Woohoo, you made it to the end of the article! If you learned something, or I wrote something weird and wrong, or want to speak up with your own experiences, leave a comment on the post on our Facebook page! We definitely would love to hear back from you! Keep up the stellar work if you’re creating, and if you aren’t, we encourage you to start!


P.S. I know I didn’t go into creative commons, public domain, and a whole bunch of other things. There’s a lot that goes into it legally, and this is just for a broad and generalized understanding. If you’re interested in learning more about copyright, licensing, and other things, I highly recommend looking up Professional Photographers of America, or the American Society of Media Photographers. Both of those groups will have extensive, and easy to read, articles and info regarding pretty much everything related to the industry.

Phoenix is a legend. He is dedicated to creating scenes that are devised from his imagination, which depending on the day may or may not be NSFW. His passions are Star Wars, paintball, journalism, photography (right?!), jeeps, being from the South, and his dog Trooper Duke. He is fluent in American sarcasm, bacon, and donuts. He's probably eating bacon or donuts as you read this.

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