Personal Release Agreements

This section provides and discusses personal release agreements that permit the use of a person’s name and image. Personal releases are often referred to as “model releases,” although the term “model” can be used for anyone, not just professional models. There are two classes of personal releases: blanket releases and limited releases.

  • A blanket release permits any use of the photographic image of the person signing the release and is suitable if the company or photographer needs an unlimited right to use the image. Stock photographers who sell their photos for unlimited purposes commonly use blanket releases.
  • Celebrities and professional models usually sign limited releases that specify the particular ways their image and name may be used. If a use exceeds what’s permitted under the limited release, the person can sue for breach of the agreement. For example, a model that signed a release limiting use of her image for a museum brochure sued when the photo appeared on a Miami transit card.

General Rules for Releases

In addition to the specific legal rules for releases discussed throughout this chapter, some general advice is helpful when dealing with release situations.

Get It in Writing

Although oral releases are generally valid, you should always try to get a release in writing. This way, the model can’t claim he or she never agreed to the release. In addition, the terms of an oral release can be hard to remember and even harder to prove in court if a dispute arises.

Make It Clear

When a release is sought for a specific purpose, do not hide or misrepresent facts to get the signature. A fraudulently obtained release is invalid. For example, a model who was told that his image would be used by an insurance company signed a blanket release based on that statement. However, a company that pays cash for life insurance policies owned by AIDS victims used the photo. A Florida court permitted the model to sue.

Keep It Simple

Release agreements do not include many of the legal provisions found in other agreements in this book. Instead, releases are usually “stripped down” to pose less likelihood of triggering a discussion or negotiation. Keep your release short and simple (see tip below).

Get the Right Signatures

There are two requirements for the signature on a release: it must be “informed consent,” which means that the person signing the release understood it; and the person signing the release must have the authority to grant the release. In the majority of states, a minor is any person under 18 years of age, although in some states, the age may be 19 or 21. Since a minor may not understand the terms of a release, the signature of a parent or guardian is required before using a minor’s name or image.

In some cases, an agent representing the person may have the authority to sign a release. For example, an agent signed a release granting an unlimited time period for use of a model’s image in a Nintendo advertisement. The model had intended that the image only be used for one year. A court held that the agent had the authority to sign the release on behalf of the model and the release was binding.

It is always preferable to have a release signed by the subject, not an agent. When dealing with an agent, seek an assurance that the agent has the legal authority to sign. This can be done by including the statement, “I am the authorized agent for [name of model]” above the agent’s signature line.

Unlimited Personal Release Agreement

The following form is an unlimited or blanket release agreement. It permits you to use the model’s image and name in all forms of media throughout the world forever.

Limited Personal Release Agreement

The following form is a limited personal release agreement. It allows you to use the model’s name or image only for the purposes specified in the agreement.

Explanation for Limited and Unlimited Personal Releases

  • The Grant section establishes the rights granted by the person. In the unlimited agreement, a “blanket” grant is used. This grant is broad and intended to encompass all potential uses, whether informational, commercial, or other. In the limited agreement, the uses must be listed—for example, “For use on the cover of trade book and for related advertisements.” This release also has limitations regarding territory and term. Insert the appropriate geographic region and term—for example, “North America for a period of two years.”
  • The Release section is the person’s promise not to sue the company for legal claims such as libel and invasion of privacy.
  • If the person is a minor, the parent or guardian should sign where it is marked Parent/Guardian Consent. Since issues about release authenticity often crop up many years after a photo was made, a witness should sign the agreement to verify the person’s signature or the signature of the parent. The witness should be an adult. An employee or assistant is suitable.