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Why would I want to sign a model release form ?

Intended audience

This document is aimed at those of you who have been asked to sign a model release form by a photographer, and are worried about the formality of the legal document. You may be particularly suspicious if have been approached by an unknown photographer in public who happens to have captured you in a picture, for example while you were performing in a concert or a sporting event. It is perfectly understandable that you would be hesitant to give your signature under these conditions, and this document attempts to allay fears that you may have by answering some common questions.

Why do photographers ask for these forms ?

In order to use a photograph publically, photographers often need proof that identifiable people in the picture have given their consent for publication. This is especially true for commercial use, but even a picture used for an editorial story in a magazine may be supplied through an agency that requires a release for all pictures as a matter of routine, simply because they trade in both commercial and editorial pictures. In the past it was almost exclusively professionals who asked for releases, but with the advent of easily-accesible web-based services, many amateurs find they can get their hobby pictures into publications, and may ask you for a release to help them with this.

Is the photographer going to get rich off me ?

Probably not, unless your pictures gets used to advertise designer clothes on the side of a bus, which is rather improbable. More likely it will be used to illustrate a story in a magazine, or as decoration on a web page of an internet shop. But most likely of all is that it won't be used at all, and will simply be kept on file in the hope that one day it will be just the picture that is needed for a particular purpose. A professional who works with stock photography has been reckoned to earn on average around $1 US per year per picture in his stock, and an amateur who supplies the odd stock picture for fun will most likely make a lot less.

What's in it for me ?

1) The possibility of appearing in a magazine article, or possibly an advert. Most people think that's fun.
2) A copy of the picture. Smart photographers will be willing to trade a print or a digital file for a signature. But you are unlikely to get hard cash out of them, given the small chance that they will actually get to use the image.
3) The chance of formal photography sessions in the future. If, for example, you were rock climbing when your were photographed, and you gave your permission to use the picture, then the photographer may come back to you later if he needs a climber for a planned photo session to illustrate the sport.
4) Karma. By helping out the photographer, you will get a better seat in heaven, or will be reincarnated higher on the evolutionary scale. Check the manual of your religion for details.

What are the downsides for me ?

1) The possibility of appearing in a magazine article, or possibly an advert. Not everyone thinks that's fun, and if you're in that category, feel free to decline to sign.
2) A few minutes work. Usually signing a one-page document on the spot.

Why is the document so complicated ?

Because lawyers are lawyers, and want all eventualities covered. The example below is about as simple as they can be :

Download model release form

© Mark Harris 2007

(MRH homepage)