Keeping It Legal

POST : 02-25-2021

Have you ever been watching a video or a show that includes public shots and some of the faces seem to be blurred out?  No, that is not poor production values on the part of the video team.  That is because the producers who eventually sold that video to be used commercially did not secure releases from those individuals.  And if they used their images, they are laying themselves open for lots of legal problems.

So how do you know if the work you are doing in your photography and video business requires such releases, YouTubers and social media content creators included?  After all, you would rather be safe than sorry and get releases from everybody you use as a subject than face a problem down the road.  But there is a downside to securing them if you are not sure.  That is the impression you create in the mind of your customer.  

If you primarily do portraits, weddings or other events where the intent of your work is to sell the photographs and videos to the people being photographed or recorded, there is certainly no need for releases.   So long as you have no intention of ever using any of those images in a sale that will profit your business other than the original way, then you should be fine.

It is when you step over into that realm of content creation in which you may be working with models to provide photographs for advertising, magazines, newspapers or any other purpose in which you are selling the images you have recorded for a profit, that is when a release is needed.  This area of professional photography and videography is tremendously profitable because you are working at a higher tier of professionalism than photographing and filming the public to provide them with professional-level images.  And because it is such a lucrative arena of content creation, the competition to make those sales is stiff to be sure.

When you are working with professional models or actors, securing their releases is pretty much part of the program and never a problem.  They are working for you and they know the images are for sale so their agents and lawyers do all the legwork so the releases are routine and understood.  But from your perspective, don't let this detail go unattended to.  Your customers, those magazines or ad agencies who look to you for professional content creation services, are assuming you have this covered and that they can count on you to deliver not only quality work but work that has been legally released to be used for promotion.

The complications come if you do your shoots in a public place such as a park, a mall or anywhere that there may be traffic that becomes part of the shot.  If you complete the shoot and discover that the perfect shot that fits your customers needs just right happens to have miscellaneous members of the public in the background, you have to have releases from them or you cannot sell that image.

You could think ahead and try to secure those releases on the spot.  But if the people you are trying to convince to sign such releases know you are going to use their images for profit, and you pretty much have to tell them, you get into another whole level of negotiation.  But you sure don't want to have to blur their faces out on the shot.  You could Photoshop them out but that may lose the spontaneity of the shot.

It's best to stage the shot from start to finish.  If you want traffic to be occurring around your model, bring in models who can do the job for you.  Any good talent agency to provide you with 'average looking' models to use for this purpose.  You will have to pay them but at least you know that the shot is clean.  Plus when you sell the shot, you are going to get questions about whether those talents were paid and if you have releases on them too.  

You can find a standard release form on the web or your lawyer can help you develop one that covers the legalities you need handled but also reflects how you want to handle this issue.  But don't let this issue slide through the cracks.  By protecting yourself, you can do good business and profitable business but above all, legal business in perusing your professional content creation career.


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