What Is A Model Release?

I see this same misinformation posted over and over again on modeling and photography sites like Model Mayhem and One Model Place. Models are constantly writing about model releases as if it protects them.

I see this same misinformation posted over and over again on modeling and photography sites like Model Mayhem and One Model Place. Models are constantly writing about model releases as if it protects them. Photographers do it too but it’s just more surprising to see a model insist on signing a model release when it does nothing to protect them. It would be like saying “Don’t even think about driving down that freeway unless you know there are at least two cops with radar searching for speeders”. That makes absolutely no sense.

  • A model release is a legal document a model signs to give to a photographer giving him specific rights he may not have otherwise without the model release. For example, it may give the photographer and/or the client the right to use the images in an ad. The photographer cannot do that without the model’s permission. If the photographer does do that, he’s not going to land in jail but he can be sued for lots of money by the model.
  • A model release is signed by the model, not the by the photographer. That itself should be a clue that it is for the photographer’s benefit because without the photographer’s signature, the photographer has agreed to nothing with the model in that model release.
  • A model release has nothing to do with copyright.
  • A model release does not address when a model will get pictures or if the model will get paid. It does not address security deposits or what the model will get for lunch. Some photographers put all kinds of crap in their “model release”. They are more than welcome to do that and it’s not necessarily wrong but then that document becomes something else altogether. Maybe it’s a shoot agreement that incorporates a perfectly valid model release or it may be a list of things to buy from Walmart that includes parts of a model release that is unenforceable. Whatever that monstrosity becomes, there is no point in talking about that because it’s important to stick to universally accepted language when communicating. And it is universally accepted that a model release only addresses a model releasing rights to someone else.
  • A model release does not generally address what is forbidden. It only list rights which are granted. That’s because there are very few things a photographer can do with a model’s image without a model release. Most States permit use in a printed portfolio, limited art prints, and editorial use. If a model release were to start listing what cannot be done with the images, it can quickly become a five volume collection. So forget about trying to put in language to prohibit use porn. Besides, there’s a ton of models willing to do porn. It’s way too much trouble to trick a bikini model into shooting content suitable for a porn audience.