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The Importance of Using Photo Release Forms

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 3/15/2010

Civil lawsuits are not uncommon with video and photography, so it is important to protect yourself from a lawsuit claiming you used someone's image without permission, or that you manipulated the image, or that the image itself was unflattering.

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    Avoiding Legal Issues

    Digital video is a sensitive medium because it has the ability to manipulate and change how a person appears and sounds. We have the ability to alter how someone looks and also capture a record of them without their knowledge. Many people who agree to participate by being recorded for your project can later change their mind and you can be subject to serious trouble. The best way to avoid this is to always use photo release forms when shooting.

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    Photo Releases

    A photo release form, sometimes referred to as a model release form depending on its use, is a form that someone signs that states the filmmaker or photographer takes ownership of the images and has the right to publish their likeness. It is easy to write up your own contract and you do not need an attorney or notary to make it official. The contract should read that the person gives you permission to video tape them on a set date. Some people like to also label that it is only for a specific event or use, but the best way to approach this is instead to say for whatever purpose. This way if your project changes in any way you will not be subject to civil liability. For this purpose it is best to state that “the image can be saved, used, replicated, altered, or published at the producer’s discretion.” The contract should state that the subject “hereby releases and discharges” you and any organization you may be working with from any liability or legal claims that arise from the publication of their image. If you are working with outside institutions you must make sure to list all of them so there is no gap in legal protection. Make sure to have the subject sign and date it, as well as yourself. It is always advisable to have one or two witnesses to also sign and date, which is just a safeguard if legal accusations begin to come up. Remember that this contract is only valid for people over the age of eighteen, and if they are younger you will need a parent’s consent as well. The same issues can also apply to the images of a recognizable house or architectural feature of a private homeowner. Once again, you will need a release from the owner.

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    Don't Get Caught With Your Pants Down!

    It is important to do this for everyone you videotape during your project in case someone ha remorse about his or her participation later on. Keep all the contracts saved with all of the material you are using for your digital video project. Home digital video producers are even more subject to possible lawsuit because they do not have an extensive budget and panel of attorney’s to consult at every move. Because of this it is vital that precautions be taken to make sure that no one can come back later and accuse them of using their image without permission.