Why is it important to use a model release?

In the age of social media, our image is more exposed and accessible than ever before. But beware – just because our society is overwhelmed with selfies, it doesn’t mean that people’s images are at everyone’s disposal.

Quite the contrary, images featuring identifiable individuals are considered ‘personal data’, and are protected as such under the data protection regime. Put simply, this means that you cannot use or publish content featuring someone’s image without the model’s explicit consent. When planning to do so, it is essential to protect your business by using a model release letter that allows you to publish picture-based content.

What’s a model release letter?

A model release letter is a letter by which the subject of a photograph or video footage grants permission to someone else to use and publish their image. It is a contract that allows for the use of an image in one form or another, for example on a website, a blog or on marketing materials.

How does it protect your business?

A model release letter protects the content publisher from any liability arising from the use of someone’s image. By obtaining a model release, the publisher is given the right to use the picture under the conditions laid out in the release and the model waives their right to the property of the image, which means they won’t be able to make any future claim in relation to such image.

When do I need a model release letter?

Whenever you want to use or publish picture-based content, try to answer the following questions:

  • Will the image be used for commercial purpose?
  • Is the image featuring a recognisable individual?

If the answers to these two questions are yes, then it is vital for you to get a signed model release letter before going forward with the intended use.

Commercial purpose

As a general principle, publication for commercial purposes will require that the individual sign a model release letter, whereas publication for artistic or editorial purposes, eg in news media or educational books, will often not require it.

In particular, a model release letter is essential if one wants to publish materials whether:

  • in printed publications;
  • in presentations;
  • in promotional materials;
  • in advertising of goods or services; or
  • on a website.

Recognisable individuals

A model release letter will be required when content features an individual who is recognisable, i.e. that you can easily identify. But be careful, as there are ways to identify someone other than by their face – specific physical characteristics or locations can make someone identifiable as well.

On the contrary, some content is  unlikely to require a model release, such as:

  • Pictures taken in the public setting, where individuals are incidentally included in an image or are not in focus; or
  • Images of individuals who have since passed away. The data protection regime only applies to living people, so these images would not constitute personal data.

Therefore, both the intended use and the nature of the content determine whether you need a model release letter, and the line between what’s allowed and what isn’t is rather thin. If you have doubts, don’t take risks and create your model release letter with Rocket Lawyer !