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Model release letters

Images of identifiable individuals are protected in the UK under the data protection regime. All businesses must exercise caution before publishing content featuring someone's image. When you want to use or publish an individual's image for a specific purpose, protect yourself from liability by using a model release letter.
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A model release letter is a letter by which the subject (or model) of a photograph or video footage grants permission to a business to use and publish their image. It sets out how the image can be used and protects the publisher from liability, or damage to their reputation, arising from this use.

Material featuring identifiable individuals is considered 'personal data' and is protected in the UK under the data protection regime.

The personal data regime confers rights on individuals whose data is being collected and imposes legal obligations on those who collect them. In a model release letter, the model will waive their rights in relation to the released image. Having the model sign the letter will therefore protect the publisher from future claims in relation to the image. Where the model is under 18, their parents or legal guardian must sign the form on their behalf.

There are certain instances where the image is unlikely to contain personal data. For example:

  • where individuals are incidentally included in an image or are not in focus

  • the image features 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

If the image is being processed for journalistic, literary, artistic or research purposes, it will also be exempt from the data protection regime.

You need a model release letter whenever you have taken a photograph or recorded video footage of a recognisable individual and wish to use or publish the image. For instance, a model release letter will be necessary if you want to publish materials for commercial purposes, whether:

  • in printed publications

  • in presentations

  • in promotional materials

  • in advertising of goods or services

  • on a website

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, for example, in news media, will often not require it.

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