Now I have mixed feelings about model releases. I used to use them a lot, but came to the belief that many releases are often completely counter-productive. There were times when I photographed people who could not read or write in their own language and basically ended up copying their names and addresses on to a release. In most countries there are precedents that say that a contract has to be fair to be legal. Having someone who cannot read and write in their own language 'sign' a contract in a language the do not understand, concerning a concept which they do not comprehend is not going to be remotely legal.
Why does this matter? Well it is the user of a picture not the photographer who is ultimately responsible for any legal action arising from any use. This means that if a company buys one of your pictures from an agency and uses it for an advertisment and the subject of the picture sues, then it is the publisher of that picture who is liable. Yet, if you claim to have a model release and they buy the picture in good faith, then you are responsible if your model release proves later not to be legal and valid.
In effect: no release, not your problem, but you might struggle to sell a picture for commercial use. Invalid model release, you are ultimately totally liable should that release ever be challenged in court.
This might sound paranoid, but the whole reason that clients will demand a model release in the first place is that they are concerned that the subject of the photograph will see it and sue them. This can be the case even if your subject is in a developing country. The world is increasingly global, and it is not inconceivable that the subject of a picture will see it published and might object. As we all know, there are plenty of lawyers around the world – especially in the USA – who will accept cases on a no win, no fee basis. It is also worth remembering that you don't get the choice of where any court case is heard. If the publisher of a picture publishes it online, or even has a US office, then it could be LA Law for you!
You might not even get the chance to defend the case. Often the paper trail will lead directly back to you, and if the publisher or the agency settle the case, then you might be forced to indemnify them for their losses.
Now, this might all sound completely gloomy, and put you off model releases completely, but that is not what I am saying. Model releases are vital for commercial photography, but you have to make sure that the model release is valid, and if necessary, will stand up in court.
Achieving a Legal Model Release
Getting a legal model release is not necessarily a simple matter. Firstly, the actual release has to be legal. Luckily there are a number of places where these can be downloaded. Next it has to be signed by the person you are photographing and in many jurisdictions there has to be some degree of payment – even a noimal amount. Lastly the document will have to be witnessed by someone who is there at the time that the subject signs it.
There are a couple of points that I think that you should consider in order to make sure that a model release is deemed legal:
1). Translate the release into the lanuage of the country you are travelling in
2). Remember to make some sort of payment
3). Have the concept of model releases explained to the subject
4). Make sure that the witness is accountable
5). Check your subject is old enough
There are some links to some sample releases here:
There are a number of products available that allow you to create a model and property rlease with a smart phone or tablet. These have the advantage that you can include a thumbnail picture of the person in question. Check that any library that you are intending to submit to will accept digital releases. A cross platform release application is Easy Release.