Pelland Blog

Photography Releases, Rights Management & Legal Issues

January 14th, 2010

An online version of a seminar which I presented back in 2008 at the 44th Annual Northeast Conference On Camping, in Springfield, Massachusetts has been frequently referenced on other blogs. In particular, there are many links to a sample model release / waiver form that I have made available. The following is an excerpt from that seminar that covers the topics of Releases, Rights Management, and Legal Issues involving photography of guests at a campground, resort, tourist attraction, theme park, ski area or other similar place of business. Bear in mind that I am not a lawyer and that none of the information presented herein should be considered to be legal advice.

We are living in a society that is obsessed with litigation. We are also living in a society where our rights to personal privacy are under constant attack. When it comes to advertising photography, my recommendation is that you do your best to protect both your interests and the rights of your guests. Never, under any circumstances, take a photograph of anybody without their advance knowledge or, in the instance of a once in a lifetime candid photo opportunity, by getting their express permission immediately afterward. Always remember that you are taking photographs, not snapshots.

Nobody plans a vacation at a campground (or anywhere else) with either the intention or expectation of becoming a model. On the other hand, over 99% of your guests will be thrilled to be a part of a photo shoot and will go out of their way to be cooperative. Nonetheless, it is important that you at least get people’s implied, if not their signed, consent. I am pleased to provide you with a model waiver template which you are free to use; however, it is important to presume that no waiver or release will ever hold up in court. The rights of the individual will always prevail. The primary purpose of a release is to weed out potential problems from that one person in a thousand who would like to get rich quick and own your business, with the help of his attorney brother-in-law.

If a release is so powerless, when and why should it be used? In a public setting, where nobody is being held up to ridicule, I have always followed two rules:

  1. If there are fewer than 7 people in a photo, get them each to sign a release.

  2. If there are more than 7 people in a photo, but anybody is prominently featured in the center or foreground, get signed releases.

A third rule might be to always get signed releases for any children whom you photograph, remembering that only a parent of a minor has the legal authority to act in this manner.

If you take a photograph and a person balks about signing the release, refuses to sign the release, jokes about compensation or a lawsuit, or the subject is a minor who is not accompanied by a parent, make a note to not only not use the photo but to destroy the photo in order to prevent it from ever being used unintentionally or without your knowledge (but, as the photographer, with your ultimate responsibility). Should you hire a photographer to take photos on your behalf, you will share any liability which results from that photographer’s failure to exercise due diligence in obtaining a release.

Some resorts incorporate a blanket release into their registration agreement; however, these are much less likely to hold water in court than a signed release (which is already as water-tight as a colander) and are perhaps little better than no release at all.

Again, if you are hiring a photographer, you should be aware of precisely what it is that you are purchasing. As with stock photography, you need to know what rights are being conveyed. Just as certainly as stock photography will always require payment of a fee, no reputable photographer will ever perform what is legally defined as “work for hire”. You will not be purchasing the actual photographs (which is essentially virtual property anyway now that almost all photography is digital) but the rights to use those photographs. If there are any restrictions on their use, aside from actual ownership itself, be sure to get those limitations defined in advance.

Read the entire online seminar by clicking here.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

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