Friday, April 30, 2010

All About Model Releases

imageSince I'm working on a product for managing sports video I occasionally need to use sports media for marketing, demos, tutorials, and other purposes. We have lots of photos and videos of our own kids--especially since my wife is quite the avid amateur photographer. But these sometimes include other folk's children as well as ours.

Not wanting to follow in the footsteps of Virgin Mobile, whose marketers were once sued after grabbing 15-year old Allison Chang's picture from Flickr for use in an Australian billboard campaign, it seemed a good idea to understand the legal requirements for obtaining parental permission before digging into our personal stock.

The best layman's resource I've found on the topic is this 15,000 word treatise compiled by photographer Dan Heller. If that seems like more than you ever wanted to know about model releases, you may prefer the shorter primer. Especially interesting are his reasons why you shouldn't consult a lawyer for advice.

How can it possibly take 15,000 words to explain the ins and outs of model releases? Well, it covers arcane distinctions such as whether I'm also violating Chang's rights by including a picture of the Virgin billboard on this blog. (No, because I'm using the picture for editorial commentary, rather than commercial purposes. And it doesn't matter that this blog includes advertisements or is associated with a software company.)

It turns out that model releases are required (for commercial uses only) when both of the following conditions apply:

  • Subjects in the photo or video are individually recognizable
  • These recognizable subjects appear to be endorsing a specific product, company or belief

Virgin's use of Chang's photo seems problematic because she is recognizable, appears to be endorsing a product, and possibly because her picture was used in a derogatory way. However, the Chang family's lawsuit was dismissed because the US court lacked jurisdiction over the Australian-based Virgin subsidiary.

For my purposes, I've concluded that using our personal stock of sports photos and videos is fine in most cases where the focus of attention is our own children and other kids are in the background and/or unrecognizable.

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Header photo courtesy of: / CC BY-NC 2.0