Copyrights, Licensing and Model Releases


One of the questions I’ve gotten since releasing the DIY Legal Kit surrounds the sometimes confusing matter of photographer copyright protection versus the rights of people photographed the whole concept of licensing.  As the Legal Kit is designed to be the forms needed to cover each of these bases, the delivery was intended for those with a solid understanding of each principle.

However, soon after launch, I realized that the “solid understanding” was not necessarily present, so figured a bit more background would be helpful.  For those of you who already purchased the kit, an upcoming supplemental will be released to you free of charge.  For those of you who would like to get the primer separately though, that will also be made available to give you the primer you need to understand all these nuances.  For now though, I thought it might be helpful to give a bit of an introduction to the concepts here on the blog.  It’s a confusing issue for sure, and one that does warrant a bit of discussion.

Copyright Protection

Copyright protection refers to the rights of an artist to control the distribution of works they create.  Whether you are a painter, a writer, a sculptor, or a photographer, you have the right to control distribution of your own work.  Registering your work with the federal copyright office entitles you not only to the protection of copyright, but also to legal remedies for damages in the event someone tries to use your work without your permission.  The supplemental will cover the process for registering your work with the Federal Copyright Office and answer some of the more common questions there.

Model Release

A model release means a person is signing over the right to produce the image they have been captured in to the photographer.  A photographer may own the copyright to a photograph, but a person also has the right to control their own likeness.  If you do not want a photographer to produce your image in any commercial setting, simply do not sign the model release.  If you are a model, you probably want your image to be used to gain notariety.  So, to do that, you need to release the right to produce images of you to the photographer.

There are always circumstances that can raise questions though.  For instance, does an attendee at a wedding inherently give the photographer the right to use their image?  It was only the bride and groom that hired the photographer, not the attendees!  What about someone who is out on the street taking portraits for $5 a pop?  If you buy the photo, does that grant the photographer the right to use your image?  Not necessarily!  The supplemental answers these types of questions too.

Licensing Your Photos

Probably one of the biggest misconceptions I see around the field of photography, is that clients (and some photographers) see the product as what they are selling, not the service.  The truth of the matter is that as a photographer, it’s more common to get compensation for the service than the photos themselves.  Obtaining a photo, or using a photo afterwards is what’s referred to as licensing.

So, the question naturally comes up from wedding and event photographers – does this mean a couple needs to also pay for the photo album?  The answer is – (as always) “It depends!”  If your pricing structure includes a CD to re-print then no.  If your pricing includes a photo album, then yes!  What about Facebook and Twitter, along with a host of other social media sharing sites?  Are those included?  How does this differ from corporate or studio sessions for head shots or architectural and fine art prints?  These are all great questions and the answers to these and many others will all be included  in the forthcoming supplemental.

Hopefully this has helped answer some of the basic ones that people have had regarding the Legal Kit forms.  The last question you may have at this point is what is included in the DIY Legal Kit itself.  Here’s what you get in the Basic Legal Kit:

1.  Both an adult and minor model release forms (and is accepted at most stock agencies, including iStock, Getty, and Alamy)
2.  A standard event contract
3.  A standard licensing agreement
4.  Schedule A (which itemizes the list of photos included in the agreement)
5.  Schedule B (which coversthe terms of usage).

The thing that’s super cool about these forms in the basic kit is that they are designed so you can add your own logo, company graphic and other design styles to the forms to suit your personal preferences.  They are in standard Word format so you can easily modify them as needed for your locality if desired, rather than the more difficult PDF format that is more common with other Legal Kits of forms.

These all were created by a licensed and practicing attorney here in Colorado, with the intent to make them as applicable as possible in most municipalities.  If you do have concerns though, feel free to consult with an attorney in your own area.  As an aside, it’s always cheaper to review existing forms and documents than to have them create ones from scratch for you!


So, if you haven’t gotten the Legal Kit yet, feel free to pick up a copy now.  Normal pricing is only $30, but if you use discount code DIY20, you can save an additional 20% through the end of September!  If you’d rather wait for the supplemental to come out and get it all together, that’s an option too, but fair warning – the set will be more than the offering right now!  So, consider this a pre-order opportunity!

Last but not least – if you have specific questions you would like to see addressed in the primer, here’s your chance!  My attorney and I are meeting only a few more times to iron out all the Q&A that will be provided, so ask now to make sure your voice is heard in the final release when it comes out in October!  Until then, keep on shootin’!