You may have often come across the term model release form. If you’re a budding professional photographer, this term is more relevant for you. This is because professional photographers, especially those who shoot portraits and street photography for commercial purposes, need to know the legal aspects of using such pictures without the specific and signed consent of the people featuring in them.
A model release is a signed waiver given by the model to the photographer. The waiver (in a printed format known as model release form) contains the name of the model, the address, contact number, date of birth (for age proof) and a few more details. It contains a printed statement which forms the core of the instrument. It usually states (in varying forms) that the pictures have been taken for use commercially and that the model has no objection to the use as such by the photographer or any other person who purchases the rights to those pictures. A lot of the forms will also have a witness box for a witness to the event to put his signature. There are hundreds of variations of these forms and they are available for free on the Internet. You could download one from the Internet, modify it to suit your specific needs and use them whenever required.
The purpose of the model release is to bind the model to his / her commitment allowing the photographer to use the pictures for any commercial or other purposes without being prosecuted at a later time. This is required regardless of the circumstances under which the pictures have been taken. Some photographers might argue that pictures taken in a studio environment or a prepared setup where a professional model has been employed with due compensation, no model release is required. This is not true and prudence suggests that even in a situation like this a model release is imperative. The conclusion comes from a probable denial of the model at a later date to have given consent for the pictures. In the absence of a signed model release, the photographer will have trouble establishing the fact, even if the model had originally given a verbal consent to the use of those pictures.
Model release is also required when you’re shooting pictures in the streets. Again this is only in the event that any of the pictures show an identifiable face. Many photographers prefer to carry a bunch of printed model release form in his camera bag to use in case of requirement.
Model release is not required if you were to use the pictures as a work of art or for any academic publication. The thinking in this case is that the pictures are not sold or used for the purpose of any financial gains / profit from such sale. In the same way a picture which is taken for printing in any newspapers or journals would not necessarily warrant a model release.
Many stock photography websites will have their own rules requiring model releases for photographs clearly showing faces. They will have their own model release form which you can download from their websites and use them to get the consent of the model. Some sites may offer two or more formats of model release form, one for adult models (those above the age of 18), one for children (those under the age of 18, in which case their parents must fill-up the model release) and finally a model release for artistic nudes in which case the along with the signed model release form a picture ID with proof that the model is of at least 21 years of age is also required.