Model Release and Regret

“Subway Ballet” by J Stimp from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Recently, I received an email from a photographer (not my client) who had a question about the validity of model releases. As I understood the situation, he hired a model (over age 18) to do a photoshoot at his studio. The model was photographed nude for at least part of the shoot. The model signed a model release and was paid for her modeling services.

After the photoshoot, the photographer censored some of the images to comply with Facebook’s rules and posted them online.  The model saw the images and was upset. The photographer asked me if the model had any authority to force him to take the images down.

The Rules of Model Releases
Model releases are standard in the photography world. In most cases, the photographer owns the copyright in their work from the moment the photo is created, not the person in the photo, and the model owns the right to publicize their own image.

The model release transfers the model’s right to publicity in those images to the photographer, which allows the photographer to use the images per the terms of the release. Usually, when I write a model release or a model release template, the model gives the photographer permission to use the images in any way and for any purpose, without restriction.

In general, once the model release is signed, the model’s given up their rights. If the model later regrets signing it, there may be nothing they can do to “unring that bell” unless the photographer is willing to negotiate another agreement – such as a copyright assignment where the model purchases the copyright rights in the images from the photographer.

Think Before You Sign
If you are a model, read the model release carefully. Never sign the release without reading and understanding it. Many of them allow for unfettered use by the photographer, including the right to license the images to others. Treat the images as if they are going to end up all over the internet, on billboards, on products or marketing campaigns you hate. Chances are, that’s not going to happen, but it could.

I write not just as a lawyer, but also a model myself. On a number of occasions, I have written and signed my own model release. Models may give up substantial rights when signing these documents, so it’s not a decision to make lightly.

What Could Invalidate a Model Release
Even if the model release was written by a lawyer and appears to valid on its face, there are situations where a model release might be invalid due to the circumstances surrounding the shoot:

  • The model was minor (Depending on your state, minors may not be able to sign contracts or they can withdraw their consent upon reaching the age of majority.)
  • The model was an adult but lacked the capacity to enter into a legally binding contract. (These people usually have an appointed guardian to sign for them.)
  • The model was intoxicated. (In general, intoxicated people can’t enter into valid contracts.)
  • The model was forced to sign the contract under duress. (You can’t get a valid contract if you use threats or force to get someone to sign it.)

There can also be instances where the photo in question was taken outside the scope of the model release and so the model release does not apply.

I get questions every day about photography, image rights, and copyright. If you are a photographer or model (or aspiring to be one), it’s imperative that you understand these issues. Many disputes can be avoided with well-written contracts and accurate information. I’m constantly doing work in this area, so if you want to keep up with what I’m doing or if you need help, you can contact me directly or check out the other posts and videos I’ve done on the legal side of photography. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Copyright Protection – Ideas vs Expression

Golden Gate Bridge by Julian Fong from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Golden Gate Bridge by Julian Fong from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

A common mistake among professional creatives and amateur is understanding the scope of copyright protection, In the U.S., when you have a copyright, you have protection for your original expression, not the ideas contained within your work.

What Does Copyright Protect
Copyright applies when you have an “original work of authorship” that is “fixed in a tangible medium.” When you have a copyright, you can prevent others from using or claiming your work without permission, but it doesn’t give you a monopoly over the ideas contained within a work.

The image above is a photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge by Julian Fong. By taking this photo, he has the copyright in the image; however, he can’t stop others from taking picture of the bridge. If I went to San Francisco and determined where he was standing, I could take a photo that is nearly identical to his, but that is not a violation of his copyright. He can only stop me from claiming his work as my own or using his work without his permission. He can’t stop me from creating my own picture. His rights only extend to his exact expression, not the idea of capturing an image of this bridge on a sunny day.

The same rules that apply to images also apply to written material. This is why multiple people can write about the same topic and even express similar sentiments without risk of violating the other’s copyright rights. As long as one writer is not deliberating copying the other’s work word-for-word and claiming it as their own, it’s possible for two people to create similar works without violating the other’s rights. It is permissible under the concept of fair use to quote another writer and provide your own thoughts and others’ perspectives about the issue.

What Is Not Protected
Copyright only protects original expression, it does not protect facts, ideas, methods, titles, names, short phrases, or recipes. Copyright can protect and original arrangement of facts, but not when it’s an unoriginal arrangement. That’s why a cookbook may be protected by copyright (original arrangement of recipes and images) but a phonebook is not.

I regularly receive questions from people about what is the scope of copyright protection and whether contributing to a project (such as being the subject of a photo) gives them rights in the resulting product. Copyright, like many areas of law, has few definite answers. Each situation must be evaluated based on its merits.

If you want to talk with me about copyright law and protecting your rights, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content, entrepreneurial tips, and rants that are available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Stolen Images: How to Respond if Someone Uses your Photo Without Permission

Caught in the Act by *sax from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Caught in the Act by *sax from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

What should you do if you discover that someone is using a photo you took without your permission? As the person who took the photo, you are likely the copyright owner, which gives you the right to control where and how your work is copied, distributed, displayed, and used in other works. You may have grounds to sue the person for copyright infringement, but that’s often not a practical course of action, especially if your damages are minimal or the alleged infringer doesn’t have means to pay you the damages.

In many cases, the owner simply wants the person to stop using their image, so what do you do? If your goal is removal of the photo and cessation of further uses, this is one way to proceed.

1. Dial Direct: Contact the suspected infringer directly, inform him/her of your concerns, and request that they remove the image. Many people still believe that they can use any image they find on the internet as long as they give an attribution and a link to the original.

Look for contact information on their website if that’s where the alleged infringement is occurring. If that information is not available, it might be listed on WhoIs from when the person registered the domain.

2. Send a DMCA Takedown Notice: If you can’t contact the person or they don’t respond to your request to remove your image, you can send a DMCA takedown notice to the company that hosts their content. If the image is on a person’s website, be aware that the company that registered the domain is not necessarily the same company that hosts the site. Before I send a DMCA takedown notice, I usually contact the hosting company and verify that they host the site in question. I also ask if there’s a specific email address to use to send DMCA notices or if they have a form on their site for submitting them.

The downside of sending a DMCA takedown notice is that it may result in the image being removed, but only for a short time. The infringer can have the content restored to their site merely by sending a counter takedown notice.

3. Consider the Court or the Court of Public Opinion: If sending a DMCA takedown notice is not effective, you may have to sue the person to get the image removed from their site or account. You may also consider turning to the court of public opinion. If you pursue the latter option, be careful about what you say. You don’t want this person to have grounds to sue you for defamation, false light, or a similar claim.

If you’re interested in seeing an epic copyright battle that was fought in the courts and the public eye, I recommend The Oatmeal vs. FunnyJunk. Be sure to read this update, this one, and this one too.

Of course if you’re in this type of situation, it’s best to consult a copyright lawyer to determine the best course of action based on your specific circumstances. If you want to talk with me about copyright issues, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content, entrepreneurial tips, and rants that are available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Don’t Do Stupid Sh*t – V-Day Edition

Christ-Facepalm by Doc from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Christ-Facepalm by Doc from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Someone recently asked what I would do if someone gave me an ad on the Super Bowl. Now, I don’t follow sportsball so I may not fully understand that demographic, but I would use my air time to share a simple PSA: “Don’t do stupid shit.”

In honor of this Hallmark holiday, I feel obligated to post an unsolicited reminder about being responsible regarding your intimate photos and videos.

Sending Explicit Content
If you have any doubt about whether your crush or significant other can be trusted with an intimate image of you, Don’t Send It! Once they have a copy of your naked selfie, you have no control over who they might show it to or where they might post it online. Sending a sexy image to someone is not a decision you should make lightly. What you might think is a brilliant idea today may become tomorrow’s regret.

Yes, if you find yourself in this situation, you could go after the person for violating your right to privacy or file a police report for revenge porn, but that doesn’t change the fact that this person posted your intimate photo or video online without your consent and there is no way to tell how many people will see it before you can get it removed.

Owning Explicit Content
If you are lucky enough to have a significant other who will send or make intimate content with you, respect that! Do the happy dance and consider yourself lucky. No matter what happens in your relationship, never ever ever post this material online or show it to a third person without your partner’s consent. And don’t even think about putting a hidden camera in your bedroom.

(If you even think about doing any of these things, it is undisputable proof that you are completely unfuckable, and no one should sleep with you again. Ever.)

In the best case scenario, if you share someone’s explicit photo or your sex tape, you will inform the world that you are a complete asshat. In the worst case scenario, you could be sued for invasion of privacy, lose your job, destroy your reputation, and be arrested for revenge porn (which if the new revenge porn law passes in Arizona, will be a Class 4 felony).

When in doubt, keep your camera out of your sex life. Better yet, don’t even bring it into the bedroom, or wherever you’re having sexy time. I get calls and emails almost every week from people who are concerned about revenge porn and their nude photos and sex tapes being posted online or shared with others without their consent. If you have a question about revenge porn or internet law, please contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

I’m also going to revive my newsletter later this year. If you want access to my exclusive content, please subscribe.

Model Release for TFP Photo Shoots

Photo by Joseph Abbruscato, Used with Permission

Photo by Joseph Abbruscato, Used with Permission

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of participating in an open photo shoot at a junkyard in Wittmann, Arizona. Dozens of photographers and models converged on this location to shoot around all day in and on the various broken down vehicles and other surroundings. It was a great event to meet other of photographers and models, and to work with the unique aspects of this setting.

As we entered the junkyard, there were 2 large neon green handwritten poster boards that reminded us that we were entering at our own risk, cameras were in use, and that our picture may be taken without our knowledge. Additionally, they said “If you do something stupid we know where to bury you” and “Don’t do anything you don’t want your mom to know about.”

These signs were brilliant and hilarious, but incomplete given that this notice was the closest thing we had to a model release for this event. As a model, I knew what I was getting into; but as a lawyer, it made me cringe.

Photo by Bob Johnson, Used with Permission

Photo by Bob Johnson, Used with Permission

What is TFP?
This was a TFP photo shoot – Trade For Photos or Time For Pictures depending on your definition. As I understand it, this means it was an open and free event where models and photographers could meet, shoot, and without any money changing hands. After the event, both sides will have had the experience, and the model will get images.

This particular photo shoot was announced as a TFP photo shoot on Facebook without any additional documentation. Without a written contract to the contrary, the photographers are the copyright holder’s to every image they created that day. The models have no copyright rights to the work, not even a license to use the images in their portfolio unless they get that permission from the photographer. Since the models didn’t sign a model release, the photographers can’t sell any of the images they created without risking violating the models’ right to publicity.

Writing a Simple Model Release
An effective model release does not have to be long, complicated, or filled with legalese. It can be a simple contract that everyone has to sign prior to entering the shoot that lays out the ground rules for the event. The model release should clearly state what rights the models give the photographers and with the photographers give the models in return – such as a license to use any image from the shoot in their portfolio or online with an attribution.

The release for this particular event probably should have included a liability waiver given that we were climbing in and on broken down vehicles and surrounded by broken glass and gagged metal. We all should have been required to sign off that we were responsible for our own actions and wouldn’t go after the owners of the junkyard or anybody present in the event that we fell or got tetanus.

I wrote a simple one-page model release for a swimming pool photo shoot last summer that every model and photographer had to sign with their contact information. This put everybody on the same page from the beginning of the event, including the acknowledgment of the “No Jerks” rule, and since everyone provided their contact information, it was easy for models and photographer to connect after the event.

The next time I see an invitation for an open TFP photo shoot, perhaps I should offer to write a simple release for the event, especially if I’m going to be a model there. If you have a question about copyright, model releases, or photography rights, please contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Arizona Reviving its Revenge Porn Law

Figure and Form by The Narratographer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Figure and Form by The Narratographer
from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Arizona lawmakers are trying to bring back the revenge porn law.

The Arizona House of Representatives unanimously passed HB2001 last week. This bill would make it a crime to share “revenge porn” without the person’s permission. The previous revenge porn law was suspended when the court ruled that the verbiage of the law was overly broad. This new version has been tailored to better address the problematic behavior. If this bill becomes a law, it will be

[U]nlawful for a person to intentionally disclose an image of another person who is identifiable from the image itself or from information displayed in connection with the image if all the following apply:
1. The person in the image is depicted in a state of nudity or is engaged in specific sexual activities.
2. The depicted person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Evidence that a person has sent an image to another person using an electronic device does not, on its own, remove the person’s reasonable expectation of privacy for that image.
3. The image is disclosed with the intent to harm, harass, intimidate, threaten or coerce the depicted person.

If this law passes, it will illegal to post your ex-partner’s naked selfie online or show it to a friend, even if your partner voluntarily shared the image with you. The requirement of intent is beneficial; it will protect artists, galleries, and bookstores from criminal prosecution if they inadvertently use a nude image without a model release.

If this law passes, the penalties will be similar to other sexual crimes:

I hope this law passes. Based on the number of questions I get about revenge porn, this is a problem that is not going away on its own. If it passes, I hope there will be campaigns to quickly educate people – in every age group. If you have a cell phone, you have the means to create explicit images and send revenge porn.  Comprehensive, age-appropriate education needs to be disseminated in homes, schools, community groups, and via social media, because ignorance of the law will not absolve you from the consequences.

Stay educated about social media law – this list of revenge porn laws in the U.S. is regularly updated. If you have a question about revenge porn, internet law, or photography rights, please contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

No Easy Answers in Social Media Law

Math Castle by Gabriel Molina from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Math Castle by Gabriel Molina from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Earlier this week I did an interview for Casual Fridays with Tyler Anderson about social media law. I had a great time talking about copyright, trademark, and the FTC rules that apply to social media and the internet in general.

Whenever I do a Q&A on social media law, I tend to get the same types questions over and over again:

  • Can I use any image I find online if I give an attribution and a link to the original? What if I’m not making money off it?
  • I just want to use 10 seconds of a song. Is that ok?
  • If someone sends me a photo, I own it, right? I can do anything I want with it, right?
  • How much do I have to change someone else’s work to qualify for fair use?

As I listened to Tyler’s questions, I realized that he and most social media marketers and entrepreneurs are looking for clear answers. They want things to be as black-and-white as possible, but unfortunately the law is filled with shades of gray, especially in emerging area of law where the technology is advancing faster than the law can keep up.

The best a person can do is to be aware of the basics of copyright, trademark, contract, and privacy laws and assume that there are no easy answers to their questions, even when it seems simple. I also recommend that business owners meet with their lawyers once a year (just like you meet with your accountant) to review their business and standards of practice to make sure that your business is in compliance with the law.

If you want more information about social media law, please check out my book The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat with me, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Pictures on your Phone – Who Owns the Copyright?

No Pants 2015 Photo by Devon Christopher Adams, used with permission

No Pants 2015 – Photo by Devon Christopher Adams, used with permission

Here’s the scenario: You’re out to dinner with a group of friends. You ask your server to take a picture of your group with your phone. Your server obliges. The image is on your device; but who owns the copyright – you, the server, or the restaurant?

To get a copyright, you need an original work of authorship that is fixed in a tangible medium. Taking a photograph of a group of people constitutes an original work fixed in a tangible medium, even when it’s just a digital file on your phone. The copyright holder has the exclusive right to control where their work is copied, distributed, displayed, performed, and what derivative works can be made from it. This person has these rights the moment a work is created – they don’t have to register their work with the U.S. Copyright Office to obtain these rights.

Given this information, who owns the copyright in this situation?

Is it You?
You orchestrated the photo and it’s on your phone. You may be the only one who can physically copy, distribute, and use the photo – at least in regards to the first time it appears away from your device. I can’t say for certain that the law would say you’re the copyright holder since you didn’t physically push the button to create the photo, it’s unlikely that anyone would challenge you for copyright rights.

Is it the Server?
If it wasn’t for the server, this photo as it is wouldn’t exist. From that perspective, the server could argue that he/she owns the copyright since he/she pushed the button that created the image.

Is it the Restaurant?
If your job involves creating intellectual property, your employer is the author and owner of all the intellectual property you create while performing your job tasks. However, a server’s job isn’t to create intellectual property; their job is serving food and providing customer service. The restaurant probably doesn’t have any claim to the copyright in the image.

A restaurant may have policy on their social media profiles or posted in the restaurant that says you grant them a license to use any content you post about them. If you post the image online, they may be able to use the image without asking for additional permission, but they still don’t own the copyright.

So who’s the copyright holder – the server or the person who owns the camera? I’m not sure. I’d have to evaluate the specific facts of the situation. But here’s my question: does it matter? What is the likelihood that there are going to be problems related to this image? Will the server ever see or care if you post the photo? Probably not. And even if they do, I suspect he/she won’t care.

Copyright is a complicated issue, especially when it involves the internet. If you want to chat more about this topic, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.