Copyright and Model Release Forms

‘Clearly copyright cannot easily be defined.

It’s a complex piece of legislation which is constantly changing and some aspects

of that law, clearly don’t sit easily with others’
 – beyond the lens 2003


Copyright itself opens up a whole can of worms. It opens up the right to authorise or even restrict your work whilst being protected by a collection of rights that also cover the author, the properties used and human rights and covers nearly every kind of art form that can be sold or produced. I also didn’t realise until recently that there is actually no system for registering copyright in the United Kingdom, it exists automatically on your piece of work as soon as it has been created. This is pretty damn cool, as it means are work is always protected without any payments or any hassle. Your work is protected under the Copyright Design and Patents Act 1988, a law that was hard fought for to make photographers as equal as fine artists. However, due to the fact photographers have not always had copyright laws, this has created confusion, as work created before 1988 still applies to the previous laws. There are still a few twists and turns in the new law. The copyright’s definition of a photograph “‘Photograph’ means a recording of light or other radiation on any medium on which an image is produced or from which an image may by any means be produced, and which is not part of a film’(Guy Farrow, Beyond the Lens) . This means that if your photograph was part of a film still, it would come under the film copyright law instead. The duration of the copyright law on your work of art lasts for the life of the photographer, plus 70 years, which is now equal to the fine art copyright law.


When thinking about maintaining copyright, it’s best to create a contract when working with a client that states that you maintain the copyright of the work produced, otherwise the copyright of the commissioned work will fall in the hands of your client if their own contract asks for the copyright. You should only really assign copyright to a client as a last resort, regarding they give a good price/deal, as if you assign copyright, there will be no more payment of the image or that array of work to you. Not only will it create no payment for you, but the company could re use your work in and advertisement or campaign that could damage your reputation. Also, a client would need to be aware that they do not own the rights to the work produced for a one off payment through a sum of money. Things start act differently when underemployment however. If you create work as an employee, your work will belong to your employer. The same goes for if you’re the employer and you have photography assistants; the work does not belong to the person who has pressed the shutter button or the stylist, but the author of the work. You also have to make sure that you have written any of your ideas down as a plan on paper, otherwise you can’t sue anyone for plagiarism if they steal your idea, for you cant copyright your imagination.

On another note, it’s very important to create model release forms for any model you use in your photography. If you dont make you models sign one of these forms, it could result in a complaint or even a sue from the person you had taken a photo of if they weren’t expecting it to appear on a magazine or website etc. this could also result in you having to dispose of the photograph. There have been accounts where people have placed a photo from a wedding they a shot at in their portfolio, and a person in the photograph made a complaint, forcing the photographer to take the image down. Due to this being a liability waiver, it’s a great idea to keep a model release form with you at all times, granting permission for you to publish the photographs you have taken.


An example of copyright infringement is the Vanilla Ice versus Queen and David Bowie case. Vanilla Ice had taken the main riff from Queen and Bowie’s collaboration song “Under Pressure” for his song “Ice Ice Baby” and distorting the riff in a minuscule manner. When first accused of plagiarism from the song, Vanilla Ice denied anything of the sort, saying they sound nothing alike. However, the copyright holders to “Under Pressure” threatened to file suit against Vanilla Ice, who soon settled with an apology and an out of court undisclosed sum of money.

Check here to see Vanilla Ice’s excuse:


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