Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Does Fundraising Documentary Require Photo Releases?

Dear Rich: I’m creating a documentary for a non-profit aquatics club that will provide background information on the organization before fundraising pitches. The documentary covers the organization’s history in relation to the surrounding area and testimonials/interviews from current members, former members, and local residents. To add visual appeal, I’d like to use photographs from a local newspaper (ranging from the 1950’s to the 1990’s), personal photographs, and professional sports team photographs spanning the facility’s history. I’ve already obtained unlimited interview and image releases from the interviewees. I’m going to contact the newspaper about the published images; and I’m going to contact the photographers who took the team photographs. Since many of these photos are old and feature many people, I will unfortunately not be able to obtain personal image releases from everyone. Are these images considered informational since they appear in a documentary presenting facts? Is this documentary considered informational even though it will be used during fundraising activities?  Personal releases shouldn't be required from people whose still images appear fleetingly in a documentary, especially in the context you're describing. (It sounds like you've got the other side of the issue -- copyright permission from the newspaper -- also covered.)
Documentaries raise funds. The fundraising aspect of the project doesn't negate the informational quality of the work. After all, just about every documentary directly or indirectly is tied to a financial cause, even if that cause is the filmmaker's pockets (yes, sad to say, Jackass 3D is considered a documentary). A documentary maker usually only needs a photo release if a person's image or personna is used to sell a product or service, or if you are invading the privacy or saying something that might be considered defamatory (we discuss these standards in more detail in this article).