Friday, October 24, 2014

Do I Need Releases for Self-Published Photo Book?

Two shots from "Summer Weather" a photo book featuring
1983 head shots of aspiring TV weather reporters
by Michael Jang 
Dear Rich: I wanted to self-publish a small collection of my photographs of people. As I will try to sell this, do I need model releases for these old pix? Or, can I apply the 15 percent rule and somehow alter the photographs for fair use? It would be helpful to have a 15% rule to set the boundaries for copying or modifications, but unfortunately no such limitation exists in copyright law. A judge recently attempted to set a 10% standard to justify educational copying but that "rule" was struck down by an appellate court.
Copyright and right of publicity. Your question involves two areas of law -- copyright (the right to reproduce the photos) and privacy and publicity rights (the right to prevent others from invading privacy or commercializing your persona). As the photographer, you're the initial copyright owner so you're free to reproduce the images. You would need a release only if you were using the image to sell something (typically, in an ad for a product; but see our advice below regarding the cover) or if the photo was an invasion of privacy -- for example, you trespassed in someone's backyard to photo them when they had an expectation that they were alone. Generally informational/editorial uses such as yours don't require model releases though publishers may still require them as insurance against claims. However, whether a use is considered informational/editorial is a gray area and if the photos are likely to offend the subjects, the chances of being hassled over the publication will increase. Also, if you're using a photo on the cover and in the advertising for the book, you may want to obtain a release for that imagery as that arguably is being used to "sell" the book. (For more on photography and law, check out photo attorney.)