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The Legal Paige - What to do if your client does not want to sign a model release?

What to Do If Your Client Does Not Want to Sign A Model Release?

Imagine this: you have been talking back and forth with your DREAM client, but then right before they book they ask to change your model release clause because they do not want you to publish any of the pictures due to privacy concerns... What do you do? Do they have to sign it? Can you still shoot?!

Do not worry, you have a few different options regarding the model release, BUT overall, yes, the photoshoot can proceed. The purpose of a model release has nothing to do with the actual photoshoot instead, it is about HOW you can use the photos/images. If you have a signed photography contract, you can still perform services. A model release simply allows you, as the business owner, to use the photos/images for advertising purposes (e.g. your website, social media account, CRM system). 


What Is a Model Release?

A model release is either a singular clause in a contract or a separate legal document signed by a client that gives a business owner permission to use images for advertising purposes. A model release needs to be very specific about how and where the images can be used. If a business owner uses the images in a context outside the boundaries stated in the release then that business owner may run into legal issues with their client

Do You Need One to Shoot?

In short, you can proceed with the photoshoot regardless of whether the client signs a model release. A basic client contract regarding services and fees can be entirely separate from a model release. This is important to remember, because you still need to enter into a contract with a client before shooting. It is 100% possible to simply take out your model release clause or customize the one you normally use to comply with a client’s wishes.

Should You Have One?

YES. You should always try to get your client to sign a model release. A model release gives you the ability to use the images online and in a public setting. For example, you may want to use these images at bridal conventions in order to attract potential clients or on your website. This is a great way to promote your business and build your clientele. Further, it provides you legal protection if the client later on says they do not want their images public OR claim they never agreed to it. Oftentimes, clients will change their mind and will try to say that you do not have permission to use the images. When that occurs you can refer the client back to the signed agreement or clause and avoid a serious legal issue. Even if you choose not to use the images it is better to have the release signed for an extra safety net. 

What If Your Client Does Not Want to Sign a Model Release? 

At the end of the day, you cannot force your client to sign anything they are uncomfortable with. The client may have many reasons as to why they do not want their images publicly posted, and it is your responsibility to respect that as a photographer. For instance, clients who are celebrities, influencers, or government officials are often very concerned about maintaining their privacy and may not agree to the traditional model release. And many people are uncomfortable with publicly sharing their children's faces online. But, the biggest issue we see on the photographer’s side is that having a signed model release is built into your overall package price—meaning that if you are not able to use the images, then you are left with fewer images to use for your own marketing advertising. 

With That Being Said, You Do Have a Few Options as the Business Owner:

1. Modify the Model Release Clause Without a Fee

Option one is modifying the clause to become a  Privacy of Images Clause. The language should say that you agree to complete confidentiality of the photos with the exception of anything you and the client have agreed to in writing. A privacy of images clause gives your clients peace of mind knowing that their images will remain private, that you won't share them with any third party (or vendors), and that you won't use the images for marketing purposes. It may be prudent to choose to enter into such a privacy clause without an additional fee in order to simply respect the client’s wishes and to build customer satisfaction.

2. Modify The Model Release Clause With a Fee

Option two is similar to option one… but with a fee attached. This is a way to reimburse your business from the lost advertisement opportunity that would have occurred if you were able to use the client’s images in a public manner. A common example where a fee is attached to a privacy of images clause (and likely additional NDA) when working with celebrities. Celebrities will pay photographers for complete privacy so that they can have exclusive rights to the copyrights of the images and choose where their images are displayed. The fee should be an appropriate amount to encourage clients into signing a model release and appropriately compensate you for the loss of copyright ownership (if applicable), while also taking into consideration the total amount of your package (e.g. usually photographers do around 10-25% of the total fee as a restriction on a model release).


3. Customize The Model Release to Fit Your Client's Requirements

Option three is to customize the model release to meet your client's needs. You are always able to make a “limited use” agreement with your client. This may include guidelines such as only using the images in your printed portfolio, or only on your website and not on social media. If you take this route, make sure that you clearly explain what is in the customized model release so there is no confusion about how the images may be used. TLP has made an option like this that you can input into your existing contract that is included in our Privacy of Images Clause here.

4. Require a Model Release

The last option is to always require a model release. As a business owner, you have the right to implement any policies that you want to. This means that you do not have to enter into a photography agreement without a signed model release. However, if it is your policy to have a signed model release in order to shoot, you should regularly implement the policy. Clients should be aware, as soon as possible, that this is a firm policy held by your company so that everyone is on the same page. 

TLP’s take… when it comes to a model release or the comfortability of your client, you should typically side with your client. You don’t want to make the client feel uncomfortable by trying to convince them to sign it; your client’s happiness should outweigh the importance of using the images for other purposes. However, you are always within your right to charge a privacy fee or never shoot without the release for your own preferences and safety. You have control and need to do what is best for your business.

All TLP full-length photography contracts come with a model release clause! But if you need a model release form for your business, check out The Legal Paige’s Model Release Template, or alternatively use a Privacy of Images Clause.



THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. EVERY SITUATION IS DIFFERENT & IS FACT-SPECIFIC. A proper legal analysis is necessary based on your location and contract. Consult an attorney in your home state for advice regarding your contract or specific legal situation.

See our full disclaimer here.

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