Photo Attorney

Jul 28, 2005

The Model Release Passes Muster

Photographers often follow certain legal practices to protect themselves, but cannot be sure that they will work when challenged. One such example is using a model release to obtain a model's permission to use photographs taken of him or her in specific ways. The good news is that the standard model release was recently put to the test, and it passed with flying colors.

In 2002, Russian tennis player, Anastasia Myskina, who then was 20 years old, posed for photographs by Mark Seliger. Seliger first photographed Myskina for the Gentleman's Quarterly's 2002 "Sports" issue and then photographed her topless. Myskina had signed a model release that said she consented to the use of her name and the pictures by the magazine and by "others it may authorize, for editorial purposes."

After winning the French Open in 2004, a Russian newspaper published the topless photos. Myskina filed an $8 million lawsuit against the publisher, Conde Nast Publications Inc., Gentleman's Quarterly and Seliger alleging emotional distress and economic injury.

The New York judge who presided over the case held that Myskina's rights were not violated despite her insistence that she did not understand the signed model release and was not fluent in English at the time. Instead, the Judge stated that, "absent allegations of fraud, duress or some other wrongdoing, Myskina's claimed misunderstanding of the release's terms does not excuse her from being bound on the contract. Nor can she avoid her obligations under the release because of her purported failure to read its contents."

Even though the photographer allegedly told Myskina that the topless photos were for "himself," the Judge found that the oral agreement contradicted the plain language of the written agreement and was not admissible. The Judge then dismissed the case.

As a photographer, it is important to protect yourself as much as possible. Fortunately, the model release is one way that has been proven to be effective.

Take my advice; get professional help.