When you take a photo that may be used on social media, your website or in advertising your company, product or service, you may not have the rights to do so just because you took the photos. In this day and age, it pays to protect yourself and your branding. Your business photography processes could be putting your brand in harm's way.
You just launched your company website, with a beautiful staff page including staff photos. Lots of random office shots taken over the year throughout and pictures of staff and customers interacting. All is well until Mary leaves to find a better job and decides that she wants her image removed from your website…and that is going to cost you money, And didn’t you just reprint your company brochure where you used that photo of Mary. And yes, that very well means that you may have to throw them all away and redesign a new one. But what if you fire someone, and you used their image too. You can see how this could quickly escalate. Are you asking yourself if you should use photos of customers or employees at all?
Your company just had a major promotional event and you took lots of pictures of people buying your product and kids playing on the sidelines. You just got a new smartphone, and photography is your passion. You captured everything, the food vendor and salespeople doing the salespeople thing. Later you think how great it would be to include a few of the photos in one of your advertisements or on your website.
It does not matter if you are taking pictures at your kids' concert or an event that you host if you are using someone’s image to promote a product, you MUST have them sign a model release. Taking pictures of people in public places is legal, but using those photos commercially, in any form of advertising, is a different story. Legally you must get the subjects consent before making a profit off of that image. If a photo suggests someone subscribes to a particular idea, product or service you must get their permission to do so.
Ask. Always ask before you take their photo, and try to get them to sign a standard model release form in advance. And I would recommend making it standard practice to include a model release form in your hiring packet. Asking your employees to sign a model release form that will allow you to use their likeness at any given time, for any length of time, so that the company takes ownership of any images taken, and has the rights to publish them, and use them in future advertising.
Getting a signed model release protects your company from any future legal issues claiming you used an individuals image without their permission both in print and online. You don’t need to have the release written by a lawyer and it can be as short as a paragraph simply stating a photographer or company has the right to use the images of the signed individual. Make sure to have your model or subject sign and date the contract. I am including a sample of a release form at the end of this post.
It is vital that you save these signed contracts so that no one can come back later and accuse you of using their image without permission! This will save you both money and unwanted headaches while ensuring that you can use the photos in your branding, advertising, and marketing material pieces for your company. There is also apps you can download to your phone or tablet which will make the process very timely, and secure.
Your rights as a ‘photographer’ are broader in public places than in private where people expect a certain degree of privacy. Use common sense, if you are shooting a street scene where there is a general group vibe within the public arena, you are probably okay. However, some properties that are open to the public may have their own restrictions on photography and these should be considered and adhered to.
In this fast photo upload frenzy, it is easy to get caught up in the moment and not consider the consequences. When it comes to business, I would err on the side of caution. Reconsider posting anything that would possibly defame someone's character, such as posting the drunk employee photo at a Christmas party. Or an outraged customer rant video. Try to think of any future problems this would cost your company and your brand. Consider having a discussion with employees about such postings as well.
If you choose to take your chances. What chances are you taking? Well, you might just be asked to not use the images in the future or to cease and desist in legal terms. You could have to pay to have signage, brochures, websites redesigned and replaced at your expense. You could be sued for defamation. And you could be sued for compensation. Or you could be fined. You could have your reputation and brand tarnished. Get permission before photographic a subject if possible. Keep contracts on file indefinitely. Check with an attorney if you have any questions regarding your specific situation.