Thursday, March 1, 2007

A responsible island in the wild-wild-west that is the world-wide-web

Today was an interesting day. I spent the morning with an electron microscope, the afternoon with an ambassador, and this evening with a Member of Congress. I am currently sitting in the lobby of a hotel that is far more expensive than I can afford, crafting this missive. What prompts me to write today? Oh, the world-wide-web. Yes, that wild-wild-west of the photographic landscape, where people with pictures are under the impression that the fact that they have a JPEG means they can put the photos on Flickr, MySpace, or their own company website. Oh, so wrong.

I experienced something interesting – and responsible – by a congressional staffer today. He was tasked with taking photos of the congressman for their website, and what was he doing? Collecting signatures on a “web release form” of every person that he photographed.


For years, I’ve been espousing this issue. In fact, I’ve been doing it so long that the graphics on that web page are from my site two iterations ago. My explanation, which is a part of EVERY estimate I send to clients, can be seen here:

Many of my clients just don’t understand this. They think that they can put whatever they want on the web. They do not understand that the web – especially a company’s website – is just like a printed brochure or corporate sales sheet, and everyone appearing in images there must have releases, or they are at risk of a claim.

When clients just insist, saying they are sure it’s ok, I, not wanting to stand between me and an assignment, but wishing to protect myself from legal risk, send out a form which they are required to sign as a part of the contract/estimate we send.

They are sent a one page document titled:

“Assumption of Risk and Liability Agreement”
"This is an agreement between {my name/address} and {company name/address} regarding the assumption of risk and liability for any claims arising out of the use or misuse of photography by client. Client understands that Photographer has advised them that the use of photographs on internet or intranet web-sites may require releases from recognizable individuals who appear in the photographs.

Client hereby accepts all liability and risk involved in using photographs created by Photographer on their web-site, for which no releases from individuals exist. In the event of a legal claim regarding the use of the images Photographer has created for
Client, Client hereby indemnifies and holds Photographer harmless against any and all liabilities, claims, and expenses, including reasonable attorney s fees, arising from its use or misuse of any of Photographer's work created for Client. Client assumes insurer's liability for all loss, damage, or misuse of any photographs.”
I sign at the bottom, and they sign below this sentence:
"I, Client, also hereby state that I have full authority to enter into this agreement, and be bound to these terms."
I have sent this out since 1999 a handful of times, less than 50 to be sure. Almost all of my clients, upon consultation with their legal department, acknowledge my points, and don’t sign, and don’t put the photos on the web. Many of them thank me for the insights they had not had before.The remaining few? They sign the document, and I feel safe(r) being protected.

I have one client that knows about the form, and has returned more than once asking for an estimate, AND the above form, which they sign.

It was, however, good to see that other responsible people are out there ensuring that they too are not subjecting themselves to potential legal claims down the line.
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Anonymous said...

Absolutely good points made here. The biggest violators, in my opinion, are the photographic sites. They steal mercilessly. But, if someone dared to appropriate their work they'd sue in a minute. Copyright is something they don't respect. What they inadvertantly teach their visitors is that it's ok to take and grab and use content elsewhere rather than own up for their lack of respect. In the end, it's all about good looking pages that turn into hits for their sites. It would be nice to list some of those violators. But, the backlash could be quite severe.

Anonymous said...

Is there anything that you don't think about?

Erik said...

Being that I am learning so much from you, and that I am trying to put together my first photography business, how can I use the verbage and other information you are providing without violating your rights? Is using your contract wording verbatim a violation?

Jim said...

So what are the legalities of using pictures of people that I have shot in an online portfolio? Do I need model releases for that?

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