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  • Writer's pictureLéonie Stolberg

Image Rights Contracts: A Short Guide for Photographers and Models

In my practice, and in the photography industry as a whole, the question of image rights is of vital importance to photographers and models alike.

In order to establish a climate of trust and to clarify the issues at stake, thus guaranteeing a fruitful and lasting collaboration, it is often essential to draw up an image rights contract.

I understand that familiarizing oneself with the ins and outs of this legal aspect can be daunting, especially for those new to the world of photography, whether as a model or a photographer simply for the fun of it. Having started out photographing friends and comrades, I'd like to share with you a lesson that will benefit you, as I've only been doing this since 2024!

In this article, we'll explore what such a contract is, why it's essential, for whom it's intended, what it should contain, the precautions to take when drafting it, as well as the distinctions between an image rights contract, the right to broadcast and the right to photograph.

happy reading :)

What is an Image Rights Contract?

An image rights contract is a written agreement between a photographer and a model that sets out the terms and conditions for the use of images resulting from a photo shoot. It specifies the rights and responsibilities of each party with regard to the use, reproduction and distribution of the images.

They are an essential tool for ensuring transparent, fair and respectful collaboration between photographers and models. They offer legal protection, clarify expectations and contribute to the professionalism of the photography industry.

Even if you're not a professional, or not yet ;) I'd advise you to draw one up from what's available on the internet, or to hire someone who's done a legal course or study on the subject. Beware: tacit agreements are worthless, unfortunately... so in the meantime, if you've only got agreements via the written conversation you've had, screen what you've agreed to and create your image rights contract by adding your clauses!

Why make Image Rights Contracts?

Image rights contracts are essential to clarify expectations and avoid misunderstandings between photographer and model. They protect the rights of both parties and clearly define the scope of authorization granted for the use of images. In the event of a dispute, a written contract can serve as legal proof of the agreements reached.

Who are Image Rights Contracts for?

Image rights contracts are intended for anyone involved in a photo shoot: the photographer, the model and sometimes even third parties who may use the images, such as M.U.A., designers who have collaborated with you, a venue, etc.

What to include in an Image Rights Contract?

An image rights contract should include the following elements:

Identity of the Parties: Names and full contact details of the photographer and model: date/place of birth, e-mail address, telephone number, address, national registration number (or copy of model's identity document only).

Description of the Session: Date, place and nature of the photo session ( payment or in collaboration, etc.) , number of photos made or rendered.

Rights Granted : Authorization to use images for specific purposes (commercial, editorial, promotional, etc.).

Duration of Authorization: Period during which the photographer is authorized to use the images.

Responsibilities: Commitments of the parties with regard to copyright and image rights.

For models wishing to remain anonymous: it is crucial to discuss together the measures to be taken to guarantee this anonymity. This may involve not being physically recognizable in the photo, or simply asking that their name not be mentioned. In some cases, both options can be combined. In this case, the model may choose to cede all rights to the photographer, allowing free use of the images without the risk of compromising their anonymity.

Signatures: I advise you to initial all sheets on both sides, and to sign at the end of the contract.

What to look out for in an Image Rights Contract?

When drafting or signing an image rights contract, it is crucial to pay attention to the following points:

Clarity: Make sure all clauses are clear and understandable to all parties involved.

Legal considerations: Make sure the contract complies with local laws on copyright and image rights. Even if, in the end, you're happy with your clauses, that's great!

This clause stipulates that the model and photographer agree not to act in any way that might damage reputation or image. In other words, if the model and photographer agree not to undertake any actions or behaviors that might disparage reputation or professionalism in the course of their collaboration.

Here are some examples of behaviors or actions that could constitute a breach of this clause:

By complying with this clause, you agree to maintain a respectful professional relationship with the photographer/model and to help preserve his or her reputation and professional image.

  1. Make defamatory or prejudicial statements. You will not, either publicly or privately.

2. Disclose contractual terms that are private.

3. Use images captured during the shoot in a way that is detrimental to the photographer, for example by associating them with negative comments or using them in an inappropriate context.

4. Acting unprofessionally during the shoot, which could tarnish the photographer's image by association.

5. Share confidential or private information about the photographer without consent.

6. Disclosing screenshots of private discussions.

Differences between Image Rights Contracts, Broadcasting Rights and Photography Rights

Although they are often linked, it is important to distinguish between an image rights contract, the right to broadcast and the right to photograph:

Image Rights Contract: A specific agreement between the photographer and the model concerning the use of images resulting from a photo shoot.

Right to Broadcast: The right to publicly broadcast an image, usually held by the copyright holder (the photographer), but may require the model's consent depending on local laws.

Right to Photograph: The right to take photographs of a person or subject, usually held by the photographer, subject to compliance with local laws on image rights and privacy.

If the terms of an image rights contract are not respected?

If the terms of an image rights contract are not respected, there may be legal consequences for the party in breach. The action taken in the event of non-compliance often depends on the seriousness of the breach and the specific provisions of the contract itself. Here are some potential actions that could be taken in the event of breach of contract:

Formal notice: The aggrieved party can begin by sending a formal notice to the breaching party, informing it of the breach of contract and requesting it to comply with the agreed terms within a specified timeframe.

Negotiation: In some cases, it may be possible to resolve the dispute amicably by negotiating with the breaching party to find a mutually satisfactory arrangement.

Contract termination: If the breach is serious and irreparable, the aggrieved party may choose to terminate the image rights contract. This terminates all contractual obligations between the parties, but can also lead to further disputes over damages.

Legal recourse: If an amicable resolution is not possible and the offending party refuses to comply with the terms of the contract, the injured party may take legal action to obtain compensation for damages suffered and/or an injunction to enforce compliance with the terms of the contract.

A special mention for the problems I've encountered as a photographer:

I've had some crazy stories in the past, simply because I chose to naively trust the people I worked with, favoring tacit agreements. These experiences have taught me a valuable lesson: from now on, I'm careful to protect not only my work, but also myself!

Five years ago, I had the opportunity to photograph someone I considered a friend, who had signed a contract stipulating the terms of our collaboration. The contract, drawn up carefully and transparently, included specific clauses concerning the model's anonymity, the absence of any physical identification on the photos, and the agreement to exhibit the images. Everything had been agreed and validated by the model herself.

Unfortunately, a few years later, this person changed his mind and demanded the destruction of the exhibited photos - photos in which I had invested time, energy and financial resources. While I understand the model's concerns, it is regrettable that the work and investment I had put into this project should not be taken into consideration. That's why the contract is important...

According to the law and after careful verification of my rights, it was clear that I had the right to use the photos as agreed in the original contract.

However, the situation took an unpleasant turn when the model publicly defamed my work and leaked screenshots of private conversations as well as confidential clauses of the contract.

It's important to note that the contract in question included clauses designed to maintain a professional and respectful relationship between the parties, which unfortunately was not respected in this case. The disclosure of confidential clauses and the public defamation had repercussions not only on my work, but also on my personal sphere, particularly in my school and social environment.

This experience has affected me deeply and made me reflect on the wider implications of photography, as well as the need to defend my rights as a photographer. It's crucial to recognize the importance of contracts in this field, and to understand the steps you need to take to protect your work and your reputation. I know it's not an easy thing to do, but with real goodwill you can do anything.

I subsequently discovered that the person had been using the photo, right up to the present day, even though he had expressly stated that he didn't want to see it and had asked for it to be destroyed. This revelation led me to reflect on the true nature of the problem. However, I'd prefer to save the rest of my stories for a new article entitled "The stories that got me going."

Reflecting on this situation, I am confronted with the question of defending our rights when the contract is called into question despite its initial validation.

This question raises complex issues and underlines the importance of seeking solutions that are fair and respectful to all parties involved.

My final piece of advice:

If I could share one final piece of advice, it would be this:

never underestimate the importance of clear and transparent communication when setting up a contract.

Make sure all parties fully understand the terms and conditions by asking several times if necessary and explaining each point with the person concerned.

Personally, I always include an open clause in my contracts, allowing models to express what bothers them or what they'd like to add. Their comfort and satisfaction are paramount.

Sending the contract by e-mail is an excellent way of keeping a written record of the agreement. And don't hesitate to copy the contract to someone you trust, who can support you if necessary.

For models, I urge you to follow your instincts. If something doesn't feel right or doesn't match your expectations, don't hesitate to communicate and say "no". During the session, always express how you feel, as good communication is essential for everything to go smoothly.

If you don't feel comfortable coming alone, ask the photographer if it's possible to be accompanied, or if you can have access to the contract before the session to read it calmly.

I've had to deal with models who made me feel uncomfortable, so it's important to say no or bring someone with you who makes you feel at ease.

In short, whether you're a photographer or a model, mutual respect, open communication and concern for each other's well-being are essential to guarantee a successful and positive collaboration.

Thanks for reading :)

Léonie Stolberg

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