Pet pictures legal usage rights question

Discussion in 'Business of Photography' started by peter_michelena|3, Jan 8, 2018.

  1. I’m a professional photographer and Pit-Bull rescue advocate. I invited rescued Pit-Bull owners to bring their dogs to my studio for a free photo-shoot for book of Pit-Bull headshots. They were all told that’s what it was for and they all received a substantial set (12-24) of edited images in digital form, in exchange for their participation. I didn’t think I should require model releases, because the subjects are not people. Plus I didn’t charge the owners, who did receive valuable consideration. Am I wrong? Do I need a release to use the images for a commercial purpose like a book or merchandising? Thanks
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2018
  2. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    It may depend where you work. (i.e. country /state etc), yet as a general comment, you probably will require a release to use the images for "Commercial Purposes".

    In my situation, I would require a release to use images of 'property'. In my situation the dog owners "own" the dogs, therefore I would require a "Property Release" (that is NOT a 'Model Release', but the wording is similar).

    Also you need to inquire exactly what "Commercial Purposes" means: again, only speaking from my situation, images used in 'a book' may not necessarily be "Commercial Purposes".

    For responses tailored to your situation, more information is required from you.


    This has little, if anything, to do with "legal copyright question" and I have changed the conversation's title to reflect a more accurate overview of the question
    peter_michelena|3 likes this.
  3. Thanks, William. I’m in Los Angeles, CA. By commercial use, I mean if Iwanted to license the images for use on other things like apparel, or a calendar, etc. Also, I tried to change the title of the posting, realizing it was inaccurate, but was unable to. I appreciate your doing that for me
  4. Also, I want to emphasize that I was not paid and the dog owners did receive valuable compensation in form of edited images. There was a verbal agreement that I would be using the pictures in a book. Does that matter or do I still need a property release from the owner of the dog?
  5. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Not 100% sure of USA law, yet I reckon you will require a release to use those images 'for commercial purposes'. The USA laws in these matters are very similar to ours in AUS (or from your point of view Australian Laws are similar to USA laws)

    (in AUS) The facts that the dog owners received compensation for providing the dogs for the shoot and that you were not paid would be irrelevant: so too would be the fact that they agreed by word of mouth for you to use the images "in a book" - this last technical point being they might have agreed to "use of images in a book", but that is not an agreement for carte blanche "Commercial Use" (you mentioned 'to license the images for use on other things like apparel, or a calendar, etc'). and anyway word of mouth agreements are difficult to bring forward as a 'document' if things do get messy - it ends up being "he said vs. I said".

    From a business perspective, you could weigh up the expected reaction (if any) by the dog owners if you proceed without seeking written documentation from them: if they are on good terms with you likely they would not mind you using the images for possible financial gain- - or possibly they would not know the law anyway, the other side of that argument is - IF they are on good terms with you they would likely not mind providing a signature on a release document, anyway.

    In any case this situation is an example of employing the practice of having a set of (blank) release documents in the camera bag - I don't suggest that every snapshot needs use of a release form, but certain situations stick out as possible 'commercial use ideas' which could be employed later down the track; any "set of" images (such as a series of dogs) lends itself to the idea of a calendar, or a set of coffee mugs, etc.

    There are knowledgeable, working pro photographers on this forum, who work in the USA: I trust one or two will clarify, confirm or correct my comments.


    PS - no problem changing the title for you - good luck with the venture
  6. paul ron

    paul ron NYC

    i dont think you need a release since a verbal agreement is as good as a contract.
    these are the elements of a contract.....

      • offer
      • Acceptance of the offer
      • Consideration or something of value that each of the parties agree to give to exchange to complete the contract
    [as long as you can show these elements, you have a valid verbal contract.
    to better solidify your burdon of proof, use emails or texts where they agreed to the conditions.
    id be more specific with usages. you can still do that via emails n texts.

    since pn doesnt show your location, im assuming you are USA.
    laws vary by location.

    Last edited: Jan 11, 2018
  7. A verbal agreement is not worth the paper it is printed on.
    Start getting written releases as part of the shoot. Will make it much easier moving forward.

    As far as the book project you are probably OK. Check with an IP attorney to be somewhat safe. That said Nussenzweig v. DiCorcia - Wikipedia is worth checking out.

    Image of a gentleman in public used in a book. No release at all. Judge found for the Photographer as it is Art/Editorial.

    Be safe and get a release signed in the future.
  8. Yes, but note that the dog owners also don't have any contract to show that they have any rights to the pictures.
    (In fact, it sounds like they don't have anything giving them rights to the prints that they have.)

    I do know that many studios reserve some rights to the pictures, such as the ability to use them for advertising, and that clients likely don't read the contract well enough.

    Now, look at it the other way. Say a dog owner wants to use a picture for similar commercial use.
  9. paul ron

    paul ron NYC

    It is always assumed (USA) the photographer has copyrights and ownership to the photos if there is no contract saying otherwise. This would more than likely wind up in a small claims court since its a private citizen filing claim, where the burden of proof lies more on the plaintiff, but its the defendants job to tilt the scales in his favor to win. Its not like criminal court.

    The verbal agreements are binding as a contract if the elements I listed before are proven. That can easily be proved by emails, texts and witnesses. Most times without any proof... if the story is REASONABLY logical and sound, the judge will side with that person's testimony. The judge will test each side for validity. Been there done that.

    If you were suing a corporation (been there done that), your verbal agreement is not worth a single red cent... they will drag you through depositions to sneak a contract statement one way or another and force you to spend tons of money on lawyers before you even see a judge. Thats where you cut your losses and lesson learned, CONTRACT CONTRACT CONTRACT!

    BUt as a professional photographer, there should always be some kind of release or usage agreement signed regardless. It can be on the back of a receipt or a sliver of toilet paper, as long as the party agrees and signs it.

    oh this is an old thread.....
  10. When in doubt, get a release. It's called CYA.
  11. You can't get a signed release from a dog, and you don't need to. Dogs are considered property. I don't agree with that and think it's stupid and absurd, but there it is. It's why you can't sue your vet if they botch an operation on your pet for more than the "replacement" value, or about $30 from the pound. If you took photos of someone's property on a shoot and they agreed to take photos as payment in kind, then you're good. Theoretically, anyone can sue anyone for anything, but this looks good to go unless you showed the pet in an inappropriate manner or otherwise made fun of them, but how can you make fun of property? I hate all these ridiculous legalities.
  12. Asking a more general question, what rights do professional photographers have to the pictures they shoot?

    I do know that many show prints in the store window, and otherwise display them.
    Presumably that is in the fine print that no-one reads in the contract, but without a contract, what
    rights do they have for commercial use?

    It seems to me that copyright law protects the photographer but not the subject.

    The photographer can make and sell as many copies as desired, but they paying
    client subject has no rights to sell them.
  13. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    Seems to Me, (you, whomever) pales to insignificance in the face of the Law. If common sense ruled, there would be far fewer Lawyers - certainly less wealthy ones!
    IMO when potential legal issues issues arise or are pending, in life or in business, it makes sense to consult a professional.
  14. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    It (again) depends where you work.

    As a general comment, the question depicts a scenario which we'd should expect not to exist. What I mean is, I would expect a professional photographer to have a contract.

    However let's say for the sake of the exercise that there is no contract, and I make some photos of people or property and then I want to use those images for 'commercial uses'. Then as a general comment: without a Release for USAGE of the images, signed by ALL the people in the image (or their Legal Guardian if under age) or signed by the owner(s) of the property in the image I cannot use that image for 'commercial purposes.'

    This applies to me and the laws might be different elsewhere, but I think it is reasonably similar in the USA and most western societies.

    There is often great confusion about the differences between who has:

    1. the right to make a photo
    2. the copyright of the photo
    3. the right to use the photo

  15. I suspect many studios have a contract giving them the most rights they can, and the customer the least.

    As above, many studios display photos in the window, or other places in the studio.
    I suppose they could specifically request permission, but it could also already be in the contract.

    It isn't so obvious that is commercial use. It is obviously intended to show customers
    their work quality, but isn't directly commercial.

    I suspect that if a customer wanted to buy one from the wall, unrelated to that person,
    the studio would refuse.

    Even if it is in the contract, it would be strange for a studio to start selling shirts, books,
    or other goods with pictures of customers without specific release. Even without legal
    problems, bad publicity can be hard for sales.
  16. Reminds me of one of the more unusual ones when our kids were small.

    It was, I believe, setup in a grocery store. I presume there was a contract, but don't
    remember it, and a likely small fee, as I wouldn't have been in the mood for a larger one.

    But the strange thing is that we got the negative. One 4.5x6cm (120) negative.
    (I think one 8x10 print, too.) I presume mailed along with print, but that was
    some years ago. Seems to me that, unlike many studios, it is one shot
    per subject.
  17. Contradiction:

    My photo
    Their image

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