We’ve discussed what a Model Release is.
Model Release is a way for photographers to secure their rights to publish the images they’ve taken.
Now, let’s talk about models.

What secures the rights of the model to use the images in his/her portfolio? Can he/she use them? The photographer holds the copyright to the photos he takes and, technically, nobody but him can use this photos without photographers permission.

— But don’t I own the pictures? They are of me!

No, you don’t own them. The photographer does. The photographer owns the copyright, and the right to publish the pictures. You can change that, if he is willing, by written contract, but it is a very unusual photographer indeed who will agree to sign off the copyright to the model.

— Wait! I can’t publish my own pictures?

Yeah, pretty much. The photographer owns them, and owns the right to control publication.
To publish them yourself, you need a usage license from the photographer.

Usage License

A Usage License is permission from the photographer to do things that, without his permission, only he can do. It can be oral or in writing. It can be exclusive (meaning only you get a license, but then it has to be in writing) or nonexclusive (meaning he can license other people to make copies and display the images). It can be total (he can assign you all the rights he has under copyright law, but don’t hold your breath for that one) or limited (he can let you do some things, in some places, for a while). Although it is dealing with different law and different rights, it’s analogous to a Model’s release, only in the other direction.

Limited Usage License

Why the Usage License we’re discussing is called “Limited”? Well, in many cases the photographer would sign off Full Exclusive Rights to the images he takes. For example if the photographer is a company’s employee, and according to the contract all rights to the images he takes belong to the company.

Describing exact ways the images can be used by the model makes it Limited, that’s it.

So where do I get one?

One simple way: ask for it.

On a commercial shoot, there is no point in even asking. The photographer would get chewed out big time by his client if he let you publish the pictures before the client did.

If you are paying for the shoot, you should ask, and you should get a license. The photographer should grant you a license to use the pictures in whatever way you paid for.

If it’s a test shoot, or a TFP project, you should consider asking the photographer. If you want to do more than use your pictures for your own personal purposes, and to promote yourself as a model, you ought to ask for a license to let you do those other things.

But first, on a fairly high percentage of test and TFP shoots, when you ask for a usage license from the photographer, he will say, “Uh . . . what?”. Unless he is a working commercial photographer, he may not know what they are, or have one handy. This is a good time for you to have one ready for him to sign. There is no rule that says a model can’t be smarter, or more prepared, than the photographer.

What does a Usage License Agreement have to say?

A typical Usage License Agreement should contain:

  • The shoot date and description
  • Usage Rights explained (exact ways the images can be used listed)
  • Parties credentials and signatures

Yes this is that easy!
Here is a simple example of Usage Rights explained:

I (Photographer) hereby grant the Model the rights to use the Content in a non-commercial way limited to the Model’s portfolio (online or printed), Model’s composite card, using on social media websites and printing for personal use. The developed images can not be cropped, edited, or altered in any other way and have to be used as provided. The Photographer’s name shall always be credited on or with the images.

Or, another one, worded in a different way:

Model agrees that, while he/she may use the Photos for purposes related to the promotion of Model’s modelling business, including, but not limited to: advertising, portfolios, composite cards, exhibitions, contests, and promotional web sites, Model will not sell or otherwise transfer publication rights to any of the Photos without Photographer’s prior consent.

A separate document?

Should a Usage License be a separate document or can it be included into the Model Release or Shoot Contract? Well, both ways to do it will work. Of course these can be separate documents: a Model Release (goes to the photographer) and a Usage Rights (goes to you, the model). Just two pieces of paper.


Or, you can have one contract with a Model Release and a Limited Usage Rights sections in it, signed by both parties. Note: you will both have to get identical copies then. Usually the photographer is supposed to give, send, text or email the copy of the contract to the model.

So, either you will have two different documents to sign (twice more different forms to print), either just one document but copied twice (twice more work signing them or making copies). You choose.

More examples!

Here are a couple more examples of Limited Usage License Agreements you may want to use creating your own, suiting your own needs:

Photographer hereby grants a limited license to Model, the right to reproduce and display the images described below for the purpose of self-promotion of the model only. Self-promotion is described as web, print portfolio and promotional modeling card only. All other uses, including by 3rd parties, are to be negotiated with the photographer prior to such use.

All uses of the Photos by Model shall be for non-commercial purposes only. Non-commercial use is limited to self- promotional usage, such as on-line photo galleries and websites, print portfolios, and/or other non-commercial electronic or print self-advertising, and shall have the sole purpose of promoting Model’s career. The Photos may also be used by Model for contests or competitions provided Photographer shall be notified which Photos have been submitted for such purposes and shall be given appropriate credit for the Photos in such contest or competition

Photographer grants Model limited non exclusive reproduction rights to the Images as follows:
The Model may use the Images for the following personal and self-promotional activity for an unlimited time: Activity with modeling and promotional agencies, online or offline. Personal, social and business networking websites (e.g. Facebook.) Business and personal websites/blogs (owned and maintained by the Model.) Online and offline portfolios (owned and maintained by the Model.)
The Model may not sell or give the Images to any third party for use, commercial or otherwise, without the Photographer’s consent and agreement upon financial compensation where relevant. Model may request from Photographer the right to license, sell or otherwise confer any reproduction rights to the Images to any third party for a period of five (5) years from the date of this Agreement

Whoa! Do I really need all this?

You may not need it at all.
It depends on what type of the shoot it is, what do you expect from the shoot and how do you intend to use the resulting images. If it’s just for fun, test, experimenting, and you are not going to get into modeling business, and don’t participate in any shoots that potentially can hurt you in the future (nude, for example) — you don’t need to bother with any documents at all. Just go and have fun!



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