Portrait Rights – When It’s Commercial Use And When It’s Not?


Sometimes the question rises in what case we talk about the commercial use of and image.

It’s quite important to understand that portrait rights are more limited than some people think but they still protect you.

So when it’s commercial use and when it’s not?

Let’s say you have been photographed by a street photographer without knowing and you see an image of you published in a newspaper article. In this case we talk about editorial use. There is no model release signed by you necessary to allow the publisher to use your image. This is also true for digital publications like blogs, news feeds etc.
Think a bit bigger for a moment: it would make journalism impossible if one had to have model releases signed form every person he got in a big shot on Time Square for example.

It’s a different story if the same image is been used in a commercial and/or advertizing in the same newspaper. Probably you wore a certain pair of jeans and some not so smart guy thought that it would be a good thing to use it for that brands commercial materials. In this case you have to give your OK by signing a model release.

If the street photographer from above decides just to publish the image that you are part of as a fine art print (for example) he can do so and we don’t speak about commercial use in this case event though he will very likely earn money with the image he took of you. It’s further totally on him if he let you share in the revenue. I know this can sound bitter but that’s the way it is.

Another question that rises is if celebrities have different rights. Well, let’s talk about that in a future article/video.

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