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Photography

When To Use Release Forms For Video

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Imagine creating an online video for a business, then getting a call months later saying an employee featured in the video has quit and wants his scenes removed.

Or recording at a location all day, when suddenly the property owner shows up and says you’re not allowed to be there.

As a video producer, you need to cover your assets. The best way to do that is with release forms.

Hand with pen signing a document
Image by Jarmoluk/Pixabay

What Is a Release Form?

In simple terms, a release is a signed document that says you have permission to use images of a person, location, or assets such as logos and photographs in your video.

Its purpose is twofold:

  1. To protect you from potential lawsuits for claims such as invasion of privacy or defamation.
  2. To give you options for selling the rights to your video in the future, or showing the video as part of your portfolio.

When To Use a Release Form

Now for the tricky part: when to use release forms. The first factor to consider is whether you’re creating the video for editorial or commercial purposes.

Editorial Use

Editorial use refers to entities like TV news, newspapers, and magazines. Their main purpose is to inform and educate. They use video in a non-commercial, non-promotional way. If you’re making a video for a news organization, you generally don’t need release forms.

News team interviews man in arena
Image by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Terry Matlock/Wikimedia

Commercial Use

Commercial use refers to pretty much everything else (aside from home use). If the video is part of a process to make money, it’s considered commercial. So if you’re making a video to appear on a company’s website or to promote a product, for example, you’ll need release forms.

The next consideration is whether the location where you’re recording is publicly or privately owned.

Public Locations

Generally speaking, you don’t need a release if you are in a public place like a city street or main square. By being in a public area, we all give up a reasonable expectation of privacy.

But just because you can record people in a public place, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

Let’s say you’re making a video to promote a city. You head downtown and shoot a wide shot of people walking on the sidewalk. Most people wouldn’t object to being in the shot, knowing that the purpose of the video is to show what a great city they live in.

Crowded sidewalk

But imagine using that same shot in a video about a weight loss product. Those people might think you’re implying that they’re overweight. Technically, you’re allowed to record them—but you’d be better off finding a way to record so people aren’t recognizable (more on that later).

Another thing to be aware of: some cities may require you to buy a film permit to record in public spaces.

I once created a promotional video for a candidate in a municipal election. He wanted to end the video with an on-camera statement recorded on the steps of city hall. We figured no problem: in Canada, government buildings are public property. However, when a security guard appeared and determined the video was for commercial and not editorial purposes (i.e. the news), he told us we needed a filming permit.

Private Locations

Places like malls, ballparks and zoos might seem to be public property, but they’re aren’t. They’re privately owned. If you’re recording video for personal use, or to share with family and friends, no problem.

Crowd in stadium
Gold Coast Suns Crowd by Michael Coghlan/Flickr. CC BY SA 2.0

But if you’re recording on private property for commercial purposes, you need permission from the owner or someone authorized to act on their behalf. A verbal yes or handshake isn’t enough: you need to get it in writing.

Types of Release Forms

There are several types of release forms:

  1. Appearance Release: This is the most commonly used release form. Anytime someone can be identified in a commercial video (i.e. you can see their face clearly), you should have them sign an appearance release. This is written proof that they consent to their image being used. 
  2. Location Release: For recording on private property. A location release is a binding contract between a video producer and a property owner that grants you permission to shoot at their location.
  3. Footage/Graphics/Photos Release: For using assets owned by someone else in your video. For example, a company wants you to include their logo at the end of the video, or several before and after photos.

So where do you get these release forms? You can find many templates online. They’re a good starting point, but laws differ in every country, so have a lawyer look over any document to make sure you’re properly covered.

Helpful Tips

Regardless of which form you use, always get it signed up front. Trying to track down people afterwards is a major hassle. And if they refuse to sign, you won’t be able to use any shots they appear in.

Remember, you only need a release form if someone can be identified. Here are some creative ways to get around the need for release forms:

Conclusion

So just to recap, you do need a release when:

  • the video is for commercial purposes
  • a person can be identified
  • you’re at a privately owned location
  • you’re including assets owned by someone other than yourself

You don’t need a release when:

  • the video is for editorial purposes
  • people can’t be identified
  • you’re in a public location

Don’t forget to make lots of copies of your releases and keep them with you at all times!

*Note: the information provided here is a general discussion of the subject matter, for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice.

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