Releases, Part 1: Location Releases

The first in a three-part series about the different types of releases visual journalists need to obtain the proper rights to publish or distribute their work.

What is a location release?

A location release, also known as a property release, is a legal document signed by the owner of the property in your photograph or video granting their permission to publish or use the material.

When do I have to use one?

Whether you need a location release depends on the type of work you are doing and who you are working for. Here are the questions you should ask yourself before deciding if you need one:

    • Is the property identifiable? If you are including recognizable private property in your video or still image, you’ll need a signed release from the property manager or owner (not a renter). This is particular if you are filming at a business, rather than at an individual’s house.
    • Am I filming on public or private property? You don’t need a location release if you are filming or photographing public property, such as government buildings or parks. If you are shooting from a public space, anything visible is fine to shoot and there is no infringement of the owner’s rights.
  • How will this image be used? Most visual journalists will be using the image or video for editorial purposes. If, however, you plan on ever selling the image for commercial use, the law becomes more stringent in requiring a release.

If you are working for a publication or production company they may have specific — and likely more stringent — requirements. Before publishing or distributing your work, they will want to make sure that all the necessary steps have been taken to protect themselves legally given that, as the publisher, they will be the ones held liable for any copyright or privacy infringement. Check with them before you shoot to make sure you understand their policy.

Where can I find a location release?

You can download a basic location release template from several sites. Here are three:

Video University: Releases for Film and Video

Viva Documentary Downloadable Forms Documentary Video Boot Camp Release Forms

More Tips

If you’re working for a production company or publication, check what their rules are regarding releases before going out into the field.

Make sure to have the release signed before you begin shooting at the location.

Keep a digital backup of your releases somewhere safe, and keep it forever! There have been cases of litigation started decades after a picture was taken. It’s good to be prudent and retain a copy of your releases, just in case.

Organize releases in a way that makes it easy to match them to their footage or images and the location in question.

Please note that every project is different and laws vary from state to state, and country to country. If you are uncertain about what the requirements may be, check with a local lawyer who is familiar with the media regulations in the area. For a more in-depth legal analysis of releases, we recommend you read this article by the American Society of Media Photographers.

Some resources we recommend:

The Online Media Legal Network is a network of lawyers, firms, and school clinics within the U.S., that provide free or reduced-cost legal aid to “qualifying online journalism ventures and other digital media creators.”

The Digital Media Law Project provides free legal advice and resources regarding media law and intellectual property issues.

New Media Rights also provides free or reduced-cost legal services to individual and businesses with questions about media and intellectual property law, including copyright, licensing and First Amendment issues.

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