A model release is a legal document signed by a person depicted in a photograph, granting permission to the photographer or photo buyer for publishing the photograph in one form or another. For stock photography, a model release is a requirement when using images for commercial use. No release is required for publication as news or human interest stories. These are called Editorial photos. In general, no release is required for a photo taken of an identifiable person when the person is in a public space, unless the use is for commercial purposes, promoting a product, service or idea.
Why are model releases required?
Publishing a photo of an identifiable person without a model release can result in civil liability for whoever publishes the photograph. Liability rests solely with the person or company publishing the photo. In stock photography, the photographer is typically not the publisher of the photograph, but rather licenses the photograph to someone else to publish. The photographer is however the person responsible for having the model release signed in the presence of a witness. The legal issues surrounding model releases are complex and vary by jurisdiction.