Hey there, I’m Danielle. Welcome to episode 21 of Simplifying Legal for Small Business Owners. Today, we’re talking about when and how to use a likeness release.
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Now, let’s get into today’s topic.
Disclaimer: As always, before we get into today’s topic, a quick disclaimer. This podcast is meant to provide you with legal information only. It’s not legal advice and does not create any type of attorney-client relationship between us. Please don’t take any action without consulting your lawyer first.
To start today’s discussion, let’s first talk about what a likeness release is. A likeness release is an agreement that gives you the permission to use another person’s likeness, which could be their image or photo, and releases you from certain types of damages based upon your usage.
Even though likeness release is usually the most well-known, you can use a release for a number of different areas.
For example, you might need a release to list someone’s name or their biographical information. You may want a release for video footage. Or a voice recording.
I often hear people use the phrase likeness release to refer to other categories too, not just likeness. So it’s really important to know what you need in your release and how to phrase it.
For purposes of today’s episode, I’ll just use the term release and we’ll talk more about determining what is covered. When I refer to the released material, I mean the material that is covered by the release, whether it is likeness, biographical information, voice, or something else.
Structure of Likeness Release Agreement
Now that you know what a release is, let’s talk about how they are typically structured.
A release will typically be between an individual and an individual or company who wants to use certain released material. For example, if I am using models for a photoshoot for branded website photos, I will obtain a likeness release from those models.
Additionally, if the related material is from a minor, you may need to enter the release with the minor’s parent or guardian.
Grant of Rights
The agreement often starts with a grant of rights. This is where the individual grants you the right to use the released material.
In a likeness release, it might say something like: you grant us the right to use your image, visual likeness, or photograph in all forms and media.
For biographical information, it might say something like: You grant us the right to use your biographical information, including, but not limited to name, age, and other personal information that you conveyed to us in all forms and media.
Each of these examples states that the released material can be used in all forms and media, which is a really broad release. Of course, you can narrow this, if needed.
Limitation and Permissions
Next, the release may say that the released material may be used in a certain way. For example, if you are going to use the content in a video series on your website, you may want to say that the released materials would be used on your website and provide additional details about the intended usage.
The release may then go on to state that you will use the released materials for no other purpose. If you are reserving the right to use it however you want, you need to make sure that your desired usage is covered and that you have removed any limitations.
A release will typically state that you don’t have to obtain any further permission to use it for the reasons stated in the release.
Next, a release will typically include authorization of some sort. This will state that the person signing has the authority to grant the rights in the release.
Release from Damages or Causes of Action
Next, a release, true to its name, will include a release. This states that the individual releases you from any damages or causes of action related to your usage of the released materials, such as a likeness or biographical information.
There may be some additional boilerplate language, such as the state whose law will control.
Most releases are fairly short; however, it might be longer depending upon what type of content is included. Additionally, some other agreements will contain a likeness release as a clause within that other agreement, rather than something separate. I’ll discuss some examples of where these often come up in a moment.
Usage of Likeness Release and Common Examples
Now that we’ve walked through what is included in the release, let’s talk about how to use them.
If you are using someone’s likeness, biographical information, or voice, I usually recommend that you obtain some kind of release so that it is clear how you can use the materials. This also gives you protection from a lawsuit or claim that you are using something without authorization.
For example, I’ve been a guest on a number of podcasts. Many don’t require a release, but I know that they will use the headshot that they’ve requested, my bio, and the interview on their show. I do not, however, expect them to use it to create a paid product.
In this example, if the host was planning to use the interview for other purposes, I would recommend obtaining a release so that the person being interviewed is clear as to how the content will be used.
If you’re including other people in images or video content, you should consider having a release available.
In some circumstances, the release could include other information too. For example, I’ve done a lot of work with fitness professionals. If you are doing a video workout, you may want to get the likeness release from those participating in the workout, but you could also include a waiver in the event of an injury or an assumption of risk. At that point, it is probably moving beyond just a release and moving toward a different type of agreement that also includes release language.
If you are appearing in someone else’s content, you may be asked to sign a release. Be sure that you are comfortable with the ways that they will use the content. If you aren’t sure what something in the release means, definitely confirm. Some companies will include extremely broad release language, but they’re only planning to use footage from an event as b-roll. You can always ask them to narrow the usage if needed.
There are also some other common places where you may find release language included in a broader agreement.
First, if you are a speaker, you may have an agreement with the event coordinators which would include a likeness release both for the event and for the promotional materials for the event.
Next, many sponsored content agreements contain release language. For bloggers and influencers, it’s important to check what they intend to use and how long they intend to use it. As I always say, make sure it is specific and doesn’t give them the right to use your name or likeness for any purpose. It will often state that they can use your name, likeness, and links in connection with the sponsored content.
Next, if you are attending an event, it is extremely common that the event terms will include release language. Usually, an event will have a photographer and the event coordinators will want the ability to use any images from the event for promotional purposes.
Next, if you are using testimonials for your website, either written or video, you may obtain a likeness release to ensure that you have permission to use the content in the way that you want.
Likeness releases are extremely common in a lot of scenarios. I’ve had to sign them for my son’s school and for some of his extracurricular activities too. They come up a lot, so it’s important to ensure you are comfortable with navigating them.
Now let’s talk about today’s action steps:
- First, do you use someone’s likeness, biographical information, or voice in some way in your business? If so, are you getting a release to help protect your usage of that content?
- Next, have you signed any agreements that contain release language? Is it clear how your likeness or other information can be used? How long are they able to use your likeness? Depending on the type of business you are in, if this is a common part of your business, you may want to consider tracking things in a spreadsheet.
- If you need a standalone release, this may be something you can use from a template. We have a likeness and biographical information release that is easy to customize on the Businessese Shop. I’ll link to it in the show notes.
- And, last, as always, if you are not sure about the language in a release or if your own release offers enough protection for your business, please reach out to a lawyer. I regularly review these types of agreements through my firm Liss Legal. If you’d like more information, check out lisslegal.com.
This wraps up our discussion of how and when to use likeness releases. Thanks for joining me.
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