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What Is a Photo Disclaimer?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 21, 2024
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In today's digital landscape, where over 1.8 billion images are uploaded every day, understanding the nuances of an image disclaimer is more crucial than ever. An image disclaimer is a critical document that outlines the rights and usage terms for photographs, protecting both the image subjects and the copyright holders. For instance, a study by PetaPixel indicates that 85% of the images shared online are used without proper licensing or permissions.

This underscores the importance of clear disclaimers to guide legal use and protect intellectual property. By setting forth the conditions under which images can be shared or used, an image disclaimer empowers photographers and subjects alike, ensuring respect for privacy and copyright in the digital age.

Sometimes also called a photograph disclaimer, a photo disclaimer will typically be part of a website or other public usage of a photograph. One of the most common types of photo disclaimer is one that indicates how a photograph can be displayed and who maintains the rights to that image. For example, a website that has a high number of original images on it may include a disclaimer that indicates that all of the pictures are owned by the owner of that website and cannot be used without permission.

what is a photo disclaimer

Similarly, a website using pictures that were primarily taken in public places may include a photo disclaimer indicating that the pictures are for general information and not meant to be invasive. While this type of disclaimer may not legally be required, it can often be viewed as a sound precaution to ensure that those in the picture are not offended by their inclusion on the site. This is especially important for situations in which photographs taken at an amusement park or similar location are used for advertising for that company.

A photo disclaimer may also be used to indicate that pictures used are not meant to indicate any particular attitude or opinion on the part of those whose images are being used. For example, if a tobacco company used photographs of people smoking as part of its website, it may include a disclaimer indicating that those depictions are not meant to indicate an endorsement by the subjects of the picture. This type of photo disclaimer can be used to ensure that the use of images of people will not later be used to indicate any sort of defamation.

Such a disclaimer may also be useful in a reversal of the above example. If photographs of employees of a company may be potentially offensive to others, then a photo disclaimer could be used to indicate that the actions of the employees do not represent the attitudes of the company. This can serve to distance a company or organization from possible damage caused by the actions of those who work for the company.

Photo Disclaimer Examples

Disclaimers are commonly used for photographs in several situations:

  • Wedding portraits: Photographers often prepare legal contracts for clients regarding image use, but you can also utilize a photo disclaimer for your website or services. This disclaimer can state that you own the photographs taken and outline how clients are allowed to use them.
  • Non-commercial blog: If you have a personal blog that isn’t used commercially, you may want to state your policy regarding images. A simple photo release may state that any images appearing on the site fall under fair use and are not used for any commercial purposes.
  • Commercial blog: Businesses that prepare blog posts with images can have a small photo disclaimer at the bottom of the page stating how the images were obtained legally. This can include providing attribution or mentioning Creative Commons license terms for the images.
  • Photographs you take: If you take photographs yourself to use for your website, products or advertising, a photo disclaimer can help to protect your rights. You may state that you own all of the rights to the images and do not allow use, modification or distribution without express written consent.

How To Write a Photo Disclaimer

The first step in writing a disclaimer is learning about current laws for image copyright and photography. Disclaimers are only effective when they adhere to laws. As an example, it’s not legal to use photos you take in public venues if the person had a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as relaxing alone at the beach.

Next, make sure the language of your disclaimer is clear. The photo disclaimer is meant for average readers, so use normal words and simple sentences. To make sure anyone can see it, many businesses put the disclaimer at the foot of the page or in its own section of the Terms & Conditions page.

Include details regarding copyright and image modification. State who owns the rights to any images and how the images may or may not be used. Indicate changes you may make to the images, such as removing them from your site at any time. You can also Indicate any rights you give site visitors for image usage.

You can also mention other details you want visitors to know, such as privacy policies regarding names and contact info. You can also indicate the steps users must take if they wish to request that an image be removed.

Disclaimer for Taking Photos at Events

It’s essential to have a photo disclaimer in place if you plan to take photographs at an event. Event location owners may prepare a photo disclaimer that allows them to take photographs of the people using their facilities. That way, they can use the images in promotional advertising.

Event photographers may prepare a photo disclaimer for their clients, indicating that all photos are the property of the photographer, not the customer. The event photographer may provide a disclaimer indicating that agreeing to appear in group photographs constitutes implicit consent to be photographed.

Whenever photos are related to your livelihood, it’s smart to speak with a lawyer about your disclaimer. That way, you can ensure your interests are protected by the disclaimer you use.

Photography Release Forms

There’s a difference between photo disclaimers and photo release forms. A photo release form is closer to a contract that the photographer or business makes with the subject of the photograph.

This contract outlines how the person's likeness can be used and provides proof that the photographer has legal rights to the image. Simple releases often allow businesses or photographers to use the image however they want, and more complex contracts may stipulate some type of payment or royalty in exchange for permission.

FAQ on Photo Disclaimer

What is a photo disclaimer and why is it important?

A photo disclaimer is a statement that clarifies the rights and responsibilities related to the use of a photograph. It's important because it helps protect the photographer's intellectual property, informs users of their rights, and can limit the liability of the photo owner by setting out the terms under which the image can be used. This is crucial in a digital age where images can be easily shared and repurposed without permission.

When should I use a photo disclaimer?

You should use a photo disclaimer whenever you publish or share photos, especially online, where the risk of misuse is higher. This applies to photographers, businesses, and individuals who want to specify how their images can be used by others. For instance, if you're a professional photographer displaying work on your website, a disclaimer can prevent unauthorized use of your images.

What are the legal implications of not using a photo disclaimer?

Not using a photo disclaimer can lead to legal challenges, such as copyright infringement claims or disputes over image usage rights. Without a disclaimer, there's a lack of clarity about how an image can be used, which might result in unauthorized use that harms the subject or owner's reputation or interests. Legal issues can be costly and time-consuming, so a disclaimer acts as a preventative measure.

Can a photo disclaimer protect the privacy of individuals in the photo?

Yes, a photo disclaimer can help protect the privacy of individuals by specifying how images containing people can be used and shared. It often accompanies a model release form, which is a legal document that gives permission to use the image of the person in the photo. Together, they ensure respect for personal rights and compliance with privacy laws.

How do I write an effective photo disclaimer?

To write an effective photo disclaimer, clearly state the scope of use for the photo, any restrictions, and the consequences of unauthorized use. It should be concise, easy to understand, and legally sound. It's often recommended to consult with a legal professional to ensure that the disclaimer covers all necessary aspects and complies with relevant copyright and privacy laws.

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Discussion Comments

By Buster29 — On Feb 26, 2014

I remember an incident on the David Letterman show where a heavy-set woman was taped eating an ice cream cone during a major tennis tournament. Letterman used that footage repeatedly on his show, adding his own comments about the woman's eating habits. The woman sued the network, because the cameraman failed to obtain a photo disclaimer. She did not give permission to use her image on television, especially in a degrading manner. These things matter, which is why news photographers often film subjects on the street from the shoulders down.

By Phaedrus — On Feb 25, 2014

My wife works for a newspaper, and the photographers routinely carry release forms for subjects to sign. They're essentially photo disclaimers, stating the person(s) in the photograph agrees to allow the newspaper to publish the photo in an upcoming issue. If the photo is of a large group, or if none of the faces are easily identifiable, then the photographer isn't obligated to get a disclaimer.

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