Can I Use a Photo of a Nude Model Without Proof of a Release Agreement?

Question

I have a large collection of photographs that I would like to upload to an online photography forum. Some of these images are nudes.

I have some that were taken about a decade ago at a modeling workshop, where the workshop organizers claimed to supply models who had signed photo releases. I personally do not possess these releases, however. There were over 100 photographers shooting these models. Can I use them without liability?

Answer

This situation raises at least two important legal issues. The first question is whether you can upload photographs to the Internet that are in your collection, even if you did not take all of the photographs.

Copyright law gives certain exclusive rights to those who create original works, such as photographs. Among those exclusive rights are the right of publication and reproduction. The photographer is the person who holds the legal rights to some of the photos in your collection. Therefore, if you reproduce that photographer's photos online without consent, you may be violating copyright.

The second legal issue involves the subject matter of the photos. Although there is nothing illegal about nude photos, there are a couple of concerns.

First, you need to be absolutely sure that none of the photos are of minors. Without releases that attest to the age of the subjects, you may not know this information for sure. This could expose you to both criminal and civil liability.

Second, even for adults, you should be concerned that you do not have any signed releases from the models. A release is an agreement by which someone gives up all rights to sue arising from a certain activity. In your case, you need a release to shield you from claims such as defamation, invasion of privacy, or violation of the right of publicity. These types of legal claims are personal and relate to false statements, intrusions into personal affairs, or commercial uses. The person signing the release usually foregoes any right to sue over these claims.

In short, there are multiple legal risks to your posting a collection of nude photos, particularly since you have no proof of the models' ages, nor any releases from them. You must weigh these risks before proceeding.

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