Visual Identity System

Guidelines for Photo/Image/Voice Permission

Keith N. Bystrom Associate Counsel, Office of University Counsel Iowa State University

A few basic concepts need to be considered when determining whether you need to obtain signed photo releases when taking photos of people for university promotional publications, web sites, newsletters, or departmental directories.

Formal photo or video shoots:

  1. You need to get signed releases from all people you photograph during formal photo shoots and video shoots for promotional materials.
  2. If you are doing a photo shoot in a K-12 classroom with children in the class, you will need to provide photo releases which you have already signed to the school a week in advance, so that the teachers can send the releases home with their students for parents' signatures.
  3. It is your responsibility to maintain a file of signed authorization release forms with reproductions of images for reference.
University event or crowd photography:
  1. The intended use of the image is critical. If it is used in a reportorial manner to report on what happened at a public event then, like newspapers and magazines, permission is not necessary. However, the more commercial use that is intended, the more likely it is that permission must be obtained from those people who are identifiable in the image.
  2. The more an image easily identifies a specific individual, the more likely it is that written permission from the person photographed is necessary. If you plan to attach the name of a participant to a particular photograph in your promotional materials you should make sure that you have a signed release from that person.
  3. Group and crowd shots, where individuals are not easily identifiable, do not require specific permission from all individuals appearing in the image you are planning to use.
  4. The more extensively you plan to use a particular image, the more likely it is that permission should be obtained. It may be one thing to report an image of a student who attended a summer program on your website or in your newsletter, but if that image becomes the focus of promotional materials for your program or you plan to loan the photo out to other university units for use in their publications, you should obtain a signed release.
  5. Many programs require some type of application for students to become participants. An easy way to protect Iowa State University and obtain permission to use the image of a participant is to include in your application materials a passive approval process. In your materials, you inform the applicants that during the program their image or voice may be copied in some manner and that, unless they specifically request otherwise, by applying to the program and attending the program, they are authorizing Iowa State and the program to use the copies that are made of a participant's image or voice. Include copy similar to the following in your application materials:


    The [NAME OF PROGRAM] normally takes photographs, video, and/or tape recordings of our programs. During this program, a photograph or video/audio recording may be taken of you or your child. Unless you request otherwise, your application will be considered permission for Iowa State University and the [NAME OF PROGRAM] to photograph, film, audio/video tape, record and/or televise your image and/or voice or the image and/or voice of your child for use in any publications or promotional materials, in any medium now known or developed in the future without any restrictions. If you object to ISU using your or your child's image or voice in this manner, please notify the [NAME OF PROGRAM], in writing, at the time of your application.
  6. Most complaints about improper use of a photograph/image arise when a person or their parents believe that you have gained some advantage over them or have held them up in a false light to be ridiculed or embarrassed. Therefore you should review all photographs and images and do not use unflattering images that would embarrass the subject of the photograph/image. You also need to be sensitive to how another unit may want to use the photo if you loan it. Keep a record of who you loan the photo to and how the photo will be used.
  7. If you have an image or recording of a student involved in one of your programs and you want to identify that student in promotional materials, use the image or recording as the focus of a promotional program, or attach the student's name to the image or recording, obtain a signed release from that student or the student's parent if the student is not yet eighteen years old.
  8. It is your responsibility to maintain a file of signed photo release forms with reproductions of images for reference.