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:
University event or crowd photography:
You need to get signed releases from all people you photograph during formal photo
shoots and video shoots for promotional materials.
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
It is your responsibility to maintain a file of signed authorization release forms with
reproductions of images for reference.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
It is your responsibility to maintain a file of signed photo release forms with
reproductions of images for reference.
Ames, Iowa 50011, (515) 294-9624. Published by: Office of University Marketing.
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