Talent Releases | Print |
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Written by Phillip L. Harris   

 Last month we examined the concept of property releases.  This month we’ll focus on talent releases.  


A talent release is a document which gives permission for the video producers to photograph the talent and/or to use audio of that person’s voice.  There are many talent release forms available by conducting a search on the internet for “talent release.” 


When is a talent release form necessary? 

The easy answer is “all the time.”  The actual answer is much more complicated.  The only need for a talent release is to protect the producers from litigation if the talent were to come back later in a court of law and say, “I never gave you permission to photograph (record) me.”  If the producer hands the court a signed talent release form, the issue is instantly eliminated.


In practice, talent releases are always obtained whenever productions occur which are entertainment or fictitious in nature – dramas, comedies, advertisements.  If the performers are portraying someone other than themselves, then a talent release is absolutely required.  The talent release must be signed before the cameras ever begin recording.  If a producer records without getting the release and later the talent refuses to sign the release, all the time and money spent in shooting anything that person was seen in was wasted because reshooting without that person is now a requirement.


In the news world, talent releases are not required but as stated above, can relieve many headaches.  In a normal interview, the interviewee will be quite aware of the presence of a microphone and camera.  Indeed the interviewee may be asked to do a mic check or state his name and spell it while looking at the camera.  All that information is recorded on the camera and constitutes “consent by conduct” or tacit approval to be photographed.  Of course, it is necessary that the interviewee must be of ordinary intelligence and not developmentally disabled to the point of being unable to recognize that the recording is taking place. 


What about people in the background of a shot? 

The people who may be in the background of a shot – on a street, in the football stadium bleachers, in the hallway of the school do not require a talent release form.  The rule of thumb to be applied here is, if the person is in a location that a reasonable person would deem as a public place, then a release for a person who is doing what he would normally be doing in that public place is not necessary.  On the other hand, if the person is being shot in a location where that person can reasonably expect a degree of privacy, then a release is required.  For example:  If a student is doing a story on the interesting little things adults put in their offices or on their desks to personalize their space, those adults have the right to a small degree of privacy.   Or, if students are doing a story on graffiti and are shooting in a school restroom, any one in that space can expect privacy and no one can be photographed without their written permission.


Are there special rules for shooting video of minors or members of “special” populations? 

First, understand that minors must sign their own talent release forms if they are old enough to understand the nature and probable consequences of the program.  The forms should also be signed by a parent as a safeguard for the student producers. 


Many school systems employ the use of a “passive talent release” document.  This document is essentially notice given to all parents which indicates that from time to time organizations from outside of the school system may request video recording to be done inside the school building for a variety of reasons (news stories, yearbook pictures, documentaries on some aspect of education, etc.)  If parents do NOT want their child to appear in any of the footage shot by these third party organizations, the parents need to sign the document and return it to the principal of the school.  Any organization who comes into the building must abide by any of the requests for certain children not to be seen.  If the form is not returned to the principal, then the assumption is made that the student is “cleared” and permission to photograph the child is granted. 


This passive release is only applicable to third-party organizations.  It does not apply to in-school organizations.  In other words, if a student news program wants to do a story which would involve video being recorded of students doing some kind of activity, for example participating in football practice, then the broadcast journalism students can do the recording.  A school is a public place.  By definition, the broadcast journalism students are legally on the premises of the school building and property.  In the interest of being polite, students should still ask permission from other students before shooting them as primary figures in the video – background people are covered above in the previous question.  Student producers are not usually interested in videotaping fellow students who do not want to be videotaped.  To try to do such videotaping would likely result in video which is unusable by that student producer.  Videotaping the student would be legal but this is a perfect example of a basic concept: “Just because you can do a shoot, doesn’t mean you should do that shoot.”


While there is no legal requirement to obtain permission for the parents of “special” populations, a reasonable person would assume that permission must be obtained.   Video producers need to recognize that the parents of the child will likely believe they should be asked before video is made of their child.  Video producers can head off many unnecessary problems by simply asking for talent release forms to be signed even though legally, the forms are not required as long as the individual can recognize the function of the video camera and the use of the video being taken.  



You are recording video in a hallway between classes.  In the foreground are the reporter and quarterback of the football team.  In the background are students walking and at their lockers.  It is unnecessary to obtain talent releases for individuals in the background.  The fact that a student in the background going to locker #489 is in special education class is immaterial because in the shot that student is just like every other student in the hallway – living background in a public place.


On the other hand, imagine the same shot but replace the quarterback with the special education teacher.  But as the teacher is talking, the camera operator zooms in on locker #489 and the special education student while the teacher is providing VO.  This “picking an individual out in of a crowd” is neither acceptable, nor legal.  In the first example the student was anonymous and may only be known by name by some of the viewers of the shot, but in the second scenario the student was literally pointed out by the camera which essentially announced to the viewership that this student was in a special population.   The story makes public disclosure of private facts and can quickly lead to liabilities and litigation.


To review:

In all entertainment programming or programming where participants are portraying people other than themselves, i.e. acting, talent releases are required.  In news programming, there is no legal requirement for talent releases as long as the person is of ordinary intelligence and/or is not developmentally disabled to the point of being unable to recognize that the recording is taking place.