Recently, an alarming story was posted over at APhotoEditor about a fireman and Fox News that has given millions of people some very inaccurate information about the photo industry.
Essentially, FDNY firefighter Robert Keiley, who does professional modeling in his spare time, did a photo shoot last year that had him styled in firefighter gear. After the shoot, he signed a model release, the image was submitted to Veer for licensing as a stock photo, and it was eventually used in an advertisement by a law firm that represents 9/11 first responders.
The ad features a disclaimer stating that the firefighter is an actor, but Keiley, who joined the FDNY in 2004, started getting flak from his firefighting brethren, and he threatened to sue. He’s upset because the framed photograph he’s holding in the ad was Photoshopped in (at the original shoot, he was holding a fireman’s helmet). You can read the full text of the story here.
What’s alarming to me is not that he’s upset and feels that he has legal grounds to sue, it’s that the story was picked by Fox News and turned into a circus sideshow.
In a segment called “Trick Photography” that runs longer than seven minutes, the stock photo industry is painted in a very unfavorable, highly inaccurate light. The story quickly turns into a boxing match between the host and a criminal defense attorney who claims that a signed model release doesn’t give the ad agency the right to use it however they want.
Well, Mr. Attorney, yes, it does. As a Veer contributor, I’ve seen the exact release that Mr. Keiley signed, and like most industry standard releases, it does indeed specify the following:
Model hereby irrevocably grants and assigns to Photographer the world-wide and perpetual right to use the appearance, likeness and form of Model, (collectively the “Likeness”) in whole or in part (including being altered, blurred or distorted), alone or with other materials (including animation, images, illustrations, photographs, text or video), on or in any media, medium or embodiment including digital, electronic, print, television, film and other media now known or that hereafter may become known, for any purpose and in any manner whatsoever (except pornographic or defamatory). The rights granted are fully assignable and licensable by any party granted such right (including assignees, licensees and sublicensees) without the consent of Model.
Fox did bring on another attorney who did his best to rebut, but he wasn’t a copyright attorney and thus wasn’t the right person to explain this to the Fox News audience. Even if he was, the criminal attorney and the Fox host seemed to have already made their minds up. And with very closed ears and very loud mouths, the two of them made it seem that photographers are out to trick people into signing releases, all so they can use their likenesses in underhanded, illegal ways.
Was this specific use of Mr. Keiley’s likeness in the image perfectly legal? Yes it was. Was it perfectly tasteful? Probably not. Does he have a legal right to demand that they remove the ad? No, but he certainly had a right to appeal to the consciences of the ad’s owners, and the results were positive: the law firm removed the ad and issued a written apology for the angst it caused.
“Even though it was unintentional, and even though we had obtained all necessary licenses and releases and rights,” their statement says, “the fact is that firefighter Keiley was understandably hurt and embarrassed by the ad.”
No doubt a good move on their part, but I’m curious to see how it will play out for those of us who shoot stock. We may find ourselves having to do a bit more explaining about what those releases really say and mean.
Senior contributor Dan Bailey is a professional adventure, outdoor and travel photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.
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