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Current Events

Model Release Lawsuit Against Getty Images Will Go To Trial

By Hanssie on March 12th 2014

Last week, a judge rejected Getty’s motion to dismiss a case where Getty used a model’s image without a model release.

Last year, a lawsuit was brought up against major image powerhouse, Getty Images, for using the image of model, Avril Nolan, for an ad about HIV. The ad, which states, “I Am Positive (+)…I Have Rights,” next to Nolan’s image, appeared in a free New York newspaper. It seemingly implies that Nolan, who is a healthy 25 year old woman, is HIV positive.


Last September, Nolan filed a lawsuit against Getty for $450,000 for improperly using her image in the ads, damaging her personal and professional relationships as well as causing emotional distress. Nolan was alerted to the ad by a friend and was “mortified.” (Can you blame her?) She works in the P.R. field, and the ad, in a paper whom many of her agencies’ clients use as well, forced her to have some awkward conversations with her bosses.

[REWIND: Photographer Wins $1.2 Million Lawsuit against Agence France-Presse and Getty Images]

The photo was from a fashion shoot with photographer, Jena Cumbo, who states that she “made a mistake” and did not understand her contract with Getty. Nolan did not sign a model release. New York had strict laws prohibiting the use of a person or likeness for advertising or trade without written consent. Getty released the following statement following the lawsuit,

We empathize with and understand the sensitivity of Avril Nolan’s situation. Getty Images had a model release and relied upon the photographer’s documentation when we made the image available for license.

Getty who requested that the case be thrown out due to the “First Amendment and other grounds.” The judge ruled against Getty’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and the case will go to trial.

What do you think? Does the model have a case? Is Getty in the wrong?

This is a good reminder to photographers to ALWAYS have our clients sign a model release for our protection and theirs. If you don’t have a model release, you can see our Model Release Form Template and Crowd Photo Release Form can be located in our Photographer Resources.

via PDN Pulse/New York Post

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Samuel Dickens

    Some cases are complex. This one was not:
    1. Getty did not have a release and NY law requires a written release for such uses;
    2. Getty’s actions without a release constitute a crime as well as a tort under NY law;
    3. Even if Getty had a complete release a special release would be required for such “sensitive” uses as portraying a model as suffering from a horrible venereal disease;
    4. Getty’s excuses about not using the image for commercial purposes are utterly bogus and should be sanctioned; Getty licensed the image for money…how much more commercial can they get!

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  2. Michael

    It sounds like the photographer submitted the image along with a forged release to Getty Images. Getty will do a basic check of releases to determine that they’re completed, but they don’t authenticate them. Getty makes it clear in their contracts with photographers that it’s the responsibility of the photographer to obtain releases and signatures and that Getty Images is not responsible if, in fact, the photographer makes a mistake with the releases. If Getty licensed the image for this HIV usage without a model release on-file then it’s Getty Images who is responsible. But from the information in the news story, it appears that Getty did receive a release from the photographer…falsely completed or signed by the model. I’d be nervous if I were the photographer in this case.

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  3. Mike

    All these companies are quick to jump on the lawsuit train when their rights are violated and try to get the max penalties, but plead innocence when they violate the rights of others (intentional or not).
    whats good for the goose is good for the gander

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  4. Michaeel

    I am only guessing… I guess that Getty has a release from the photographer.
    But had they asked for a release from the model to the photographer?
    And here is the point where lawyers come into play:
    To what extend is Getty required to check the property/ model/ whatnot releases given TO the photographer? Are they required to obtain carbon copies of all the paper work of all the releases for all their photos? Or can they simply have the photographer sign a sheet saying that “all those releases exist and don’t worry” (translate to lawyerese, please).
    Like it or not, but Getty just may have a point. In which case, the photographer in question may get sued for the sum plus expenses…

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    • Dakin

      Getty does require you upload the model release with every image that requires one. They will not accept an image now if you don’t upload a copy of it to their website. It is possible though that the image is before this practice was common. Not too long ago you just checked a box yes/no if there was a release, hardly any stock agency verified if they were done correctly or not.

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  5. Vernon

    Totally justified with her case. Good luck to her.

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  6. Al

    How could Getty have a signed model release when the model never signed one? Someone is telling fibs

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