I’ve known a lot of photographers to do this. I’ve also know a lot of “models” that say that it’s happened, but when it comes right down to it, they didn’t read the print, fine or otherwise, and just signed the paper or didn’t sign a paper at all.
So I’m going to take a moment and point out some things to always be in check about.
"Who’s working for who?"
First, ask the photographer if they’re working for themselves or if they’re working for anyone else. I’ll tell you straight up if I’m doing either. It will give you an idea of how much control the photographer has over the final product. Once you find this out, if it’s for them, look at their work again, closely, and decide if you want to go on with the shoot. If it’s for someone else (i.e. a sports team, a magazine, etc) then look at the products from previous publications. Chances are the photographer didn’t have a lot to do with the final product and you will be able to see how the images will be use. If you are cool with this, go on with the shoot keeping in mind that when it comes down to it, neither you nor the photographer usually have any say over the final product.
Once all of that is out of the way, ask for a copy of the paperwork…AND READ IT. Don’t just look at it and say to yourself: “well it looks legit so I’ll sign it” or “well, he seems reputable, so I’ll roll with it.” Read it. You wouldn’t sign a house mortgage without knowing what you were going to be paying over the next 30 years would you? Didn’t think so. So why would you be signing something that may potentially put you in a position where you may be seen by several hundred, or even thousands of people? It’s your image! Protect it!
If you’re cool with all of that, then sign the paper and roll with it. :)
“Well, what if they don’t have a release?”
Then I’d say don’t shoot with them. You need to clearly state what your position is and they need to clearly state what their position is. If they cannot afford you that courtesy then why work with them?
You need to know what your rights are when you walk in and work with someone. If you don’t then who knows what will happen?
“Well, he told me one thing and then something different happened!”
Ok. Well, again, I ask you: what did the release say? What was the intent of the final project? Finally, was it his or her work or was it for someone else?
All of these questions can and will affect you in the end. The biggest one (that I haven’t addressed yet) is: “was it his or her work or was it for someone else?”
If it was his or her work and for himself or herself only, talk to them about it. Say, “hey, you didn’t tell me it would be on a poster talking about drug abuse victims! I look like a meth-head!” Ask them why they didn’t tell you what it would be used for and ask them, if it’s possible, to take it back if you are not a fan of the final use. Most of us will respect you enough to tell you what’s going on beforehand, but if not, we’ll listen enough to take it back…maybe. Most of us. MOST of us. Some of us won’t, no matter what you say or do.
My next question is: “what happened? Was it his or her doing or was it the client?”
If it was the doing of the photographer, ask him why they did that! There’s no reason to intentionally mislead someone. It’s just not cool. If it was the client and both you and the photographer signed over rights, sorry…nothing can be done. Possession is 9/10ths the law and when someone possess copyright info, it’s so hard to break that bond that you might as well not even try unless you’ve got a good lawyer and a lot of money to fight the federal and state copyright laws, the photographer, and the client.
It would be best – and cheaper – if you just let it go and mark it as a lesson learned.
“Oh…well, they sold them to someone.”
Now, let’s say the images are NOT for the photographer, but a third party, a client. Then the photographer has little to say about the final use of the images. That is, unless they wrote it into a contract.
Think of it like this: you went to a dealership and you bought a car. After you’ve paid for it, free and clear, and you walk out, start it up, and begin to drive off, the dealer comes out and says, “oh, by the way, you cannot drive this car in cities and you’re not allowed to park the car in driveways.” You’d think he was a nut! Why would you buy the car if you can’t use it?! The same goes with photographers. We provide a service that results in a final product for a client to use. If that client purchases all rights to the images they have the right to use them in any capacity they see fit – regardless of what you or the photographer says. They bought them. They can use them.
The next thing I would ask is, “did you get paid?” If not, sorry. Your loss. If you signed a release, took the photos, didn’t get paid nor negotiated the pay scale with the photographer, then they sold the photos to a client, they have no reason to compensate you. Sorry folks, it’s just the name of the game. You cannot go to that photographer and demand a single thing. You signed a paper and you told that photographer “ok” when you signed it.
You cannot go back after the fact and demand something. Think of that car salesman again. He didn’t have the right to come out and tell you where you could and couldn’t drive, did he? Nope. He didn’t have the rights to the car when he sold it to you. Likewise the photographer no longer has any commitment to you for compensation or otherwise.
"Well, I’m going to show that photographer something-something! I’ll just tell them I have a lawyer"
Hold on now, before you do that, first make sure you have one. People shut down when you threaten them. They go on the defense and things go haywire from there. You’ll probably do more bad than good if you go through threatening something like legal action with either no intention of backing it up or not talking to someone beforehand.
My advice - keep in mind I’m not an attorney - is to talk to a lawyer. Find out what your rights are, and then, if you can afford it and think you can win go for it. Be warned, if you LOSE then you’ll be stuck with court costs and maybe some other costs that you didn’t see coming! Can lead to a huge payday for the photographer/client or jail time for you if you can’t pay it.
So, now that I’ve explained all of this: did your photographer REALLY lie to you or did you not read the fine print and ask enough questions? Most often that’s the case and next time I’d suggest you demand terms (your right as a model) to cover yourself and READ the print when it’s in front of you. Know what you’re getting into folks. READ the papers you sign and be ready for the consequences. Pick reputable photographers and ask lots of questions!
Now you know…and knowing is half the battle…The other half is red and blue lasers.