Collaboration Agreements

Tips & Tricks Nov 28, 2020

I'm a huge cheerleader for the use of a model release or modeling agreement pretty much any time you work with a model. While most of the time you won't end up needing it, they really do help clarify intent and avoid potential misunderstandings. If there is a misunderstanding, that document can help avoid a prolonged legal battle. They are well worth the few minutes they take to read and sign.

With the rise of websites like Patreon and OnlyFans, however, we're seeing new arrangements that are not typically covered by the forms you'll find in most photography business books. Many photographers and models nowadays do what are called "collaboration" shoots, where they share the publication rights in the resulting images. These shoots are different from traditional TFP (Time for Photos) or paid shoots.

With a paid shoot, the model is compensated for their time and the photographer (or the photographer's client) owns all the copy and publication rights in the produced images. With a TFP shoot, typically the photographer retains the copy rights, but the model is granted the right to use the images for promotional use—to put in a portfolio, to advertise their photography or modeling work, or post to social media—and the photographer's publication rights are limited to the same uses.

Neither of these arrangement give the model any sort of commercial publication rights at all. However, selling images on a site like OnlyFans is a commercial use of images. Because the law automatically gives the photographer ownership of all copy rights in the images they take, that means the photographer needs to explicitly grant the model a license to publish images from a collaboration shoot. That may not seem fair, but it is the current state of the law in the United States and many other countries.

You can give the model publication rights using a license agreement, signed in addition to the release, which will give them the publication rights they'll need. Alternatively, you can use a single document called a "collaboration agreement & release" that handles everything in a single document. A collaboration agreement serve as a contract, model release, and copyright license all rolled into one.

Note: It is possible to handle these situations with an informal, oral agreement. With something like OnlyFans, where there's no third party publisher involved, that may work just fine, but it really is always better to have an agreement in writing. If the model wishes to publish any of the images through a third party—such as in a magazine or a on a commercial website—then a written agreement is a necessity.

There are many ways to structure a collaboration agreement depending on the specific situation, but here are generic forms for the two most common scenarios: shared publication rights, where the photographer and model share the ability to publish the resulting images, and split publication rights, where each party gets the exclusive right to publish a subset of the images.

Shared Usage Rights

In this form, the photographer agrees to provide a certain number of edited photos to the model and grants a license to the model that allows them to publish the edited images commercially. The publication rights granted by this document are non-exclusive, which means the photographer can also publish the same images or other images from the collaboration, and the model has no publication rights in the unedited photos.

Click image to download PDF.

Split Usage Rights

In this agreement, the photographer and model divy up the images taken during the shoot. Exactly how they are divied up is left to the parties to decide, but common arrangements include:

  • Letting the model choose a certain number of images, with the remainder belonging to the photographer
  • Having the model and photographer take turns selecting images they want
  • Having the images in a certain time window go to each. For example, the images from the first hour of the shoot are the model's, the images from the second hour of the shoot are the photographer's
  • Splitting images based on the set. For example, all images against a specific background, in a specific location, or in a particular outfit are designated as the model's.
Click image to download PDF.

Modifying the Forms

These are generic forms, so you are expected to read them over and make any changes to suit your specific situation. If you make the changes by hand, such as crossing out a paragraph, adding a paragraph, or modifying an existing paragraph, both parties should initial those changes when they sign the document to make it clear that the document wasn't altered after signing.  If there's not room on the form itself, you can attach a separate sheet of paper with the additional terms, just make sure both parties sign or initial that sheet of paper when signing the main document.

In most cases, two copies of the document should be executed, with each party keeping one copy. If there are any trust issues in the relationship, a third copy can be executed and given to a trusted third party for safekeeping.

Disclaimer

I am not your attorney and this article should not be construed as legal advice. You may use these forms for free and may also copy or modify them to suit your needs, but use of these forms is completely at your own risk; they come with no guarantees or warranty of any kind. If you are unsure if these forms are sufficient for your needs, consult with an attorney.

Note: If you're in the US (or plan to publish in the US) and are doing a collaboration that involves any kind of sexual content (even if simulated or implied), you may also be required to follow the recordkeeping requirements of 18 USC §2257. It does not appear to be common for content creators on OnlyFans or Patreon to follow these requirements, but putting images on those sites does count as "publication" for purposes of §2257. Since the potential punishment for not doing the paperwork can be severe, don't take any chances. Do the paperwork, follow the recordkeeping requirements, and designate a custodian of records.