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Do I need permission from people I photograph?

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Copyright Council of Australia

Copyright is granted on this document free for non-commercial use.

Do I need permission from people I photograph?

A person’s image is not protected by copyright. However, in some cases, using a person’s image without permission may be prevented under other laws, such as the law of passing off, the Trade Practices Act 1974 and State and Territory fair trading laws. These areas of law concern conduct which may mislead or deceive the public and may particularly come into play if the photograph you are taking is of a well-known person, and is to be used, for example, as a poster or as a postcard or in advertising. In some cases, uses of photographs may be defamatory of people in them.

If you are commissioned to take photographs, it should not generally be your job to check these issues. However, it may be a good idea to alert clients to the fact that they may need to seek advice from a solicitor with the relevant expertise (note that the Copyright Council does not advise on these other areas of law). Generally, if you have asked somebody to sit for you, you should get a “model release” from that person which will allow you (and others) to use that person’s image for purposes which will generally include commercial uses. (For a sample photographer's model release, with explanatory notes, see the Arts Law Centre of Australia website

In other cases, photographers may take more casual shots—for example, photographs of people in the street or at markets, or playing sports. If you know that you might later be using such a photograph commercially, it’s generally a good idea to get a model release from the people you have photographed. If it’s impractical to get the people in your shots to sign model releases, or if they refuse to do so, your ability to use or license the use of the photograph in certain ways might be limited because of the laws discussed above.


It is generally not an invasion of privacy to take another person’s photograph. However, in some circumstances, you may be required to comply with the National Privacy Principles in the Privacy Act 1992 (Cth). For further information on this issue, contact the Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner or see the website The Copyright Council cannot advise on this area of law.

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