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Photo Release Guidelines

When using photographs or video of individuals in connection with the University of Houston, including on the website (www.uh.edu) and related sites, in any UH-produced programs, advertising, promotion, social media and/or publicity, it is important to consider if an Authorization for Use of Image form (“release”) from the subjects/models is required before the photography is published or otherwise made publicly available.

The following guidelines apply to the distribution of photos/videos taken by university personnel or those acting as an agent of the university and distributed externally, such as on university websites, digital channels or in marketing materials.

Releases are typically required if the individual:

  • Is recognizable; the primary focus of the photograph/video shot
  • Is identifiable in a small group setting, such as a small group of students studying in the library or congregating by the fountains. In these cases, a release should be obtained from each subject
  • Has been recruited to serve as a model
  • Is a minor (under 18 years of age); a parental release is required

Releases are typically not required if:

  • Photographed in large group shots in a public space or at public events with little expectation of privacy, such as sporting events and concerts
  • It is a large group setting, such as wide shots of classrooms or campus scenic shots with no single subject
  • The subject is not recognizable, such as silhouettes, posterior view or out of focus
  • The photos/video are not being taken or distributed by UH. When news media is covering a story on campus or a production company is shooting content it plans to distribute, a UH photo release is not required. In many cases they will have their own releases. The film shoot guidelines outline protocols for filming on campus.

What if I am not sure if a release is required?

If the situation does not fall under one of the outlined scenarios, assess the need for a release by asking: what expectation of privacy does the subject reasonably have in this situation? If there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, a release is necessary.

Why do we need photo releases?

Photo releases are especially important and necessary when photographing students and complying with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), the federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.

Photos are not considered directory information at the University of Houston. Only directory information can be released publicly by UH. Photographs/video taken by or on behalf of the university become university records. By making those records public, such as publishing it on uh.edu or social media, the university is making a disclosure of a student record not considered to be directory information. To comply with FERPA, UH must have a signed written consent for all students easily identified in UH-produced photos/video prior to making the content public. Passive consent is not in compliance with FERPA.

Do photo releases only apply to students?

No. The photo release must be used for models, students and minors, per the guidelines outlined above. It is a strongly suggested and a best practice to use the release form for any individual who is the primary subject of the photo, including faculty and staff.

In all cases, consent must be given. It is permissible, however, to get informal consent from faculty, staff and other individuals, such as asking to use a person’s image and receiving consent through email.

May we bypass the photo releases if we have posted signage with a notice to the attendees that photos will be taken and possibly used by the university?

This type of notification is not permissible taking for photos/video of students. Students must give written consent to comply with FERPA.

This type of notification may work for nonstudent events with finite points of entry. The signage should be prominent (20” by 30” or larger) and located at all points of entry. The university personnel responsible for the event should keep a record of the signage and where it was posted. When possible and applicable, this notification should also be included in registration materials.

Suggested language for photo notification signage:

Photos are being taken at this event and may appear in University of Houston/University of Houston System print or digital communications or marketing materials. By attending this event, you hereby authorize UH/UHS to use your photograph in any and all use related to the educational mission of the University without compensation. Please notify (name of sponsoring department) if you wish to attend but not have your picture used in this way.

Do we need to get a release for each photo event, or can we get a photo release that covers an extended period of time for specific programs that require multiple photo/video opportunities?

Typically, you need consent for each photo event. One release does not constitute consent for any and all future photos of the student. However, it is permissible to get a release for a semester if it specifically identifies the program/group being documented. Example: if you are documenting a group of architecture students building a project over the course of a semester and it will involve multiple photo sessions, you can have one release that covers consent during course of participation.  

An Authorization for Use of Image form that covers multiple photos/video over an extended time period can be downloaded here. Note, the time period must be related to a specific university-related event and may not exceed six (6) months. After the time period outlined in the Authorization, a new release will be required. This does not restrict the time period in which the University may use the resulting photos, video or likeness.

Who manages photo release forms and how long should we keep them?

It is the responsibility of each department to maintain executed photo release forms. They should be kept on file indefinitely.

The university permits the use of approved software to execute and manage photo releases. For more information, please contact Enita Torres at eltorres3@uh.edu.