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Releases for Images and Recordings

What Is a Release? 

A release is a mechanism that allows researchers to use another person's image or voice in specified ways. It usually consists of a form that participants sign, giving a researcher permission to use photographs, videos, or voice recordings.

Release forms are signed at the end of the interaction between the researcher and the participant, but not during the consent process. The consent process should inform participants that they will be asked to sign a release indicating their preferences for the use of collected materials.

Sample language

It is advisable to secure a signed release even if the consent process is oral. Consult with the IRB if your subjects are not literate.  

The IRB cannot waive the requirement to secure releases.

When Are Releases Not Needed?

  1. It is not necessary to obtain releases when recording interviews solely for the purpose of making accurate transcripts and when the recordings will not be kept. The consent process should explain why the interview will be recorded and include a statement about the destruction of the recordings. (If the topic is sensitive, the tapes may need to be encrypted until the transcripts are written.)
  1. It is generally not necessary to obtain written releases to take photographs in public spaces; however, there are exceptions. For example, photographing people as they leave a needle-exchange service would create images that reveal private information, even though the setting, a street or square, is public.
  2. It is not necessary to obtain releases to share identifiable images and recordings with members of the research team or advisors when there will be no other uses of the material.

Components of a Release

  1. The title of the study
  2. The Campus IRB protocol ID number
  3. The name of the researcher(s)
  4. A description of the data
  5. A list of the ways the researcher wants to use the images/recordings, for example:
    • Including them in a presentation or exhibition
    • Using photographs in an article or book
    • Posting them on the Internet
    • Giving them to an organization that collaborated in or funded the research
  6. Check boxes that allow participants to indicate their agreement for each stated use
  7. A statement that signing the release is voluntary
  8. If the participants are minors, parental permission and child assent
  9. A statement that images/recordings will not be returned
  10. A statement that participants will not receive payment for the use of their image/recording
  11. Spaces for the participant’s signature and date

Archives and Public Collections

Special language may be needed on the release if photographs, films, or recordings will be placed in archives or library collections for public use.  Consult with the archivist.

Securing Permission to Photograph or Film Children

If children will be filmed outside their family group (unless the image-making will be done in a public space), parents or legal guardians must sign the release on behalf of their children. The release language needs to address the parent or guardian and the name of the child must be included.

Child Assent

Adolescent research participants should have a say in how their images or recordings are used, even if a parent or guardian has signed a release.  A separate release will need to be prepared allowing the child to provide assent.

Click here for Sample Releases.


Campus IRB Guides