Why do people agree to be made fools of in (inter)national media? (Image releases)

A recent viewing of the Borat movie has me pondering this - for those who haven’t seen it, much of the movie involves Sacha Cohen playing dumb in order to expose just how foolish and sometimes bigoted a number of apparently unsuspecting American targets are with comedic brilliance.

Whenever I see something like this, (Stephen Colbert also leaps prominently to mind) I wonder how they get people to sign the ubiquitous image releases that I understand to be pretty much standard CYA stuff in the TV and film industry. I’ve read a release like this and the language seems like it would be pretty intimidating to someone who is shy about being on national TV - they basically say “I hereby grant Production Company permission to use my image throughout the world, repeatedly, and for all eternity.”

I suspect they try to get releases signed before they start filming rather than after, because after some of the ridiculous and stupid shit I’ve seen people saying on camera, I can’t imagine why anyone in their right mind would sign a release granting permission for their folly to be exposed to the entire country and/or world in high-def. In what situations is a release not required? (My understanding is that you can be filmed if you are “in public” without permission, whatever constitutes that, but not “in private”) Do production companies still get sued when people see themselves making an ass of themselves on TV? What are the relevant laws here?

Some people will take any chance at their 15 minutes (seconds) of fame. “Hey guys, I am on TV!”

For “Borat” in particular, they didn’t know what they were signing up for. They were told that Borat was a Eastern European reporter learning the ways of the US, and were led to believe that the films would be shown only there.

This did generate a couple of lawsuits afterward, but they seem to have had the release forms worded in such a way that the suits didn’t get very far.

I often wonder about this when I’m watching Cops. Seriously - you signed the release when you got busted for that drug deal you were making while looking for johns at the gas station with your little toddler daughter in the truck who wasn’t wearing a diaper or underwear or anything? Really? Considering you may have to fight for custody or something?

Maybe some of those are considered journalism, where IIRC you don’t need a release.

On a related note, how do radio shows get away with broadcasting prank phone calls? I thought the law required you to inform people if the phone call is being recorded? If so, they must edit out that part…

ring ring
“Hello. I must inform you that this call is being recorded…”
“Er, okay…”
“Can I speak to Ivor Jerkoff?”

You generally don’t need signed releases if it’s journalistic content, and COPS may qualify.

Then why do they put that big disclaimer on the front that all these people are innocent until proven guilty? Or isn’t that related?

On COPS, they can only show the faces of those persons who sign a release form. The show’s creator estimates that 90% sign the form.


Well, you know, here at the library we get a lot of people who come in to look for boyfriends or family or brothers or whatever on the inmate search websites, not because they’re looking for information or anything but because they’re excited that their baby daddy’s online! It’s like their fifteen minutes.

In the U.S., that depends on the state. For example, I know that in Illinois, both parties are required to know the call is being recorded, but if this chart is accurate, that’s the case for surprisingly few states.