Photography business analyst Dan Heller has written a helpful post in which he busts common misconceptions photographers in the US have about model releases. A big one is that you need to first obtain a model release before selling photos of people. Heller writes,
[…] newspapers buy photos, and their use of the photo is unlikely to need a release. So, selling a photo (and making a profit doing so) to a newspaper also does not require a release. And because the law does not require you to have any knowledge of the buyer or their intended use of a photo, you are always allowed to sell photos without a release.
His point is that model releases have to do with photographs being published, not sold. A photographer cannot publish the photos however they’d like, but they can sell them however they’d like since liability rests solely with the eventual publisher. That said, it’s still a good idea to always use one, since they’re often required by the buyers.
Busting Myths about Model Releases [Dan Heller]