The stock photography website Unsplash has been pushing the message that its photographs are ready to be used for commercial purposes. To support that messaging, its landing page states "The Internet's source of freely useable images." This is great. You can use the images for free.
When you click on the Unsplash license, the summary states
All photos published on Unsplash can be used for free. You can use them for commercial and noncommercial purposes. You do not need to ask permission from or provide credit to the photographer or Unsplash, although it is appreciated when possible.
Given this summary, you would rightfully believe that the photographs were ready for commercial use.
But, not so fast. Only by digging into the fine print do you find a big caveat. Unsplash does not guarantee or even confirm that the photographs on its website come with the appropriate model or trademark releases. Instead, Unsplash pushes the responsibility for verifying the model release with the photographer onto you the intended user. Ouch.
However, there is a silver lining. You don't necessarily need a model release. It depends on what you are doing with the image. If you are using the image for advertising purposes, you need one because it makes the person in the image appear to endorse the advertised product, service or organization. However, if you are using the photo for news, artistic or editorial expression, then you may not need a release.
But, if you did use an image without a model release, what harm could result? You could be subject to legal claims such as a violation of the model's right of privacy or right of publicity, and defamation.