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Music photographers rebel over 'rights grabbing' contracts

By dpreview staff on Jun 29, 2012 at 00:07 GMT
Ian Brown of the Stone Roses, pictured at a solo concert in the UK in 2005 (Barney Britton)

According to a report in The British Journal of Photography, press photographers in the UK are being called on to boycot the high-profile reunion tour of 80s/90s rock band The Stone Roses over the conditions of contracts handed out at recent shows. According to the report, the National Union of Journalists is backing the boycott over conditions in the shooting contracts that appear to remove the right of the signee to sell their images for editorial use.

Among other conditions the contracts require photographers to agree 'to assign to the Group, with full title guarantee, all Rights in perpetuity throughout the world so as to enable us to exploit the Photographs and Rights as we deem fit without further reference or payment to you or any third party'. Photographers are also asked to agree 'to provide [the Stone Roses] with digital copies of any or all of the Photographs upon request'. For photographers that shoot for agencies, where a third party handles image sales, the conditions of a contract like this aren't simply objectionable - they're utterly impossible to assent to.

As a former music photographer in the UK, for several years, I've seen countless contracts of this kind. US-based music photographer Walter Rowe maintains a list of some representative examples here (please note that Rowe's opinions on this matter, and those of the musicphotographers.net community, are somewhat colorful).

From memory, the worst shooting contract I was ever given to sign asked me to agree to give away the rights to all of my images, in perpetuity, on provision of 'remuneration' from the band - a pound coin. The contract was given to me by a junior member of staff at the venue (unconnected with the band) at the stage door, minutes before showtime. I gave the paperwork back and went home, resisting the temptation as I left to ask for the pound to cover my bus fare. Like a lot of photographers operating today I worked as a freelancer for a major photo agency on a royalties basis, so going home with no pictures meant no income.

There is a fairly widely-held (and false) belief among music photographers that contracts like the one issued by the Stone Roses could never be enforced legally, and as such, their attitude is 'sign and be damned'. But it's a risk, and a risk that some photographers, it seems, are tired of taking. In my opinion, they shouldn't have to.

Read the full story at The British Journal of Photography


Barnaby Britton is Reviews Editor of dpreview.com and a former professional music photographer. You can see a selection of his after-hours work, past and present, at www.photoinsensitive.com

Comments

Total comments: 129
12
Richard Murdey
By Richard Murdey (Jun 29, 2012)

Well and good but can we hear the other side of the story, why bands/labels feel they deserve to be given (joint?-)ownership to all the photos taken of them?

As I understand it from the lines quoted above, this is not about transfer of rights, but sharing them between photographer and artist. In the contract both can do what they like with them. On the face of it that seems somewhat reasonable.

0 upvotes
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (Jun 29, 2012)

You're reading it wrong. Visit the link I provide to see the typical wording of these contracts. There's no 'sharing' involved.

2 upvotes
tonywong
By tonywong (Jun 29, 2012)

If there was sharing going on, it should be evident in the contract and understood by both parties. Generally speaking, if you cannot understand the terms of the contract, point by point, the contract itself shouldn't be signed.

1 upvote
Mandeno Moments
By Mandeno Moments (Jun 29, 2012)

continued from my comment below...

Just as Barney refused to sign a contract and walked away, so can other photographers do with the Stone Roses, who may well find that no one is willing to give them free photos and that they will have to pay a lot of money to hire photographers. The free market will punish the Stone Roses for their greed.

3) There is a deeper, more disturbing issue here, which is the spreading belief that people own and have the right to control all images of themselves. These people demand their "rights", and if this is taken to its logical end and photography of strangers in public places is outlawed then those people will have gained their "rights" by violating the property rights of all camera owners (i.e. those owners will have lost their freedom to do what they will with their property, provided that doing so does not violate the personal and property rights of other people. I believe that photographing people in public does not amount to such violations).

Comment edited 5 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
Mandeno Moments
By Mandeno Moments (Jun 29, 2012)

1) This type of contract is certainly objectionable, but I would like to offer another perspective: when a band hires a venue it gains a limited set of property rights for the duration of the hire, which includes the right to control who enters the venue and what they may do therein. Thus bands are entitled to restrict photography, despite that fact that it's silly to do so (why stop publicity?).

2) If a government imposed these conditions on photographers via a law that would be a gross violation of property rights and unjust. However, because photographers *freely choose* to enter this contractual relationship there is no issue of injustice here (in the sense of a violation of civil liberties).

continued...

1 upvote
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (Jun 29, 2012)

So they have two options - simply not allow photography, or allow photography on the condition that they get to exploit people and monitise their art for commercial gain forever, anywhere, while refusing to allow the photographer to do the same.

Personally I'd much prefer them to take the first course. No pictures? Fine, it's your party. But have some respect.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
4 upvotes
Mandeno Moments
By Mandeno Moments (Jun 29, 2012)

There is a third, sensible, option, which is unrestricted photography. This brings publicity when the photos are posted on the web and shared with friends.

The only restriction I would support applies to use of the photos in advertising, due to the matter of implied endorsement (common decency would preclude this use).

I agree that the contracts are disrespectful, and I would say that bands offering such contracts are displaying extreme arrogance. As you point out, they are demanding possession of what other people have created, which is a double standard.

Maloy says "I will go one step further to say that your call for boycott very closely neighbors free market violation and conspiracy to limit competition. Both of those are VERY ugly things." I disagree because - as I said above - a boycott is a pure and just expression of the free market, where fiscal consequences control behaviour (e.g. rude shopkeepers lose customers, and rude bands lose publicity).

1 upvote
ConanFuji
By ConanFuji (Jun 29, 2012)

kool pic

0 upvotes
Peter Galbavy
By Peter Galbavy (Jun 29, 2012)

It's not only about the money but also about press freedom. This would be just the thin end of the wedge. What next? Perhaps the music journalist covering the night will be expected to sigh a waiver restricting how they are allowed to portray the event and how they can syndicate their writing?

1 upvote
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (Jun 29, 2012)

You joke, but...

3 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (Jun 29, 2012)

Hmmm .. are you sure its a joke? I mean - the self esteem of some artists is very high and they think they can force the world to depict themselves only in the light they find fit.

1 upvote
Higuel
By Higuel (Jun 29, 2012)

It has been done!!! o_O

0 upvotes
TonyNelson
By TonyNelson (Jun 29, 2012)

Last year's Janet Jackson tour in the US demanded approval of text accompanying the photos. The way it was worded made it vague as to whether that really meant the photographer's captions the actual content of the accompanying review. Major press photographers (and their clients) pretty universally balked at it and, eventually, the tour used a more mild "no syndication" waiver that didn't grab the copyright or no waiver at all (as was my case).

0 upvotes
Ron Poelman
By Ron Poelman (Jun 29, 2012)

Stop talking and start boycotting, time to sort it out.
The big risk is freelancers being squeezed out forever
and replaced with in-house hacks.

When it's all said and done though, is ANY modern entertainment
anywhere near, living up to the over the top hype
that passes for promotion nowadays ?
They either want great photos or they don't
and as their target audience is looking at them on a mobile
phone screen, the answer is pachydermly obvious.

End of an era, hopefully with some kicking.

1 upvote
millsart
By millsart (Jun 29, 2012)

Of course the hundreds of amateurs who could care less about their rights and merely think it would be cool to take photos at a concert are all waiting in the wings to take their place.

"Gee, you mean I can not only do my love of photography AND my love of music/concerns and instead of paying for a ticket you'll let me in free and give me front row access for 3 songs and all I have to do is give you the images! Awesome, where do I sign up"

5 upvotes
Carlos Echenique
By Carlos Echenique (Jun 29, 2012)

Sadly, this is the most likely case. Infinite Number of Monkeys Syndrome. It all depends on how low your standards are for image quality. I shoot ballet professionally and it's not something any chimp with a DLSR can do. I haven't shot concerts, but I imagine the shots taken by a pro concert shooter far outstrip anything produced by an iPhone.

1 upvote
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (Jun 29, 2012)

Its their show. If the want chimps they get chimps. We live in the Facebook era. Quality is not paramount today. Its community. And actually - sometimes its nice. Some low fi photos or youtube videos might be more interesting to see than professional P taken by professional photographers. Sometimes.

1 upvote
HDF2
By HDF2 (Jun 29, 2012)

It's the law of averages. Before they would let in a handful of "pros" who had a high quality hit ratio (X out of every Y picture was usable). This cost real money to achieve - real cash outlay.

Now, they still pay the photographers. It is not true the "amateurs" are giving away their pics for free. They are effectively being paid the price of a concert ticket. A front row seat can set you back several hundred dollars. That's money the fan/photographer didn't pay - and thus earned.

So, the band lets in significantly more amateur photographers now than it ever did pros in the past. And in all of that myriad of iphone, rebel and other (gasp) "non-pro" cameras, they are likely to find usable material. It may not be as good as what the pros can produce, but the bands obviously don't feel they need that level of quality to meet their objectives.

And they get all of this done by paying "good money" to the photographers, but without actually having any real cash outlay.

3 upvotes
Rick Maiman
By Rick Maiman (Jun 30, 2012)

This is a problem across all spheres of professional photography. Anyone ever shoot for the AP? They foisted a take it or leave it contract on all "Stringers" back in 1996. No sign, no work. Most photogs eventually caved in. And for the paltry sum you too can shoot for them and every frame or file belongs to them. You are required to archive all images just in case they want something in the future.
Work for hire contracts are an extension of this entire comodization of photography. It's appalling when news outlets ask for people to "Share" images on some given event or topic of the day; Compensation; forget about it. Yet all these entities can reuse an image at will. Flickr? Another ruination for professionals in business. Sorry for the rant and the hijack, but I've been doing this an awful long time and can't subsist on it any longer. The photo bis is no longer a business, but a hobby for the egos of the jerks who blindly say, sure, take my photos, I'm so happy you chose me.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 129
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