Why concert photography rights grabs are offensive

Lauren Barlow of BarlowGirl, which did not demand copyright of my photographs to shoot them at the 2010 Ichthus Festival. © Photograph for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Photo District News reported today that Lady Gaga is the latest major pop star to present photographers who shoot her current tour with a contract that amounts to a rights grab.

According to PDN, a Washington-based photographer covering LaGaga’s show for the online news outlet TBD was presented with a form that said, in the last paragraph, “Photographer hereby acknowledges and agrees that all right title and interest (including copyright) in and to the photograph(s) shall be owned by Lady Gaga.” This was not surprising. The rights-grab has become a growing issue among photographers of concerts and other major events – the only one I was directly privy to involved a monster truck show. But it particularly offends me when it involves performers, because it is so disrespectful of fellow artists.

They should know better.

Guitarist Jim Root of Stone Sour, which did not demand the copyright for shooting its January concert in Rupp Arena. © Photograph for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

When I hear about this, I just think, “OK. So, what if the venue you played required you to sign over all rights to the music you played there in order to perform in the arena?” “What if Fender demanded rights to your music because it was played on their guitars?”

It sounds ridiculous, but no more preposterous than a performer saying, “You should give up rights to the pictures you have created because they are of me.”

Taking a photograph is a creative endeavor just like writing a song, playing an instrument, choreographing a dance or designing a dress made of meat.  Yes, all the photographers are seeing essentially the same thing and shooting under the same circumstances. But they have plenty of control from exposure to camera angle to post processing. Concert photography is a particularly pressure-packed endeavor because there is usually a limited time of 10 to 15 minutes to get your shots, and proper exposure for stage lighting can be really tricky. Collect the cards from a half dozen photogs shooting a show, and you will see a half dozen different perspectives on the show at varying levels of quality.

An artist who demands a photographer’s copyright is essentially acting as if the image was their creation. (According to the TBD post, not all LaGaga shooters were presented with this demand, but my point is none should be.)

For a long time concert photography has come with restrictions like where photographers can shoot from, the amount of time they can shoot and where images can be published. They are for the most part understandable directions, though some can still be annoying.  Part of the excuse for rights grabs is concerns that photographers may use images on things like T-shirts and posters. But it’s easy to cover that with specific language in an agreement without trying to take the same copyright artists strive to exercise over their music.

A little mutual respect would be appreciated.

2 thoughts on “Why concert photography rights grabs are offensive

  1. If you know anything about the law, using ANYONE’s picture on merchandise is a commercial use, and is illegal without a signed model release from the person pictured, so there is no reason even to sign an agreement specifying no merch use. A PROFESSIONAL photographer would know this, but in the music biz it’s hard for publicists to sort out who’s a legitimate photog and who’s a masquerading fan.

    The solution would be to deal only with professional photographers–ask for proof of insurance, business registration or tax #/EIN, something that substantiates they do photography or journalism for a profession, so they are not dealing with fans-with-cameras who are not really photographers and so are ignorant of the laws.

  2. Totally agreed, Jon. I think we’ve all gone through the fun of getting a photo credential only to arrive in the pit and see people who clearly belong on the other side of the barrier both in their photo technique and conduct. It does seem Gaga’s people were doing some sorting since the WaPo didn’t have to sign the same onerous agreement.
    I do think the people they are worrying about as far as merch aren’t legit dealers, but the guys you see on the sidewalk after shows selling cheap T’s and trinkets. Then again, as one person writing about this said, those guys probably aren’t going to buy a photo to use anyway. They’ll just steal it off the web or something.

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