You may have noticed that I don’t photograph nearly as much live music as I used to. That’s for a number of reasons, but largely because I’m tired of having to sign away the rights to my photographs every time I shoot a show as an accredited photographer.
Most times a photographer is let into a concert to shoot their first three songs, they are made to sign a contract in order to get in. That contract is sometimes with the concert promoter, sometimes with band management.
What the contract normally states is along the lines of “by allowing you to photograph this concert you are limited to publishing the photos once only in the one publication you represent”. Except it’s expressed in much more legalistic jargon.
Alarmingly what is becoming even more commonplace is contracts that explicitly take away the photographers copyright and moral rights and transfer it to the band.
What that means is that without paying the photographer a cent, the bands management could demand the photos from a photographer and print them on t-shirts, album covers or posters and not even credit the photographer.
I find it frustrating enough to have to limit where my photos appear to one publication, but these contracts are getting even more exploitative.
Is it legal and enforceable?
When I asked veteran concert photographer Tony Mott what he thinks of contracts he said,
“I ignore them. They’re illegal anyway. My only advice is don’t argue because then you don’t get your access. Just sign it, date it and time it. Almost instantaneously it becomes null and void. To have a contract you need to have consulted a lawyer. Plus, they never give you a copy.”
Unfortunately legal opinion doesn’t seem to be on Tony’s side. At the Underexposed music photography symposium copyright specialist Ellen Beattie explained that the contracts are legal and binding. Similarly, lawyer Michael Easton told The Music Network,
“You should only sign something if you are happy to be bound by it”.
Making a mint from concert photos
Artist’s management seem to think that photographers are getting rich off their image – it’s so far from the truth. Most photographers are actually there due to a passion for their craft and a love of music. The monetary compensation is meagre.
By instituting a contract that robs the photographer of the right to publish their photos, or even be acknowledged as the photographer is a kick in the face.
I don’t think the artist’s intention is to actually go through with demanding photographer’s images and exploiting them for nothing, and i’ve never heard of that happening, so I think it’s an incredibly heavy handed and unnecessary approach.
I think all photographers would be happy with an agreement that denied any rights to reproduce images for commercial use. We don’t want to sell the images for unauthorised merchandise; t-shirts, posters and the like.
What we do want is the right to publish our photos on our own websites. We want the right to say yes to Rolling Stone or SPIN magazine when they get in contact about publishing our photos. We want to be able to use our photos for editorial use, which is generally positive publicity for the artist.
How much harm can no contract be?
You may have heard of the little Dublin band called U2. They have no photo contract at all. AC/DC? No photo contract. The Rolling Stones? No contract. It doesn’t seem to have adversely affected their careers or limited their ability to make money from their image.
At any concert, all the fans in the crowd who photograph the show don’t sign a contract. Their photos can be just as good quality as the professionals, plus they can shoot after the three song limit. Are all those fan photos damaging the artist? There’s nothing stopping those fans selling or publishing their photos.
A fairer solution
If bands deem it necessary to have a contract which states the terms of entry then i think it really only needs to state the basics:
- First three songs, no flash
- Entry is at the photographers own risk
- The photos will be used for editorial use only – no commercial use allowed
I’d love to hear opinions from those in the industry about why this contract wouldn’t work?
Any other opinions from photographers? Bands? Management? Tour promoters?