A Concert Photographer’s Manifesto on Copyright Grabbing Contracts
By Misery Xchord

The following text was posted anonymously to Flickr’s Concert Photography forum.

When certain bands come to town I am forced not to not to photograph them because of something in the industry known as a rights grabber. A rights grabber is a contract that is normally handed to you right before you obtain your photo pass at a show that you are forced to sign in order to get your photo pass and be able to photograph the event.

Sometimes these contracts are harmless and state things like you will only use the photos for editorial uses and not for anything commercial. Which I am totally fine with like most concert photographers are, because we are in the business of licensing photos for editorial uses to music mags, websites, papers, etc. We are here to help promote that artist and get their name out as many places and outlets that we can. Publicity is the name of the game for concert photographers.

Publicity is the main reason why we are allowed to receive photo passes to get the access that we do to photograph all the amazing artists that we do. We rub their backs by having photos and stories published of them to promote their bands and tours and they rub ours back by allowing us to photograph them in exchange. In the world of concert photography we are very limited to access as it is, the norm is that we only get the first three songs of the show to photograph without use of any flash. With some bigger acts sometimes we have to stand all the way back at the soundboard to photograph the artist and we are not allowed close access up front in the pit. All of the limitations should be no problems for a professional. Sometimes we get crazy restrictions (first 30 seconds, only shoot from one side, etc) but I wont bother to get into that as that is a totally different topic for discussion.

The main point that you need to know is that we get access to photograph artists in exchange for getting their bands publicity.

Then comes acts like Lady Gaga that recently appeared with a “rights grabber” contract in order to photograph her. In the past there was no contract for her and there were no problems. However Lady Gaga is not the first act to have such terrible contracts, she just got a lot of news lately mainly because she is a higher profile artist.

Artists such as Janet Jackson, Beastie Boys, Jimmy Eat World, Foo Fighters, My Chemical Romance, Stone Temple Pilots, KISS, Janes Addiction, Gogol Bordello, Steven Seagall, MGMT, Queens of the Stone Age, Cheap Trick,The Mars Volta, Matchbox 20, AFI, Sonic Youth, and many more have all felt the need to have rights grabbers. Some of these acts still have them while some have decided to change for the better on their policies.

There are two main types of rights grabbers out there at the moment, there are the full blown rights grabbers where artist owns all rights to your photos and then there are ones that state artists are allowed to you any of your photos for whatever they want without payment. Both types are totally unacceptable and a slap in the face to any photographer. I mean how would the artist feel if just by playing a venue they had to give up rights to their songs to that venue?

Why are rights grabbers bad in general?

When there are rights grabbers it basically means that any photo that the photographer takes at a show, they no longer own them anymore and have no rights to use them in the future in any way. They are no longer the photographers photos. Which means it takes away their rights to license the photo editorially for any publications that
wish to use a photo of a artist for a story in the future preventing extra publicity for that artist. Not only do you not own your photos anymore, it also gives the artist or the management the rights to use the photographers photos for whatever they wish, whether it be to promote the band or for commercial uses such as t-shirts, cd covers, box sets, posters, etc. To add insult to injury most of these rights grabbers make you waive your moral rights also, which means when they use your photos that you no longer own, they do not even have to give you credit for using them. So in the future when you see the photo that you taken on posters, the bands websites or cd covers, it most likely will not have your name on it. So you have nothing to show for your work because legally they do not even have to credit you not to mention they do not have to pay you for using them also.

Most concert photographers make peanuts to cover a show, they depend on owning rights for licensing their photos to editorials and publications in the future to make ends meat. With rights grabbers this is not possible for them to to license their photos anymore for editorial uses.

Why are there rights grabbers in the first place?

A lot of concert photographers notice that a lot of the above listed artists are represented by the New York publicity firm Nasty Little Man. When Steve Martin who owns the firm, was asked about the contracts, he said that those stipulations are up to the bands and their managers. and stated “In my experience it often comes from artists who’ve been stuck having to pay a ton for a shot they want for a box set, merch, etc. and that having the parameters set for such transactions in a legal document can keep that from happening in the future.”

Another reason that I was told by various managements was that it was there to protect the artists image so that the photos are not used for unethical uses such as tabloids, etc. They also mention that it was no big deal and if the bands ever wanted your photos they would still pay you to license them, even though legally they don’t have to and they already own them.

So basically, Steve is saying because one, two, or many bands had to pay a premium for good photography in the past for merch that they are forced to enforce the rights grabbers. I do not know specifics about these bands paying a ton for a photo for box sets, etc., or if it ever really happened at all or if its just a cop out that the management tells the band to scare them into using a rights grabber so that management can get free photos in the future. I do know however that if I asked all the bands they probably would not have a clue what I was talking about when I tell them about the rights grabber and why I was told that it was being used. I am not saying that it never happened, maybe the “ton” that was paid for that photo on a box set was really just a manager getting mad because the photographer refused to let the band use a free photo. Or maybe he was really asking for a million. Like I said, I never heard any specifics on the story to prove that it ever really happened and no one will ever fess up details about it. All in all this is no reason to go overboard and punish all the working professionals over one photographers actions.

Some photographers personally think that this excuse is a cop out used by managements in order to get free photos. Then again I personally know some photographers that have been paid for a photo usage of photos that they did not own because they signed the rights grabber. As stated above that some bands will still pay you for the usage even with the rights grabbers, which really just defies the point of the grabber in first place.

I have personally asked bands about these contracts when they had one, half the time the band has no idea about them and are oblivious to the fact that they exist. As for the bands that are aware of them, they normally tell me what management has told them, that its there to protect their images from being used unethically, whether the management does not want their photos on the wire, or tabloids, etc. But when you tell them what the contract is really saying and how it takes photographers rights they normally are shocked and or appalled about the issue. The sad part is that even when they are made aware of it, it never changes most likely due to management decisions are final.

As for the excuse that these contracts are around just to protect the artists image from the photos being used the wrong way. Which seems to be the main reason that these contracts really exist. This is the most ass backwards thinking that could ever exists. Their reasoning is that if they own all rights to the photos, then they will not get used in anyway without their permission. Well they are right on that, but that only applies to professional photographers that play by the rules. But what they fail to realize is that the problem with photos ending up in the wrong places will always exist, with rights grabbers or no rights grabbers.

The rights grabbers are not really doing any thing to prevent the problem. Why is that you ask? Well the problem does not lie in the professional photographers, it lies in the unprofessional ones, and the fans that bring cameras into shows. Most of the photos of artists that are put into bad light, sent to tabloids, and used in unethical ways are from fan photos from the crowd or the non professional photographers that will sign any contract handed to them because they plan on selling and using the photos unethically in the first place. With these people contracts do not stop them from doing what they are going to do in the first place. The only thing that will is better control on who gets passes or letting cameras into venues.

There is a big problem in the process of getting credentialed for photo passes. You will see anything in the pit these days from professional shooters, point and shoot cameras, to people with cell phone cameras. It is sad but true I must say when you are a professional trying to work when you see someone standing next to you with a photo pass and a camera phone taking photos.

But the major problem is the unprofessional photographers. When they are given a rights grabbing contract, they will take the contract and sign it and shoot. After the shoot, they will sell the photos to whoever is paying, unethical or not. They do not care about that rights grabber that they signed, they are going to do what they want to do.

Then you have a professional photographer, who is actually there working for a publication that is going to get the band some major publicity. They get the rights grabber, but have to refuse to sign it, and in return they do not get to photograph the show because of it. Why did they refuse to sign it? Because professionals actually play by the rules, and with those set of rules, it does not allow them to use the photos ever again. Not to mention that sometimes the company they are shooting for wont allow them to sign it because the company owns all rights to photos that they shoot because they are work for hire, the photographer actually has no legal ability to sign the contract cause they give their rights to the company they are shooting for and that company wont allow them to give up their rights thus killing any publicity. This is the case for most photographers that work for newspapers, they do not own their rights in the first place the paper does, so when they get these agreements, it just means that story that was going to run in the paper wont happen. Then there are the normal freelancers that will refuse to sign it out of ethics. Which again kills any publicity.

If by chance a professional is allowed to sign it, they sign, and they forfeit their rights to the photos and only get to use them for what they are shooting for and get paid from that company for the one time use of the photos. Then they can never use the photos again because they sign their rights away and no longer own them. They just photographed the show because they needed money to pay bills.

So if rights grabbers are around because of photos being used unethically, then they have to realize that they are not solving the problem by enforcing them and all it is doing is creating more problems because of it.

So here is where I am going to list the pros and cons of rights grabbers on the music industry side.

Pros : Bands / Management get free use of photos for whatever
they want without having to credit or pay photographers.

Cons: No newspapers will cover bands with grabbers.
Most professional photographers will not sign them thus
leaving amateur shooters taking less quality photos.
Unprofessional photographers will still use photos for the
wrong reasons because they sign and shoot without
reading contracts.
Less Professional Publicity is received.

Now you have to ask, do the pros out weigh the cons? In these days free photos are worth their weight in gold I assume.

Solutions to the problem?

There are alternative ways to make both parties happy but the voice of photographers is too small to make a difference in the big music industry as this has been the case for years as these contracts have gotten more and more out of control. The ideal contract would be none at all and many big artists have realized this, and they normally play by the rule that any publicity is good. Some artists that do not have any contracts at all include acts such as Madonna, Elton John, U2, etc. etc. etc. Now if these big artists do not need rights grabbers, then why does any artist. It really makes you think about other motives for them.

So it comes down to managements saying that rights grabbers exist for these reasons but the wording in the contracts say noting about the reasons they say they are for in the first place. If these contracts were truly being used for these for the reasons that were stated the wording would read different. For example, if they were worried about paying too much to license a photo, the contract could say that you agree to license photos to the band at a fair market value if they want them. Or it would say you agree to only use the photos editorially. But managements refuse to change the wording because they know that the way they have it worded means free photos.

But if there has to be a contract, it should only state that the photographer will only use the photos editorially and not commercially without artist prior consent. Although this still will not prevent the non professionals from doing bad things with the photos. You have to realize that it is going to happen despite any precautions one takes rights grabbers or not.

If one wanted to take precautions for such they should be looking into a better process on screening photographers that apply for credentials and have better security measures at shows and fans bringing cameras in. By doing this it would probably stop a lot of the misuse from happening in the first place.

If the bands are worried about getting ripped off for licensing photos down the line, why not find a photo from the 1000 of other photographers out there that are willing to be fair with licensing, or if they really wanted that particular photo they could get it by other means. I can not say that I do not know one photographer that would pass up on licensing a photo to a band for a lower rate if not free, if that band gave the photographer unlimited photo access to their next event. Money is not the only thing we accept, we are able to barter. Then again, there will always be that one photographer who has a stick up their butt and trys to rip a band off. But that is life, there are always going to be bad apples out there.

If you are management, the real question you should be asking before deciding on having a rights grabber is should you be punishing all professional photographers for the actions of one or a few bad ones? Concert photographers are hard working artists that do this out of the love of the art and not in it for the money as most of us have multiple jobs on the side just to support us being able to pay for camera gear, gas, time, to get to the shows to support you, the artist, by giving you free publicity. The thinking that putting these rights grabbers out will prevent anything mention above is ridiculous thinking.

Why did I write this in depth article on rights grabbers when it comes to concert photography?

The main reason is that I want to make the world aware on this plague that our small community has to put up with on a daily basis and hopefully will make some higher ups in the industry realize what they are doing is not only evil, and wrong but it robs photographers of their art and lively hood. It also prevents the higher quality publicity that bands deserve and for what? To save a few dollars from that one mystery photographer ripping a mystery band off on a photo for their box set.

Also I am personally getting fed up lately of all the concerts that I have had to turn down because of these contracts, while I see unprofessional photographers still shooting them because they do not abide by these contracts, while the professionals sit out and miss the shows. Preventing professionals from using their own photos while the unprofessional photographers are using them in any way despite signing the contracts has to end.

The industry has this notion that concert photographers are making a ton of money off of their artists and are exploiting them, but what they do not realize is that 99.9% of professional concert photographers have to have multiple jobs just to keep doing what they love. Its what we put all of our passion into, and that is making their artists look good while getting them the most publicity that they can receive at the same time.

who am I?

I vow to remain anonymous do to the nature of this industry because if someone disagrees with something that I said above then I would most likely be blacklisted from photographing certain concerts. I personally have been professionally been photographing artists for over ten years and supplying many photos to publications worldwide. I have been doing this out of the love for concert photography and I live off of my paycheck week to week from my part time job not photography. I am well known in this industry and I can barely afford to keep my camera gear running with the money I make from concerts. I will stay in the game as long as I can.

-Concert Photographer

Feel free to re-post this anywhere.

Misery Xchord (97 Posts)

i am a very pretty hate machine. artist | illustrator | blogger | photographer (not a terrorist)