Given the recent comments on my concert photography article and the A Photo Editor blog regarding the Jane’s Addiction photo release, I thought the topic of rights grab contracts deserved some attention. The full text of the JA release and my overall strategy for dealing with these predatory documents after the jump.

Rights grab photography releases are a fairly recent evil of the concert photography business. Whether you want to make a living from shooting or not, all music photographers should actively resist these predatory documents and have a clear strategy for doing so. I don’t have all of the answers but I have had some success.

How to deal with Rights Grab Photography Contracts

1) Do not sign them. Every time you do, you’re making it harder for yourself and every other photographer to make a living. Isn’t it hard enough already? (If you do sign them, it’s like saying you hate Freedom.)

2) Let  your editors know that you don’t sign them and make sure they are aware of the issues. Every single one of your editors should support you and your continued ability to buy groceries.

3) When negotiating be polite, rational and professional but stand your ground. It’s very likely that the person you are talking to is not the one responsible for enforcing the release. They are probably just the messenger (and you don’t want to piss off the person in the best position to help you).

4) Avoid bashing the band. Perry Farrell did not make me sign a release to take the image above. These “contracts” often come from the machine (management/legal/label/pr) and not necessarily the artist.

5) No matter who you’re talking to, explain that:

You make your living from concert photography.

Your livelihood depends on your ability to resell your archive of work.

Your images would be used for future editorial pieces that mean more exposure for the artist. (Imagine what the news stands would look like if no one was able to license concert photography of Michael Jackson.)

You love music and the band and that you’re not interested in making mousepads, coffee mugs, or any other commercial product that would hurt the artist’s income or public image.

6) Threaten to walk away from the assignment and see what happens. Mention that you have the support of your editor to do so. You’re providing the band with publicity. If they want the publicity your photos generate they’ll need to negotiate.

7) Remove yourself from the equation. The person with the most power to negotiate is probably your editor. Call your editor and ask her/him to speak to the on-site representative. Ideally your editor will be willing to pull coverage of the story entirely on the grounds that the publication depends on unique content (articles and photos) to stay relevant. Who wants to see the same press photo over and over anyways?

Before I depress you with the full text of the Jane’s Addiction release, I have a couple of success stories;

One: I was asked to sign away the copyright to images of a multi-platinum-selling rock band before one of their shows. I politely declined and called my editor to explain the situation. As soon as the assignment was in jeopardy, I was allowed permitted to complete the assignment AND keep my copyright.

Two: I was faxed a rights grab before the performance of a well known singer. I was told I needed to send it back signed in order to pick up my photo pass. I called my contact directly and explained that since a single assignment fee wasn’t enough to make a living on, I need to have the option of reselling my work for future editorial use.

I further explained that I had no interested in selling mousepads or t-shirts with of the artist on them. I stated that my publication would support my decision to walk away from the assignment if need be. At the end of conversation my contact called the band’s management. 5 minutes later I was allowed to shoot.

How do you deal with rights grab contracts?

JA-Photo-Release

  1. How to deal with rights grab photography releases. @aphotoeditor — http://cli.gs/gBnE8U

  2. RT @chrisowyoung: How to deal with rights grab photography releases. @aphotoeditor — http://tinyurl.com/no5fkz

  3. Good god! It might as well say, “after the concert we have rights to your camera and the shirt you bought before the show”

    I’ve never seen a contract like that before. Before this I only kinda-sorta thought they existed. I’m still new to this too. So thanks for the advice. Thanks to you I won’t feel so intimidated if I ever do run across one of these someday.

  4. Protect your IP! RT @chrisowyoung How to deal with rights grab photography releases. @aphotoeditor — http://cli.gs/gBnE8U

  5. great advice on how to handle copyright grabs from @chrisowyoung – http://bit.ly/2NWegC

  6. This is nearly identical to a contract I was presented with prior to a Ryan Adams and the Cardinals’ show earlier this year. Needless to say I didn’t sign it!

  7. To concert photographers like @benjaminlemaire: How to deal with rights grab photography releases! http://cli.gs/gBnE8U (from @chrisowyoung)

  8. RT @AntoineDoyen To concert photographers : How to deal with rights grab photography releases! http://cli.gs/gBnE8U (from @chrisowyoung)

  9. I just want to make note that if you refuse to shoot the assignment when writing for a small publication, publicists/labels/managers could care less if you decide not to sign the release. I had to sign one of these for Matt Costa who was a very small artist at the time and I wasn’t planning to sell any of the photos but still had to sign one none the less.

    When the option of a free show with the ability to photograph the artist without the rights to sell the photographs later or no show/no photographs is on the table, I’m going to choose the free show 99% of the time…at least until I get assignments that give me the leverage to threaten walking out and have it mean something.

    • i agree free show im in

    • Dan

      Andrew,

      Judging by the second paragraph of your post, you (and Kurt) are the problem with concert photography. The pits are full of people like you who are basically “Fans With Cameras”.

      What do you gain by getting “free show with photos”? Photos, I might add… that you cannot legally use. All you can do is admire them on your computer in the privacy of your own home. You can’t show them to your friends, you can’t post them on Facebook/Flickr/Myspace, you can’t license them for publication, you can’t do anything at all. What’s the point? Just to get free tickets to the show? Really?

      Leave your camera at home and buy a ticket like the rest of the fans. If you can’t afford it, then call your local radio station, I’m sure they are having ticket giveaways.

      Now, if you really want to be a “Press Photographer” you have to separate your emotions from the business at hand, part of which is furthering the business of concert photography. First, DO NOT SIGN any contract that has Copyright Grabbing language, ever. Even if (or especially if) it’s one of your favorite bands. Second, be prepared to walk away if they will not remove the offensive language from the contract. Third, respect yourself and your work by not giving it away for free. Doing so harms the whole concert photography industry and does YOU absolutely NO good. Accepting non-paying gigs only results in more non-paying gigs.

      It’s ok to be a fan AND a concert photographer, but it’s not ok to sign these releases. The more people who sign, the more the artists/management/publicists will think that it’s ok to force us to sign.

      DO NOT SIGN.

  10. Blarg, the slimey bastards. I ne’er he’rd o such tings. Arggg.

    Ok, enough pirate talk. But seriously, that’s pretty crazy. I remember I had to sign something to get into a Rise Against show, but it was nothing of that magnitude.

    I’m with you guys – I’d walk away from the biggest band ever before I give over my copyright.

    Besides, if you give it over, you might as well have never taken them in the first place – right?

  11. nelson

    I say sign them and worry about it later. Do you really think these publicist / management keep all these releases (nasty little man probably does)? I know for a fact that the signed releases for The Police at the Virgin Mobile festival were never collected by the tour manager and thrown out after the festival was over.

    If you lived in the 70′s and were about to shoot Elvis Presley, The Sex Pistol or Led Zeppelin and there was a release thrown on your face – would you sign it?? If you didn’t you would probably be wishing you did now.

  12. You sign them, Nelson.

    And then you can choose to use your photos other places.

    Oh, and when you get that nasty “You’ve been court ordered” appearance in your mail – well, I hope Chris says, “I told you so.”

  13. Hey Chris,

    I loved your photoshelter article and ones like this one are very useful to other photographers alike. For the Jane’s Addiction release, why wouldn’t someone just walk up to their tour poster, pop up the flash, and just snap that and send it in. That is SUCH a BS agreement…gotta stand your ground against that one…

    BTW, I’d love to hit you a few more thoughts at random and see what you think, I’ll hit you via email?

    Keith

  14. I was slated to shoot Jane’s Addiction this weekend with my publication, saw that release and had to make the decision to either turn up and see what happen (ie on the off chance they didn’t even present it, or to argue the case) or just turn it down. My editor supported either decision.

    In the end I decided to turn down the shoot. My only concern over questioning the release with the pr/management company would be in getting a reputation with them for being troublesome. I know of a few photographers who have been blacklisted by certain agencies for various reasons and are no longer approved for gigs by those companies. I didn’t want that happening to me or to be seen as “causing trouble” so decided to decline beforehand and let my publication send someone who WAS willing to sign their life away with that terrible piece of paper!

  15. Good article! I turned down shooting Morrissey this spring because of some release he had. I’d rather just stick to smaller shows and shoot them, instead of having to put up with all that crap of signing a release. can i post my photos here, can i sell these photos. not worth it in the end when I’m not even making a money off this stuff.

  16. I’m going to re-visit this one real quick. What happens if I didn’t sign an agreement that I was supposed to prior to the show but I still ended up being able to shoot it? Do I get to keep my rights to the images without them being able to sue or take action? I really just want the rights to use them in my portfolio which is one of the silliest lines in the contract. I’d assume I retain all rights since I didn’t sign anything but I wanted to double check with someone a little more knowledgeable.

    Thanks in advance Chris.

  17. Hi Chris

    I just read all of your tips for dealing with these releases. I have been shooting concerts for the last 14 years. I probably have over 3000 artists in my stock that I have photographed. All you have as an artist is your copyright. I recently had a band that I have worked with for over ten years try to get me to sign a release. It was not near as bad as that one, but it was bad enough. I told managemewnt I was just going to enjoy myself at the show.

    Was the publicity co. for Janes Nasty Little Man? They are notorious for trying to screw photographers. The Beastie Boys have a very similar release to the Janes Addiction release from above.

    If you can not post your images, sell fine art prints, but out books of Body of work, license images to magazines then what is the point of doing all this work anyone?

    The bright lights and speaker monitors are exciting but at the end of the day you can’t pay your rent with a photo credit

    Kudos to you Chris for spreading a positive message!!

    Peace
    Michael Weintrob

  18. http://bit.ly/2TQxRw awesome Rights grab article. Via @Chrisowyoung!

  19. RT @BandPhotography http://bit.ly/2TQxRw awesome Rights grab article. Via @Chrisowyoung!

  20. Hi Michael,

    I'm not convinced that Nasty Little Man has anything to do with the way the releases they distribute are written. In my personal experience NLM is not trying to screw photographers outright either. As far as I know, rights-grab waivers that they use are actually written and required by Silva Artist Management.

  21. @kx0101 Whether they are legal or not, I don't sign them. See this link — http://bit.ly/7dfWbn

  22. Dealing with Rights Grab Photo Releases http://su.pr/8OvVx9 – Excellent post from @chrisowyoung – Must read #togs #photographers #concert

  23. Dealing with Rights Grab Photo Releases http://su.pr/8OvVx9 – Excellent post from @chrisowyoung – Must read #togs (via @fsphotography)

  24. RT @chrisbrockphoto: Dealing with Rights Grab Photo Releases http://su.pr/8OvVx9 – Excellent post from @chrisowyoung – Must read #togs ( …

  25. RT @chrisbrockphoto: Dealing with Rights Grab Photo Releases http://su.pr/8OvVx9 – Excellent post from @chrisowyoung – Must read #togs ( …

  26. I’ve had those kind of contract thrown my way a few times, I’ve almost always been able to re-negociate them and get away with keeping all the copyrights.
    Unfortunally I’ve had to turn down and walk away from some pretty big bands and not cover the show because of their record labels being a bit of a pain, but I always had my editor backing me up.

    I wish more photographer wouldn’t sign those contracts, they’re only making it harder to all of us, it’s not like it’s easy to live out of concert photography in countries like the US and UK, imagine in small countries like Denmark, where good photography is not appreciate enough.

  27. Chris, great to see another photographer called Chris fighting Rights Grab contracts!

    :)

    I am running a series of campaigns on my blog regarding Image Rights Grab attempts by publishers. Our first campaign was highly successful and resulted in a major UK publisher changing their terms and conditions for photographic submissions. It would be great to get your support and your readers’ support for future campaigns – here is our current one:

    http://fairtradephotographer.blogspot.com/2010/02/beware-living-science-competition-image.html

    best regards
    Chris

  28. Chris,
    What do you think the result would be if you signed the contract anyway but instead crossed out/blacked out certain sections before signing it? By doing that, it’s basically saying “I signed based on these conditions” and since it’s a legally binding contract, they (at least in FL) are bound to agreement.

    Have you or your brother ever done this or know people that have? I haven’t had releases this nasty but I figure if I just cross out the crap I don’t like, they can’t say anything about it. I mean, I’ve seen lawyers do this a lot, along with other business managers so I wonder if it works the same in this business.
    .-= Read My Last Blog Post: Everymen at Propaganda =-.

  29. Dealing with Rights Grab Photo Releases http://su.pr/8OvVx9 – Excellent post from @chrisowyoung

  30. Chris…thought I’d update you on a huge win that we just pullled off vs a very nasty “rights Grab” for Nateva Music & Camping Festival in ME. I just put the entire story up and it’s been getting some decent coverage…

    Was a rare and pretty awesome moment to go through, especially because…we wona dn got them to fully rescind the contract…if you have a minute…take a read. And thanks as always for kicking the ass that you do on here for everyone.

    Blog Post: Rights Grab Defeated by Nateva Photographers & Editors (see full story on mikespencerphotography.com as well as link to article published in the Boston Phoenix about the issue.)

  31. KP

    Photographers on assignment are put in a predicament when presented these forms
    at the last minute and it’s because some photographers continue to sign
    the management’s/publicist’s/band’s/label’s releases, that they continue to
    pull this predatory behavior. They are counting on photographers signing due to
    fear of lost compensation from assignments. They are also counting on the
    apathetic and the ignorant.

    If editors are putting you in that position, it’s time the photographers start
    asking their editors to acquire these release forms in advance to afford the
    photographers the opportunity to decide whether they want to accept the
    assignment or not.

    When photographers receive these forms at the very last minute, there’s no time
    to read it thoroughly, understand the terms, ask questions, or negotiate the
    terms of the agreement.

  32. Rachel

    Is it common to be presented with a contract requiring you to give up your copyright and declare someone else the author of your photographs when you’re shooting for the record label/pr/promoter/sponsor, rather than a publication? Or are the generally happy to license the images from the photographer? Or does it vary wildly?

    • It varies wildly Rachel. I’ve been asked to sign away my rights by every kind of client imaginable. I’ve been asked to sign them away for nothing and I’ve been asked to sign them away in exchange for large sums of money. In the end, every photographer has to decide if it’s worth it or not on a case by case basis. If the client is simply worried that you’ll sell unauthorized merch, simply tell them you’ll sign an agreement stating that you won’t. If the client is asking for full transfer of copyright, more often than not they’re trying to get something for nothing. If your relationship with the client is good, then there are always ways to work something out that benefits all parties.

  33. Very good article, but I disagree with you about the artist not knowing about the rights grabber release. Some may not but I believe most do and once someone tells them about it (and trust me people are telling them about it) and they know its being implemented and at the next show its still being used then you know that artist knows about and is allowing it. Now the artist may say something like, “Oh there’s not much I can do about it” really? Your the boss NOT your management. The artist’s management is saying something like, “these photographers are making money off your likeness! That’s money, you the artist should be getting a cut of!!!!” Not telling the artists, that for every great concert photo that runs of the artist that is X amount of dollars that does not have to be spent promoting the artist’s next show or latest greatest album. This ends up saving the artist money, but band management still being stuck in a 70s mentality only thinks in terms of pennies not dollars.

    The general public does not care about us photographers losing our rights, but they should, because the same entities who are trying hard to take away the rights of photographers today will be the same entities who will try to take away the average person’s freedom of speech rights tomorrow.

  34. RT @chrisowyoung How to Deal with Rights Grab Contracts http://bit.ly/2rChfR (via @yveshache )

  35. Vous photographiez un spectacle et l'artiste exige que vous lui remettiez TOUS les droits sur les photos. Que faire? http://t.co/xVzKl5B

  36. You should have told JA to stick it up their a–.
    As they would if asked to sign comparable agreement related to a song.
    Same goes for contests, sites etc.
    Honestly this article has changed my opinion of this band.
    Nobody’s fault. It just has.
    Anyways.. what I really wanted to say was thank you Chris.
    Really enjoyed the read!

  37. This is a good article about dealing with rights grab contracts… http://bit.ly/c39u6U

  38. How to deal with rights grabbing contracts, here are your instructions :) http://t.co/jvUb8VDS

  39. Outstanding entry! I found it very worthwhile.
    I’ll check back later to see if more posts are added.

  40. Raul,

    Unfortunately, I’m certain you will run into one of these fairly soon. It also may not be for an artist you expect. Do not be bullied!

  41. Way to go Kate!

  42. chris

    Hi Andrew,

    In situations where you’re signing away your rights in order to shoot, you’re essentially selling the photos in exchange for a front row ticket to the first three songs. I should also mentioned that I was shooting for a small independent website for one of the examples I listed in the post. At the very least, the importance of your publication to the artist should be tested before making any assumptions.

    I’m not trying to be a smart alec here but if I were you, I would sign the document, take the one or two photos you need for your assignment and then just enjoy the show for the remaining 15-20 minutes of the first three.

    (Personally, I’d rather buy a ticket and arrive early enough to stay in the front row for the entire show.)

    NOTE: I’m speaking specifically of contracts that give your copyright to the artist – not ones that simply say you cannot sell the photos afterwards but retain your copyright. If you give away your copyright, you don’t even have the right to use them in your portfolio.

  43. Hey Chris,

    There are lots of bands that have totally acceptable photo releases. Some of them say you can’t put the photos on mousepads or coffee mugs, some of them say you can’t sell the photos to another publication without asking first – both of these are okay in my opinion.

    Artists don’t want anyone making unauthorized merch or selling their images to publications their publicist does not approve of. I think most photographers understand and agree with an artist’s need for both of these things.

  44. Hi Nelson,

    Thanks for weighing in. Your experience in all things concert photography is certainly valued.

    While I know that these releases aren’t universally kept, enforced or even given to every photographer at each concert, I do worry about their effects on the future of the photography business.

    Even if these releases aren’t enforced/applied now, if they are allowed to become the standard, they could gain enough momentum to be a serious problem to the industry as a whole and to individual photographers who may find themselves in entirely work-for-hire situations with no intellectual property.

  45. Now, now. There will be no such “I told you so” talk. The content of this post is just my opinion. Everyone should make their own decision as to whether to sign these things or not.

    It might be that in 25 years no one will have any record that any of us signed a specific release for a specific concert and we’ll all have a shot at selling $2000 fine art prints at galleries around the world. At this moment in time, I’m not taking that gamble.

  46. Sure, hit me up any time.

  47. Hi Kristen,

    As long as you’re straight forward and professional in your discussion with PR/Management, you should be fine. Everyone is just doing their job.

    Whenever I’ve been asked to sign something I’m not comfortable with, I’ve explained my reasons to management and to my editor and everyone has been cool with it. They may not all like it or agree, but there is mutual understanding and respect throughout.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

  48. Bryan,

    You bring up an important and useful point. Once, while I was explaining to a band’s press representative why I wasn’t going to sign the agreement, I told her how much I was getting paid for shooting the assignment. She was shocked at how little it was (it’s sad, I know) and she saw the entire conversation in a different light.

    I think most of us do this because we have a deep love of music – not because we want to make it rich selling unauthorized photo-mousepads on ebay.

  49. I think most of us do this because we have a deep love of music – not because we want to make it rich selling unauthorized photo-mousepads on ebay.

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  50. Hi Andy,

    I thought I’d reply to your comment again in public.

    Although someone may be pissed off themselves for not properly enforcing the contract IF (a big if) they ever find out that you didn’t sign one, you’re totally in the clear.

    You didn’t agree to anything, they can’t do anything.

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