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.