Photo contracts, why are they always wrong?

Svenska Björnstammen at Pstereo © Per Ole HagenMany artists present contracts through their managements that they expect the photographers to sign before they are allowed to photograph the concert. These contract are sometimes different, but they have this in common that the artist, or rather their management, wants to control all aspects of the artist’s performance. (Den Svenska Björnstammen – above – never presented a photo contract.)

Some of these contracts want to make sure you will not sell your pictures for t.shirts and other merchandise. To me, that seems fair and not too problematic. The problem arises when they also want to control how you can use your pictures for editorial use, and when they want to take over the ownership to the pictures.

Some contracts will only control the editorial use of the pictures. These contracts often state that you have to send your pictures to the artist’s management for approval before you are allowed to publish them. This is really a no-no for all self-respecting publisher, and goes far to try to control what is published. What will come next, that you have to send your review to the management for approval before publishing?

The worst kind of photo contracts are the ones where, on top of the management wanting to control what is published, they also want to own the copyright to the photos. These are the ”rights-grabbers”, and there are sadly some variations on these, too. Some of these just claim a transfer of ownership from the photographer to the management. This is bad enough. Others also state that the management can use these photos as they like without compensating the photographer. I read one this summer, where they also stated that they may or may not credit the photographer, this will be the management’s decision. You lose the right to your pictures and you won’t even be named as the photographer!

The sad thing about these contracts, is the total lack of respect for other artists’ intellectual property. The music industry has fought a hard battle to fight piracy and the theft of their artists’ music. The basis of this fight has been that it is up to the right-holders to decide if they want to let someone copy their work, it is not up to the copier. When they present contracts where they want you as a photographer to sign away your rights and let the management exploit your photos for their own profit and without even crediting  you, it undermines their own fight.

There is only one way to get rid of these contracts and that is never to sign them. In Norway and the other Scandinavian countries, the press generally agree not to sign photo contracts, and also not to review or report about the concert. Total silence. Since both the press and the artists are in a way depending upon each other, this usually has effect. I have personally experienced several times this summer where the managements waived the contract when they heard there would be no press at the concert. I won’t name names here, but we talk about big, world-class artists.

So far the situation in Norway is acceptable, with only a few examples of newspapers and websites reporting on concerts in spite of contracts. What they do, is they use pictures taken at another concert, or they take a picture with a point and shoot from the audience without signing the contrat. I think this is the totally wrong way to do it. The argument is that the artist is so big, that they have an obligation to their readers to report, contract or no contract. As long as managements see that they will get coverage in spite of contracts when the artist is big enough, they will continue to present them.

The Facebook group Music Photographers have some good discussions on these contracts, and you can see many examples of what they look like. If you wish, you can also state your opinion here on this blog.

14 thoughts on “Photo contracts, why are they always wrong?

  1. Pingback: Bergen Fest 2014 – Friday | Artist Pictures Blog

  2. I have shot a similar number of festivals this year and have been told numerous times this year I cannot shoot certain artists because they have a no agency rule. Unfortunately at a couple of these festivals these contracts where simply non negotiable and so I could not shoot anyhow. The Norway situation is interesting because I believe this stance was originally taken by one of the unions in Norway? Correct me if I am wron and I recall the furore caused by said artists contract. Unfortunately here in the UK the unions do not have as much power.

    The situations I came across at this years festivals made me question if this was even a business I wants to be a part of anymore? I still am considering whether to continue, with dwindling photo opportunities, Getty buying exclusive tour access and dwindling returns on newspaper sales the future is not looking good for UK music photographers.

    By the way I still managed to shoot most of those artists with contracts without signing anything 🙂

    • I am not aware of any union situation of photogs here in Norway, but the main newspapers and later on the most important websites for music have all acted together, and that has worked well.

      I see the sitiuation with contracts as part of a bigger picture, where some managements try to gain control over everything. My hope is that this will backfire when people see what they are doing, but I am not very optimistic, as long as too many people accept their rules.

      I have full respect for those of you who try to do concert photography full time. Too many amateurs shoot for free and give away the photos to outlets that are perfectly capable of paying for them. With restrictions for professional photogs and 20.000 fans with half decent camera phones, there are an abundance of photos of concerts, where 99% is between bad and half good – but free, and the rest is half good to excellent – but costs money. Guess what a web site editor with a small budget chooses 😉

  3. Per as a professional music photographer I am not interested in saying I have photographed a band / artist. What I am interested in is making my business successful.

    Lets say I drive 80 to 100 miles to cover a show which I do on a regular basis, to just walk away because there is a contract is not really a professional thing to do in my opinion and a costly use of my time and resources.

    No matter what business I have been involved in martyrdom has never been successful as an option. Negotiation has always worked for me and when I have spoken to the bands / artist management the majority of the time they have not understood the contract they have been putting out and usually they are trying to protect their acts merchandise revenue stream. When I have explained this is not the right way to go about this I think you have a much better chance of making changes in this industry than just walking away and saying nothing.

    I recently had a contract that requested no print or online usage, when I pointed this out to the act’s manager after the show I got it in writing that I could in fact use my images in print and online and duly submitted them to my agency.

    Do the band care if their are no photographers in the pit, would they even notice??? I guess not!

    So whilst I understand why you would walk away, I don’t think it is going to achieve anything.

    • Hi Gary.

      I agree with your argument, but not your conclusion. I can only speak for the Norwegian situation, though. I have been involved in many negotiations about contracts, and almost without exception they have been wavered when presented with the possibility of an empty pit and no coverage in the newspapers.

      So far, I have shot 15 festivals and many other concerts this year, and have only had to turn down one contract, for Lenny Kravitz. All the others who had contracts, decided not to present them when they heard about the Norwegian press policy. So my answer to your question is, yes the artists care, or at least their publicist and their record company’s reps care, because it makes it a lot harder for them to promote their music.

      I have no problem with their concern about merch, and would gladly sign a contract with such a clause. But I hope you agree that it is also fair that they have to pay me a royalty, or at least ask me before they use my pics on their own merch. The blatant theft of my intellectual property that some contracts state, is way over the top. Your example of how they want to regulate how you use your pics, is also an example of how some managements want to control everything.

      I am all for negotiating, actually that is what I do in my day job, and that is what happens when the contracts are pulled. But I am also entitled to my opinion about the opposing side’s terms. A good contract is balanced, “for this, I get that” and so on, and I have yet to see a photo contract that is anywhere close to balanced in any way.

  4. Very good reading. And as you said, the situation in Norway is much better then in many other places. Let us hope more and more places starts to say NO! If they want us to respect their work, they need to start respecting our work. We have worked beside eachother many times..latest at Øya, and i hope we do it again soon. Thank you again for a good article 🙂

  5. Hi. Good article and I agree. Starving the oxygen of publicity is the only way to put a stop to, what amounts to, this hypocritical action these bands are taking.
    But in th UK the enthusiastic band of wannabe pros will step in and sign these contracts because of the belief it will be great exposure.

    • … and the wannabe pros will also gladly give their photos away for free with the hope of getting photo credits, by this undermining the business for those who try to make a living.

  6. When I have been presented I have tried negotiating but usually the box office staff cannot change it. So what I do is sign, shoot the show and then negotiate afterwards with management via email. This has proved to b very successful.

    If management won’t agree I explain the images will be deleted and never see the light of day. Also if the contract was not discussed beforehand and presented at the box office and they won’t negotiate I ask them who I send the bill too?

    • Gary, I see that as a possibility. But I still think t is more effective if the pit is empty and they know that they will not find anything – not print, not pictures, total silence – in the press after the show. At least here it seems to be effective. I know many examples of artists with right-grabbers in the US who waive them here because of that possibility. Because without publicity, there will be no artists.

  7. Another LEGAL thing you can do is amend the contract in your handwriting and include yourself to equal rights of the property. Once you hand them the contract it’s a done deal if they don’t say or see anything after it’s in their possession. I’ve done this more than once if I thought the contract was too restrictive of my talent & property.

    • Yes, John, you could do that. But the simple solution is just to say no. I know this means you maybe won’t get paid, but the problem will never stop before we stop accepting these contracts at all. To me, no artist is so important that I will sign a right-grabber just to be able to say that I have photographed them.

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