Many 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.