And Finally Artist News Beef Of The Week

CMU Beef Of The Week #251: Pat Pope v Garbage

By | Published on Friday 10 April 2015

There are three main reasons that photographers appear in the news. First is that they’ve been punched by a celebrity. Second is that they are suing a celebrity for punching them. Third is that a celebrity is suing them for taking some sneaky pictures without permission. This story relates to none of the above. No one got punched, no one got sued, and no one was unhappy that some pictures had been taken. This dispute is over that most pure and uncomplicated of things: money.


It all began very simply, as so many things do, with an email. A simple email from one party to another asking if they could use some of that other party’s stuff. The ‘stuff’ in this case was some photographs, and by ‘use’ I mean ‘publish in a book’.

It was photographer Pat Pope who received this email, and it came from the management of that successful rock group Garbage. It is now 20 years, or thereabouts, since the band released their debut album, and they understandably want to mark the anniversary. Because who doesn’t like applauding numbers?

The aim of the book is to provide fans with an overview of the two decade history of the band, utilising photographs taken of them during that time. Pat Pope is a man who took promotional photographs for the band right at the beginning in 1995, and so his pictures arguably have an important place in the book.

The problem, wrote Pope, in an ‘open letter’ to Garbage on his Facebook page, is this: “The email says that you really like some of the photos I took of you and would like to use them in your book. It also says that in return for the use of my photos you will give me a ‘proper credit’ but that given it is planned to be a self release the budget is ‘financially limited’, by which your management company mean ‘we’re not going to pay you'”.

Now, there’s probably some room for debate here about whether or not Pope should have gone public over this quite so quickly. This sort of naming and shaming is not uncommon, but is usually reserved for brands telling fans that they have no money, like with the case of McDonald’s and their recent SXSW showcase, for instance.

The band certainly didn’t feel it was a just response, arguing in a post on their own Facebook page that the book is “not intended as a profit generating venture” and that “without a book publisher to help offset costs, we are not in the financial position to afford to pay for the usage of every photograph we were hoping to include in the book”.

Having agonised over this issue, they apparently pondered scrapping the book altogether, but as one last effort to get the bloody thing made they “decided instead that we would take a leaf out of Amanda Palmer’s book ‘The Power of Asking’ and simply ask the photographers themselves whether they wanted to be included in our book or not. Any refusal of permission would be respectfully accepted and no further questions asked”.

See, totally cool? That’s a kind of politeness that almost makes it possible to overlook the bit where Garbage shouted that they had “ALREADY paid [Pope] in 1995 for the entire shoot from which these images were selected”. Which either suggests that they believe that asking to use the photos was more a courtesy than a legal requirement, or they don’t think that further reproductions should be paid for. In which case, they should maybe start handing back their mechanical royalties.

But given that they were just politely asking if it would be cool to use the photos for a book that they don’t even expect to make any profit from, was Pope reasonable to call them out? He still feels that, yes, he was. In a second and final post on the matter, he pointed out that Garbage’s account of what happened is quite different to his experience.

“Garbage stated in their response that they ‘humbly requested’ the use of my work for an ‘artistic collaboration'”, he wrote. “To be clear, Garbage didn’t contact me at all. Garbage paid someone at their management company to send me a pro-forma request for free usage of my work. When you receive a request like that, the power relationship is that a gigantic branded entity with huge reach and backing is asking a lone freelancer to accept that the value of their work is zero”.

He continued: “Your two choices are to give them the permission, valuing your work at zero, or to refuse permission, in which case they will quietly remove you from the list of freelancers they work with so you won’t get any future work. This has happened to me time and again when refusing or granting permission. If Garbage don’t understand that this is the nature of these requests then they need to spend less time reading Amanda Palmer and slightly more time investigating how power and control work”.

Indeed, it’s probably worth remembering that this plan hasn’t always gone great for Amanda Palmer either. However, Pope noted, his plan with his original letter hadn’t been to shame Garbage, but more to make contact with them about something that they might not know their management was doing in their name.

“When I wrote the letter I genuinely expected that this would be an opportunity for them to step forward and stand up for artists”, he explained. “I know hundreds of people working in the creative industries would have stood alongside them had they chosen to do that. To be honest, I sort of regret choosing them for the open letter format because of their response. It wasn’t my intention to embarrass them or accuse them of anything; they’re great people, we just disagree on this which I’m disappointed and surprised by”.

He concluded: “Unlike Garbage, I think the work of artists, including my own work, has a value that is at least equal to everything else being done in a commercial project, and I’m not prepared to reduce the value of it to zero by giving it away. Stop working for free. That’s my final word”.