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CMU Beef Of The Week #263: Photographers v Pop

By | Published on Friday 3 July 2015

Taylor Swift

Now, if you’ve being paying attention, and I bloody well hope you have been, you’ll all remember how, when Taylor Swift came to the rescue of grass roots artists and labels everywhere in the midst of the Apple Music royalties dispute last month, the current Empress Of Pop then came under fire from the world’s photographer community.

Leading the fire was freelance photographer Jason Sheldon, who said that while it was great Swift was sticking up for the musical creator community, her own people were doing little for grassroots photographers, by insisting they sign draconian contracts before being allowed to take pictures at any of her concerts.

The agreements, Sheldon said, said photographers could only use any pictures once – and only with the publication that had commissioned the concert shots – but Swift would have the right to use the photos whenever she wanted in the future.

Sheldon noted that photographers often rely on the fees that can be made from the repeat use of their photos to make a living, not least because the newspaper or magazine behind the original commission might chose not to use the photo, and would therefore pay the photographer nothing.

Wrote Sheldon: “You say in your letter to Apple that ‘three months is a long time to go unpaid’. But you seem happy to restrict us to being paid once, and never being able to earn from our work ever again, while granting you the rights to exploit our work for your benefit for all eternity”.

Swift’s people quickly countered that the photo agreement had been misrepresented and, anyway, terms were always up for negotiation. But plenty of photographers, most speaking off the record amidst fears of being blacklisted by the pop PR machine, said that while Swift wasn’t by any means the only artist making these unreasonable demands, the implication was very much that either you agreed to these terms or you’d be denied a photo pass.

But perhaps, perversely, Swift’s Apple Music intervention, because of Sheldon’s resulting blog post, might allow the photographers to start fighting back. While the Apple Music debacle itself has very much died down now, the photographer spat it instigated isn’t going anywhere. Not least because this week a photo editor, rather than a freelancer snapper, entered the debate.

The Irish Times declared that it wouldn’t be publishing any photos from Swift’s recent shows in Dublin because of the photographer terms. The paper’s Deputy Picture Editor Brenda Fitzsimons said: “The terms and conditions of the contract are exceedingly restrictive and just not feasible for a working newspaper and website. The photographs may be used on a one-time only basis and by signing her contract we grant Swift perpetual, worldwide right to use the published photographs in any way she sees fit”.

Fitzsimons added that she felt the terms Swift’s people were demanding were particularly problematic, despite such agreements being increasingly the norm in music. Though don’t worry Swift fans, she’s not standing on her lonesome in the bad guy corner of this beef. No, the lovable Foo Fighters have been pulled into the squabble too. Yes, with Dave Grohl on crutches and everything.

Following the Irish Times’ lead, the Washington City Paper has hit out at a contract it was sent by the Foo Fighter’s people ahead of the band’s gig in the American capital this weekend. Publishing the contract in full, the newspaper says: “If we signed it, we would have agreed to: the band approving the photos which run in the City Paper; only running the photos once and with only one article; and all copyrights would transfer to the band”.

They go on: “Then, here’s the fun part, the band would have ‘the right to exploit all or a part of the photos in any and all media, now known or hereafter devised, throughout the universe, in perpetuity, in all configurations’ without any approval or payment or consideration for the photographer”.

It muses: “That is exploitation of photographers, pure and simple. If a streaming music service tried to use the band’s music for free, they’d have none of it. That’s what the Taylor Swift-Apple blow up was about. But by signing that contract, the band could then use the creative work of our photographer in their future marketing materials or resell them through their site. And beyond that, we at the City Paper would be signing over editorial control to the band and their management company. And unless we get to pick the set list, that’s never going to happen”.

So take that pop stars. Though the City Paper adds that, while some musicians insist these contracts are now “standard”, that’s not actually the case. “The Rolling Stones, to name one huge act, aren’t demanding newspapers sign over their pictures and the Stones are in the middle of selling out half of the stadiums in North America”.

So well done Mick Jagger et al, you’re excluded from this week’s beef. Can I come and take your photo and use it on this article? And every article. For ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever, amen.