Music Photographers and Concert Contracts

As a freelance photojournalist, I have a passion for news. Most of my photography centers around daily news and events, including but not limited to performances, parades, ceremonies and the-like. On less frequent occasion I also shoot political and documentary images, and for leisure I practice urban scape photography with a current interest in Dallas, Texas.

But part of my affiliation with daily news, as I said, is to photograph performances, which includes concerts, burlesque, comedians, and the list goes on. While although these ‘niches’ or, genres, do technically and are appropriately categorized in my line of work, it is rare (by the nature of historical fact) for me to photograph famous artists and large concerts, and here’s why:

The contracts.

As most music photographers are familiar – if even this field of photography still exists – most contracts for most artists are absolutely bogus. Take for example the most recent concert I photographed here in Dallas, Coldplay, on Friday, June 22nd. I had requested the assignment from my editor months before Coldplay came to town, and my editor graciously gave me consent to do so. The publication was cleared for access, and everything seemed great; then the contract. Coldplay’s current contract, as of late 2011, stipulates that not only do you lose your copyright as the photographer, but you also grant full reproduction and ownership rights to Coldplay to reproduce indefinitely throughout the world. Further, the images can not be reproduced outside of the publication they were cleared to appear in, and any litigation allegations shall be represented in the judicial courts of London and Wales.


Lady Gaga, the last concert I photographed before Coldplay, had a similar contract, and Nicki Minaj, who I’ll photograph on July 29th, will probably also have a similar contract. So I’m curious, what are all the other music photographers doing?

Understand that I’m not looking to profit off of these artists, but I would like to reproduce the images in my own portfolio to highlight my capabilities and competency as as a practicing professional. What’s more; I find it ironic that the music industry marches with this flag of advocacy, suing anyone they can who’s found guilty of violating music copyright laws, but when it comes to my art as a photographer – and my copyrights – it’s as if somehow things are reversed, that the music industry is the entity stealing from me.

How do you feel about concert contracts, the music industry, and copyright violation? Post your comments below.


15 Comments on “Music Photographers and Concert Contracts

  1. Photographers and publications should refuse to sign it, walk out and each one should write an article blasting the performer and don’t review future albums. Don’t mention concerts coming to town, don’t acknowledge the artist unless it’s to point out their hypocrisy and greed.

    • Kasey,

      Spot on. I agree. Editors and photographers both need to resist these guys from interfering with our rights as media, and if that means boycotting albums and upcoming shows, then I’m on-board with that.

  2. It was exactly the same issue with Limp Bizkit about a month ago. They played at a festival with more big music names like Slayer, Nightwish etc. ONLY Limp Bizkit asked (demended) us (photographers) to sign the contract – contract ment that after that ONE initial publication i will never again be able to use the photos i did anywhere, including my own portfolio, and of course that LB will be now the only copyright holder for these photos and will be free to use them how they want and where they want without even signing my name. Needless to say, i did Slayer. I did Nightwish and all other stars… when Limp Bizkit came to the stage me and maaaaany other photographers were sitting by the bar drinking beer 🙂

  3. My photography business is an LLC company. It owns no cameras, lenses or any other photographic gear. I actually lease the equipment to my business at the cost of $10 each month. As a matter of fact, the only thing that the company really owns is the website.

    I’ll reprint anything I damn well please since all they can get from suing my business is the name and website.

    Anybody want a Coldplay mousepad or coffee mug???

    • Ralph,

      Wow, be careful. I’m not sure if you know British and/or American media law, but it’s my understanding that if you (or a company) is in violation of copyright law, they can litigate for monetary damages, which, I believe, would include any reproductions you’ve made or other copyright infringement claims. They might get the name and website of the business, but I’m not sure if an LLC protects you as an individual in both British and American courts (I say British, I mean London, because that was the country designated for disputes of litigation as they relate to the Coldplay contract that I signed). I’m on your side Ralph, it’s wrong what they do, and it needs to be changed, but just be careful!

  4. The situation in the UK is very similar. I have many great images that I would love to share but am not allowed to use even for my own portfolio. Many of the contracts I have had to sign are rights grabbing and very unfair to photographers. These contracts belittle the photographer’s contribution and indeed their art form. A good photograph is not ‘snapped’…it is constructed by the person behind the camera, then manipulated to make the artist look their best. Many management companies treat photographers as if they are all looking for an opportunity to rip the artists off and flog a cheap image to a pirate tee-shirt maker. In my experience, this is certainly not the case and the photographers I know in the UK are a very professional and good humoured bunch who are just as passionate about the music as they are about their art. They would never rip off an artist. There are of course good management companies who treat photographers well but they are in the minority. Its time that bands and management realise that we are all on the same side and start to value the photographers contribution more

  5. Is that first photo Muse?! Amazing. I am dying to get permissions to photograph them.

    As an aspiring professional music photographer with little free time on her hands right now to make it out to bigger gigs, it’s frustrating to hear about these bogus contracts that performers are forcing on the photographers at their shows. The way I look at it is like this: without the photographers, they wouldn’t have high-quality images to promote their image with. It’s completely unfair to the photographer to expect them to give up their copyrights to the performer, because after all, we’re artists too looking to express ourselves through our work. This is part of the reason why I haven’t tried to shoot bigger gigs than I already have done, because no, I believe I am entitled to use my work how I see fit (of course, without attempting to make profit in lieu of the performer, because that’s not what I pursue music photography for!) since I am the one who captured and “created” it. It’s kind of like telling the artists that yes they have created their work, but they aren’t allowed to share it. I kind of wonder if a revolt would help get a point across, but I highly doubt that enough photographers would actually participate… since half the population seems to think that holding a camera makes them a photographer. Oh well. Just my $.02 🙂

  6. What do I say? Let them enjoy their shaky,blurry,grainy,tiny,under/over exposed photos from fans. I won’t sign that crap but its not my only meal ticket. For the professionals who do (did) rely on this for their income, i feel for ya.
    I does blow me away how the music industry has a double standard as far as copyrights go.
    So, in short, Fuck ’em.

    • “Let them enjoy their shaky,blurry,grainy,tiny,under/over exposed photos from fans”
      …meanwhile, I’ve got the LP of London Calling by The Clash framed in my living room.

      music photographers can be incredibly pretentious when all you guys really do is machine gun 32 gigs of snapshots with a 70-200 f/2.8L.

  7. The managements do this only to assure that no merchandising is made which are out of their control. Thats fair. What is not fair is the other things the demand and this is now a days very common for big bands. I know Danish and Swedish photographers refused to sign a contract when Britney Spears played Copenhagen. They stood together on this, because Spears management wanted to check all photos before they went into print and decide which ones could be used. They wanted editorial control.
    What I never understood is why they want to control that photos only can be used in one publication. If they just wrote that photos only could be used for editorial purposes there would be no problem. An artist can have NO reason at all NOT to be featured in as many magazines as possible with concert photos where they show what they are really about. I never understodd this. Features with concertphotos in magazines are like a good way for them to spread the interest for themselves and get even more people to show up to their shows.

  8. As you pointed out Stephen, everything about it is hypocritical. They want their music copyright respected. But refuse to respect the photographers copyright. And without permission to use the photos in your port, it’s like you never shot the show. A waste of a photogs time, really.

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