Photo District News reported today that Lady Gaga is the latest major pop star to present photographers who shoot her current tour with a contract that amounts to a rights grab.
According to PDN, a Washington-based photographer covering LaGaga’s show for the online news outlet TBD was presented with a form that said, in the last paragraph, “Photographer hereby acknowledges and agrees that all right title and interest (including copyright) in and to the photograph(s) shall be owned by Lady Gaga.” This was not surprising. The rights-grab has become a growing issue among photographers of concerts and other major events – the only one I was directly privy to involved a monster truck show. But it particularly offends me when it involves performers, because it is so disrespectful of fellow artists.
They should know better.
When I hear about this, I just think, “OK. So, what if the venue you played required you to sign over all rights to the music you played there in order to perform in the arena?” “What if Fender demanded rights to your music because it was played on their guitars?”
It sounds ridiculous, but no more preposterous than a performer saying, “You should give up rights to the pictures you have created because they are of me.”
Taking a photograph is a creative endeavor just like writing a song, playing an instrument, choreographing a dance or designing a dress made of meat. Yes, all the photographers are seeing essentially the same thing and shooting under the same circumstances. But they have plenty of control from exposure to camera angle to post processing. Concert photography is a particularly pressure-packed endeavor because there is usually a limited time of 10 to 15 minutes to get your shots, and proper exposure for stage lighting can be really tricky. Collect the cards from a half dozen photogs shooting a show, and you will see a half dozen different perspectives on the show at varying levels of quality.
An artist who demands a photographer’s copyright is essentially acting as if the image was their creation. (According to the TBD post, not all LaGaga shooters were presented with this demand, but my point is none should be.)
For a long time concert photography has come with restrictions like where photographers can shoot from, the amount of time they can shoot and where images can be published. They are for the most part understandable directions, though some can still be annoying. Part of the excuse for rights grabs is concerns that photographers may use images on things like T-shirts and posters. But it’s easy to cover that with specific language in an agreement without trying to take the same copyright artists strive to exercise over their music.
A little mutual respect would be appreciated.