No guitars please: My thoughts on photo contracts

MØ at Trailerpark Festival 2013. An image made possible by complete access and trust.

MØ at Trailerpark Festival 2013. An image made possible by complete access and trust.

There has been a lot of talk recently about photo contracts. Jason Sheldon called out Taylor Swift for her hypocrisy and photo contract. Then Washington City Paper refused to sign Foo Fighters photo contract. Norwegian photographer Jarle H. Moe wrote a great blog post about journalistic integrity as a concert photographer.

But the problem is several decades old and unfortunately only getting worse.  Now, imagine a band playing at a venue where the contract stated:

  • No guitars in your music please, we do not like them.
  • You can only play guitars for the first 15 minutes.
  • If you play guitar we have a right to confiscate them.
  • You can only perform facing the audience at a 45 degree angle, that is the only angle we allow.
  • The songs you play at our venue you can never play anywhere else, we have the rights to them.
  • Oh and we are recording your set and have the right to do whatever we want with the recording. For free. Thanks.

No band in the world would agree to this. Why do musicians expect photographers to agree to similar terms? The same musicians who would probably by outraged by anyone trying to force the same restrictions on them. If you do not want photographers at your show, that is your right. But if you allow photographers to document the performance, do not control how we choose to shoot. 

This has to stop. Musicians have to stop this censorship. We concert photographers have to stop signing these contracts. But it will probably become worse before it gets better.

11 Comments on “No guitars please: My thoughts on photo contracts”

  1. Good points! I definitely agree. This one cracked me up: “The songs you play at our venue you can never play anywhere else, we have the rights to them.” 🙂

      1. Yeah, I recognize it. In my country, Sweden, newspapers have sometimes refused to print photographs in concert reviews because of absurd terms in the contracts. Life in the music business is hard, but punishing photographers won’t make their own situation better in any way.

        1. Yeah that has happened in Denmark too, newspapers and magazines refusing to review or print pictures from a concert with stupid contracts. I am sure the artists are in tough contracts with the labels etc. but that is no excuse to pass it on.

  2. They do it because they can. There are plenty of photographers who sign and don’t think twice. Not just in music. I date back to before the first wire service contract, which read like something from a communist stronghold. People signed it. It’s too late I fear. Can’t hold back the tide, but perhaps you can arrange a deal with an individual band, or tour and make something that people actually want to see. The other thing I fear is that people, including bands, have lost contact with what great photography really is. When you reference music photography in the history of the genre NOBODY references modern shooters, with the exception of someone like Danny Clinch. People reference the days of Jim Marshall, William Claxton, early Annie and even back to Herman Leonard who was shooting in jazz clubs when the artist, mostly black, couldn’t associate with the audience, mostly white, after the show. Like most genres, the best of days is behind us, so we have to forge a way of understanding today and dealing with the limitations. Or, drink Pisco in MASSIVE quantities. This second suggestion is far easier and doesn’t even require a firmware upgrade. Ever.

    1. “Plenty of photographers who sign and do no think twice”. Ain’t that the sad truth. It will never change until everyone stops signing these contracts. But there seems to be a long line of photographers lining up to happily sign over their first born to shoot any kind of music.

      Agree on the golden days of concert photography, they will never come back. Although in the electronic music area I work in I am lucky to have pretty much total access a lot of the time.

      Pisco is a great choice. No, requires no firmware upgrade, does however require someone to catch the deadly spiders on the boat in the amazon, while we happily drink Pisco straight out of the bottle.

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