Let’s Bitch about Concert Photography Contracts – Part 1

There is an ever growing cancer that is gnawing away at the life of a music photographer; the photography contract.  The actual origins of the contact are unclear; some people say Led Zeppelin, some say Rush, some say Blondie, and so on.  Just as unclear are the reasons for its birth; was it fighting in the photo pit distracting the band or was it New Romantics worried out being photographed with their make up running as the gig went on? 

One theory is that there was suspicion that whilst some photographers didn’t use flash and left after a few songs, other spent the whole gig in the pit using flash.  If one set of photographers could manage to take their photographs in a few songs without flash, what devilish activities were the photographers who stayed lomger up to?  What they apparently didn’t realise was that the newspaper photographers used black and white film and, with grain for newspapers not being an issue, pushed the film and then left promptly to make the deadline for the next morning’s editions, whilst magazine photographers didn’t have the urgent deadline and, using low ISO colour film, were more dependent on flash. 

Whatever the origins and the reasons, someone, somewhere in the late 1970s/early 1980’s decided to start imposing restrictions for photographing concerts, which along the way led to a contract with more formal terms and conditions that a photographer has to sign to get access to a photograph a concert.

Some contracts are generally fairly reasonable; for example, three songs, no flash has become “industry standard” and, so long as you have a photo pit and half decent lighting, you should be able to get some good photos.  If this condition had always been imposed on photographers you would have missed out on a number of classic photos, i.e. Jimi Hendrix setting fire to his guitar at Monterey, but photographers understand why the rule is there and can live with it.  Additionally, most photographers have no issue with signing to say that they won’t use the photos for unlicensed merchandise; that’s a reasonable enough request. 

But more and more liberties are being taken by PR companies and band management in relation to the terms and conditions they are including on their contracts, to the point where they are becoming an insult to what we do and, even more important, are having serious repercussions on the long-term viability and livelihood of professional photographers.

Let’s consider a few recent examples that have made their way into my inbox. 

First up is the photographer’s contract for The Police gig at Suncorp Stadium in January.

 The Police photo contract

Although it’s based on a pretty standard format it is more restrictive than contracts in the past, with photographers unable to use photos for artwork or exhibitions without asking for additional permission. 

However, I crossed out the word ‘display’ before emailing it back to the PR company.  They refused to accept it, said that no changes could be made and made me sign a fresh contract.  The reason I removed this one word is because although I was doing it for a magazine, they have a website and their photographers can upload their gig photos into public galleries on the site.  Therefore, by hotlinking the photos from the magazine’s website, everyone in the world could display the photos on their website, myspace, blog, etc.  However, if I did this, in the strict sense of the wording in the contract, I would be in breach of the contract.

Next up, the Frontier Touring standard contract.

Frontier Touring contract

Extremely restrictive, not only specifying that photos can only be used for the named publication but putting restrictive timelines on when the photos have to be used by.  Sure, you can get permission to use photos outside of their terms and conditions but haven’t they got better things to do?  Or is that the whole point of these contracts; they are created by PR people to provide them with something to do and justify their existence.   

And finally the contract for Soundwave.  Two very interesting clauses on this one:

10. All photos intended for publication are to be submitted to KMW & Chrissie Vincent Publicity for approval prior to publication, such approval will not be unreasonably withheld.

11. KMW is to be provided, at no charge, with at least twenty of your best photos of the event for the promotional use of KMW with you to be credited.  Photos of all aspects of the event are greatly appreciated (not just the bands!). Our preferred format is scanned copies at a minimum 300dpi. If this is not possible, please supply hard copies.

In terms of workload, Clause 10 makes no difference to me; I’ll just cc them in when I email the photo to the magazine.  However, considering what Soundwave is – an metal/rock/emo-type day festival – it does beg the question of why they need to approve the photos and whether a clause like this infringes on the freedom of the press.  For example, say there’s a Jim Morrision in Miami type incident where a worse-for-wear singer whips the ‘ol’ fellah’ out, or maybe there’s a Fall Out Boy at Reading Festival bottling, or taking things as extreme as you can go, a Dimebag Darrell incident.  Are a publicity company going to approve these photos and let you publish images of what has happened?  More likely in these cases I think it would be a case of publish and be damned.  

But Clause 11…well, Clause 11 is something else…

The poor, hard-up, near destitute promoter wants me to work for free, and not just me but every photographer covering this festival in each city it visits.  Five cities, say a very conservative 10 photographers and twenty photo graphs each makes 1,000 (and probably more likely double that) free photos for them to use for ‘promotional use’.  Promotional use for their website? Next year’s Soundwave adverts? T-Shirts? Mugs?  Five cities times maybe 10,000 tickets sold, plus merchandise, plus trading fees and you want me to provide you with free photos to do whatever you want with?  But hey, they’ll generously give me a credit…   

Even more laughable is should you contact the PR company to ‘enquire’ about Clause 11 they will tell you that this is an ‘industry standard’ clause.  Obviously that is complete and utter BS but it does make you wonder how long before it does become ‘industry standard’ and promoters make you provide them with free photos for EVERY show that they put on. 

The clock is ticking on the long-term viability of music photography as anything but a very expensive hobby and it is fast approaching midnight. 

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