Dear Summerfest, It’s Not Very Nice to Suppress Photographers

Summerfest is one of the biggest music festivals in the United States. It sits on Milwaukee’s lakefront and draws millions each summer with the biggest names in pop and rock music. Unfortunately for them we won’t be covering the actual festival this year or any year until they change a few things.

For those who don’t know how media establishments, like The Dead Hub, receive passes to these festivals and shows I’ll explain. For a festival I’ll contact the Head of Marketing for the event, or in most cases it’s a high profile PR firm that will handle all incoming media credential requests. There are times where they make you fill out an application with your basic information and the media outlet you write or shoot for. You’ll wait to receive a response and if you are given approval you’ll have media and photo passes either mailed to you or waiting for you at will call.

Now here’s the kicker, most festivals, once approved, will let you photograph all the artists on the festivals bill and stages. There may be an artist here or there with restrictions, but you know walking into the festival you don’t have to receive individual clearance from each artist, because that would be time consuming and frustrating since most times you receive your approval day of show (not cool).

This is where Summerfest has dropped the ball. Once approved by Summerfest you only have permission to shoot the grounds of Summerfest and NOT A SINGLE ACT ON THE GROUNDS.This means you can photograph as many drunk people and squirrels as you wish. Crazy right? So as a media outlet we need to email every band that we want to cover and ask for permission, and again, 98% of the time this is the festival’s job not the media outlet. This is STRIKE 1 for Summerfest. The biggest strike they have going for them is their “Rights Grabber” photo contract.This means that the photographers I send out to shoot the bands-that we emailed to get permission from- don’t own any of the rights to the photos because according to their contract Summerfest does. Typically it’ll be an artists demanding rights to the photos to use not a festival or venue.

So how did this come about? Summerfest emailed one of my photographers explaining that ONE photographer abused their previous contracts so that’s why they implemented their new Photo Release contract. (You can read that here) So as a media outlet I have to email each artist to gain permission to shoot their set and neither myself – the media outlet – nor my photographer owns any of the rights. This means neither my photographer nor myself can bring in revenue from the coverage of the festival. By the way, Summerfest isn’t paying us either. The festival never pays the media, but if they want all the rights to our photos they need to ante up or change their contract. We are looking for them to change their contract.

This is feeling strangely familiar to the Soulja Boy story we broke over a week ago. Soulja Boy was combating racist fans with bigotry and racist. You don’t fight hate with hate and you don’t abuse a group of people because one abused your contract. In both situations there could have been a better approach to a solution and it looks like both made the wrong choices.

So this looks to be a fun year at Summerfest. It’s just a shame The Dead Hub and other photographers and media outlets are boycotting the festival this year and future years until they change their contract. Help spread the word!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. phil says:

    Um. You’re upset that Summerfest respects the artists and give them the decision whether they want photographers shooting them or not? If you’re going to venues to request credentials to shoot artists performing at the venue you are not doing it the right way. Sorry, I don’t get your diatribe.

  2. Jessica Emmerich says:

    @phil: No we are upset that Summerfest is taking all the copyrights away from us. The artists doesn’t even own the photo. Summerfest won’t pay you for the usage of the photos you’ve taken either as part of the release. You obviously haven’t covered a festival as press before because you’d see how strange and rare it is for a festival make you clear everything through every artist.

  3. phil says:

    So your position is you are upset that Summerfest is taking rights away from photographers. In doing so you’re saying that you would rather that Summerfest instead take all rights away from the artists that perform. This is absurd.

    Summerfest isn’t warped tour where 70 relatively small bands play for free all tour and sign all their rights away to Warped Tour and MSO who has permission to assign photographers to the entire tour and festival.

    Summerfest has the worlds largest artists performing one night only. No different than any other show. Except for the fact that this is a ongoing festival in one location for 12 days or so.

    I’m sorry – Summerfest doesn’t owe you anything and I am quite sure don’t care that you arn’t able to make money off them. They will be just fine without you out there using their festival to make revenue they won’t see.

    With that being said, Artists grant photo/press credentials because it’s part of the business. They are the ones you are shooting. In exchange for allowing you to shoot their performances (and making a profit off them) they are hoping you provide them with press in return.

    Quite honestly, although I feel your sense of disgust and would feel the same way. I simply understand the position Summerfest takes here.

  4. Marshall says:

    @phil: dude, seriously? You have little to no real world understanding of the photography business, journalism, and copyright law. You obviously have photographed bands at concerts before. It’s amateur-minded hacks like you who fuck things up for the professional minded photographers. Maybe you should go back to photographing baby portraits and landscapes.

  5. Ken Settle says:

    Who are you? Are you a photographer or do you work for a publicist or venue? Who and what artists have you shot? How long have you been shooting? I have been photographing the greats of popular music since 1971. Ideally, there is a positive synergy that exists between the musicians and the photographers who form the visual image and record of what these musicians have brought to our times. One of the reasons why classic rock artists have been revered and remembered so greatly (and consequently are STILL so marketable–thus allowing themselves and/or their heirs the ability to continue to thrive) is because of the stunning visual record created by such great photographers as Jim Marshall, Baron Wolman, Mick Rock, Al Wertheimer and others. I am aghast that you would even consider that a photographer or magazine that supports and participates in chronicling and publicizing what these musicians do as “Making money off of them.” Don’t you realize that everyone who works in this business gets PAID for their talent? From managers, booking agents, to roadies, to lighting and sound techs, to the venue and so on. But somehow, you feel that the photographer who chronicles what that artist has given their life to do is…”Making money off of him”? It never used to be that this musician/photographer relationship was adversarial. Musicians used to respect other creative artists, and what it means to own the rights to that which you create. That is totally lost now. I think that lack of understanding and sensitivity shows in the substandard music that is created these days. I KNOW that it adversely affects the level of resonance that we as photographers can acheive with our images, and that adversely affects the artist. What do you do for a living, Phil? What do you get paid to do? Are you making a living “off of someone” or are you being remunerated respectably for the talant or skill or ability that you bring to your occupation?

  6. Phil says:

    @Ken: I am sorry you take such strong offense to being told you are making money off them. Quite simply, that is what is happening. I didn’t imply this is a bad thing. Its simply the same as saying the bands are making money off the fans. It’s how things work. Call it what you want.

    With that being said you missed the entire point I was trying to make.

    The original author had a few issues with summerfest.

    1) The restriction on credentials.
    He seems upset that instead of being granted a single press/photo credential that covers his ability to shoot any band during the festival that he instead has to gain credentials from each band individually. It’s really quite silly if you think about it.

    Ironic because if he was granted a one pass for anything he wants to shoot it would be taking the rights of the bands way when determine who is granted credentials to shoot them. So Summerfest has to decide whether to respect the bands that are performing and their wishes or to respect the photographers who feel they are having rights taken away.

    It’s actually a no brainer. The bands are the ones that are bringing people in the door. Not the photographer. Sure, the argument could be said that past media coverage and photos have made these bands more successful. In their email they mentioned that someone abused the policy in the past and because of this they had to make the decision to no longer be able to give a blanket press credential out for everyone. On a side note, I have shot Summerfest many years and I was never granted a photo credential for every artist that I can recall. I obtained credentials from each artist individually. Although, I haven’t shot there in probably 3-4 years so I don’t know whats changes or stayed the same.

    2) The rights grab
    I didn’t mention this at all in my previous post so maybe it was assumed that I was okay with it. I think it’s ridiculous and quite frankly I wouldn’t even waste my time with Summerfest. Contracts and right grabs are not worth my time and I don’t even bother with them. Summerfest should be ashamed of themselves.

    As to what my history is. It really doesn’t matter – I am just adding my two cents for discussion. I will say though that I have been shooting concert photography in the Midwest since the 90s. I have shot at Summerfest many times over the years. Although it’s been a few years now I seem to recall having to get separate credentials from each artist then. I could be wrong though.

  7. Jessica Emmerich says:

    @Phil: First off I am a woman and I wrote the article above. Please don’t assume that it was written by a man.

    Second: We’ve covered just about every major festival around the United States. Country USA and Summerfest are the first ones to make us get individually clearance to shoot. It’s pointless for them to even issue a pass to the festival if I have to go through each band anyways, right? So I am frustrated because of clearing through each artist! We just covered DMB Caravan. We have a blanket pass that let us shoot everyone. For the artists that had stipulations, like Ray Lamontagne, the publicists walked into the MEDIA TENT and said, “Hey you shoot from 15 rows back or you don’t shoot at all.” We said fine, and none of us shot Ray. It was that easy! Trust me artists at a festival will let us know if we can or cannot shoot when we get there so having to request each individually shows how unorganized the festival media is.

  8. Ken Settle says:

    The fact is that historically, most artists agree that when playing at a major festival, that the festival or their appointed pr firm,will credential the photographers. The few bands who did not agree with this situation would simply put forth their restrictions, or not allow photographers to shoot at all, as Jessica has said. In any case, the artist was always able to achieve the level of photographic coverage that they were comfortable with, and it was always generally acknowleged by everyone that this was the most logical, straight forward, efficient way to credential media for a multi act festival or show. This is how Lollapalooza worked from its beginnings as a touring festival, HORDE, Lilith, Crossroads, you name it. Most people in the biz recognize that it is a logistical and security nightmare to have 10, 20 , 30 bands each with their own credntials!!! Phil,historically, it is just fact that most festivals or their directives, handle the credentialing. And I’m talking about going back to all the Woodstocks, Goose Lake, Monsters Of Rock and on and on.

    I stand by my assertion that you are way out of line saying that “photographers are making money off of their subject.” Whether it is a music star, celebrity, or a new bride and groom. Photographers are providing a service for which we are, hopefully, paid for. Why do you think that photo access is ever granted in the first place? Why do you think that emerging artists often thank “Name” photographers for working with them? When Mutt Lange produced Def Leppard in the ’80s and resurrected their career, was he “making money off of them”? Or was he bringing his skill and talent into the mix and helping the band realize their creative potential? Are concert promoters making money off of the artists that they book, or are they using their skill and funding and venues to provide a forum for the artists’ talent?

    I will say this, I’ve shot portrait sessions with the great BB King, and the resultant photos have been used hundreds of times in magazines around the world, including Playboy, in a Martin Scorsese production, and as prints in Hard Rock Cafe’s, literally around the world. Mr King hasn’t needed an introduction for oh….55 years or so….and this man thanked me for doing such a great job with our sessions. Mr. King is a legend who understands and recognizes when two talents work TOGETHER, great things can happen.

    Semantics are semantics. Your assertion that when money exchanges hands someone is “making money off of someone” rather than being remunerated for their skill or product, is baffling. In closing, when an artist issues a CD, most of the time, a photo is used on the cover of the CD. The photo is chosen on the how well it fits the artist’s creative vision, and yes, on how well it will create packaging that will move product. Using your ideology, when that artist gets you to plunk down $15 or so for that CD, in part they themselves, are in part, making money off of the photographer! Are lawyers “making money off of their client” or representing them? Maybe the artist is making money off the record label? Maybe guitarists that use Les Paul’s are making money off of Les, RIP. Ya get my drift?

Speak Your Mind