To Shoot, or Not to Shoot, That is the Question

coldplay lollapaloozaThere is problem today in the world of music press and it’s just getting worse.   For music bloggers/journalists/photographers it is growing increasingly hard to make money at what they do. Several factors contribute to this which includes mobile phones with better cameras, and readiness of camera equipment used by non-professionals, aka point and shoots that are allowed in the photos pits.  This is leading to a trend where artists can pick up photos to use via their fans and not necessarily professional photographers.

I am not just a writer here at The Dead Hub, I am also a photographer and I own this outlet.  It has its pluses and minuses. When I started this, it was for fun. This was just supposed to be the company blog where we talked about music and it was supposed to compliment the tech startup The Live Hub, which now is dead. Now we take what we do pretty seriously.  We’ve banned together with other members of the press and photographers to stand up for the injustices from artists and publicists. We had to because the walls are closing in on how we get access to cover musicians during live performances.   If you talk to the photographers that have been doing this for more than 10 years, you’ll hear stories of “I remember when you could shoot an artist’s entire set!” and “we had more access than ever before.”  In more recent years photographers are now limited to just shooting “the first 3 songs, no flash.”  It’s now a standard. Yet more and more of the bigger artists aren’t even letting photographers do that.  George Michael allowed only the first song back in 2008, but at least it was from the pit –right up against the stage.  Sting makes photographers shoot the 1st and 3rd song from the soundboard, if one is lucky.  The likes of Katy Perry and Ke$ha make photographers shoot from soundboard.  For those who don’t know where the soundboard is, it’s the large roped off spot near the middle/rear of the arena where they work the sound for the show.  It’s not easy to shoot with all the fans heads in the way and there is never depth and emotion in the photos.  It’s much more difficult to get “the shot” from the soundboard. I am just so boggled as to why such popular artists won’t let us shoot from the pit. Come on Katy Perry you are a good looking woman, why soundboard?

The other trend that’s happening is the insane photo releases that artists and artist’s publicity firms are asking photographers to sign.  It’s standard to know that none of the photos taken during shows can be used for commercial use without the artist’s permission, whether a release was signed or not.  It’s a give in.  The big and even the not so big artists are writing ridiculous “Rights Grabbers,” as some photographers like to call them. (The list of artists with Right Grabbers is below)  They are contracts emailed to photographers to sign before the show. Most times the tour manager will spring them on photographers at Will Call or right before the band hits the stage.  There are many times when I felt pressured to read and sign a document 30 seconds before the act hit the stage. I am not even exaggerating.   The documents are filled with legal jargon that includes something along the lines of ‘the bands now owning the rights to the photographs and can be used for commercial use without photographer’s consent.’  It’s ugly and they are coming from the biggest rock and pop acts.The Foo Fighters has one of the most notorious Rights Grabber.  It’s to a point where Music Photographers are banning together to boycott their shows.  So what’s so bad about the contract?  Well, here it is:



                I _______________________ (name of photographer) hereby agree to the following in favor of Foo Fighters (“you”) with respect to the photographs to be taken by me of the members of Foo Fighters (either as a group or as individuals) on the date referenced below (the “Photos”):

                1.             I have the limited right and permission to use the Photos, subject to your approval of the Photos, solely in connection with one (1) article about Foo Fighters contained in ___________________ _____________________ [name and description of article, publication or other medium].  The Photos may be used only in an article, publication or other medium initially disseminated to the public within one year of the date of this agreement.  I shall have no right to use or re-use the Photos in whole or in part, in any medium or for any purpose whatsoever, including, without limitation, promotion, advertising, and trade, without your written consent therefor.

                2.             I hereby acknowledge that you shall own all rights in the Photos, including the copyrights therein and thereto, and accordingly, I hereby grant, transfer, convey and assign to you all right, title and interest throughout the universe in perpetuity, including, without limitation, the copyright (and all renewals and extensions thereof), in and to the Photos.  I agree that you shall have the right to exploit all or a part of the Photos in any and all media, now known or hereafter devised, throughout the universe, in perpetuity, in all configurations as you determine, without obtaining my consent and without any payment or consideration therefor.  I understand that you will give me appropriate “photo credit” where possible.  I understand further that all aspects of said “photo credit” shall be determined by you in your sole discretion and that failure to accord said “photo credit” shall not be deemed a breach of any obligation, express or implied.  I will, upon request, execute, acknowledge and deliver to you such additional documents as you may deem necessary to evidence and effectuate your rights hereunder, and I hereby grant to you the right as attorney-in-fact to execute, acknowledge, deliver and record in the U.S. Copyright Office or elsewhere any and all such documents if I shall fail to execute same within five (5) days after so requested by you.

                3.             You may assign your rights under this agreement in whole or in part.

                4.             I hereby waive all rights of droit moral or “moral right of authors” or any similar rights or principles of law which I may now have or later have in the Photos.  I warrant and represent that I have the right to execute this Release and that the Photos are and shall be new and original with me. I shall indemnify and hold you, and your employees, officers, agents, assignees and licensees, harmless from and against any losses, costs, liabilities, claims, damages or expenses arising out of any claim by a third party which is inconsistent with any warranty or representation made by me in this Release.

                5.             This Release contains the entire understanding of the parties and will be governed by the laws of California applicable to contracts entered into in California.

                IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have signed this Release effective as of this ______ day of _____________________, 20____.

                                                                                                                       By: ___________________________________________


The photographer hands over all rights and is granted photo credit, yet if photo credit is given that does not mean it’s a breach of contract.

The sad part is the artists don’t know that they have Right Grabbers like the one above.  Guster was unaware that they had a restrictive release until Radko Keleman, who runs the Music Photographer’s Facebook page, sent them a tweet. Guster has since changed their release to a standard one that says no commercial use, which again, is standard knowledge. In recent days, Lenny Kravitz was told about his strict release by his tour photographer, Mathieu Bitton, and it was altered for the better.

Most of the time the publicity firms and management companies are creating these documents, and on that same note, they are banning and blacklisting photographers from shooting artists on their rosters when photographers stand up for their rights.  Let’s go back to Radko again. He was blocked by Nasty Little Man, aka Foo Fighters’ PR firm, on Twitter because The Music Photographer’s page has became the go-to place to talk about the injustices of the photo releases.Music photographers Nasty Little Man

He also was banned from shooting Odd Future at the music venue he is a house photographer for because he mentioned how embarrassing it would be to shoot them after the whole Voodoo Experience fiasco.

It’s a sticky situation to stand up and voice your opinion as a photographer because it is very easy for a PR firm to blacklist someone from their roster. When shooting or covering a live music performance, the photographer relies on getting the access to the pit, the interviews, and such.  It’s damn near impossible to get access to a popular artist without going through a publicist.  I am a bit envious of Mike Arrington who used to own and write for Techcrunch.  Techcrunch covers tech start-ups.  Mike used to insist that he speak with the CEO’s of the start-ups for interviews. He refused to go their PR firms, if they had one.  Since one doesn’t need to pay to talk with someone at start-up or even a big company like Google, it is possible to by-pass a publicist all together.  Unfortunately for the music industry it doesn’t work that way. The likelihood of me knowing and being able to interview Rihanna without a publicist is next to zero.

In some aspects I chuckle because the artist has become what they hate and fight against.  There are artists out there that HATE when fans download their music and not pay for it. Artists consider that stealing, yet asking photographers to produce their art and not paying for it is ok.

The other crazy fact is many artists like George Strait, Reba McEntire, and Ke$ha make the photographer submit photos for approval to post.  The problem I have with this is the photographer was granted a photo pass to take photos for use in an editorial fashion.  The artist takes away any editorial freedom when he or she picks and chooses which ones the photographer and editors are supposed to use.  So the photographers aren’t really there shooting for editorial use anymore are they?

What one really needs to take away from this is no matter how big or small of a band or artist you are, it is very important to know who your team members are. They may not be band members but when people are hired to represent you and interact with the public, such as publicists, get to know them and ask how they are representing you.  The last thing a band needs is publicists that creates a negative experience with members of the press and boycott your band, not because of what you’ve done, but because of a piece of paper you don’t even know exists.

Other Artists that are taking away Photographers Copyrights: (To view their photo releases click on the link in their name)

Lady Gaga: Photographer surrenders all rights to her because she considers herself a work of art.

Rihanna:  Rihanna doesn’t take away the photographer’s rights, but all photos are subject to her management’s approval. For the photos that aren’t approved must be destroyed and never shown to another entity.  If you do use the photo that was not approved that will cause “irreparable harm” and they will take you to court for financial compensation.

Seether: This is a new one for these guys.  By them allowing you to take photos for editorial use they have claim to use the photos free of charge for non-commercial use.

Guns N Roses: They just take ownership of all the photographs taken of them free of charge.

Black Label Society: They own all your shots and can use them for commercial and non-commercial use “gratis” aka Free of Charge.

Ben Harper: They don’t come out and say they own the photographs, but this one is saying the photographer is allowing him to use the photographs forever for non-commercial and commercial use.

Melissa Etheridge:  Melissa is allowed to ask for reprints of photos and they will pay only for the cost of duplicating the photo and postage, so if you use digital prints, which is pretty much EVERYBODY now, it doesn’t cost you a thing right?

Joe Jonas:  He owns the prints and the photographer is responsible for any reproduction costs of the photos that Joe Jonas requests.

Stevie Wonder:  Once you agree to photograph him HE owns all the copyrights and has free usage of the photographs.  He is not obligated to pay the photographer for use.

Carlos Santana: He also takes copyright. The photographer is required to hand in all negatives or digital copies of the photos.  Carlos Santana has the right to use any of the images without compensation for the photographer.  His is a 2 page agreement.  Page 1/ Page 2

Sublime with Rome:  You are allowed to use the photos for a personal portfolio, but you do not own the photos.

So these are just a few examples of Rights Grabbers by some popular artists. To check out more photo releases and join in on the conversation, head over to the Music Photographer’s Page on Facebook.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Marty says:


    That is so shocking.

    Even TV release forms don’t come close to this control.

    I can’t believe an artist would covet another artist’s work for their own gain or even just to control their own paranoia about how they look. Most responsible photographers will only put out the most flattering images which reflects their own capabilities.




  1. Do312 Blog says:

    […] Dead Hub talks about the difficulties of being a photographer in the music […]

Speak Your Mind