gig-shots blog – concert photography from mike gatiss
copyright grabs, time to stand up?

Anyone shooting bands will  – or should be – familiar with the issue of copyright grabs.  Those sneaky little release forms that you’re sometimes asked to sign on your way into the venue that try to get you to sign over copyright to all your images to the band in question.  The issue was highlighted recently by the British Journal of Photography when Coldplay changed their ‘standard’ release to include the line:-

you hereby transfer and assign to us with full title guarantee the entire copyright and all extensions and renewals throughout the world (including by way of present assignment of future rights) and all rights of a similar nature in the photographs

Now while many photographers would simply walk away from a contract like that there are still too many up and coming photographers that will sign it just to be able to shoot the band.  And as long as there are people willing to sign, the bands (or their management) will keep asking us to hand over our copyright.  This in turn will mean that music photography will no longer be a viable career (if it isn’t already too late) and we’ll lose a valuable part of music history.

It’s not just bad news for photographers either, whether they like it or not bands need photographers especially in the early stages of their careers to generate publicity.  A good photograph can catch the eye of the reader and make them read an article/review they might otherwise have skimmed past which in turn raises the profile of these bands.

A major reason behind the sudden increase in the number of these contracts appearing is the perception that some photographers use their images to create unofficial merchandise (posters, t-shirts etc.) which will damage the bands income and their managers wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they weren’t trying to protect their clients revenue, but copyright should always belong to the creator of the piece of work whether it’s a painting, an article, a photograph or a piece of music.  The exception being where the piece is created under a agreement, but in that case the creator should be fairly rewarded up front.  In fact this is exactly the approach LA band The Killers have taken.  While I’m disappointed that they’ve taken this step at least they’re being fair about it.  They want complete control over photographs of their performances so they pay their own photographers to cover the shows.

So what can we do about it, other than bitching about it on blogs/forums/photosharing sites?  Pete Jenkins of the NUJ is working on a standard contract which it is hoped will protect both the interests of the performers and those of the photo-journalists covering the shows, however for that to have an impact it needs to become the standard accepted agreement which means everyone needs to know about it, in particular those just starting out in the business.  We need to spread the word and educate photographers that are still buzzing from being able to shoot their favourite bands that their work has value and it isn’t yet (nor should it ever be) the norm to sign away copyright without appropriate compensation.

With all of this in mind I’d like to start a website to spread the word, ideally it needs to have a short snappy name (don’t all websites) and a logo that photographers can use on their own websites to show that they won’t cover shows where they are asked to sign away copyright without appropriate payment and just as importantly they are professional (in behaviour even if not in terms of earnings), respect the rights of the performers and won’t try to sell photographs cleared for editorial use for commercial or merchandising purposes.

So this is where I start asking for help, I can handle the hosting and set-up of the site but as I’ve said, we need a short snappy name for the site and a logo to go with it.  If you can help, want to be involved or just want to show your support for the idea let us know!  It’s going to be strictly non-profit and none of us will make any money out of the site itself but hopefully it will be one of many small steps on the way to protecting a business we all love being involved in.