Copyright and Concert Photography
A discussion of concert photography and copyright. Keeping control over your images, rights-grabs, contracts, and who owns what.
I am a fan and a frequent visitor to your site. My question is about owner’s rights.
Does the house venue have rights to all or some of your photos, and is the legal arrangement more or less restrictive than shooting for a publication? Do bands claim any rights to your work? I am wondering how much of the pie is left for the photographer after everyone else claims their pieces.
From what is left, do the band members or publicists try to control what shots are published? I am interested in this line of work and want to know what to expect.
Thank you for taking time to answer my questions.
Great question, Michael. The issue of copyright and ownership is a big one, especially as artists, management, and photographers all begin to seize on this persistent aspect of concert photography.
On the topic of copyright, one essential thing to remember is that, as the creator of a work, copyright is an automatic entitlement that remains yours until you transfer or forfeit those rights. Transferring or forfeiting rights is most commonly done through a contract, which may be agreed to before or after the images are made.
Let’s break down your question and look at some of these issues.
Who Owns What?
When shooting for a venue, does the house have rights to all or some of your photos, and is the legal arrangement more or less restrictive than shooting for a publication?
Photographing on behalf of a venue as a house photographer does not forfeit your rights to the images unless the agreement you’ve made with them states so. The best practice is to license the images to the venue on a pre-determined basis, with specific clauses outlining appropriate use and use that is prohibited.
As for shooting for a publication, again, the rights the photographer maintains over the images depend on the working contract. Many publications way require an exclusivity period, in which they are the sole outlet for images one delivers for a specific period of time, but this is not the same as transferal of rights.
In each case, whether shooting for a venue or for a publication, the only rights you lose are the ones you sign away. Until that point, you maintain the whole of the ownership over your work.
The Rights Grab, and Other Contracts
Do bands claim any rights to your work?
Insofar as the images are not libelous or used for commercial purposes, bands do not have claim to the images you make unless, as above, you’ve signed a contract that states otherwise.
This is where the issue of prohibitive photo releases comes up. These contracts, at their worst, state a transfer of rights from the photographer to another party with the intent of maintaining control over the image of an artist. Such extreme agreements are often referred to as “rights-grab” contracts.
Less drastic contracts may ask the photographer to agree to any number of other things, such as not using the images for commercial purposes or simply stating that they will photograph a performance for a specific number of songs.
While some bands and their representatives may make claims to a photographer’s images after the fact, they have no legal right to demand anything unless a contract was signed beforehand.
The Whole Pie
I am wondering how much of the pie is left for the photographer after everyone else claims their pieces.
Basically, you get first dibs on the whole pie until you start giving away slices. As the author of any given unique work, photographers are entitled to the entirety of the rights to an image within the realm of editorial and fine art usage.
Control of Images
From what is left, do the band members or publicists try to control what shots are published?
Some contracts or requests from publicists and artist management may contain clauses requesting final approval of images for publication. In addition, some of these photo releases, which may be required in exchange permission to shoot, may specify a finite period during which the images may be published, or that the images may only be used for a singular publication.
It’s worth noting that the act of granting one permission to photograph is a level of control exercised by publicists and band managers. So, by one’s portfolio or publication, a decision is being made before the show about photography and the potential images.
The moral of the story is that the photographer is the owner to an image’s rights until legally binding agreements state otherwise. If you’re interested in maintaining a maximum of rights possible, it’s in your best interest to scrutinize all contracts, whether these are photo releases required by a band or contracts between you and a publication or venue.
Thanks for your question, Michael!
Disclaimer: While I am a concert photographer, gummy bear aficionado, avid tea drinker, and many other things, I am not a lawyer. I would compel you to seek the council of a legal professional for all important matters of copyright law.