Another week, another photographic rights grab has hit the headlines. This time it is not a competition, it is not a building and nor is it an airline. It is the singer Ariana Grande.
Promoting her fourth and fifth studio albums, Sweetener and Thank U, Next, she hit the road on 18th March on her Sweetener world tour, aiming to perform 76 times in total before finishing on 13th Oct 2019. Following ‘exploitation’ by photographers in the past using her likeness for unauthorised merchandise including calendars, photo books and memorabilia, Ariana decided to implement a photography contract which included the following;
All copyright signed over to Ariana
Submission of a contact sheet of all the images after the concert
Ariana to have the right to exploit any image
One time use only for an image if used in conjunction with a news article on Ariana
If used with editorial, Ariana to have final approval of the text
All images to be used only with written approval from Ariana herself
Needless to say the contract has caused concern, prompting a response from the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) writing an open letter on behalf of 15 news groups, calling the contract ‘onerous and overreaching’.
This is not the first time that the music industry has tried to insist that such terms are agreed to. Beyonce, Taylor Swift and the Foo Fighters have all thrust similar contracts upon photographers minutes before their performances, piling time pressure on photographers to sign. Taylor Swift’s contract was particularly noteworthy for including phrasing that stated confiscation and destruction of camera equipment. However in conjunction with the NPPA, her contract became more photographer friendly. As for the Foos… we’ll see if they change their tune or if newspapers continue to send their cartoonists to cover their concerts.
It is understandable for those in the spotlight to be defensive and protective of their likeness, however it is disappointing when an artist treats others in creative industries poorly. Was the contract drawn up with Ariana’s blessing and will she really personally approve and grant permission for image use or is has whole thing been conducted by her management?
In this instance, what would be the timeline for those who do sign up to the contract? How long would it take from the images being taken at Ariana’s concert to a contact sheet being submitted, reviewed, approved and a written agreement sent? A best case scenario for such a chain of events to take could, theoretically, take under an hour if all parties devoted immediate time and energy to it. However would this actually happen? I doubt it. In which case news and concert reviews would not be timely and Ariana won’t benefit from coverage. We should be talking about her concert and performances, not how one artist is overreaching the rights of other creatives. Which begs the question why write such an agreement, which was bound to provoke a negative reaction unless that was the point of it. Bad news is good news and such a contract has generated press cover about Ariana and her tour.
Such a contract won’t stop unscrupulous people from taking images destined to be used without authorisation. Photographers, and their associated media outlets, who don’t like the contract won’t sign the contract and won’t cover her. That leaves people who will still take Ariana’s likeness and abuse it. Such a contract only hurts those who have followed the rules and potentially Ariana herself. Who knows the real reason behind the contract, or even the decision maker. What is clear is that someone else is insisting on a rights grab due to poor experiences with ‘greedy’ photographers and again the photography industry is on the defensive. While this offers the opportunity to educate the public on photography rights, there is the possibility if Ariana succeeds with such a contract it may be used as a template for other artists in the future. I hope not.