The Internet has been abuzz this past week with Taylor Swift striking a blow for musicians by calling out Apple for their decision not to pay artist royalties during the three-month free trial of their new Apple Music streaming service. Her open letter on Tumblr this past Sunday explained why she wasn’t going to release her smash-hit album 1989 on Apple Music. By Monday, Apple changed their tune and so did she, finally agreeing to release the album onto Apple’s service.
Good on Miss Swift! Apple’s original royalty plan (“don’t pay royalties“) was incredibly unethical. Just because you’re giving away music doesn’t mean the artists themselves are. Taylor deserves all the kudos for standing up and demanding that musicians less successful than herself get paid.
We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists. Love, Apple
— Eddy Cue (@cue) June 22, 2015
However, the news wasn’t all good for Swift on Monday. Photographer Jason Sheldon employed the same weapon — an open letter — calling Swift out for having very restrictive contracts for concert photographers. The contracts only allow for a one-time-use of the photo for “news or information”… except by Swift’s management who can use any photos taken at her events for free.
To be clear — this is not a work-for-hire contract, and Sheldon (and other photographers) are not hired by the Swift camp. This is the contract freelance photographers must sign to cover the concert for newspapers or magazines. Freelance photographers only get paid by the individual photos they sell, and if they’re cut off from selling the photos to multiple sources, their revenue stream that dries up.
According to Sheldon, later contracts even prohibit the photographers from putting any photos shot at a Taylor Swift concert in their online portfolios to help illustrate the kind of work they do. Worse, the contract threatens the destruction of the photographer’s equipment if the agreement is breached.
It’s not just Taylor Swift. These types of contracts that disfavor the photographer are common. This April, photographer Pat Pope wrote his own open letter against the band Garbage. Garbage’s management company had asked permission to use some of Pope’s photos of the band in an upcoming photo book. Since the book was self-released, they were asking if the photos could be used for free.
Pope had his work previously used by the band for free in the packaging for their greatest hits collection, Absolute Garbage. According to his letter, he found out only when he bought a copy.
With the lack of respect photographers are getting in the music industry, hopefully Taylor can write an open letter for them, too.