Read the Janet Jackson Press Photography Release, Which We Didn't Sign

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Todd Owyoung
Lady Gaga at the Scottrade Center, July 2010
Last week, when A to Z reviewed Janet Jackson's sold-out show at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, we did not have a slideshow to go along with it. That's because the paper (and photographer) declined to sign the press photography release for the show, because it required us to relinquish photo rights to Jackson in perpetuity, gratis. (The entire contract is below.)

Not every show the RFT photographs requires a signed contract -- in fact, the vast majority of them don't. And many of these contracts are very basic; they're mainly in place to prevent photographers from selling their photos.

However, artists such as Lady Gaga have been in the news recently for contracts that are more draconian. Specifically, these agreements require photographers to sign over their photo copyright to the musician/artist. In a Rolling Stone article discussing this matter, writer Matthew Perpetua explains why this "bold demand" is so outrageous: "The government has established that copyright exists the moment when a work is created, which in this case is the moment when a photographer clicks their shutter button."

The RFT has come across contracts with such wording in the past, and we've declined to sign them. In some cases, however, our photographers have negotiated the terms and have been able to shoot these artists by promising not to sell their photos.

In the case of Janet Jackson, even this approach was unsuccessful. Our photographer had a conversation about the contract with representatives from her camp, and while they were polite, they were firm that the contract stands.

Make no mistake, there's no anger about that -- it's their right to have this contract, just as it's our right not to sign it. However, Jackson's contract was even more concerning from an editorial standpoint. Buried in section 2b was this sentence:

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Suzy G
Suzy G

Nice that you held your ground on not shooting the photos, but you still reviewed the show. You still gave publicity to someone that wanted to control your editorial content. Fail.

(And you kept this stick-it-to-the-man little piece totally separate from the review. Wimpy).

Erik Hess
Erik Hess

By the way, thank you for holding your ground on this one. Thousands of freelancers around the world thank you.

Erik Hess
Erik Hess

<< Ahh, my friend linked me to page 2. I missed the text on page 1 referring to rights grabs. So maybe 80% of this massive block of text is unnecessary. But, hey, I was in the mood to write. Maybe someone will find it interesting. :) >>

The contract isn't just reprehensible because of the fact you noted (loss of editorial control, which is incredibly disturving), it also includes a more and more common problem - "Rights Grab".

Paragraphs 2.a and 2.b wholly reassign rights to the photo away from the photographer and away from their publication and specify that...

"All rights (including all copyrights) in and to the Photographs shall be owned by Juggernaut Productions, Inc. (“Company”) as a "work-made-for-hire.""

Further reading shows that they're specifically doing this to avoid having to pay for photographs when they want them for album covers/inserts, merchandise, promotional and other commercial, money-generating uses. This is frightening. As a photographer that focuses heavily on documentation of live music, a large portion of my income (which allows me to continue to shoot shows professionally, instead of as a hobby) comes from the consideration shown to my experience, years of skill building, and hard work by musicians, management, venues and labels licensing my prior work.

Here's a metaphor to explain the situation.

Imagine you're a recording artist about to lay down some tracks in a nice studio. Right before sitting down to record, after you've booked the time and hauled your gear in, you're told that every note, every riff, every lyric, and every song you write is the property of that studio, simply because you've chosen that studio to record in. You're there working for a living, trying to create something. Ideally something someone will license from you. Your art is what pays your bills, enables you to eat. The owner of the studio doesn't take kindly to your request to own your own work saying, "Well, you're just here to screw around and have fun. What do you care if that music is mine? It's YOUR privilege to record in our studio! You don't like it? Someone else will come by. Get out." That would make any musician angry. That's how parts of the record industry used to work, too. That blend of greed killed major labels but it survives in these management teams.

Put simply, copyright in photography applies to the work a photographer creates the moment they create it. A work is the property of the artist that created it - just like musical recordings, newspaper articles, graphic design, and other creative work. This licensing and selling of work is part of what pays the bills of photographers. Some price their work far outside of the norm (asking $10,000 for an album cover) and others price their work far below market norms (asking $100 or even zero payment for the privilege of having their work used for profit).

An artist as big as Janet Jackson can afford the going rate for album art, in fact artists used to budget for that. Some that appreciate the hard work that goes into creation of images still do. Looks Janet's management are cutting corners there now, knowing that some fan or unaware press photog is going to provide a photo for free. In this case they solidify that expectation by including it in the contract required to shoot their show.

In Norway and several other territories, editors are actively boycotting coverage (and in some cases boycotting previewing) of shows that include rights grabs. This is something that I hope gains more traction over here in the United States.

So what's that mean for people like me? People that cover shows for a living? In a few years I can expect my licensing income to go to zero. With the rates paid for photos by press organizations dropping every year or two, I'm not sure I can continue doing the work I do, even part time, without some outside source of income. As it is I work part time at a record store to make ends meet. With greedy rights-grabbers like Juggernaut Productions and their ilk becoming more and more popular it's looking like the days of a pro photographer documenting rock music may be numbered.

Beyond the loss of editorial control and wholesale reassignment of photographers rights, some of these contracts also include non-disclosure agreements, preventing a signee from even telling their editor - let alone the general public - that they signed it. I shouldn't have to emphasize why that's disturbing.

Oh, one more note. I've found that most artists with aggressive rights grabbing management don't know how greedy their own managers are being on their behalf. Several artists I've talked to have agreed to have their management waive onerous paragraphs in their contracts once they found out that their management's greedy practices will rub off on them. If you have the luxury of interviewing the artist ahead of the show it can be helpful to ask why they're stealing the work of photographers documenting their show. In this case I wonder if Janet really understands that her management are also eliminating editorial control as well.

Jason Stoff
Jason Stoff

What a terrible waste of paper on their behalf. Glad the paper and the photographer didn't bend over for The Man.

mike a
mike a

aha! i noticed the lack of pix with the review and figured it was an onerous photo release.

i think you're reading that sentence correctly - one can imagine them litigating not only over a bad review, but something that seems harmless to you but material to them. didn't her brother require writers to use that "king of pop" moniker, for instance? and i know you were required to put "ms." before lauryn hill's name. argh.

Annie Zaleski
Annie Zaleski

We signed nothing, and so no contract of editorial content control existed.

Also, I was busy helping our new music editor get settled in, and didn't have a chance to write the post until several days later -- the Jackson review was one of the last things I did as RFT music editor. Nothing nefarious.

David Kroll
David Kroll

Hey, great comment Autobot! That makes a lot of sense.

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