There is a new front in the war on rights going on.

With musicians being squeezed by the file shares they are squeezing back.

The latest is an image rights land grab on live photos. More and more bands are demanding control over the pictures and want a share in the money generated. We ask is this right or wrong?

On a recent Australian tour Rammstein and Tool made photographers sign a contract before taking live shots. It was bad enough having the three-song rule when snappers were only allowed to take pictures of performers for the first three songs but now things are going to get a whole lot tougher.

“All copyrights and other intellectual property rights shall be entirely Artist’s property,” read a line from Tool’s contract, which photographers wishing to capture the band from the front-of-stage photo pit were required to sign. “[The photographer] is prohibited from placing the photos in the so-called online media, and/or distributing them using these media,” stated Rammstein’s decidedly archaic contract, which concludes with an apparently self-defeating line about being subject to the laws of Germany.

These are not the two only examples of this.

Recent tours by The Smashing Pumpkins and Muse have demanded that photographers shoot only from the sound desk; Muse, too, issued a contract which states that photographers “hereby assign full title guarantee the entire worldwide right, title and interest in and to the Photographs, including the copyright therein”. Which means that if Muse see the photographers portfolio and they’re particularly taken by a picture they can request the high resolution image file – or negative – free of charge. The photographer has no power to negotiate because you’re bound by a contract.

More and more photographers are being asked to sign away rights to the image.

For years the photographer owned the images they took and could make money from them for the rest of their lives.

Louder than War asks is this right? Should the artist have a share or total control of the image rights? Or should it solely belong to the photographer? Who creates the image anyway- is it the skill of the photographer or the creation of the artist?
Can anyone claim these rights when the whole audience is happily snapping away on their camera phones anyway?

Should photographers sign these contracts?

And just what is this three-song rule?

Whose idea is it?

Bands blame the venue the venue blames the bands and the photographers are caught in the middle”¦

Comments please!

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. Wow this is a tricky one. The qiestionthat springs to mind is does a model get paid? I know, I know that is different from a band but when the band are the subject matter upon which a photographer is making money then maybe they are entitled to a share. If they weren’t there ten the photograph wouldn’t make money out of shooting them.
    On the other hand the photographer is doing them a service and if the band are already making money then it sounds a bit greedy. But with musicians getting squeezed on anything that they earn it’s not surprising that they start to look at any area that they can make money. If a photographer makes a load of money out of the shot by selling it and all the bands ask is that they can use any shots for free then it sounds fair enough. Stopping a photographer from throwing them across the Internet could make the shots more exclusive.
    I’m not decided either way but as a musician I’m naturally inclined to have a slight bias.

  2. This has been going on for some time now the three song rule has been in force as long as I can remember at larger venues. A couple of years ago at a Glasvegas gig I had to sign a image rights for Columbia records. Blondie would only have photo’s shot from the sound desk at latitude festival a couple of years ago.I am happy to sign the rights over as long as I am free to use the images on my site. This other band seems to be bull shit and condecending to blogs which make up the vast majority of online music content. Music blogs play an increasingly bigger tole in new music especially. A point not lost on Glastonbury this year where the longlist for the Emerging Talent Contest has been drawn up solely by blogs such as ourselves. The problem with that bands contract is that without photos it’s a waste of time writing a gig review is it not

  3. No, photographers should not sign these contracts – plain and simple. The image is the photographer’s work and often is that person’s livelihood.

    You mention artists being squeezed due to (essentially) new technology the industry hasn’t adapted it’s business models to successfully yet but it’s EXACTLY the same for photographers – since the dawn of the digital camera everyone everywhere are taking photos and sending them into newspapers/magazines. Now, while this obviously increases the coverage of events, it’s shooting prices for professional work down at an unbelievable rate to the point where even fantastic photographers today are scraping by today.

    So in response, I ask what right does a band have to force someone (who on the other hand may just want the image for their portfolio – something these contracts would forbid) to give up the rights for their work?

    Besides, the Muses and Rammsteins of this world aren’t likely to need the spare pennies.

  4. Good point and I totally get that without photographers up and coming bands wouldn’t get the exposure but it’s all gone business and money as usual and when a photographer gets paid a load of money for shot such as the iconic London Calling then they’ve done pretty well out of the band. Isn’t that the nature of photography? You take a load of shots that don’t make any money but there will be some that will sell?

  5. presumably it originated because some bands/acts/artists look better in the first 3 songs pre sweat etc. but it seems to have just become industry standard through laziness/for simplicity

    with cameras in every pocket don’t see how/why image rights can/should be brought in to it. it’s just protecting the brand i guess

    on the other hand maynard needs to be able to afford those expensive red wines

  6. I’ve been fighting this war for months. Leave alone the 3 songs thing, but signing ALL of copyrights is pure bullshit, a total violation and no one should sign or respect these useless pieces of paper. I still have to see any artist actually making any claim on their basis, and it would be very interesting to see who would win in a court case, since after all I feel I’ve signed under duress, being it the only way to carry on my job.
    I’m a freelance photographer and running my own (quite successful) music website. I work hard, give bands exposure and the only return I have is the possibility to sell those extra shots to other publications. I could agree with them getting a cut, but all of the copyright?? I don’t think so. It started with ‘you can’t make money out of it without our consent’, which I could argue with but at least it’s not greedy. The fact that they can in theory have my images for free, sell them for a profit and give me nothing out of it is pure madness. Not to mention not being able to use them for portfolio.
    I don’t sign this crap anymore, and I won’t respect any such request unless I’m paid, then you can BUY an exclusive. This is not fun, it’s my job, and as someone else said with digital everyone is a photographer and you have to work two or more years for free before seeing any spare change, all this buying your own equipment and fighting to earn your right to be in the pit for three songs.
    This is totally illegal and greedy exploitation and should be challenged. I’m up for it.

  7. When the band/artist gets free publicity from many of the photographers who shoot their shows (especially as the venue/event/band’s label or management themselves have to approve photopasses to said photographers in the first place and often photographers have to also PAY to get into the show also) and they don’t PAY the photographers who are promoting their music through the photos that fans around the world are seeing its wrong they now want to own the rights to the photos too.

    If a bad photo is put up I feel they should have a say in the removal of it, but to demand ownership and any money from the work but where will it stop?

    Its probably not even the bands/artists themselves, its the men in suits who just want more money for doing nothing special themselves

  8. I’ve always wondered about how concert photography worked. It seems rather odd that someone can take a shot at a concert of a performer and their stage act and sell it as their own work. Everything on stage is designed to be part of an artists work. I’ve often seen complaints of flickr when a concert photographer has had their pictures used without their permission. Well, aren’t they pictures of someone else’s work? Is it really yours to begin with? Shouldn’t the artist have some say or rights in this matter?

    As far as photographers at the foot of the stage, I hate it. I go to shows, stand at the front barriers and find it so annoying when a group of photographers is ushered in. It’s distracting, they get in the way, they act like they own the place and that all that matters is their precious shot. Meanwhile, here we all are on the other side of the barriers, we’ve paid our hard earned money to get in there to see the show. The show isn’t for the photographers. It’s supposed to be for the fans. If it is all about the photographers, then that is a show I don’t want to be at.

    • So what, they should own copyright on the reviews as well? Da Vinci is not an artist, the woman who posed for ‘La Gioconda’ is?

      Do you find security distracting as well? Maybe they should take them off there, so the idiots who get picked up and crash on me and my pricey WORK equipment will finally land on their head.

      And I bet you have a few photos on your wall some photographer took from a pit…

    • CKCH,

      Let me explain how concert photography works.

      Most of us (the Press) are there to cover a news story, in this case the story is the concert. We are not there to exploit the “Artist”, we are there to report on the story, to provide photos to newspapers, magazines, and wire services so that fans who could not attend the show can at least get a glimpse of what they missed. Press Coverage also helps sell tickets for the following shows.

      And according to US Copyright Laws, the photographer owns the copyright to the photo the second the shutter is clicked.

      The fact that we are being paid a VERY small wage is bad enough, but to have “Artists” claim ownership of our photos is just insulting. I will never sign one of those Copyright Grabbing contracts. These “Artists” will have to do without the free publicity that the Press provides until they come to their senses and stop these Rights Grabs.

      And regarding your annoyance for having photographers at the show, we are “ushered in” for the first couple songs, then we leave to let the paying customers watch the show without further interruption. Most of us are fully aware that the people in the front paid good money to be there and we do our best to minimize our impact on your enjoyment of the show. There are, however, a few bad apples in every bunch who are exactly like you describe, but most of us are not like that.


    • CKCH are you saying you don’t want to ever look at picture taken as shows to remind you of how brilliant the show was??

  9. The music industry seems to have accepted a certain (low) standard in photographs judging by some of the dross I’ve seen here & there. My work = my money (what little there actually is in live music photography anyway), your records sales = your money.
    Simplistic, maybe but what the hell do I know? What I do know is the London Calling shot, although iconic, dripping in atmosphere & all that, is the result of bad focussing. A lot of “iconic” images are by pure luck rather than by design but that doesn’t make them any less interesting or valuable.

    • fish- your photography is great and deserves every penny.
      For me the London’s Calling shot deserves every penny (!) because Pennie Smith was in the right place at the right time and she earned that access by understanding her subject matter perfectly and she knew where to be because she trusted her instincts and her innate understanding of rock n roll and that’s what you pay for…

  10. I’ve more to say on this, but simply don’t have time right now. In the meantime, I signed a recent Jean-Michel Jarre ‘contract’ as Arnold Schwartzenegger and didn’t even bother reading it. I used the pics as I saw fit afterwards. As the author of images, copyright remains with you until 70 years after your demise, regardless of what Muse’s lawyer says.

    • @Stephen

      The problem with using anything but your legal name in signing contracts is you may have committed fraud, twice… once by forging a fake name, once by violating the terms of an agreement you signed with a fake name.

      And yes, the copyright remains with you unless you hand it over, which you did by signing the contract. And I’m pretty sure Muse has more money for better lawyers than you do.


  11. the 3 song rule is not to save the blushes of sweaty artists, it’s to minamise the amount of time photographers are bobbing up and down in the way of the fans.

    in fact more interesting shots can often be got when there is an oppotunity to shoot whole shows as it’s usuaally later in the gigs when the intensity is up and bands thrash around etc.

  12. No, I don’t think this is right. The photographer captures the moment, creates and image and puts long hours into this type of work. A larger portion of the time the photographer has to pay into a venue, waiting around for hours, when it’s over more hours are spent on editing and uploading. People seem to forget that a lot of time and effort is spent on these photographs.

    Without these types of photographs bands would get no coverage. By the photographer placing them online, newspaper or magazines it is free coverage and it’s what attracts people to the band, especially when a photographer has been creative with the images.

    I think bands are getting to big for there boots and want to much. After all without the photographer they have nothing. They are wanting to take away peoples jobs and livelyhood. This will make people not want to do gig photography, which will make it a dying art and where will they be then.

    I do not think contracts should be signed and that the band can choose images for free, that is ridiculous.

  13. Please respect my copyright:

    I take pictures because I love it, I\’ve managed to start earning a living from what I do, but it\’s taken me a lot of years and a lot of expense in building up my skills confidence and equipment to actually go out there and do it.

    I don\’t need to spell out that fact that a picture can get a band noticed.

    There are in my opinion two types of \’music/band\’ photographers, the commercial and the artistic, both can earn a living from doing it in a way that suits the needs of either the photo agency and or the client direct.

    If a shot goes through an agency and it\’s say for arguments sake a live shot of whatever ever band, then the photographer might only earn just £50.00 – 50% agency fee – £5.00 fuel – £3.00 parking, leaving the photographer with £17.00, on these basic math\’s why on earth would a photographer then give away the only thing that could secure a little income for the future AWAY??

    Band & co need to start realizing that everyone benefits in some small way from having a photographer at a show: Publicity for the show etc.

    If these copyright grab forms continue to surface then I think photographers should down tools and walk away, work with bands artists etc who are willing and wanting to support each other don\’t waste your skills on these rights grabbers, bands are the first in line to cause havoc if someone steals their songs, our pictures are our songs.

    Please respect us and we will do you proud, we will take the best pictures we can. We will support you, we will publicize you on our websites, and share the love of art with you.

    All we ask in return is please respect our copyright just as we respect yours.

  14. It’s total bullshit.

    Over the years the only place you could see a band was on the cover of a magazine, and who took the shots to make them look good? Let’s face it, a few bands aside, very few of them are easy on the eye. The bands make the music, and that’s what makes us love them, but the photographers contribute to the iconography.

    Think of Pennie Smith’s Clash photo. Could that have been shot from the sound desk? There are a hundred other examples.

    Bands need to remove their heads from their arses. OK it’s probably some business manager looking at every £, and selling it to them as “artistic control” but it’s bullshit. The photographer creates the image. The band owns it no more than we own shares of them for buying their music.

    Photographers should point out that a good photo gives the band a lot more than they think, and as for a bad one, who ever stopped liking a song because the singer looked sweaty live?

    Of course, the real reason Rammstein want control over content is because they need every opportunity to stop themselves looking like dicks. Which is hard when you look like an old man in a fetish club on ecstasy.

  15. Oh, and Stephen, sorry but you’re wrong.

    First, you can assign copyright in something. Most employees do it every day when they start a new job. Every contract will retain the IP rights for the employer unless agreed otherwise. Sucks when you’re Jony Ive I guess. Plus, you can create a pretty good case that signing it as Arnie doesn’t fail to bind you as by then taking the photos and using them you’d implicitly agreed to the terms are are now in breach.

    Better not signing at all. Turn up with a fake cast on your right hand?

  16. I just like the idea that’s there is money in photographing concerts and live music.
    And if there is can someone tell me how to get at it.

    “just cause you have a camera, doesn’t make you a photographer…..”

  17. Plenty of good points have been made.

    I still stand by my assertion that I find pit photographers very distracting and frustrating, and would not mind one bit if they weren’t there.

    The fact is, if you choose a profession, you must role with the changes. It makes sense to me that performers would want to have some say in how they are portrayed, or get some benefit from having someone else use them as their cash cow. I also intrigued by some of the comments about how they contribute to an artists fame and “iconography”. The question is, are these same photographers there at the beginning of these bands careers? Or are they just there after the band has reached a status where their pictures will fetch a photographer some cash? Is the interest really in the art of photographing music being performed, or is it in taking pictures of certain well known artists who can help pad their pockets? I can’t help but notice at festivals that less well known artists will have only a few photographers (if any) in the pit, while the headliners have photographers beating on one another to get a good shot. If you are interested in helping a band build an image, start when these bands are young. Get shots of the unknown bands. Want a picture of Pearl Jam? Guess what, there are millions of pictures of Pearl Jam out there. You aren’t adding anything to the world. Help build music scenes, don’t sponge off them.

    Some of the best photography of musicians and bands out there doesn’t come from live shows. Some of the most amazing magazine covers, and iconic photos have come from creative studio or off stage work. Quite often, the difference between a shot taken by one photographer in the pit is very minimal compared to the shot taken by the photographer standing right next to him/her, unless the photographer is some kind of magician. So, what exactly is the point? Thirty or forty photographers all selling almost the exact same shot? Unless I am missing something here, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.


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