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Concert photographer calls out Taylor Swift for “hypocritical” Apple open letter

on June 22, 2015, 4:20pm

Taylor Swift actually changed the industry with her open letter to Apple regarding their royalty plans for Apple Music. Few other artists today could’ve applied that kind of pressure, but not everyone is thrilled that it was this particular artist.

Photographer Jason Sheldon has written a letter of his own addressed to Swift, calling the singer out for her hypocritical stance on paying artists. While Swift wanted Apple to pay musicians for their music, Sheldon notes that photo waivers for the pop star’s concerts stipulate that a photographer can use the images from the show only once and only within the published report on that performance. That means they can’t sell it to other editorial outlets, nor can they sell prints of the image in any way.

That’s not a terribly uncommon limitation, though many photographers do depend on such secondary sales for extra income. However, the real kicker is not the rights it takes from the photogs, but what it gives Swift and her team. The contract states that Swift and Firefly Entertainment have the ability to use any concert photographer’s images themselves for any publicity or “non-commercial purpose” in perpetuity. In other words, they can use a photographer’s work in marketing material and not pay them a penny.

“You say in your letter to Apple that ‘Three months is a long time to go unpaid,'” Sheldon writes. “But you seem happy to restrict us to being paid once, and never being able to earn from our work ever again, while granting you the rights to exploit our work for your benefit for all eternity…”

He goes on to say, “How are you any different to Apple? If you don’t like being exploited, that’s great… make a huge statement about it, and you’ll have my support. But how about making sure you’re not guilty of the very same tactic before you have a pop at someone else?”

Waivers like this are often tricky to navigate, but rarely do they involve the type of “rights grab” that’s written into Swift’s waiver. You can read Sheldon’s full letter and see the waiver in question below.

Dear Taylor Swift,

I have read your open letter to Apple where you give your reasons for refusing to allow your album ‘1989′ to be included on their forthcoming Apple Music streaming service.

(For reference: http://taylorswift.tumblr.com/post/122071902085/to-apple-love-taylor)

I applaud it. It’s great to have someone with a huge following standing up for the rights of creative people and making a stand against the corporate behemoths who have so much power they can make or break someone’s career.

For instance, you say:

I’m sure you are aware that Apple Music will be offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service. I’m not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company

It is shocking, like you say, that any company should expect to exploit artists. It’s not on at all.

This is not about me. Thankfully I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team by playing live shows

Ah.. but this is the thing Taylor, you say it’s not about you – but clearly it is. Why else would you make such a public statement about how you’re standing up for the rights of new artists and bands? Are you really supportive of other artists?

These are not the complaints of a spoiled, petulant child. These are the echoed sentiments of every artist, writer and producer in my social circles who are afraid to speak up publicly because we admire and respect Apple so much. We simply do not respect this particular call.

And this is the echoed sentiment of every professional photographer. Some are afraid to speak up for fear of being blacklisted by management and PR companies who seek to control the public perception of their talent.. For every artist that is in a secure enough financial and influential position to stand up against the likes of Apple without having to worry that Apple will publicly block your ability to earn a living from their iTunes market place, there are hundreds of professional concert photographers who don’t enjoy that security.. they don’t have the voice you do, and they don’t have the public favour that you have when it comes to demanding fair rights for their work, and they have a much higher risk of being prevented from working in future, not just at your shows, but any show which is connected by the same promoter, venue, PR, or management company.

Which brings me to the point of this open response to you. I admire your message, I really do. I just think it loses the gravitas it rightly deserves, because of this:

2011 concert photo authorization form firefly rev 1 26 1100055994 21 Concert photographer calls out Taylor Swift for hypocritical Apple open letter

Now.. forgive me if I’m wrong, but if you take points 2 and 3 in that contract (which is provided to Photographers who need to agree to those terms before they are allowed to do their job in photographing you for editorial outlets), it appears to be a complete rights grab, and demands that you are granted free and unlimited use of our work, worldwide, in perpetuity. You say in your letter to Apple that “Three months is a long time to go unpaid”. But you seem happy to restrict us to being paid once, and never being able to earn from our work ever again, while granting you the rights to exploit our work for your benefit for all eternity….

How are you any different to Apple? If you don’t like being exploited, that’s great.. make a huge statement about it, and you’ll have my support. But how about making sure you’re not guilty of the very same tactic before you have a pop at someone else?

Photographers need to earn a living as well. Like Apple, you can afford to pay for photographs so please stop forcing us to hand them over to you while you prevent us from publishing them more than once, ever.

But I say to Apple with all due respect, it’s not too late to change this policy and change the minds of those in the music industry who will be deeply and gravely affected by this. We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation

With all due respect to you too Taylor, you can do the right thing and change your photo policy. Photographers don’t ask for your music for free. Please don’t ask us to provide you with your marketing material for free.

Time to stop being ‘Mean’.

Sincerely,

Jason Sheldon

Edit: it seems the circumstances of the contract aren’t clear to some readers, who assume this is a work for hire contract presented for being hired and/or paid by Taylor Swift.

That is not the case.. As a freelance photographer, I am asked to photograph concerts by publications. I get paid IF and when the photos are used, not for turning up to a show and shooting it. Therefore, if the newspaper has a bigger story to run and doesn’t have enough room to use my photo, I don’t get paid.

When I’m not allowed to do anything else with the photos, that means I’ve incurred expenses to work, which I can’t recover. Therefore preventing me from licensing my photos to more than one publication, or even (as later versions of this contract stipulate) preventing me from using the images for my own self promotion in a portfolio etc while they can use them without licensing the usage is highly unfair and unjustified.

It’s not the same as being paid a buyout for the job. Newspapers don’t pay big sums for concert photos.. Barely enough to cover expenses. That is why we rely on future sales to other publications.

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