Jason Seldon’s Response To Taylor Swift’s Agent

Jun 28, 2015

Jason Seldon

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

Jason Seldon’s Response To Taylor Swift’s Agent

Jun 28, 2015

Jason Seldon

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

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After my public response to Taylor Swift’s open letter to Apple, I didn’t quite expect the phenomenal reaction it received. I knew it was provocative, I knew it was going to be risky and could possibly harm my chances of getting access to other concerts in future. but it needed to be said – out loud. When I thought hard about the possible consequences, and restrictions on my access to future work, I asked myself “What point is there in going to work if I can’t be paid for it – yet everyone else gets to benefit from my labour?”. The answer?

There was nothing left to lose. When you’re faced with a choice of working for free to save a millionaire having to pay a reasonable fee, or not working at all. what would you do?

So, it escalated. Very quickly, and the media have picked up on it all around the world. Her UK agent put out a counter-statement to my letter, which many publications have claimed “Taylor Swift responds”:

A UK spokesperson for Taylor Swift said: ‘The standard photography agreement has been misrepresented in that it clearly states that any photographer shooting The 1989 World Tour has the opportunity for further use of said photographs with management’s approval. ‘Another distinct misrepresentation is the claim that the copyright of the photographs will be with anyone other than the photographer – this agreement does not transfer copyright away from the photographer. Every artist has the right to and should protect the use of their name and likeness.’

My response to the statement follows:

Firstly, of course Taylor Swift, and any other artist, has the right to protect the use of their name and likeness. That is not in dispute. But protect them from what?

We’re concert photographers. not paparazzi. I have no interest in publishing an unflattering photo of an artist. For one thing, it would do far more harm to my career than it would theirs.

Artists like Taylor Swift grant press photographers access to photograph their shows, in exchange for the expectation of helping to provide as much positive coverage in the media as possible – coverage that they are expecting their paid publicists to achieve. That is a mutually beneficial “something for something” exchange. She gets coverage, photographers get to earn a living.

As a creative artist, I champion the rights of all other artists to receive an equitable “something for something” exchange, just as Taylor was claiming in her open letter to Apple. In our society, the most beneficial something to receive is hard currency, which is a concept nearly everyone can relate to; you trade your time, skill and energy in return for monetary gain – because earning money is a malleable benefit that can be shaped to the person who receives it.

However, in the creative arts, there is an increasing tendency to seek “nothing for something” exchanges – where you are expected to apply your skill, time,efforts etc. for the benefit of a third party and, in return, receive an intangible – and sometimes non-existent benefit.

Taylor Swift’s contract from 2011 included clauses that were not equitable. They leaned toward a “nothing for something” exchange, where the photographer could only license images a single time in one named publication, never use them again, and she would be allowed to use them for non commercial (i.e.:publicity) use for all eternity, without having to compensate the photographer, thus unfairly favouring the interests of Taylor Swift to the detriment of thephotographer.

The current contract being presented to photographers on her 2015 “1989” tour goes even further, preventing publications from using the image past 2015,and also threatens the destruction of photographers equipment (including but not limited to cell phones, memory cards, etc) if they breach the agreement.

This is the issue I took with Taylor Swift’s reply to Apple with regards their original intention to distribute artists’ work without payment for a three month period so as to help launch their streaming service, Apple Music.

Ms. Swift quite rightly took umbrage with such a request – because the sole beneficiary of that arrangement would be Apple. As a new service, they obviously want to entice people away from existing streaming platforms, and how better to do this than allowing potential customers to road-test Apple Music for a ninety day period?

However, such expectations would be cannibalistic to musicians – they stood to lose out on per-stream revenues they are entitled to enjoy. Ms. Swift, with her considerable leverage, has seemingly made Apple reverse that decision. Although they have agreed in principle to pay artists for streams during that ninety day period, they have yet to say how much, or when.

Regardless, Ms. Swift railed against their “nothing for something” request because it was unfair. Because it was exploitative. Because it was inequitable. I completely agree with her on that, and fully support it.

I spoke up against Ms. Swift’s photo release form for the same reason; She was intending to use our product, the photographs, to benefit her, while removing all possible compensation that we would be entitled to, even potentially going so far as delivering our products to our very own customers, who would not need to compensate us either.

Her UK based agent has said

“The standard photography agreement has been misrepresented in that it clearly states that any photographer shooting ‘The 1989 World tour’ has the opportunity for further use of said photographs with management’s approval”

In the version of her contract for her 2011 tour, that’s true, to an extent… but such a clause no longer exists in the 2015 contract.

There is no contact information on either contract to enable the photographer to seek management approval, and whenever photographers have managed to connect with management of other artists previously, their requests are frequently ignored or denied, although in the balance of fairness, occasionally do result in approval – but why should a photographer have to seek approval for something that is an automatic legal right – to receive benefit from their own work?

The agents other statement was:

“Another distinct misrepresentation is the claim that the copyright of the photographs will be with anyone other than the photographer – this agreement does not transfer copyright away from the photographer”

Again, partly true, but disingenuous. I didn’t claim anywhere in my open letter that copyright is surrendered to Swift – this may have been misreported elsewhere. Still, both the 2011 and 2015 contracts demand an assignment of rights to Swift and Co. that are the near equivalent to handing over ones full copyrights, and the photographer is left with zero rights to use their work, not even as part of their own portfolio.

Both of the agent’s statements divert attention away from the core issue; Taylor Swift is seeking to unfairly benefit from the work of photographers, while claiming to be championing the rights of creatives against Apple. This is clear double-standard that I called out as hypocrisy.

It may have been the case that Taylor Swift was blissfully unaware of the contracts. I doubt that is now the case, and I would like to see her personal statement (rather than that of her UK agent) on whether she is willing to follow in Apple’s footsteps and amend the inequities of her current agreement.

Lastly, if Swift does feel the need to protect her name and likeness from potential abuse, all her photo access contract need stipulate is “Editorial Use Only”.

About The Author

Jason Seldon is a professional music photographer based in Birmingham, England. He runs Junction10 and photographed many of the leading voices in the music industry, including Neil Diamond, George Michael, Bruce Springsteen, The Police, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel and Elton John and others. You can see more of his work over at Junction10, and follow his twitter here. This article was published here and shared with permission. [photo by Gene Han]

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14 responses to “Jason Seldon’s Response To Taylor Swift’s Agent”

  1. catlett Avatar
    catlett

    “whyshould a photographer have to seek approval for something that is an automatic legal right – to receive benefit from their own work?”

    You SHOULD know better than this. You don’t have an automatic legal right to use someone’s likeness just because you have taken their photo. That is why every photographer that doesn’t want to get sued has people sign model releases. Swift’s contract merely points out that they are not giving photographers a blanket model release. They would have to be complete idiots to do so.

    “We’re concert photographers.. not paparazzi. I have no interest in publishing an unflattering photo of an artist. For one thing, it would do far more harm to my career than it would theirs.”

    One can not count on everyone having common sense and it is entirel possible that some photographer would sell a photo to some advertiser for something that Swift did not want to be associated with.

    This is really simple. If you don’t like the contract don’t sign it and don’t shoot the concert. Whining about it is not going to change anything because a popular artist isn’t going to magically decide that it’s OK for you or any photographer to have the freedom to seel their likeness to orgasm pills or guaranteed singing lessons or anything else they don’t want their likeness on.

    1. Jim Avatar
      Jim

      Seldon is not “whining.” He is bringing up a legitimate issue of abuse and hypocrisy. “Don’t shoot it” you say– he is standing up for countless others who are being abused and exploited by this rights grab. And it extends into all avenues of photography and creative work: this notion that the work should be performed for free for any number of reasons. Do you have bills? Rent, car, food, tuition, utilities, insurance? Does your gear break, get stolen or need to be upgraded? Little things like this cost money. By taking away the opportunity to make an honest living, Swift and company are no better than a criminal mafia shaking down a local shop owner. Bravo to Jason Seldon for bringing this to light.

      1. catlett Avatar
        catlett

        Any person’s right not to have their likeness used in a way they don’t want it to overrides a phothgoraphers perceived right to use whatever they shoot any way they wish. That is the entire reason model releases exist. Your inability to recognized that doesn’t change it.

        1. Doug Sundseth Avatar
          Doug Sundseth

          You would do well to examine the actual situations in which a model release is required. In general, for uses where the image cannot be construed to imply endorsement of a product or service, the subject has no control whatsoever.

          This can be modified, of course, if you as a photographer sign a contract giving away your rights. It is precisely such a contract that is here at issue. And the terms of that contract seem unreasonable to me and to many others. Frankly, the terms of that contract are so onerous that I don’t understand why anyone would agree to it, but “freedom of contract” and all that.

          IANAL; do not rely on this as legal advice in any jurisdiction.

          1. catlett Avatar
            catlett

            I have examined them and fully understand them. Just because a contract says that an image can’t be construed to imply endorsement … doesn’t mean the public doesn’t see it that way. You are also making my point. When a model release is signed then the subject has no control whatsoever. That is EXACTLY why Swift doesn’t give a blanket model release and actually specifically states that in her contract.

            The point that you are missing is that Swift has been very careful about tayloring her image and is not going to give a blanket model release. Why would she? She doesn’t need freelance photographers at all. Just because a photographer needs to ride her stardom to sell photos doesn’t mean she has to let them do whatever the want to do. It is her profile she is worried about. If she actually needs concert photos she can easily get them “for hire” and not have to deal with any of it.

            The reason anyone would agree to her contract is because they NEED her and other famous people in order to try to make money at their chosen profession. That doesn’t mean whoever they are taking photos of needs them.

          2. BenPhoto Avatar
            BenPhoto

            if she is so protective of her likeness and fear misuse of her image, then why not simply prohibits any kind of photography during her concerts ? They’re not doing so for a simple reason: they want, they need these images for THEIR OWN promotion. And some terms of these contracts give them that right WITHOUT proper compensation to the photographer. THAT IS the point made by this letter. Not the fact that a photographer cannot sell the picture and do as he wishes with it, but that he cannot get paid for the use of his work. Exactly the same thing Miss Swift was ‘whining’ about (to use your same exact word).

            I totally agree that some form of ‘model release’ should be included even in this case. But the content should allow for proper compensation for the use of the work from the photographer. All at the same time granting some ‘limited’ use by the photographer (portfolio, promotion, the so called ‘Editorial Use’). Everything is possible. But now, it is a one way street.

            My 2 cents giving freely without rights ;)

      2. Junction10 Avatar
        Junction10

        Editorial use is completely different. Everyone has a right to control their likeness when it comes to being used to endorse a product or service, or for commercial use on merchandise etc.. but in an editorial context.. No. The only control they have is to not allow photographers in.. which I have no problem with. I _DO _ have a problem with them letting us in, but demanding we provide them with our work for them to use for free, including giving my work to my own clients, letting them avoid paying me as well.

  •  Avatar
    Anonymous

    “We’re concert photographers.. not paparazzi. I have no interest in publishing an unflattering photo of an artist.”

    http://masetv.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/rihanna_live_diamonds_tour_london_poking_bum_out_g.jpg

    1. catlett Avatar
      catlett

      Exactly but I am guessing that particular artist actually welcomes that kind of publicity :-)

      1. Junction10 Avatar
        Junction10

        Spot on. The whole show, along the whole tour, consisted of her touching herself and presenting her ass to the crowd. Both parties seemed to revel in it. That is not an unflattering photo.. it might not be to everyones taste, but then you only have to look at her Instagram profile to see that is not unflattering.

    2. Junction10 Avatar
      Junction10

      ..and that photo wasn’t taken by me. It was taken by a Getty Images photographer.. and Getty, if you remember rightly, were responsible for the unflattering photos of Beyonce. Ironically, they are the image agency linked to an exclusivity deal with Taylor Swift…

  • John Mayfield Avatar
    John Mayfield

    Jason Seldon needs a new spacebar.

  • Rebecca Maier Avatar
    Rebecca Maier

    Only way this will get an actual response would to flood the U.S. Media like HLN and such to try and spread it.

  • Ralph Hightower Avatar
    Ralph Hightower

    I think that Dire Straits said it best in their song “Money for Nothing and the Chicks for Free”.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAD6Obi7Cag