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: "If the Photographs are to be printedtogether with any editorial, news or other informational text, the final edit of such text shall besubject to Artist's prior written approval."
A cursory reading of that might seem that it applies to things such as photo captions. However, it could be interpreted that the artist needs prior approval of the review itself -- which is completely anathema to journalistic ethics. Had our photographer agreed to sign the contract, this sentence would have spawned another conversation between Jackson's representatives and the editorial side of the RFT.
With the rise of fan-generated photography at (and reviews of) shows, contracts like these aren't going to go away. If anything, they'll probably start becoming more prevalent. For working members of the press, that's disconcerting -- and sobering.