Foo Fighters photo waiver one of the severest in the industry: Here's why we didn't sign

Author's rendering of Dave Grohl. Is this what we want music journalism to look like?

Author's rendering of Dave Grohl. Is this what we want music journalism to look like?

If you've seen our Foo Fighters review today, you'll notice that the only photos we ran were teeny-tiny cell phone shots taken from our reviewer's seats. This wasn't for lack of of a photographer on our part, or a lack of effort: we refused to shoot the show because of an oppressive set of terms laid out by the band's management. 

And it's a symptom of an ongoing battle between major touring acts and freelance photographers that's spiraling out of control. 

[jump] In this instance, prolific Gimme Noise photographer Erik Hess was assigned to shoot Foo Fighters at the Xcel Energy Center last night (you can see his photos of openers Rise Against here). As with other large tours, the band's management had the venue send out a contract for our photographer to sign before we would be approved for a photo pass. But unlike most other large tours, this contract went well above and beyond the usual "I agree to shoot this band for this publication" fare and veered into creative and editorially destructive territory.

In the interest of full disclosure, you can read the contract for yourself below -- but for those of you not fluent in legalese, I'll summarize the most blatantly overreaching parts. 

From our perspective, there are two parts of this contract that are problematic. The first requires "approval of the photos," a phrase we've seen crop up on more and more photo contracts recently. Basically, the management company is creating a situation where they can legally control which photos we are allowed to publish. This kind of phrasing sets a dangerous precedent for publications. If we're allowing Dave Grohl's management to pick and choose which photos they'd like to see of him in the press, what's to stop them from thinking that, in the future, they could ask for control over the concert review itself? 

Janet Jackson tried it recently, so it isn't as crazy as it may sound. 

Luckily for journalists everywhere, Ms. Jackson's contract was met with such opposition by outlets nationwide that she eventually abandoned it all together, but not before stirring up a new wave of debate over this ongoing issue.

The second sketchy part of the contract is becoming more and more common, and is more harmful to freelance entertainment photography as a profession: The management company wants to own all photos taken of their client from the moment the photographer's shutter clicks. This goes far beyond the pale of what is usually asked in these contracts and strips the photographer of any ownership or rights in regards to their work. The contract even goes so far as to say that, if requested, the photographer must march down to the U.S. Copyright Offices and transfer ownership of the work over to the band. All for the ability to spend 10 minutes crammed into a photo pit in front of Dave Grohl.

While we have taken a stand against contracts like this -- when we've encountered harsh ones, like at this summer's Britney Spears show, we've flat-out refused to shoot the show -- many publications are still either blissfully unaware of these problems or choosing to sign the contracts and look the other way. For the Foo Fighters show, a few of the publications pushed back and were allowed to sign less oppressive contracts instead. Unfortunately, after much negotiating we were told that we had to sign it as-is to receive a photo pass, so we declined.

All of which indicates that the tour management knows they are asking too much with these contracts. This kind of abusive contract language seems specifically aimed at photographers who make their living as freelancers or those still amateur enough that they will sign away all their rights for a chance take pictures of a famous musician. 

But for those of us trying to get awesome shots of Dave Grohl and uphold our publication's editorial integrity, it puts us in an awkward spot.

To get a better sense for this trend of abusive photo contracts in the music industry, we conducted an informal poll of some of our colleagues and peers. Click over to page 2 to read their thoughts and see the contract that led us to decline shooting last night's Foo Fighters tour kick-off show.

"The only way to make these contracts stop is if everyone says no to them," says Nate "Igor" Smith, a freelance photographer in NYC who contributes to the Village Voice. "More and more artists are going to come up with bullshit like this unless photographers and media sources stick together and say no."

On the other side of the coin, a seasoned photographer in L.A. says that the issue isn't quite so black and white. "I understand both sides of the conversation as I've had conversations with publicists regarding this topic, including Foo Fighters' publicist," says Timothy Norris, who contributes to L.A. Weekly. "My take on it has changed over the years and although it's still frustrating to read a contract that claims ownership of any image that comes of the shoot I have to keep in mind that at bottom the photos are about news. Nowadays there are just too many 'photographers' doing the same thing as me in the same time frame (first three songs) to think I'll make a quick buck on reselling an image to another outlet."

Norris also had an anecdote about a situation involving the Foo Fighters that indicates that their management may not be as vicious as the terms of their contract suggest. "I have a friend that once photographed Foo Fighters (contract signed) for a blog and management saw the photos and liked them. They ended up compensating him very well to use an image for marketing purposes involved with Gibson Guitars," he says.

A member of the Foo Fighters' publicity team also reiterated that the band's intent isn't quite what it seems on paper. "The language might be severe but that really isn't the intent. Its just to protect the Foo Fighters from having their image sold and licensed without their knowledge or control."

If that's the case, why make the contract so ferocious? And why be willing to negotiate the terms with one publication but not another? There are no easy answers here, and the conversation is ongoing.

As far as this paper is concerned, we will continue to support our photographers who decline to shoot major acts with terms this harsh, not only because we want to advocate for entertainment photography as a viable profession -- like any field, the more a photographer is able to support themselves with their creative work, the more time they can devote to their craft, which makes for better photos -- but also to attempt a defense against this industry-wide assault on editorial integrity. We're just one small outlet in the grand scheme of things, but you have to start somewhere.


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