I've made images of probably over a thousand artists and musicians over the nearly two decades I've been making images. In fact, I am shooting a performance of a well-known 80's band on Monday for a client. On these assignments, I maintain my rights to these images, as well as preclude any conditions of my exercising those rights. I wrote extensively about making this type of imagery back in September ( So, You Want to Shoot Concerts? - Primer, 9/18/07), and I enjoy the continued challenges this type of work presents.
On more than one occasion, I have been presented with contracts I am supposed to sign in order to gain access to the venue, and these contracts restrict uses or transfer ownership or use to the artist I am assigned to cover. These contracts we just don't sign, not only because it's our policy, but it's the policy of the publications and clients we work for that any restrictions such as that have to have been negotiated in advance of our appearance, and more than once, a PR person came after me as I was walking away from signing, saying I didn't have to sign it, and could still cover the show. Sometimes I was on assignment for Rolling Stone, other times, lesser publications.
Now, one record company is taking all the images they have - some probably from employees images, others no doubt, from freelancers who they hired and recieved copyrights/broad re-use rights from, and is licensing theses images.
The New York Times is reporting (Sony Taps Into Photo Archive as a Resource During Hard Times, 5/29/08) that Sony Music is looking to license out some serious images of their artists:
"Some of Sony’s music executives believe there is a gold mine under the company’s New York headquarters on Madison Avenue...'We’re looking to take advantage of all the assets of the company, not just the audio recordings'...". The article makes sure to note Sony's respect for the performers "To sell photos from the archive, Sony BMG gets the permission of the artists or their estates and gives them a cut of sales..." but wait? No mention of any compensation to the photographers who created the images.
If Sony owns the images, or the rights to re-sell them, then, by all means they should do so. I have no bones to pick with that. What I want to caution you to do is that, when a company - musical in nature or not - says that they need all rights, or copyright, and that they aren't going to do much with the images, that you think twice. They may not now, but they well could as those assets appreciate, and you're cut out of the loop.
Always do everything in your power to retain your rights to your images when a client comes calling. If you opt to license an extremely broad rights package (i.e. unlimited for ever) be sure to limit it to uses by that company only, or if not, to ensure that they are not exclusive rights, and be darn sure you are properly compensated to the breadth and extent of that client's rights package.
The article is definitely worth a read, and will give you insight into the many many ways your images can find their way into uses you never anticipated.
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