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News & Insight

A Photographer’s Open Letter To Taylor Swift Regarding Her Stand Against Apple

By Hanssie on June 22nd 2015

In the clash of two titans, we mere mortals just sit back and watch. This weekend, Taylor Swift published an open letter to Apple in response to their new Apple Music Streaming service where they were offering a 3-month free trial as a promotion. They would not be paying royalties to the artists in that time period.

In a post on her Tumblr, Swift promptly responded, threatening to pull her platinum album, “1989” from the new service due to the policy which Swift called, “shocking, disappointing and completely unlike this historically progressive company.” She further stated, “We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.” Swift was not speaking for herself, but for new artists that “has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success.” This morning, Apple agreed to change their policy due to Swift’s letter and now will indeed pay artists for using their music during the trial period.


Hmm, sound familiar, photographers? I thought so too, when I first read the headlines this morning. It’s a battle that we photographers face daily. And it struck a cord with one freelance photographer as well. In his own open letter, this one directed to Swift, photographer Jason Shelton calls out Swift’s own unfair image licensing policy and accuses the singer of her hypocritical stance against Apple when she herself is exploiting photographers due to her company’s policy.

Sheldon posted a copy of Firefly Entertainment’s (Swift’s label) contract authorization form (in his blog post here) that those photographing Swift are required to sign. He points out that, in the contract, the photographer’s photographs can only be licensed once to a single publication and that Firefly would also retain the rights to the photo. He explains to Business Insider, that he is asked to photograph events such as concerts for publication, but only get paid if the photos are used. So, sometimes, he worksbut the newspaper doesn’t end up using his images and he, therefore, is unable to sell them to another organziation. Sheldon ends his letter by asking Swift,

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.

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.

There are a few points up for discussion here: Swift and her stance against Apple, as the representative for other artists and Sheldon and his stance, calling Swift a hypocrite for her own image usage policy. Also, something to consider, if the photographer agrees to a contract with a publication, knowing the terms of the publication, is this even an issue that regards Swift? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

[Via NextShark]

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Peter McWade

    As for the music artists, they should just hire their own photographer or photographers and just let them go hog wild. Its all theirs and no contracts are needed. The photographer would be an employee of the music company or music artist. I say just let them do their own work. If its crappy then they will figure out that good photography IS an art even in a fast paced concert or other location. But what I see is there are paparazzi vultures out there willing to do pretty much anything hoping for that one HUGE payoff. Paparazzi are the bane of good photographers. Its why you don’t get paid.

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  2. barbara farley

    Why would any photographer sign that contract? Oh yes, you can destroy my gear if there is any chance I may be allowed the privilege of shooting Taylor Swift. Should’t that be payment enough? Let them use selfie sticks.

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  3. Eric Mazzone

    He’s spot on, but it’s not just Taylor Swift doing this, Gaga has totally unreasonable terms for photographers using ‘pro’ equipment, but the fans in the pit with their cellphones doesn’t have to agree to. Of course Gaga’s terms are much worse than Swift’s.

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      There are literally hundreds of artists that are adopting this model. Mostly big names, Swift, Gaga, Foo Fighters, and on and on. Even Brian Setzer of the Stray Cats, as much as I like his guitar playing he’s basically irrelevant, has a rights-grab contract.

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  4. Ralph Hightower

    Who’s Taylor Swift? Oh, she’s the one that did “Shake It Up”?

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  5. Paddy McDougall

    On the music front yay!! On the music photography front boo. I see a lot of photography pits at gigs in Scotland empty. Why? The bands PR/ Marketing team want full control over every image, god forbid their artist didn’t look like the air brushed, over styled product that they sell in music magazines. I don’t think it comes down to the artists themselves. On the point of photographers being artists, the ‘art’ community don’t regard photography as art, unless it is shot on film or some earlier incarnation, badly executed with a convoluted concept that people find hard to understand. Joke, kinda. Photography is too mainstream so the ‘art’ community can’t feel special / different/ elitist about it, it is also hard to make money from it. My question is where are all the magnum photographers standing up like Taylor Swift and demanding rights for photographers?

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  6. Scott Kretschmann

    That would be like a radio station owning the copyright to Taylor’s music and her only getting paid when they play it. Definitely not viewing photographers as artists here. More like second class citizens in the art world.

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    • Michael Old

      I think a better example would be Taylor writing a song about a day in the life of (pick a star) George Clooney, but to do this Taylor would need to sign a contract saying that she could only sell the song to 1 radio station and they can play it only once. If the radio station doesn’t play it, she doesn’t get paid, and she cant try to sell it to any other radio station, or use it for her own use.
      However George Clooney can use the song however he liked for ever without acknowledging Taylor, or paying her anything ever

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    • Scott Kretschmann

      Sounds about right.

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  7. Anders Madsen

    If I understand this correctly, the photographer is commissioned by Firefly Entertainment to photograph an event, does all the planning, travels, photographs the event, culls and edit the images and then hands all images including all copyrights to Firefly Entertainment and never sees a dime unless Firefly Entertainment actually uses one of the images for promotional work or otherwise – right?

    Sounds like an even more shitty deal than new artists were given by Apple if you ask me – at least they would get some kind of compensation after a while, provided that their music actually sells.

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      No. Firefly does NOT commission the photographer. The photographer is commissioned by an editorial outlet to photograph the concert. This may or may not be paid. The photographer does all the work and hands over the images to Firefly. They decide which images can be used.

      Firefly then owns all of the images because in the contract you signed over copyrights to them. They can use the images however they want in perpetuity without crediting or paying the photographer.

      Firefly aka Taylor Swift gets your images and can use a photo on whatever they want and they NEVER had to shell out a penny.

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  8. Michael Old

    I have no problems with Taylor Swift standing up for other/newer artists – she can use her influence to reach much more people, and to reach the right people to make things happen, although lets remember that she is not doing this out of the goodness of her heart – Taylor with get a huge benefit from this, probably more than any new artist will.
    I would hope that if a photographer cant sell an image, but Firefly Entertainment uses it, then the photographer is compensated, after all if the photographer didn’t take the image, Firefly wouldn’t have it to use.

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      The contract that you sign states that you relinquish all rights to any images you take to Firefly Ent. and that they can use them however they see fit in perpetuity without crediting or paying the photographer.

      The contract also states that you can’t use the image other than that one time use, not on flickr, facebook, instagram, or even on yoru own website for your portfolio. Furthermore by signing the contract you agree that if you DO use the image other than for the single intent that you are admitting guilt to damages to Firefly and they can sue you for whatever amount they feel is appropriate.

      ALSO and most egregiously possibly, the contract states that if you do something that Firefly deems appropriate they can confiscate and destroy any of your gear not limited to memory card, camera, smartphone, etc…

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  9. adam sanford

    Update: On the music front, TSwift got Apple to say uncle:

    On the photography front…. Ouch. Thanks for pointing that out.

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