Photography spat puts snapper’s rights in the frame

May 2014



When Sydney based photographer Rohan Anderson spotted one of his pictures on the Facebook page of  Florida-based alt-rock group Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, he was hoping that he might be credited and wondered why the band had posted – without permission or attribution –  a cropped and filtered version of his photo of their guitar player and indeed Anderson wanted to have that version taken off the band’s Facebook page. Having now added a credit, what followed was a Facebook exchange with the band claiming “You have no legal claim as the photo is credited and is not posted for a monetary gain and features our likeness and image not yours. Also you have just got your self banned from any festival or show we ever play again in that region for life! Congrats!” Anderson, a student at New South Wales University, asked one of his visiting lecturers (who happened to be a copyright  lawyer) to confirm his understanding that he did indeed own the copyright in his images he had taken – which he did – and Anderson, 22, told Digiday that this is not the first time he’s had to ask a band to either credit his work or take the image down. It is, however, the first time a band flat out refused — and then began trolling him adding “The immediate response is usually, ‘I’m sorry, how can we resolve this?’” Anderson said. “Usually in the same afternoon, instead of weeks. This was the first time I had to talk to a lawyer.” Someone from the band also tracked down the editor who assigned Anderson the shoot — a move that backfired when Red Jumpsuit Apparatus found itself banned from any future coverage in the publication by that editor.  Having posted a series of emails he had sent Red Jumpsuit Apparatus on his blog, this post found its way to a Reddit photography board where it outraged the community there. For its part, the band was ultimately pressured to take the photo down and then Ronnie Winter, the lead singer of the band, contacted Anderson directly, claiming that he had no knowledge that any of this had been going on. Apparently, one of his bandmates had gone rogue. Winter agreed to pay Anderson a standard fee for having posted his work without permission with the snapper saying “Photographers from all around the world have contacted me saying, ‘Thank you for fighting this,’” he said. “They said, ‘This has happened to me, but I didn’t have the guts to fight it.’”

But it’s an important point for photographers AND performers. In UK law, it’s the photographer who is usually the author of the photo.  The debate over the ownership of the recent ‘Oscars’ selfie taken by Bradley Cooper is a neat illustration of how complex this might be where a photo is ‘composed’ – but in general terms – it’s the photographer who takes the photo who owns that photo. That’s why it is essential for bands and record labels booking publicity and promotional shoots for artistes to ensure that when they are commissioning photography, a written assignment of copyright is made by the photographer to the commissioner.  I was recently made aware of a photographer working on a fee basis who would only grant a band a twelve month licence of images of the band – which in many circumstances would be an unpalatable position for the artist when they realise what they have agreed to a year later. It’s also why many bands now ban photographers from the ‘pit’ at concerts and festivals – or make any photographer assign over copyright in any pictures they take – leaving them only with pre-agreed uses.

Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1998 (as amended, S9-11 inclusive)   (there are certain privacy exceptions for photographs taken private and domestic purposes)

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