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Rights Grabbing Photography Contracts

Photographers are asked to sign increasingly restrictive agreements when they pick up their photo passes. Some restrict the use your photos to the specific edition of the specific publication for which you are shooting. Many go as far as transferring all rights in your photographs to the artist or management company leaving you with nothing. Any agreement that limits your use of the photographs you take is "predatory" because it contains "rights grabbing" language. In this article, I describe what red flags to look for and provide you with several examples extracted from real artist agreements. These really do exist and are getting worse every day.

Release forms for the following artists are known to have rights grabbing or restrictive language: Avril Lavigne, Beastie Boys, Cheap Trick, Coldplay, Foo Fighters, Janes Addiction, Jimmy Eat World, Jonas Brothers, Lenny Kravitz, Matchbox 20, Mike Ness, My Chemical Romance, Paula Abdul, Queens of the Stone Age, Steven Seagall, Stevie Wonder, Taylor Swift, The Mars Volta, The White Stripes. You can see these rights grabbing contracts as attachments to another article on our site that has restricted access.

As photographers, we use license agreements as our means to make a living. We create intellectual property in the form of visual art and we license specific limited rights for others to use it. This is the basis for copyright. When you create an original work of art, you own the right to copy it (copyright). Lawyers representing artists and recording industry entities use predatory language to grab as many of your intellectual property rights as possible (usually all) without compensation. The common term applied to this practice is "rights grabbing". We see "rights grabbing" language in photography contest entry rules, concert photo pass release forms, editorial client contracts and stock photography license agreements. Some instances are worse than others.

Pro-imaging, an international web-based group of independent photographers, has constructed a Bill of Rights for Photographers that outline what they consider acceptable and unacceptable terms and conditions in photography contest rules. Some professional photographer organizations retain attorneys to review contracts from well-known publications and provide feedback to their members. One of our missions with MusicPhotographers.net is to advocate sound business practices and educate you about predatory practice

Each of the following bullets are excerpts from actual contracts and photo release forms that photographers were asked to sign before receiving their photo credentials. These examples are provided to educate you about predatory contract language. Review contracts and photo pass release forms carefully prior to signing them. This is not acceptable language unless you are being paid a large amount of money for a complete buyout by the party presenting such a contract to you.

For good and valuable consideration, receipt and sufficiency of which is hereby acknowledged, upon full execution hereof, I <your name> hereby grant, transfer, convey and assign to <ARTIST> [...] all right, title and interest, throughout the universe in perpetuity, in and to the photographs to be taken by me [...] including, without limitation, the worldwide copyrights therein and thereto, and all renewals and extensions thereof.

I hereby acknowledge that you shall own all rights in the Photos, including the copyrights therein and thereto, and accordingly, I hereby grant, transfer, convey and assign to you all right, title and interest throughout the universe in perpetuity, including, without limitation, the worldwide copyrights therein and thereto (and all renewals and extensions thereof), in and to the Photos.

Photographer hereby agrees and understands that the photographs (including the negatives and all derivatives thereof) constitute 'works made for hire' [...] created for artist and that Photographer is rendering his services as an 'employee for hire' [...] and that the Artist shall be the author of the Photographs and shall own all rights [...] in and to the results and proceeds of all such services rendered [...].

This letter serves to confirm that you <your name> may photograph <ARTIST> on the condition that any material arising from the photos/footage taken on <date> at <venue> is OWNED BY <ARTIST's PRODUCTION COMPANY>.

I hereby acknowledge that you shall own all rights in the Photos, including the copyrights therein and thereto, and accordingly, I hereby grant, transfer, convey and assign to you all right, title and interest throughout the universe in perpetuity, including, without limitation, the copyright (and all renewals and extensions thereof), in and to the Photos.

In consideration of the sum of One United States Dollars (U.S. $1.00) [...] you hereby sell, assign and transfer to Company all of your right, title and interest in and to all still photographs that you will take of Artist while Artist is performing music live on stage [...] including, without limitation, all of your right, title and interest in and to the worldwide copyright relating thereto, together with all rights to secure copyright, renewals, reissues, extensions of the copyright, [...].

This is only a handful of examples of predatory language used to steal your intellectual property. There also are examples where the artist does not assert ownership of the images but demands approval prior to any use other than the assignment for which the images were originally created. Some may contain language that imposes significant fines on the photographer if they violate the agreement. While this language may seem more palatable, it is equally restrictive and in my opinion equally objectionable. If an artist permits you to publish the images once, they are published. Why then demand prior approval before publishing again? In addition to assignment fees, we count on earning revenue from licensing our stock portfolio of images we have taken over the years. Demanding prior approval for all uses makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to market these images for what are otherwise legally permissible editorial, documentary and artistic purposes.

Read all photo pass release forms, license agreements, and assignment contracts carefully. Look for any language that unreasonably restricts how you may use the photographs you create or that transfers your rights to another party. Also look for language that grants anyone the right to continue using your photographs in unrestricted ways and does not compensate you fairly for those rights. This is unfair, predatory language.

© 2008 Walter Rowe. All Rights Reserved.


A photographer would be an idiot to sign most of the "releases" I've just viewed here. Some of these musicians act like they are doing us a favor by helping to promote them, without even being able to get paid for our services in some cases. Wonder what their reaction would be if they had to sign a contract that they couldn't profit from their performances and had to give up all rights to their work, just for the privilege of being permitted to play.

Stone Temple Pilots current photo release is a complete rights grab- full copyright ownership and unlimited commercial/non-commercial usage. I've heard their release has been an ongoing issue with photogs since last year.

I was presented this release at the VERY last minute (was actually pulled from the pit)at the show last night. There's too many so-called professional photographers who are so eager to sign all their rights away just to shoot a band. I was told only one other photographer shooting for the local rag questioned the release, but eventually signed it. Pretty sure I was the only one who refused to sign the agreement 'as-is', crossed out the copyright grab paragraph.... and still shot the show.

Oh, and the pit was full of fans who apparently paid several hundred dollars to shoot from the pit. I hope this isn't going to become the norm. They also signed the release.

Thanks! I added it to the archive.

Founder, MusicPhotographers.net
Columbia, Maryland - USA

I refused to sign Gogol Bordello's  Rights Grabber last week.  They wouldn't let me have a copy though.  I was pre-approved a month before the show, but wasn't notified of any release until I showed up to pick up my Photo Pass.  I was allowed to stay for the show, which was awesome as usual.  I don't blame the band, I blame greedy management.  I tried to amend the agreement, but the tour manager wouldn't allow it.


I encourage ALL music photographers to REFUSE these "agreements".  By signing them, you put all of our livelihoods in jeapordy.


Daniel Knighton, PIxel Perfect Images

(858) 335-4540 cell



This link shows some media coverage of a 'rights-grab' band that you might find interesting:



Angie Knost

 Thanks for the heads-up Angie! MCR is known for their rights stealing release forms. We have a copy of one here on the site.

Walter Rowe, Founder

Great job, Angie!  I called out Gogol Bordello in my review also:




  I love the backside shot.  Did they ask you about it, or just pretend it never happened?



Daniel Knighton, PIxel Perfect Images

(858) 335-4540 cell



This is just an excerpt from the current Simple Minds photo release:

"In consideration of (i) the payment to you of sum of one pound (£1.00) (receipt of which you hereby acknowledge) and (ii) our granting you the right to take Material of Artist at the Event you hereby agree as follows:-

We shall be entitled to use the photographs taken by you for press, publicity and promotion for the Artist throughout the World without further additional payment to you save that we shall, where possible, credit you as the photographer."

Enough said, but just thought I would contribute to this section with this latest release I've come across and that i have understandably refused to sign.

“There is only you and your camera.
The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.”
-Ernst Haas