July 13, 2015
Taylor Swift (AP Image)

Taylor Swift (AP Image)

Freelance photographer Ben Sklar didn’t meet with any opposition in May when he showed up at Bossier City, Louisiana to shoot a Taylor Swift show. Sklar, who has been shooting for The New York Times for more than a decade, arrived at the concert and took his photos without incident.

Neither he nor the Times were parties to a photography contract that has since caused major bad blood between Swift and photojournalists the world over.

Since the “Shake It Off” singer began touring in support of her latest album, at least two news outlets – the Irish Times of Dublin, Ireland and the Montreal Gazette of Montreal, Quebec — have announced boycotts of her concerts. At the center of their objections is a photography contract which they say gives Swift’s people undue control over the process and product of their work.

The contract contains multiple clauses that First Amendment lawyers interviewed by Poynter say are onerous and overreaching in their restrictions of the press. Among them: A paragraph that prohibits news organizations from using the photos more than once and places conditions on their duplication; a clause that allows Swift’s people to use the photos for promotional purposes; and a provision that grants Swift’s representatives permission to destroy camera equipment used by photographers who violate the contract.

“I don’t often see provisions that say if you fail to comply, we’re going to smash and grab your equipment,” said Kevin Goldberg, a First Amendment attorney with Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, P.L.C. in Virginia.

Although representatives for Swift did not return emails seeking comment, the singer’s U.K. team told Business Insider last month that the contract was being “misrepresented” by a photographer who called it a “complete rights grab.”

Goldberg says the contract is indicative of an ongoing trend, often seen in sports photography, of performers and venues placing undue restrictions on photographers in exchange for access. Earlier this month, Washington City Paper boycotted a Foo Fighters concert rather than sign a contract that would give the rock band copyright of its photos. Instead of attending the show, City Paper asked attendees to send in their photos and published two of them.

Goldberg applauded City Paper for taking a stand against the restrictive contract, but worries that over-reliance of crowdsourced photos could hurt professional photographers who rely on assignments to make a living.

“What happens to the staff photographers in that instance?” Goldberg said. “That kind of worries me.”

Those concerns are shared by Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association. In an email to Poynter, he described Swift’s photo contract as the latest case of a high-powered public figure trying to manage his or her image through the press.

With the rise of social media and other online publishing platforms, the power of news photographers as mediators of information and culture has been challenged repeatedly. In recent years, news organizations have complained that the president has sought to leapfrog the press by handing out photos taken by White House photographer Pete Souza at events reporters were excluded from. Similarly, Instagram feeds cultivated by celebrities and their retinues have empowered stars to craft their brands selectively with less influence from news outlets.

Osterreicher praised news organizations that boycott artists who impose restrictive contracts on press photographers and encourages outlets to negotiate for better conditions rather than accede to the provisions in Swift’s contract.

“My opinion is that these contracts are unnecessary and overreaching,” Osterreicher said. “From the point of view of the artist they serve their purpose completely, unless of course people not only refuse to sign the agreement but also decline to report on/review the concert entirely.”

He predicts other news organizations will follow in the footsteps of the Irish Times and the Montreal Gazette in refusing to shoot Swift’s shows.

But not every newspaper is boycotting the tour. The Washington Post is sending a photographer to shoot the first two songs of Swift’s show this evening, but a spokesperson wouldn’t comment on whether the Post is a party to Swift’s contract.

Update: Washington Post photographer Jabin Botsford tells Poynter that The Post amended the photo contract with permission from Swift’s people:

Correction: A previous version of this story referred incorrectly to the law firm Kevin Goldberg belongs to.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
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