If you know any teenage girls, you’re probably aware that Taylor Swift did a show at the Bell Centre last night. You might have heard it was quite a show, with lots of costume changes, and at one point the artist singing her hit song Shake It Off on an elevated, spinning platform.
But you won’t see pictures of the concert in today’s newspapers. La Presse, the Journal de Montréal, Le Devoir, Métro and the Montreal Gazette all refused to send photographers to the concert because they could not accept the terms of a contract the company running Taylor Swift’s tour required media photographers to sign.
Among the terms of the contract, which the Gazette has posted online:
- The photos could only be used once. Newspapers could not keep the photos for their archives or to use as file shots later on.
- The photos could not be posted to social media.
- Swift was allowed to use all photos for non-commercial purposes (including promotion) in perpetuity.
- Swift or anyone else related to the tour had the right to damage or destroy equipment or data belonging to photographers if the terms of the agreement were not met. And the tour is absolved of all liability for damage or injury to photographers.
Photographers’ protests of the terms of the agreement (which seem to have evolved over the course of the tour) have been made from the beginning, and in particular since Swift wrote an open letter to Apple explaining she was taking her music off Apple’s new subscription music service because it wasn’t paying for the music during the free trial period. Needless to say, photographers saw this as hypocritical on Swift’s part. (Other artists who you’d think would be cool have also been called out on this behaviour, like Foo Fighters.)
Swift’s people (though not Swift herself) responded to concerns by suggesting the agreement has been misread, and pointing out that copyright remains with the photographer. “Any photographer shooting The 1989 World Tour has the opportunity for further use of said photographs with management’s approval,” the spokesperson said, apparently thinking the “with management’s approval” part wouldn’t be noticed.
There were alternatives available. Newspapers that subscribe to Getty Images would have had free access to professional-looking photos of the concert provided to that wire service. Hell, the images can even be embedded for free onto blogs for non-commercial purposes, like so:
But whether these photos can be considered editorial is up for debate. These photos were commissioned by the tour, and using them would have been akin to using handout photos.
This strategy of having quasi-official photos done by Getty Images and muscling other photographers out has been criticized by media in the past. Getty distributes NHL game photos from NHL Images, which gets preferential treatment in terms of arena access and shooting positions during games, much to the annoyance of local media photographers.
Simply put, Getty was not an acceptable alternative.
Today, Montreal papers joined them:
- La Presse included a column from Nathalie Petrowski (teased from the front page) explaining the controversy and why La Presse has no photos of Swift
- Le Journal de Montréal published a story on Saturday about the photo contract, explaining it would not agree to it, and included a note in its review about why it had no photos
- Le Devoir explained before the show it wouldn’t photograph it, and included a file photo in its review.
- Métro used a Getty file photo in its review of the concert, and explained in the caption why it didn’t send a photographer.
- 24 Heures ran a short review of the concert with no photo, and no explanation of why there’s no photo.
- The Gazette published a story and photos of Swift’s fans in the print edition, and its review online included a note about not sending a photographer, so the paper invited concert-goers (who were not obliged to sign the contract or prevented from taking photos) to submit their Instagram pics of the concert by tagging them #TSwiftGazette. Those pictures are used with the review. (The original plan was to use some Instagram photos in the paper, but most of those were posted after the concert, and Allen McInnis’s pictures of the fans dressed up as Taylor Swift lyrics were just too good not to publish.)
Newspapers and TV stations are used to dealing with restrictive demands when shooting major concerts. Usually they’re permitted to shoot only the first few songs, from only one particular location, and can’t shoot anything backstage. Most of these demands are accepted, if somewhat reluctantly, because the purpose is to ensure the photographers don’t disrupt the experience for the fans.
But Swift’s agreement isn’t about the fans. It’s a rights grab that serves little purpose other than to piss off local media. And it’s clear local media have had enough.
UPDATE (July 12): Le Soleil in Quebec City upped the ante for a Foo Fighters concert there, by opting to send a sketch artist instead.