Montreal newspapers refuse to photograph Taylor Swift concert because of onerous rights contract

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.

Last week, the Irish Times took a stand, explaining to readers why it didn’t photograph Swift’s show in Dublin.

Today, Montreal papers joined them:

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.

14 thoughts on “Montreal newspapers refuse to photograph Taylor Swift concert because of onerous rights contract

  1. Violet

    What a shame. I am sure there are many Taylor Swift fans out there who did not have the means to buy tickets but would have liked to have seen photos of her show albeit after the fact. Does it come down to greed?

    1. Justin

      No, it’s a matter of power not greed. Control freakery, and a calculation that the Taylor Swift organization has nothing to gain from local media in any city and therefore has no need to behave decently toward them. The local media are now trying to demonstrate that the Taylor Swift people may well have something to *lose* if they maintain this attitude.

  2. Lorne

    I think she is very arrogant and should realize it would be very easy just to ignore her totally than submit to these dictatorial terms.

  3. Michael

    “Swift or anyone else related to the tour had the right to damage or destroy equipment or data belonging to photographers…” Are you kidding me ?!! I’m sure The Gazette’s lawyers saw this and said “We are never, ever, ever going to accept this”.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      I’m sure The Gazette’s lawyers saw this and said “We are never, ever, ever going to accept this”.

      It didn’t even get to the lawyers.

  4. Elizabeth

    So proud of Montreal newspapers. This woman is so over-exposed that her fans will never miss one concert. Yes, its greed, but not on the part of the photographers.

  5. Dilbert

    The general idea is to keep news organizations from profiting from the event and the artist image. The story of the concert is only a valid one for a very short period of time (one news cycle, really) and that is where it ends.

    By limiting the news to a single use, they are also attempting to control the image of the artist. One only has to go look for some of the truly humorous and less than flattering images of Beyonce that are kicking around to understand the risks to the artists.

    The transferal of copyright ownership of images from the photographer (or the company who has hired him) may not actually be legal as it fails the basics of contract law, the transfer must generally be made for valuable consideration. Access to the event, which is a pre-requisite for shooting the images, is not such consideration. As such, and transfer in this means could be fought in a court of law, and likely very successfully.

    That said, here’s the basic truth: Taylor Swift doesn’t need you. Moreover, in pure “as long as they spell the name right” tradition, all of this discussion about pictures continues to expose her name and her brand to the public anyway. The best way to meet such artist demands would be not to mention the show at all. If you cannot freely cover it, then ignore it. Otherwise, you are just fueling the fire and giving the celebrity the exposure they want – and extra too!

    1. Benjamin

      I feel it’s a little short-sighted for any commercial entity like Taylor Swift to say she ‘doesn’t need’ the media. That may indeed be true at this point in her career. However, it won’t always be true, and later on, when she will indeed need the media to help foster whatever comeback/nurture back-catalog sales/help sell tour tickets, her organization won’t have the relationships in place needed to make that support happen.

      I see this currently as a journalist working in product reviews. Companies with excellent sales records in Canada can adopt similarly laissez-faire attitudes when engaging journalists – but no sales streaks last forever. The best PR is always on, all the time, regardless of how cloud-free the horizon looks.

  6. Graham

    Dilbert hit it on the head. I just looked at it as a business deal between 2 private entities. Terms weren’t good and newspapers declined. That should have been it. The aftermath ironically was newspapers decrying the deal because they felt they were entitled to their standards. However the PM is putting tighter restrictions on media, yet Montreal media anger is focused on a 25 yo American pop singer? A bit of perspective please.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Montreal media anger is focused on a 25 yo American pop singer?

      I can assure you that Montreal media can be angry at more than one thing.

  7. Mario D

    Man ! The lady controls everything ! Kind of a freak isn’t she !

    Difficult to blame her although…
    Over the years the artists have been the ones losing money over illegal copies, Apple’s many gadgets, copyrights and what not. She may seem a bit cranky over her trademark but once you just open the door a little bit…

  8. Benjamin

    What I find interesting is that more and more media organizations are asking photographers to sign similarly restrictive content agreements concerning the photos they purchase from freelancers, and yet freak out very publicly when confronted with the same type of contract from a third party.

  9. NaBUru38

    The Getty snippet you added to this post tracks the blog visitors, just like the Facebook Like buttons or Disqus comment sections.

  10. Steve

    Each paper should’ve just run the most unflattering photo they could find of her, ala when Beyonce got all pissy about terrible photos of her being put up on a wire service.


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