Photographer Confronts Record Label Over Stolen and Edited Photos, has Portfolio Insulted in Return

Photographer Confronts Record Label Over Stolen and Edited Photos, has Portfolio Insulted in Return

Having your images stolen and used against your will has all but become the norm for many working photographers. One gig photographer who confronted the record label editing and using her images, however, was greeted with insults as they told her she “doesn’t have the portfolio to back up [her] prices.”

Canadian photographer Adrienne Row-Smith was recently enlisted to photograph bands for Monkey Goose Magazine. All was well until she later discovered the images had been taken from the magazine’s website, without first having asked her permission. The record label not only stole the photos, but had edited them differently, removed her watermark, and had shared them across their website and social pages without credit.

Row-Smith told PetaPixel:

I had reached out to the band first, asking them to politely remove it since they had violated my copyright by editing them. Whomever I was talking to was more than happy to remove the photos, which did not actually happen, and then proceeded to ask me how much I charge to get high-resolution copies for social media that they could use.

She says she quoted them $50 – a more than reasonable fee, I’m sure we’ll all agree – but never actually heard back from them afterward. The images remained live on the label and band’s official accounts, despite her request to remove them.

This is where things took a nasty turn. A text exchange shows an angry label rep calling Row-Smith “greedy” and “disrespectful,” while claiming the level of her portfolio means she has no right to demand $50 per photo. They also resorted to the classic exposure line, writing: “If you think charging bands to give you free publicity is going to get you anywhere, you have another thing coming.”

via PetaPixel

via PetaPixel

Although Row-Smith declined to name the record label in question, the ever-reliable Twitterverse has outed Heretic Records as the culprit – although they’ve since de-activated their entire social media presence.  

Lead image credit: mikky koopac from Pexels

Jack Alexander's picture

A 28-year-old self-taught photographer, Jack Alexander specialises in intimate portraits with musicians, actors, and models.

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Who is the band and what is their band manager name, who can't spell.I smell a boycott

I think the first thing I would do is to make sure the images are registered, screenshot the places they were used and get an Intellectual Properties Attorney. It seems pretty simple and there should be a settlement once the label reads the maximum penalty. They can pay her now or they can pay her later and it's not going to be $50.

amazing taking that much time to write a response like that, and for what?. Sound like act of someone whos facing a corner. if the story is true, it's scorched earth time for them.

This popped immediately to mind when I read this article.

I saw this on Petapixel and actually dug a little bit into who and what Heretic Records was. There were three hits, a site out of LA that hadn't been updated in over a year. A site out of Oregon and one out of Indonesia who catered to small, up and coming metal bands. In the last two cases, these "professionals" probably operated out of someone's living room. They can pack up and move anywhere at will and more than likely did just that!!! So who do you contact to sue if you can't find them!? The photographer and the band(s) represented by these guys suffered as an end result of their unprofessional behavior. Did the photos get 400,000 views? I doubt it, I had never heard of any of the bands listed on either of the label's pages so I seriously doubt they got that level of traction.

I shoot metal for a music web site and I research the bands before I shoot them to see if the band(s) and their label is legit. Just because a band is playing a show doesn't mean their label or their management team is on the up and up. We are not talking about Iron Maiden or Megadeth here, we are talking about the "hind end" of the music community. While I feel for Adrienne and I know people who shoot for Monkey Goose, I learned a long time ago that not everyone in the music business is your best friend.

I dont get why people make posts that are attempting to bring light to stolen work but refuse to release a name. Once they said they were going to attempt to black list her in the industry. Its free game to public shame them. As you can tell it worked, once people found the Record Label.

Unless you signed away your copyright/ownership in exchange for the Media Pass to get to shoot the show, you have an ideal and easy case of copyright infringement.

Now! Having said that, you may not be able to find anyone to represent you in the case against them for infringement, but you do have a case for invoicing them for unlawful use of your images without your written permission. The 1977 U. S. Copyright Act/1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows you to forgo the lawsuit and criminal charges action, by simply allowing you to INVOICE the magazine that used your images without permission, 3 X your established commercial value.

Take the highest fee you have ever sold a photo for and multiply that three times, then invoice them for that figure.

So if your highest fee was $50, then you invoice them for $150 and on the invoice you send them, add that the balance is due within 120 says of receiving the invoice after which you will file a LIEN upon their name.

This cost varies, from $7 in some towns to $100 in others, but this places a lien upon their name and they cannot sell any titled property without paying you the balance due on the invoice first.

If they sell a car, you get paid. If they sell a house, you get paid.

Almost every time, they will pay your fee rather than have to go to court, which will be a case they will lose, because they did in fact, use your images without your permission.

They are in violation of federal law. INVOICE THEM $150, tell them they have 120 days to pay or you will file a lien upon their name.

You can do this for EACH image they used without your permission. AND NO! COPY RIGHT NOTICES ARE NO LONGER REQUIRED, the 1998 DMCA declared that the WORKS are the copyrighted property of the OWNER upon their creation.

It is an added bonus and makes things easier with a copyright notice, but as you have seen, they just remove the notice, thus... the DMCA amendment.


$150 is somewhere around the cost of registering new business in US. A "record label" like this one will close overnight and reopen under different name before they are to pay any money to anyone. And unless infridgement is a criminal one, enforcing compensation may be virtually impossible.

Did you read my comment on INVOICING 3X your established commercial rate with a notice that payment is due in 120 days, after that run down to the muni-court and file a lien on their name.

You virtually never have to get that far, since they would rather pay you than have to deal with a LIEN upon their name.

You don't have to chase them, nor chase the money.

Nor do you have to hire a lawyer, in fact... it is not allowed in small claims court. I have had to do this on three occasions and two paid within 120 days, the third was in Sweden and thought US Copyright Laws did not apply to her, but I explained that Sweden has virtually identical Copyright laws as the U.S. under the Bern Act.

She was going to use one of my images on T-Shirts and Sweat Shirts.

I told her the copyright act allowed me to invoice her 3X my established commercial rate, which was $1,650 per image, per use, which would cost her $4,950 per T-Shirt so she stopped using my image.

She then contacted me asking permission to use my image on her T-Shirts and I refused.

I told her had she asked me in the first place, BEFORE making shirts, I might have authorized it, but since she attempted to steal my image, I denied her access to the image.

I did not ask for any money in that case, only that she stop using my image illegally.

Photographers convince themselves that they have no rights or that it is not worth making someone either pay for your product before or after they use it or get permission to use it.

The people who tell you how tough it is to get someone to pay for an image they stole have never really tried.

They heard it was tough or read it was not worth it.

If people do not stand up for themselves, somebody will always be in line to take advantage of them.

PS, When I used the example of $50, which was mentioned in the story and multiplied it 3X to get $150, that was an EXAMPLE.

Personally, if you are charging $50 for your work, just give it away and call yourself a charity.

If you are charging $50 for your images, you have no understanding of your worth or your images' value.

In the story the magazine thief said, she was not going to pay his $50 price, because his portfolio was not worthy.

Apparently it was worthy enough for her to steal and use his photo in her magazine.

Bet a shiny new dime she charges her advertisers to use her magazine for their marketing. BEST BET IN VEGAS!

Jon, I was not trying to sound defeatist in my comment but rather realistic. If a "company" is stingy enough not to pay photog $50 they clearly don't give a damn about about their reputation or future because they operate on a day-to-day basis. You want to invoice them $150 with a 120 day notice? Fine, do it. Provided they are still around in 4 months you can tak them to small court where they will not show up and you will get a default judgement. Outstanding balance of $150 will show up on this company's credit report for next few years. But since this kind of business venture has probably no formal assets collection will be virtually impossible. Provided of course that after all this such record label is still around. My bet is they are scaming various individuals and companies on a regular basis and periodically just vanish in thin air to reopen under different name.

I appreciate how you explained the process and that you make people aware of their right to compensation for their images but I'm merely trying to say it's good to make an assessment whenever pursuing given money makes sense. In case described in the article I believe it is not worth the time and effort.

As for your comment on photog rather calling themselves charity than charging $50, I would say it all depends upon circumstances. Would "record label" pay $20 instead of $50 for the image? Maybe. Should photog sell them for $20? Probably not but who else is buying? Would someone pay $500 for those images? Well, if we can find them it would be great.
Associates of my friend were getting married and asked me if I can photograph their wedding. I have some experience, some portfolio to show from mybwork as second shooter. It was meant to be a whole day affair 9AM to midnight. I quoted $1000. They made me understand they've expected somewhere around $250. While this was too low for me I was willing to work out some middle ground but they advised in the meantime their video guy will take photos for additional $50 lol. Now you can say this videographer was an idiot and sold his service for nothing. Bit in reality he just knew better the needs and expectations of this couple. He knew he cannot sell them decent photo service for $500 so he gave a camera to his assistant and for $50 more they snapped few pictures (and as far as I know there were just few).

Is this videographer damaging the market for photogs? Yes, he certainly does but from his egoistic perspective he is just making easy $50. Is photog trying to recover $50 for stolen images damaging the market? Probably less so but if you deal with someone who did not intend to buy something in the first place your bargaining position is a bit different.

Jon, I had a similar situation where a company stole one of my images and tried to tell me they were the owner of the image. So I took them to court and I had with me the signed contract between ne and the magazine who assigned the job to me in the first place and the negatives and contact sheet (sorry this was back in the film days) when the court saw what i had they told the thief that not only did they have to pay me my fee which was $1,500 day rate, but the court made them pay for attorney fees and others fees, Needless to say they were trying to renegotiate the total and I told me "no deal". Like you I told them if they had asked they probably would have gotten the images for cheap. In the end they paid up (they had 30 days to pay) or a lien was being put on their business. A nice fat paycheck for me and my lawyer. Most places do not believe you will take them to court.

Exactly Jon! They are so used to nobody following through that they feel they are not at risk. I just had this conversation with my wife regarding another topic. I told her if nobody ever follows through, they feel they can do what they want without resistance. Sometimes we have to kick back, even if there is no reward, just to let them understand there is a risk in ripping people off. No risk, no deterrent.

I always say it's not the money, it's the principle.

This was a Canadian photographer. I read comments on other articles about this incident that there are ways around that (e.g., establishing an American-based company, etc.), but that may or may not be cost effective in this situation.

They took them from the magazines website, was there an agreement between the magazine and the band? Did the magazine company have a contract with the photographer over who "owns" said images?
Lastly, why didn't she go to the magazine itself in the first place?

This is disgraceful. I mean if I was a band or a record label and got caught out for using a photographers photos without paying for them and was offered the full high res images for $50 I would pay that in a heartbeat. I just hate how these companies completely devalue the hard work we do and then try to bully us into submission. Them saying 'It will be great exposure for you' is just complete BS. Seriously how is them using your photos and not referencing you meant to get you exposure? I mean even on Instagram when you get featured on a far more popular page people just like it on that page and don't even follow your page. That is with them referencing you as the photographer. I am always more than happy to do free shoots and actually do a fair few of them. However, that is at my discretion and usually because I am trying to help musicians or actors or small businesses. Most of the time they end up being beneficiary for me from actual engaged exposure and drums up actual business. Not some big company stealing photos and not crediting the photographer, refusing to pay and then insult that poor photographers portfolio. I am glad they deleted their social media. They obviously tried strong arming this photographer and it didn't work.

I've read several articles about this situation, and the main thing I think is missing from this one is how *incredibly polite and professional* this photographer was the *entire time* she dealt with such horrible treatment and threats. While it has nothing to do with her copyright claim, not including her responses kind of does her a disservice, IMHO, especially when the rudeness from the other end was such a focus of this article.

I think I saw it yesterday on BoredPanda. And I commented there something I'm gonna do here too. Could you please not base your articles only on screenshots of conversations? This doesn't add any value to the content. I'm interested in how the case went, what did the photographer do, how all that ended - not in screenshots of some conversations... Please, add some value.

And how would the label feel if we downloaded, distributed and publicly performed all their copyrighted master recordings? Because hey, the label's portfolio just isn't that good anyway and thus compensation is optional.

I wonder if Todd Owyoung or any other professional concert photographer has this problem.

1.) Just another chapter in the novel that is "we make lots of money, and you barely have any, but we'd like to keep it that way while still abusing your willingness to do stuff for free because you're just a passionate artist and we're an actual business." (Oh, the irony, when it's a band doing this to the photographer)

2.) Unless legally advised not to do so, always out the a-holes. They deserve it. $50 is a pittance. I charge $350+ depending on the usage. And companies happily pay, at least they do often enough that when someone tries to pull the "free exposure" BS on me, I tell them NO, I'm well past that free exposure stage in my career, and you should have more respect for photographers who are trying to run a business, just as they are running a business...

Matthew, the bands that played that show probably got paid $50 if that for their respective sets. The "record label" is a garage operation like so many independent labels, they have next to no budget and do what they can for as little as possible. Do I think the bands ripped off the photographer, probably not. Do I think the "label" had something to do with this, most certainly because if you read the comment stream the guy clearly states not to contact the bands.

You remind me of someone I used to work with at a previous job. He shot shows and bands as well and some friends of mine wanted promo photos and I referred them to him because I was nursing a shattered ankle. The first words out of his mouth was "Two hundred dollars for the shoot." My friends said they couldn't afford it and they couldn't. When I went back to work he hit me up about the guys and his thoughts on them not being able to afford the shoot. I explained to him there is a huge difference between a cover band that gets paid a thousand dollars a night and a band that plays original music that gets a cut of the take from the bar. When you price your work you should take what the band can afford into consideration or specify that you only shoot people who are flush with cash.

Original music played by up and coming musicians doesn't make a lot of money, particularly metal bands because the music is such an acquired taste. In some cases they end up playing for free. They go on the road and pay their way out of their pockets hoping that merchandise sales help them recoup what they have spent while sleeping in Walmart parking lots because they can't afford hotel rooms. They do this because they love music. Of course most of them want to be the next Slayer, Behemoth or Iron Maiden, many of them won't make it. And yes, I have slept in a van with five guys in a Walmart parking lot the last time I went on the road with a thrash metal band.

My apologies, I assumed that it was actually a much different situation, obviously, I guess it was the part about working for a magazine; I figured that there was a lot more money involved, even if it was a small venue. I've seen some pretty big bands play small venues before, and the tickets aren't cheap! I guess that's what happens when details are vague, my apologies if you're better informed than I.

By the way, I've shot plenty of gigs for free, of that caliber at least, when I was starting out. I've shot benefit gigs for free, Heck I've even gone home $10 poorer a couple times, because I bought a CD from one of the artists, and didn't get paid a dime to shoot. One of my proudest moments (as a new photographer) was when the band Gaelic Storm put a few of my photos on social media, from a Celtic festival I saw them at.

But at a certain point, you're past that stage in your career. And unless it's a favor for a close friend, you need to get paid. If the band can't afford your images, they need to respect you, not slap you in the face for asking (politely, allegedly) for a paltry $50, let alone AFTER they already stole your photo without asking, removed your watermark, and re-edited the shot. If they think the photo is good enough to un-watermark it and re-edit it, then clearly it had potential.

PS: I'm more of a Dream Theater guy myself, than Slayer... ;-)

Matthew, Dream Theater is cool, but I am more of a thrash/death kind of guy. Like you I clawed my up to where I shoot for online mags. I like Gaelic Storm, didn't shoot them but I took my daughter to see them.

Most of the online mags don't pay, or at least the ones I have shot for don't. I get access to shows I would never get to bring a camera to, my most recent was to see Morbid Angel at a local venue. The venue does not have a photo pit:

I am not aware of what arrangements were made between Adrienne and the band(s) if any. The mag you are shooting for determines what you can do with the photos. I shot for two online mags who made it clear I could not post anything without their watermark on it. Hellhound for the moment allows me to do whatever I want with the photos.

The bigger question is do I want to continue doing it? I have had to buy a ticket to get into a show that was sponsored by a major metal record label and they would give me a pass to shoot. Being a concert photographer is not what it used to be.

Thank you for the additional info about being contracted with a magazine for shooting concerts like this.

You can maybe pin the poor communication on the label after they got involved, but it sounds like she was communicating with the band directly at first, and they agreed to take them down and never followed through. Ultimately, the band is responsible for how their label/managers act, and you cannot pin this entirely on one rogue label manager. The band is absolutely complicit and probably scooped the photos in the first place. To this day, the label has disappeared, and the band STILL hasn't made it right / apologized / paid the photographer. That's on them.

As to the rest of your comment — I get it, most bands don't make a ton of money (or any money), and musicians don't always have it easy. But that doesn't mean that your coworker had any responsibility to take on jobs for free or for less than he wanted. Photography is expensive, time-consuming and difficult to do well. He gave them a quote for a shoot, they declined, what's the problem?

More generally, this statement is absurd: "When you price your work you should take what the band can afford into consideration or specify that you only shoot people who are flush with cash". $200 is not a ridiculous amount of money for promo shots / a shoot. It is not at all a ludicrous price. What you're really saying is that the band you referred to your coworker didn't think promo shots were WORTH $200 for THEM. I guarantee that if they made the photos a priority (by not drinking, smoking, buying extraneous gear, etc) they could have afforded his rate. Some photographers may be more flexible with up and coming bands, but no one says they HAVE to be.

Andy, the band isn't responsible for the behavior of the label, its the other way around. The label can sanction a band for poor behavior, up to and including dumping them from the label. In this case the label acted irresponsibly and talking to the band is a waste of time since their representation walked (the label) and the band doesn't have the means to make things right other than to take the photos that was provided to them down.

As far as to what I said about pricing, you thinking my statement is absurd? Really? A photographer can charge whatever they want, they can also lose potential business by pricing themselves out of existence. For guys who are getting paid chump change for playing $200 is a lot of money. That money can be used for studio time to record or fix gear after a short tour. Your comment about how a band should spend their money comes off as arrogant and crass. Why don't you use that as a negotiation strategy with some of your clients and tell me how that works!!

Pricing should depend in part as to what the shoot involves and how much work a photographer has to do. If it is taking a group shot of a band in a single location, 200 bucks is a lot of money. This is what they wanted and I ended up shooting it for them and I charged them a lot less than $200.00.

I guess you also assume I know nothing about photography. I am a retired US Navy Photographer's Mate and have over 40 years of experience behind the camera.I have been shooting metal shows for the last eight years and have seen everything from bands not getting paid despite selling an agreed upon number of tickets to a show to driving five hours to play a show that had poor attendance and the touring bands got paid in beer!! I am more sympathetic to the cause because I see bands get screwed all the time.

Robert, despite the attitudes being slipped into some of these comments, (by all parties, IMO) ...I think the message is the same: when taken out of context, $200 is NOT unreasonable.

However, this is OF COURSE out of the context of how broke the person being invoiced is.

Yeah, to them $200 might be an impossible amount. I've been a "starving artist" before; I've had plenty of months where I didn't even have $200 for groceries, let alone for "marketing".

But here's the thing: If that's the case, if $50 let alone $200 is "way too much", that's fine. But don't be an ass about it. Don't use the artists' work and then insult them for asking for money. Have some respect for a fellow artist, to whom $50 might be just as urgently needed to put food on their table. I'd argue that being a professional photographer is just as financially difficult as being in a band, at the initial levels at least. (And keep in mind that at the higher levels, no photographer will EVER even have a chance to make U2 or Metallica kinds of money, either!)

The bottom line is, if you know you don't have a dime to spend, but you see a photo you'd like to use, then just ask politely first. Don't just crop the watermark out and re-editing the photo. Because in that situation, it is entirely justified for the artist to ask for $50, $200, $350, or whatever their going rate is.

And, quite honestly, if that's what they're asking, then you should either scrape together the $50 and learn a lesson in respect for fellow artists, or politely take the image down without any name-calling or insults.

They broke the law by using the photo. But since there's no real enforcement, like there is for, say, a parking ticket, the photographer is outta luck.

We can talk all we want about how hard it is for some people to come up with $50, but the fact is, I actually DID get a $50 parking ticket the other day, and I paid it because I had no choice. If the band's van got a justified $50 parking ticket, they'd have to pay it too.

(Or if the record label owner's car got a ticket while on the job, they'd probably use company money to pay it)

My point is, we're all artists, we're in this together, and we absolutely must have more respect for each other, regardless of whether or not our own current financial predicaments match up or not.

I have you disagree with you on this Matthew. A $200 group shot isn't going to get the band a record deal, it is not going to give them discounts on hotel rooms and food when they go on tour. It is a handful of photos that they will post on Facebook and Bandcamp to attempt to get some attention.

My take is you price your work based on how much work you are doing. A promo shoot for a band consumes a lot less of my time than a burlesque show, the other thing I shoot on a regular basis.

Adrienne asking for $50 a photo might be reasonable to a band that makes a few thousand dollars a show, to a band that quite possibly just played for free not so much.

There is a lot of information that is missing from this story and I would love to hear what the band(s) in question have to say.

Just to be clear, you're disagreeing with me over a single amount, and the fact that certain artists in certain situations can't afford that particular amount. That's fine!

But that doesn't change the fact that respect among artists is needed. If a photographer's going rate for a group photo is $200, have some respect for it. They might be super busy, or they might barely have any work. But they decided their time is worth $200, based on their skill level and the quality of the final product they deliver. (Also, based on their CODB and COL in their area. Here in Orange County CA, $200 is just a tenth of your rent, or worse!)

If a band can't afford that, yet, that's fine! If a photo is just for social media and they're still "starving artists", they can take group photos themselves on an iPhone, or find a photographer who is actually a personal friend or a huge fan of the band, who is willing to shot for less or for free.

But make no mistake, a /professional/ photo shoot could definitely help the band, in the long run, towards a record deal and free stuff. Saying otherwise is an insult to professional photography. So maybe they can't afford a $200 shoot right now, maybe their record label can't even come up with $50. That's fine. FOR NOW. But they should definitely be working towards that, and in the meantime they definitely shouldn't be shaming another artist who harmlessly asks for a few bucks. Don't blame the photographer for not knowing the record label has $0 to spare.

Quite bluntly, you have to MAKE money, save it, and re-invest it, if you want to make MORE money.

Maybe your record label doesn't have $50 to spare this year. (Maybe they spent it on a parking ticket!) But in the meantime, while you're waiting to "make it big" as a record label, or "get noticed" as a band, in hope that someday $200 is chump change, ...every starving artist needs to have full respect for other artists who have gotten even just one or two steps past 'starving', and has set their prices a little higher.

I don't think you disagree with the need for mutual respect, or the worth of an experienced, good quality photographer. I hope that you don't still think I'm misunderstanding the fact that some bands / labels simply don't have much cash to spare. I'm just saying, to the band label mostly but also the band: have some respect, and if you get caught doing something illegal, take that opportunity to LEARN some respect.

Simply put, I'd love to know all the facts too; I'd love to know exactly how much money was made (or lost) on this particular gig. And maybe you're right, maybe the band barely made enough money to pay for gas, and maybe the record label is barely breaking even, for now.

But I think we can all agree that nowhere in that scenario does a photographer deserve to get insulted and shamed for demanding a few bucks when the other party involved did something illegal, albeit harmlessly naive in their own eyes.

Maybe the photographer isn't as well-informed about how much $$$ is made at these types of gigs.

Maybe to the photographer, $50 is the gas money they ALSO desperately need to get to their next gig!

So let's just leave it at that- Both parties involved might not know just what stage of "starving artist" the other is at. Both photographer and band/label might desperately need $50 or $200, for gas or food. And with that in mind, there's no place for insults or shaming. Each should respect the hard work being done by the other, as well as the other's own perceived value.

Matthew, I think Adrienne knows exactly what kind of people she photographs. I took the time to look at her Instagram feed and she covers mostly local and regional metalcore/mathcore/deathcore bands. The only big name band I recognized in the photos I looked at was The Devil Wears Prada. I used to shoot these bands until I got tired of the music and the fans with their "hardcore dancing".

Where the disconnect starts is with people who respond to this story with their anger over what happened to the photographer without full knowledge of what transpired between her, the band(s) and the label.

So the best I can determine is that she shot one or more up and coming bands and something happened between her and the label and the label responded in a negative fashion.

Without knowing more about what went on and getting input from the band(s) involved, I quite frankly don't know what to think. Do I think her photos are worth $50? I don't know because I haven't seen them to decide for myself. I think someone should do some detective work and find out more about what happened. Also keep in mind this took place sometime last year!!!!

The guy writing these social media messages vibes manipulative psychopath - an extremely unskilled one, but still a creepy would-be manipulator.

See this type of action sicken me that a record company think they are entitled to having the images free or for beans. Man things have changed since the day of when a record company would ask you how much you quote then and receive a nice check with thanks. I would have said after you received the first note is to file a take down notice with DMCA and let them handle the situation. If the images were not down taken down then they would have gone to bat for you.