Last night on the EDM Photographers Facebook group a member posted a tweet from an upset photographer who wasn't properly credited for an image that famed music producer, Diplo, posted on his Instagram feed. The concert photography collective, Visualbass, tweeted their irritation to Diplo about the uncredited photo and was met with a rather unpleasant and public exchange from the artist.
[UPDATE 12/12/13 I have been in contact with Visualbass and have added a few quotes in the article]
Before I get into this article let me first explain to some of the readers who may not know this particular genre of music very well exactly who Diplo is. Diplo or Thomas Wesley Pentz is an American producer and DJ. He is best known for his EDM group Major Lazer. He has collaborated with some of the biggest names in music (Beyoncé, No Doubt, Justin Bieber, Snoop Dogg, and Santigold). He produced the Grammy nominated song "Paper Planes" by M.I.A. and has a new track with Sia and The Weeknd on the new Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack. The man is a big player in the music industry and it's safe to say that he is the future of mainstream pop music. He even has his own Blackberry commercial and has modeled for fashion designer Alexander Wang.
The photography collective Visualbass was granted a press pass to the Mad Decent Block Party in Toronto (Mad Decent is owned by Diplo) to shoot on behalf of the blog ThisSongSlaps.com. When shooting at the show the photographer didn't sign a copyright grabber or contract giving their copyrights away, although other photographers present at the concert did. The photographer was allowed photo pit access and took some pretty killer photos of the event, but when Diplo posted the photo on his Instagram the photographer took to twitter to express his disappointment.
"Thissongslaps.com approached me to shoot this Block Party at Fort York. My agreement with the blog was that they leave my watermark on and they'll get selected pics free of charge. I was given a media pass at the gate but not a AAA [All Access] pass and there was no contract of any sort to sign when I got the pass. I was able to go into the media pit and everywhere else but NOT BACK STAGE, but I snuck back there anyways because I had a lot of friends who are artists and I just wanted to say hi." - Tobias Wang (owner/photographer Visualbass)
An artist that doesn't credit a photographer isn't anything new, in fact, it's a huge problem in our industry. The majority of concert photographers don't make enough to have concert photography as their main niche in photography. The majority of the time we pay out of pocket to be there, to shoot for a venue, promoter or even the artist themselves. So, when a successful artist who at that point should understand the idea of copyright laws should know that it stings when others use your work without proper due credit. I find the whole situation quite ironic in a way that an artist who values his intellectual property rights would devalue ours. At this point I'm not entirely blaming Diplo though since the photo wasn't actually uploaded by him personally, but by his management team. (Looks like his management team needs a little lesson on properly crediting photographers.) It's his very public reaction to the tweet that caught us (EDM photographers) off guard.
"WTF?!, was my initial reaction but it wasn't the first time he's done this. I wasn't even mad when I saw he'd instagrammed the post I just re-instagrammed it with my comment. I attached a screengrab of our conversation via Facebook in July where he blatantly said 'totally stealing for my twitter thanks!' referencing to this image from that same party : http://visualbass.com/products/diplo-11x11in-print and as you can see from the screengrab that I was actually cool with it simply because he said thanks at the end of comment. So I was a little sad that he didn't bother to credit me and that he cropped out the watermark." - Tobias Wang (owner/photographer Visualbass)
In two simple sentences Diplo completely devalues the hard work that we as photographers do. Those of us that do this legitimately (whether it's shooting for press, the artist, venue or promoter) are there not because we want the thrill of being backstage. We're not all groupies with DSLRs running around backstage hoping for a chance to speak to the artist. No, we're there because we belong there. We are providing a service to whoever our client may be. Instead of quietly dealing with the situation and removing the photo or adding credit he completely dismisses the photographer altogether.
This disappointed me a great deal being that Diplo/Major Lazer is one of my favorite artists to not just listen to, but shoot. I have had the pleasure of shooting his EDM group Major Lazer twice in my career as the house photographer for a national-level promoter. All I can say is that Diplo and his crew put on one hell of a show. As a professional concert photographer it's hard to NOT get a good photo of Diplo if you have some decent access. The level of interaction with the crowd is insane. While Major Lazer have used my photos without personal credit to me, it wasn't so much of a deal to me since I was paid by the promoter for this exact purpose. It would have been a nice gesture though. I do love it when a major artist takes the time to give me proper credit, like in the past with Showtek and Steve Aoki, who actually tagged me in each individual image they posted on various social media sites. That is what I call mutual respect for the art that we produce.
"The funny thing is that most people in this world don't care about how a photograph is made especially in a club. The biggest misconception about clubscape photographs and photographers is that what they do is not hard. Digital photography did not help that reputation and neither did smartphones. I've been shooting since 1999 and worked a lot with artists throughout my career. It used to be a lot easier to contact the artist and managements because there wasn't a lot of photographers, but now it is nearly impossible to get a hold of anyone because of all the white noise that social media causes.
Artist management like that are ignorant and lazy. This simply exemplifies the lack of integrity as a company and their roster." -Tobias Wang (owner/photographer Visualbass)
In a surprising social media twist people have stood behind Visualbass and took to defending him against the artist. Which is a pleasant change in which usually fans will defend the artist and their behavior till the bitter end.
After a few more exchanges between Diplo and his twitter followers VisualBass tweets a retort that flips the tables dramatically.
While the condescending tone of Diplo's tweets are disheartening for photographers and videographers at best, he's right. (On a side note when I shot the Major Lazer concerts I was, in fact, the only official photographer shooting for the promoter along with one other photographer shooting for Eyewax.TV for UME 2013. There were only a handful of press photogs there. The other concert, Isla Del Sol, I shot solo along with a videographer, no press was allowed. There was not a large number of photographers at either concert.)
VisualBass has been reportedly selling non-limited and unsigned $2 "posters" of Diplo, along with a slew of other mainstream artists since July. Most photographers wouldn't give a second thought to putting up a photo that they took at a concert for sale in the form of a print, but knowing from recent conversations with famed DJ photographer Drew "Rukes" Ressler from Rukes.com that simply taking the photo doesn't necessarily give you the right to sell it as a print. In Rukes's F.A.Q. he answers the question on why his prints are very limited.
"The prints are limited since copyright law limits the amount of prints a photographer can make. If you go over that certain amount, the prints become “merchandise” and must be licensed in accordance with the artist pictured."- Drew "Rukes" Ressler
So, this presents a good question. If I take a photo of an artist at a concert and own my full copyrights can I sell prints of my work? The answer to this has been notoriously grey in nature due to legal jargon and confusion between concert photographers, but the short answer is... yes, with strict limitations. Let me break down on how U.S. Copyright handles fine art prints.
US Copyright (excerpts):
A “work of visual art” is —
(2) a still photographic image produced for exhibition purposes only, existing in a single copy that is signed by the author, or in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author.
A work of visual art does not include —
(A)(i) any poster, map, globe, chart, technical drawing, diagram, model, applied art, motion picture or other audiovisual work, book, magazine, newspaper, periodical, data base, electronic information service, electronic publication, or similar publication;
(ii) any merchandising item or advertising, promotional, descriptive, covering, or packaging material or container;
In layman's terms you can sell prints of an artist (or rather anybody) as long as they are limited to an edition that only includes 200 copies or less, are signed and consecutively numbered by the photographer. Usually fine art prints are somewhat expensive compared to normal prints, printed with high-quality paper and will explicitly state that it is a fine art or gallery print. If it doesn't follow these guidelines it no longer falls under a limited edition print, but rather commercial merchandise, and you must either have a model release from the artist or work out a licensing deal with them. You must also own the full copyrights to the image in question. The majority of concert photographers are forced to sign their copyrights away just to gain access to an artist which is a travesty in itself. That topic is for another article.
It's unclear if VisualBass is breaking any copyright laws by selling the posters, since the company resides in Canada (where the photos were shot) and they state that they never signed any sort of copyright grabber or contract with the promoter or artist. I'm going to assume by the price and the unsigned and unnumbered nature of the posters that this hardly falls under the definition of a fine art print and that Diplo is correct in stating that they are using his likeness commercially. The only time that Visualbass says that the posters are actually limited-edition prints are in a Tumblr post marketing their posters. Then again, I'm no intellectual property lawyer.
I want to end this with the unfortunate truth that some artists in the music industry just do not respect what we do. All of the hours we put into shooting, editing, the small to no compensation, and the under-appreciation can eventually disillusion you as a concert photographer. That doesn't mean we don't love what we do. I personally loved shooting Diplo and getting the chance to make him look like the rockstar that he is, because in essence that's what we do. We capture the artist in the best possible light to help promote themselves. I just wish that big artists would have enough common sense to see that the true professional photographers in this industry deserve respect just as much as they do.
To close the article I want to publish some of the best photographs of Diplo that were captured by members of my EDM Photography group, EDM Photographers. We are the largest collective of EDM photographers on social media, and I'm proud to say that we have the best of the best in the group. I want to thank those that submitted their photos for this article. You can also view the entire set from the Mad Decent Block Party by Visualbass on their Facebook Page.
All photos used with permission.