Now in the third and final installment of this 3 part series, we’ll demonstrate how musicians and their “people” use the basics of copyright law mixed with their intimate knowledge of how risk adverse photographers typically are, to attack photographers who have taken the offensive. In the real world when faced with the fire-power of a major or even minor celebrity performer or record label, photographers often quietly slink away. Musicians and especially their “suits” more often than not have used decades of experience to screw photographers and thus they know what techniques (and there are many as we see below) are effective.
This is just a sampling of the ammunition that you can expect to be fired at you when you defend your rights:
1) First they appropriate (“steal”) photos of performers without getting the permission or license of the photographer. Then they employ the photos in social media, venue posters, merchandise, tour posters, editorial pieces, public relations materials and even CD covers or inserts. The infringers well know that few photographers register their work and most shooters are petrified to confront a big record company. So the thought of litigation doesn’t enter into the equation.
The result? 98% of the time the appropriation is successful, the image(s) are used without payment of any fee and the photographer is left with only a sob story, that he/she will no doubt tell over and over for years to come to anyone who will listen, especially to strangers on social media.
Infringers will tell a young photographer who complains about an unpaid, unauthorized use that the star has done him a favor by making the images famous. That line of BS works…and works often. They will tell the newbie that he/she will be the first photographer they will call for the next tour. They will say that, and they will be lying. It is the modern day equivalent of the cartoon character Wimpy saying “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” With the correct Tuesday never coming around. What they will do is hire a highly paid, experienced tour shooter, who will get the gig for the nationwide tour. The newbie will be left home to watch reruns of Saved By the Bell.
2) Intentionally use appropriated images in every form of social media imaginable even on their own websites and claim that the label had “no control over the postings….which were made by third parties…usually fans”. This defense which sounds plausible, is in real life, usually a lie. Companies make their own posts under a variety of methods including but not limited to fictional third party fans. The images are used to create buzz and to brand the act or label. They serve as free PR materials and may promote tours, records or merchandise.
3) Infringe upon photos taken at venues and employ them for a multitude of purposes. Photographer complains and label responds with attorney’s letter, which states that by the rules of the venue/band/tickets/credentials no images during the performance were permitted. Google Swift, Taylor photographer contracts or our article entitled: “Not So Swift”.
4) Convince photographers to assign and give up photos and copyrights in exchange for a photo credit in the band’s program or poster. Photos handed over by naive’ photographer and then surprise! Photos are not used in programs or posters but rather on T-shirts or beer mugs where no credit or payment is required.
5) Use pix of dead performer on posters, merchandise etc. The longer the artist is dead the less the chance that A. the photographer will be alive to make a claim and B. notice the infringement and C have registered it. We have had lawsuits were the performer had been deceased for decades before the photographer’s images were first being ripped off.
6) Music websites and magazine ALWAYS claim “fair use” when they infringe upon famous images. They are wrong only about 90+% of the time. BUT 98% of all photographers believe that even a registered image used for editorial purposes is NOT an infringement under the The Copyright Law. Note: they are lying as such use is an infringement. The fact that the use was editorial and not on example a poster, does not make the unauthorized use of a registered image for editorial purposes anything other than an infringement.
7) Scare the photographer. Famous and wannabee famous Rap and Hip Hop performers and their people will threaten a photographer who has been ripped off. The threats may be physical and given the violent and storied history of the genre, believable. (Hey…. we saw Straight Out of Compton) They may take a more subtle tone like, “You’ll never work in this or any other town again”. Threaten the infringer by cutting off access. All of the above techniques are generally effective. Ed has been physically threatened more than once and some individuals who have sued rappers found themselves with severe personal injuries or worse. Jazz performers, opera singers and country stars rarely assassinate their competitors. In the worlds of Rap and Hip Hop such incidents are legendary and thus threats become credible.
8) A simple, direct strategy that can best be defined as, “I am a rich, famous big shot and you are a nobody with no money. Screw you! I have more lawyers on my payroll than I can count”. We call this the “Go Away Little Girl” defense after the song of the same title written by Carole King and sung initially by Steve Lawrence and later by the sainted, Donny Osmond.
Notwithstanding the above (and not complete) list, Ed has had many suits on behalf of photographers, models and illustrators. If your work is registered and the performer(s) become famous or sells big you as the aggrieved party get compensated commensurate with their success.
Ironically the music industry is so active suing others for ripping off their intellectual property that when sued and confronted with the very same arguments they use when suing others, jurors tend to side with the little guy(s) who have the stones to sue them.
Highly paid performers and record labels do not generally benefit from sympathetic juries. Note the sizes of the awards against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke in the Marvin Gaye “Blurred Lines” case. These defendants have deep pockets and juries well know that there are substantial financial resources from which to pay a single photographer who has been ripped off by a major entertainer and/or record label.
Final note: There have been dozens of cases where one musician sued another alleging appropriation, infringement, stealing etc. One case we especially like to cite in music and other copyright cases.
Former Beatle George Harrison released his first solo hit, “My Sweet Lord” in 1971. It was a huge hit. He was sued with the essence of the claim being that Harrison had ripped off the 1962 hit by The Chiffons, “He’s So Fine”. Harrison was determined by the court to be guilty of “subconscious plagiarism” and in effect paid $582,000. The judge found that Harrison unintentionally plagiarized the former #1 hit and admitted to have heard the song many times.
Sometimes inspiration whether visual or a series of musical notes, has been stored in the recesses of an artist’s mind and comes out without intention, memory or attribution. Many musicians will play an original tune (before formally recording it) to musicologists – the experts who testify at such copyright trials – to see if they can pick up anything that can get them sued. It’s never a bad idea to get objective and sophisticated third party opinions before unveiling a new creative work to the public at large. Never assume that an artist, musician or photographer is too famous or too rich to steal from another creator no matter how impoverished or unknown.
That’s it. We’re Hip Hoppin’ Out.