I’ve found that bands seem to be on the two opposite sides of the spectrum. Either they 1) politely ask beforehand and let you know they’ll tag you in the caption or 2) they just take it and probably crop out your watermark, too. I feel like there’s no middle ground here. The first way is the right way to do it. We’re all on the same side here. We have a symbiotic relationship with one another. We should respect that relationship and each other.
But, it’s a picture of me, why can’t I just post it?
That’s simply not how copyright works. Unless the photographer signed a release stating the band could use the photos, then the photographer retains copyright. When you’re performing a show and given the photographer permission to photograph the show, there is no expectation to privacy while you’re up on stage performing. This is the photographers artistic take or interpretation of you, if that makes sense. Same thing happens when you go to a portrait photographer for family photos, except you usually pay them for the photos and then buy products. With concert photography, usually the band approves the photographer so they get publicity from the publication or website the photos are published on and the photographer may or may not get paid by the publication for taking the photos. This scenario doesn’t mean you have any rights to the photos, though, unless you present the photographer with a contract prior to the show.
What is copyright?
Copyright, according to Merriam-Webster, is the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something (as a literary, musical, or artistic work). Basically, it give the creator (photographers) of works of art (photographs) the sole right to reproduce, publish, and distribute them. It protects artists and was put in place to encourage artists to make and share their work. As a band, your music is protected by copyright law. It’s the exact same thing. Copyright happens the moment the work of art is created. Artists can take it a step further and register their works so they can seek damages when their work is infringed.
Currently, works of art are protected for the life of the author plus 70 years. For corporate entities, the copyright is for 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever comes first. Yes, basically 2 lifetimes for the actual person and 1.5 lifetimes for a corporate entity.
If you’d like to read more, I made a blog post a while ago on the Peoria Camera Shop blog, which you can read here.
But it was posted to social media, that means it’s fair game, right?
Nope. Whoever posted it to social media should and legally must have permission from the artist to do so. Social media is just another platform of publishing and this is a huge misconception that can and will land you in hot water and legal fees.
Wouldn’t my band reposting the photo qualify as fair use?
Nope, unless you’reusing the photo for educational purposes. Your website and all social media pages are there to promote the band and make the band money. This is using the photo for monetary gain, which means your need explicit permission from the artist. And let’s say it is fair use, you should still ask and always attribute the photographer. That’s standard practice.
What if I “share” the photo on Facebook or Retweet the photographer’s tweet on Twitter or reblog the photo on Tumblr?
Yes! This is fantastic and the proper way to share the photos with your fans on these platforms. This is completely a-okay. Instagram doesn’t have a sharing feature like this, so please ask before reposting!
I left the watermark on the photo, so that’s credit enough.
You still must ask. Some photographers will be fine with their watermark being clearly visible. Some will also want tagged or linked back in the caption. You still must ask before posting or you are infringing on their copyright.
I asked the photographer about posting the photo and they want paid!
This is completely within their right. Photo credit doesn’t pay the bills. If you don’t want to post the picture bad enough to pay for it, just say thanks, but no thanks. Just like a photographer can’t take one of your songs and put it on their website without paying, you can’t just use their photo. Many photographers, though, will allow their work to be reposted if they are properly tagged and linked back.
I found a really good photo that looks professional, but I can’t find who took it.
I wouldn’t recommend posting it unless you can track down the photographer first. Photographers can seek damages (sue you) for infringement and not knowing the author of the copyrighted work will not stand up in court. You will end up paying if it goes that route.
I found a photograph on the photographer’s Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / Tumblr / Website/ Etc. that I want to post on a band page. What should I do?
- Just ask! Contact the photographer. Leave a comment, message, email. Ask and explain exactly where you’d like to post it.
- Get their reply and follow that. If they said sure, but credit, always include a link to the social media platform you’re posting on. If you’re on Facebook, tag their photography fan page. If it’s Twitter, direct link to their Twitter handle. You get the idea. Linking to the website in addition to the platform you’re posting on is always great, too.
- If they asked for payment, decide if you want to pay for the photo’s use or not. The photographer shouldn’t be offended if you decide you don’t want to pay for it. As long as you don’t post it anyways.
- That’s really it. It’s as easy ask asking and not posting anything unless you know you’re okay to.
If you can think of something I missed, please comment! I’d love to hear from other photographers and bands on the matter. I’ve had the pleasure of photographing many great bands and being properly asked and credited for my photos, but I have had my copyright infringed before and it’s really discouraging. It’s disrespectful and hard not to take personally when fellow artists takes advantage of your work. Just don’t do it! We’re all on the same side here and it’s more of a “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” type of situation.