Photograph by Steven Lawton — FilmMagic via Getty Images
By Jeff John Roberts
July 10, 2015

Taylor Swift, the pop star who has made a name for herself in the music industry as a champion for artists, is facing mounting anger that she herself imposes unfair terms. In Montreal this week, photographers from five media outlets—Montreal Gazette, La Presse, Le Journal de Montréal, Le Devoir, and Métro—declined to attend her concert because of onerous contract demands made by her management company, Firefly Entertainment.

On Thursday, the Gazette published the text of that contract and highlighted the offending provisions. These included requirements that:

—Swift gets a right to use the photographers’ work forever

—The photographers’ image can only be reproduced once on text and on a website, and not on “new media”

—Any violation of the contract permits Swifts’ agents to “confiscate and/or destroy” the devices that contain the images

Responding to that last requirement, the Gazette says that it “will not give anyone permission to injure its photographers or damage their equipment.”

The outcry over the contract for Swift’s world tour is not the first protest by members of the press over the legal agreements required to document today’s performing artists. Earlier this month, the Washington City Paper took a swipe at rockers Foo Fighters for language that required, among other things, approval of published photos and the transfer of rights “throughout the universe in perpetuity”; the paper skipped the show—notable as the band’s frontman, Dave Grohl, is a D.C.-area native.

At odds is control over the dissemination of the photographs. Members of the press argue that such language threatens journalistic integrity and violates their own contracts with photographers; artists argue that such language is necessary to protect them from unauthorized use of their likeness—which, in Swift’s case, could be anything from promotional use to the republication of a photo, possibly unflattering, in an undesired context. (A somewhat extreme example: Playboy.)

How each act approaches this differs. In 2011, Lady Gaga received blowback over a clause that transferred all photo rights to her; the same year, Janet Jackson was subject to the same scrutiny for a clause that gave the “final edit” of “editorial, news or other informational text” used alongside concert photos of her. (Jackson’s lawyers reportedly rescinded the language.)

Of course, none of these acts have taken as prominent stand for the rights of creators as Swift, who in June wrote an open letter to Apple that she would withhold her music from its new streaming service until it changed its terms to pay artists for its three-month free trial period. (The company quickly changed its position.)

As for the Montreal Gazette, the paper encouraged fans to submit their Instagram pictures of Swift’s show. It ultimately chose to publish one of these with its review with the caption, “The Gazette refused to agree to an onerous photography contract, or accede to the artist’s offer to use Getty “approved” images instead.” Other Montreal publications took a different tack.

Swift’s managers have not publicly addressed the Montreal complaints, though last month one of her agents responded to criticism from a U.K. photographer, saying only that he had “misrepresented” some of the contract’s terms.

This story was updated at 2:15 p.m. ET and 7:15 p.m. ET to add additional context about performers’ use of such contracts across the industry.

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