Dear photographers, Lady Gaga wants the copyright on your work

Lady Gaga with Cher
The Associated Press thinks it owns the copyright on this photo of Lady Gaga. (Photo by Matt Sayles)

People who've been in the business for a long time find that attitude somewhat challenging. "That to me kind of shows a shocking disdain for the creative process," says Eugene Mopsik when asked about this sentiment. Mopsik, who worked as a concert photographer in the '70s ("in those days we were free," he says, laughing) is the executive director of the American Society of Media Photographers. "Congress gave photography the power of intellectual property," he says, "and that’s not up for debate." Mopsik calls such contracts "predatory in nature."

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Lady Gaga demands you surrender (the ownership of photos of her)

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Not all megastars have such requirements. Pearl Jam, Gustafson says, has three restrictions: No flashes, you pick one side of the stage and stay there, and you have to do what the crew asks. Bruce Springsteen allows photographers to shoot only from the soundboard but provides them a platform so they get a better view. U2 allows shooting from outside the general admission pit and also gives photogs a place to shoot from the soundboard. "They just treated everybody really well," Gustafson says of the Irish band, "and everybody got great photos so as a result their concerts look really fun to go to."

Complicating matters, photographers do regularly surrender copyright to their employers; many media outlets, TBD included, demand ownership of the photos in return for a fee or a salary.

Westcott's editor on this assignment, the co-author of this post, told him not to sign the agreement and to not shoot the concert. Jennifer R. Beeson, a photo editor at the Washington Post, says in an e-mail that Tracy A. Woodward, who shot the concert for the paper, "received [a] different release all together." In the version the Post signed, she says, there are no restrictions on how long the paper can display the photos, and there is no demand for copyright. This wouldn't be the first time that Lady Gaga, who arguably owes much of her fame to her fanatical Web following, has treated online and print outlets very differently.

And to be fair, there are lots of reasons for artists to be concerned about Web outlets and photography. Gustafson says one of the biggest pains about his job is tracking down websites that steal his photos after they appear on the Post's Click Track blog and asking them to remove the images.

"This kind of thing has come up more often related to things like the NBA, the NFL," says Mopsik. "They allow the news [outlets], meanwhile, they tightly control who has the privilege to photograph at their events."

It's a type of control that is increasingly illusory.

"Everyone has a camera at concerts these days," says Gustafson. "And it’s unfortunate that they are trying to crack down on the professional photographers. People that are given photo access have more restrictions than people sitting in the front row with their cameras and their flashes popping off."

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