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September 23rd, 2015

Selfie Copyright Battle: Monkey See, Monkey Sue

©David Slater (unless a court rules otherwise)

©David Slater (unless a court rules otherwise)

An animal rights group has filed a copyright ownership claim in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of a monkey that used British photographer David Slater’s camera to shoot a selfie, according to an Agence-France Press report yesterday.

Naruto, the six-year-old macaque, grabbed Slater’s unattended camera in 2011 and took at least two selfies. The incident occurred in Indonesia. The photographs have circulated widely on the internet, and have been the subject of a previous ownership dispute.

On Tuesday, PETA filed suit on Naruto’s behalf, seeking a ruling from the court that the monkey is the “author and owner of his photograph,” the AFP report says. Slater, who has previously claimed copyright to the image, is named as the defendant in the case.

PETA asserts in its claim that U.S. copyright law doesn’t prohibit animals from owning copyright, and since Naruto took the selfie, “he owns copyright, as any human would.”

PETA filed the lawsuit as part of a strategy to establish through legal precedent that non-human animals can have property rights. PETA says that if it prevails, the case will establish for the first time that rights beyond basic survival needs are extended to a non-human animals.

The U.S. Copyright Office said last year that it would not register works produced by “nature, [non-human] animals, or plants,” suggesting that the office doesn’t consider those entities to be “authors” eligible for copyright ownership under U.S. law.

In any event, the case will be a test of the court’s willingness to hear monkey business.

Monkey Selfie Not Eligible for Copyright Registration Under New Rules
The Monkey Selfie: Who Owns Copyright to It?

July 22nd, 2015

The Photographer Who Rocked Taylor Swift: Open Letter Helped to Expose “Hideous Terms” Concert Photogs Face


There’s a neat symmetry to the Taylor Swift photo contract saga. It all began with an open letter, penned by UK concert photographer Jason Sheldon on his Junction10 blog, lambasting Swift for exploitative contract terms for her 1989 World Tour.

Sheldon’s open letter was sparked by Swift’s own public scolding of Apple for not paying artists during the three month free trial period of Apple music. And while Swift’s letter provoked a quick (or is that swift?) mea-culpa and an about-face from Apple, Sheldon’s appeal drew force more gradually from repeated media mentions, protests from news organizations and criticism from the National Press Photographer’s Association.

Shortly after the news broke that Swift’s team had altered its contract to appease critics, PDN reached out to Sheldon via email for his thoughts on the affair. What follows is an edited transcript.

PDN:  I’m wondering if you had any comment regarding the changes [Swift’s] team has made – do they go some (or all) of the way toward addressing your complaints?

Jason Sheldon: I’ve not had chance to examine the revised contract in detail – had a quick look and it appears to be a very positive step in the right direction. I think there are some minor points which I’d be happier tightening up, but I’m happy they’ve shown willingness to appreciate our rights a bit more.

PDN:  Are you surprised that your open letter has had the reaction and impact that it did?

Sheldon: I’m certainly pleasantly surprised it went viral.. It was good to have the support of publications like the Irish Times as well, who picked up on it and refused to agree to the terms of the contract.  It’s helped expose the hideous terms music photographers are sometimes forced to agree to (under economic duress) in order to carry out their jobs, and that is what it is – a job.

PDN:  Have you experienced any negative reaction (loss of work) from concert promoters or management teams because of your open criticism? 

Sheldon: Generally the feedback has been extremely positive on the whole. With various PR [reps] and promoters saying publicly that they agree with me – a few saying it privately as well. Of course, there has been some negative feedback which is to be expected, but most of it seems to come from people who have not read and understood the point of the open letter. These are usually the people that think we’re getting free concert tickets and living a parasitic existence off the back of the artist talent, which is certainly not the case. I haven’t lost any work from my stance, yet. But then, I’ve yet to apply for the Foo Fighters shows later this year.
July 21st, 2015

Taylor Swift Changes Photo Contract in Response to Online Outrage. Will the Foo Follow?

Jana Beamer | Flickr

Jana Beamer | Flickr

Evidently Taylor Swift doesn’t want there to be any bad blood between her 1989 World Tour and photographers. After an outpouring of internet outrage over her tour’s restrictive photo contract, Swift’s team has apparently relented.

Writing for Poytner, Benjamin Mullin notes that Swift’s team has removed elements that photographers had found objectionable:

According to a source who has seen the revised contract, Swift’s representatives are no longer empowered to forcibly remove images from the cameras of photojournalists. In addition, a stricture preventing photojournalists from using images taken at Swift’s concerts more than once has been loosened, allowing for some negotiation. And Swift’s representatives have agreed to credit photojournalists when the artist uses their photos.

Mashable has gotten a hold of the new contract and republished it here.

The changes were spurred by UK concert photographer Jason Sheldon and later by Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National  Press Photographer’s Association, who has been speaking out against Swift’s contract since Sheldon’s open letter to Swift went viral.

Swift is not the only high-profile musician under fire for restrictive contracts.

The Washington City Paper refused to send a photographer to the Foo Fighters’s concert after writing that the Foo’s contract “sucked.” Instead, they commissioned a cartoonist to draw the band during the show. A Quebec paper, Le Soleil, followed suit.

Related: One Simple Way to Kill Restrictive Concert Photography Contracts

July 9th, 2015

How to Kill Restrictive Concert Photography Contracts

Gabbo T | Flickr

Gabbo T | Flickr

It’s boom times for concert photographers who want to complain about the terms of their contract. Jason Seldon’s public letter to Taylor Swift drew huge interest from traditional media companies, followed by the public calling out of the Foo Fighters by the Washington City Paper.

But, like a lot of online griping, the spilling of rage pixels rarely results in change.

Writing in his blog, the Norwegian photographer Jarle Moe argues that concert photographers wouldn’t be on the receiving end of unfair or overly restrictive contracts if they stopped thinking of themselves as concert photographers:

“If more, if not all, concert photographers identified as journalists and with the ethics that follow in their work, photo contracts would be a thing of the past. Signing a photo contract should be unacceptable, not because it’s disrespecting you as an artist, but because it’s a violation of the ethics you follow as a journalist.

So stop thinking about yourself primarily as an artist. You are a [photo]journalist. You may create art, but it’s more to it than that. You are a part of the freepress. Encourage new photographers to identify as journalists. Make the journalism be as natural to our profession as the artistry, and heed to the obligations that come with that label.”

Sound naive? According to Moe, Norwegian concert photographers banded together under a similar ethos:

“The Norwegian press as a whole, has made a joint statement to never sign any contracts put forward by artists or their management pushed forward by concert photographers, as can be read here. In Norway, most concert photographers are, in essence, photojournalists and identify more or less as such. And because of that, we are part of the press. We are not 100 concert photographers, but 7000 journalists.

Together we have a powerful voice. We generally do not meet any photo contracts, and the few we do, never gets signed. And because of that, contracts get fewer and fewer. With the press associations and unions behind us, we actually have a powerful voice against such demands, and the contracts get dropped (though, it has to be said that the local promoters have done tremendous work as well in that regard, but without all of the press acting like a collective, they would have no incentive to waiver the contracts). The aforementioned Foo Fighters contract? Guess what: that was not presented to the photographers in Norway. I can’t even remember the last time I “had” to sign a contract. That’s what having some integrity gets you.”

Sounds like an interesting strategy, but is it workable in a market as large and competitive as the U.S.?

July 6th, 2015

Not Just Tay Tay: Foo Fighters Called Out by Washington City Paper Over Contract Terms

A photo posted by Foo Fighters (@foofighters) on

Taylor Swift isn’t the only big-time musician to be called out for a restrictive photo contract. On July 2, the Washington City Paper took the Foo Fighters to task over a contract that they said “sucks.”

They wrote:

If we signed it, we would have agreed to: the band approving the photos which run in the City Paper; only running the photos once and with only one article; and all copyrights would transfer to the band. Then, here’s the fun part, the band would have “the right to exploit all or a part of the Photos in any and all media, now known or hereafter devised, throughout the universe, in perpetuity, in all configurations” without any approval or payment or consideration for the photographer.

That is exploitation of photographers, pure and simple.

The paper’s editors say they protested the terms, only to be told by the Foo Fighters’ management that they were standard and that they “protect the band” — which is more or less the same response from the Taylor Swift camp after her contract came under fire.

Will publicly airing and criticizing the terms of a contract force a change? It’s too soon to tell, but we’re just one more story away from a bona-fide trend.

June 23rd, 2015

Court Rejects Rentmeester’s Infringement Claim Over Nike “Jumpman” Logo

© Jacobus "Co" Rentmeester

Rentmeester’s 1984 photograph of Michael Jordan for Life magazine. © Jacobus “Co” Rentmeester

A federal court in Portland, Oregon has dismissed photographer Jacobus “Co” Rentmeester’s copyright infringement claim against Nike for the same reason so many “copycat” infringement claims fail: Copyright law doesn’t protect ideas, only the expression of those ideas. And Nike’s expression was not “substantially similar” to Rentmeester’s, the court ruled.

“Mr. Rentmeester has failed to show that he can satisfy the requisite objective test for copyright infringement,” US District Judge Michael W. Mosman wrote in his decision last week to dismiss the case. Rentmeester has filed papers announcing his intent to appeal the decision to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. (more…)

June 22nd, 2015

Photographer Calls Out Taylor Swift for Apple Hypocrisy [Updated]

Taylor Swift is rapidly making a name for herself as the scourge of streaming music services, first lambasting Spotify and now, Apple Music, for giving musicians short financial shrift. In an open letter to Apple, Swift complains that the company won’t be paying musicians during a user’s three month free trial period with the service, calling it “shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.”

But Swift’s ride atop the high horse may not last very long, and not simply because Apple appears to have done an abrupt about-face on the issue.

Photographer Jason Seldon read the fine print in the contract provided by Firefly Entertainment, Inc. (Swift’s management company) to freelance concert photographers and deemed it “a complete rights grab.”

Specifically, Seldon objected to two clauses:

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 9.05.26 AM


Writes Seldon:

How are you any different to Apple?  If you don’t like being exploited, that’s great..  make a huge statement about it, and you’ll have my support.  But how about making sure you’re not guilty of the very same tactic before you have a pop at someone else?

Photographers need to earn a living as well. Like Apple, you can afford to pay for photographs so please stop forcing us to hand them over to you while you prevent us from publishing them more than once, ever.

Seldon wasn’t the only photographer to cry foul.


Update: The BBC got a hold of Swift’s management, who defended their policy thusly:

“The standard photography agreement has been misrepresented in that it clearly states that any photographer shooting The 1989 World Tour has the opportunity for further use of said photographs with management’s approval.

“Another distinct misrepresentation is the claim that the copyright of the photographs will be with anyone other than the photographer – this agreement does not transfer copyright away from the photographer.

“Every artist has the right to, and should, protect the use of their name and likeness.”

May 27th, 2015

“SuicideGirls” Deliver Cleverest Response to Richard Prince’s Instagram Appropriation

Today the adult lifestyle brand SuicideGirls issued an applause-worthy response to artist Richard Prince’s appropriation of their images: The brand’s founder, Missy Suicide, also known as Selena Mooney, announced the brand would sell for $90 the same images Prince and his gallery, Gagosian, are alleged to have sold for $90,000 at the Frieze Art Fair in New York and at Gagosian’s Beverly Hills gallery.

The print specs on the SuicideGirls images are equivalent to Prince’s pieces: 67×55-inches, inkjet printed on canvas. SuicideGirls even did a bit of appropriation of their own, incorporating the Prince comments that were the only addition the artist made to the images he appropriated. SuicideGirls also included a sly comment of their own under Prince’s: “true art,” it reads.

Prince was already notorious among photographers for his copying of other photographers’ work (and his 2013 victory in the copyright infringement case brought by photographer Patrick Cariou). A lot of vitriol has been directed at the artist and his gallery since he started selling images he found on Instagram, but Mooney avoided any legal arguments when she announced the sale. (more…)

April 28th, 2015

U.S. Copyright Office (Once Again) Studying Copyright Struggles of Photographers

The U.S. Copyright Office has published a call for comments from photographers and visual artists about how their works are “monetized, enforced and registered” and about “obstacles” artists face protecting their copyrights “when navigating the digital landscape.” The U.S. Copyright Office announced the research initiative April 24 in the Federal Register. The written comments are due by July 23.

What action, if any, the U.S. Copyright Office takes as a result of its research remains to be seen. “We just want to get an overview of the landscape,” says spokesperson Catie Rowland. “We’re just researching it, to see where it leads. There are a lot of concerns. We want to see if we can address them.” (more…)

April 8th, 2015

Pat Pope Says He Regrets Open Letter to Band, Urges Creators To “Stop Working for Free”

In what he says will be his final word on the matter, photographer Pat Pope says he regrets his public criticism of the alt rock band Garbage, but is sticking to his position that photographers shouldn’t give their work away.

Pope wrote an open letter to the band last week criticizing their management company for asking to use one of his images for free in a book project the band are working on. Garbage responded with an open letter of their own, telling Pope that the cost of self-publishing the book led them to ask photographers for free images. They also criticized Pope for making their request public.

In Pope’s “final word,” which he published on Facebook, he calls the open letter he wrote a “mistake.” He implies that “the negative comments and abuse hurled at me on the internet” make him regret the move. However, Pope doesn’t back down from the principles that inspired the letter, and he replies to some of the statements the band made in their response to his letter.

“I receive hundreds of these request a year [for free images],” Pope writes, explaining his reasoning, “as does every other photographer I know. This is the new normal, writing down a budget in which you’ll get the photographic content for free by making the photographer give it to you.”

He criticized Garbage again for their abuse of “the power relationship.” The band “paid someone at their management company to send me a pro-forma request for free usage of my work. When you receive a request like that, the power relationship is that a gigantic branded entity with huge reach and backing is asking a lone freelancer to accept that the value of their work is zero.”

Pope later claims that he’s “no ‘internet warrior,'” before urging that “all of us in the creative community have to Stop Working For Free [Pope’s emphasis].” Despite saying he regrets writing his own open letter, he urges others to do the same. “Let’s get this practice [of asking for free content] out in the open.”

Related: Photographer Openly Ridicules Band’s Request For Free Images
Band Defends Their Decision to Ask Photographer for Free Images