In yet another messy and unfortunate copyright squabble, Timothy Geigner here breaks down a recent incident in which a photographer’s copyright threat levied at a metal band caused all parties involved to go full nuclear and end up with egg on their faces.
Guest post by Timothy Geigner of Techdirt
In many, if not most, of the copyright disputes we cover here, the stance we take is not typically a purely legal one. Often times, we make mention that one party or another is legally allowed to take the actions it has, but we note that those protectionist actions aren’t the most optimal course to have taken. Perhaps the best example of this can be found in a dispute that arose between metal band Arch Enemy and a photographer it had allowed to take concert photos for them.
The backstory here goes like this. Arch Enemy has worked with J. Salmeron, a photographer and attorney, to take photos of the band’s concerts. Salmeron then posted those photos to his Instagram account, after which they were reposted both by the band’s fans and members of the band themselves. All of that was done without issue. One of the band’s merchandise partners, however, used one of the photos of the lead singer to promote the band’s merchandise on social media accounts. Finding out about this, Salmeron contacted the company and asked for a 100 euro “licensing fee” in the form of a payment to his choice of charity.
At this point, the issue could have been resolved without any fuss, but things quickly got out of hand. Thunderball Clothing wasn’t planning to pay and reached out to the band, accusing the photographer of making threats. The band and the singer sided with the clothing company and sponsor, arguing that a payment is not required. Apparently, the band’s management is under the impression that the band, fans, and sponsors can use the work of photographers free of charge. In return, they get exposure.
“I would like to ask why you are sending discontent emails to people sharing the photo of Alissa? Alissa’s sponsors and fan clubs are authorized to share photos of her. Thunderball Clothing is a sponsor of Alissa and Arch Enemy,” they replied. “Generally speaking, photographers appreciate having their work shown as much as possible and we are thankful for the great photos concert photographers provide,” the band’s management added.
Now, much of that is true. Photographers do get exposure through channels like this. Exposure for their work generally and, in the music space, exposure to other musical acts to use their services. On the other hand, it really isn’t up to the band whether or not to authorize their partners’ use of these photographs which are, unless otherwise stated in a contract somewhere, covered by copyright for the photographer. It also is the case that Salmeron’s request wasn’t exactly unreasonable in terms of the amount or the recipient. This, in other words, is pretty tame stuff in the world of copyright infringement. So… both sides of this equation have valid stances. And, one would imagine, something should have been easily worked out given that.
Unfortunately, it seems every side decided to go full nuclear.
After some messages back and forth, the photo was eventually removed, but the band also made it very clear that Salmeron is no longer welcome at any future gigs.
“By the way, we are sure you don’t mind that you are not welcome anymore to take pictures of Arch Enemy performances in the future, at festivals or solo performances,” the reply read. “I have copied in the label reps and booking agent who will inform promoters – no band wants to have photographers on site who later send such threatening correspondence to monetize on their images.”
And then the responses from many of the band’s fans, many of whom do photography work, was to hurl snark at the band and suggest that its stance on copyright for the photographer be applied to the band’s work as well. A whole bunch of people tweeted at the band, suggesting that instead of buying their latest album, they would just download it and that the band should consider that free exposure for themselves. Now, that analogy doesn’t really hold, of course, but the point is clear.
And so basically everyone loses here. The band has pissed fans. The photographer isn’t on the Arch Enemy beat any longer. The merch company had to take the photo down. And, again, all this over 100 euro? Come on.