Band Calls Off Photo Rights Grab After Twitter Backlash

Photographer group unites to protest overly restrictive rules

  • by Jessica Boudevin
  • Published: August 5, 2011

Indie band Guster has stopped requiring concert photographers to sign a "rights-grab" photo release after complaints on Twitter from an online group of professional shooters.

"Rights grab" releases have been on the rise lately as more artists and their publicists attempt to assert greater control over an artist image. In April, Venues Today highlighted this phenomena with a feature on Lady Gaga, who made photographers sign away creative control over their photos in exchange for access to shoot her at concerts. Since then, entertainment photojournalist Radko Keleman of Tampa, Fla., created the Facebook page for Music Photographers. On the page, he regularly posts releases photographers are being made to sign before taking photos of artists. Fans of the page thought one release was particularly out of line.

Keleman received an email of the release for Guster Aug. 4. “It kind of got me mad, so I posted it on Facebook and it just erupted this whole volcano of craziness,” he said.

The release had similar stipulations to those implemented on Lady Gaga’s tour. “The photo release stated that the band basically owns the copyrights to your photos and you’re basically surrendering your images to them after you’re done, so they have the right to do whatever they want,” explained Keleman.

The demands were so strict that Keleman “thought [the band] must have bumped their heads or something.”

Keleman, who has been a music photographer for 11 years, said he doesn’t really understand why such restrictions exist. “It makes me question whether the artist knows what’s going on or if they’re just getting f--ked over by their management and being controlled like little puppets,” he said.

Turns out, Guster didn’t know that the release existed.

After Keleman informed the band of their waiver on Twitter, Guster promptly responded that they “had no idea this was happening” and followed with a number of tweets:

"Had a long talk with our manager last night. There are a few sides to this story, but we decided to try a new approach," they first wrote, "and see if we get burnt. We've been held hostage by a few overzealous photogs before and that's why we had that release."

According to their Twitter page, one photographer tried to hold the band hostage for $15,000 over photos from their show, prompting the new release. 

"We're just gonna be real cool with everyone and hopefully no one takes advantage," he wrote.

The very next day, “Guster pulled the release for their summer tour,” said Keleman.

Ironically, the band was also conducting a promotion on their Facebook page, encouranging fans to take pictures of the band using the Instagram iPhone app and post them online. Participants were not asked to sign a photo release.

Though some bands don’t have any sort of release for photographers to sign, the restrictive papers are becoming more and more common. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. “Just a standard release is fine,” said Keleman, as it helps the artists protect themselves.

Most standard releases restrict photographs to the first three songs, ban unflattering photos and demand that photographs not be used for commercial purposes.

Keleman said he doesn’t think that a release even needs to explicitly state that unflattering images not be printed. “If I have a crappy shot I’m not going to post it — I would never want to have my work represented that way,” he said.

Attached you will find a PDF of the now-rescinded release.

Interviewed for this article: Radko Keleman,

  • by Jessica Boudevin
  • Published: August 5, 2011