On Sunday, while most Americans were celebrating Father's Day, Taylor Swift was busy penning a letter to Apple instead. In said letter, Swift explained why her music would not to be available through their newest service, Apple Music, which drops on June 30. While the letter has been widely praised, it seems that not everyone agrees with her sentiments.
In the letter, Swift took issue with the fact that "Apple Music will be offering a free three-month trial to anyone who signs up for the service," she wrote, but would not be "paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months." She then went on to say that she was "shocked and disappointed" by the policy coming from such a "historically progressive and generous company." It was a pretty big thing for anyone stand up to Apple, a global giant that has been a pioneer in how millions of consumers interact with music. But in recent years, between all of the world tours, award shows, music videos, and social appearances, 25-year old Swift has managed to carve out enough time to stick it to the man in any way that she can, and Apple is just another blip on her radar.
In November 2014, Swift pulled her entire music catalogue from Spotify just months before getting trademarks for certain phrases used on her recent album, 1989. So while it's not a surprise that she is holding back from affiliating with Apple Music, it's interesting to see such a world-renowned artist actually stand up to injustice. What Swift may not have bargained for, however, was for someone to read her letter and become inspired to write their own. That's exactly what a live-music photographer named Jason Sheldon did.
In his letter, Sheldon applauded Swift for "standing up for the rights of creative people and making a stand against the corporate behemoths," but he quickly changed gears to bring attention to how Swift's letter contradicts the terms outlined in the authorization form that photographers must sign before they are allowed to photograph Swift during a live performance. Sheldon even went so far as to attach the authorization form, which states in clause two that "photographs may be used on a one-time only basis," and may not be duplicated or reprinted, even by the publication authorized to use them. [All too familiar language to us at the Press — ed.]
Additionally, continues Sheldon's letter, "the photographs may not be used "in any other manner or means [...], including but not limited to electronic or 'new media' usage, other than the Web edition of the Publication." But what is most alarming, perhaps, is when clause three of the form states that Firefly Entertainment Inc. — a company owned by Swift — has the "perpetual, worldwide right to use (and authorize others to use)" the photographs as it wishes, in any manner "including but not limited to publicity and promotion."
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With these terms, any photographer that signs the authorization form would only be allowed to use the images in one publication, and would not be allowed to sell the rights to his or her work on a freelance basis to any other publication. Additionally, he or she would not be allowed to sell art prints of his or her work, be it through their personal website or an art exhibition.
This means that if Taylor Swift were to sign a contract for Apple that was identical to her photo-authorization form, she would be given one-time payment for her work and would no longer own the rights to it. If she wanted to perform a song or sell copies of her music, she would have to get the written permission from Apple to do so. Apple, on the other hand, would have the right to use her music to promote their services without additional compensation. This is precisely why Sheldon was so upset.
Like musicians, photographers spend hundreds, often thousands, of dollars to acquire professional gear. They then spend countless hours building a network of fans and business connections, and once their art is created, they spend even more time editing their work until it is ready for release. And like musicians, photographers rely on the ability to sell their artwork to fans in order to make money and continue creating art in the future. So when Swift states that musicians and producers "work tirelessly to innovate and create," she creates a dialogue that all artists should be compensated fairly. But as Sheldon points out, Swift — perhaps unintentionally — has been exploiting small, hard-working artists for her own benefit. And even if her strict photo policies are an effort to protect her own likeness in the press, she still expresses full rights to another artist's work that she could potentially use to sell her product worldwide, at her discretion, without ever compensating the artist for.
Fortunately for the music world, Apple heard Swift loud and clear, and the company has agreed to pay artists for the streaming of their music during trial periods. It's still unclear if she will allow Apple Music the rights to stream her music, but it seems many are more curious to know if Swift will acknowledge Sheldon's letter and change her own policies. And if she does attempt to right her wrongs, it could be a large victory for live-music photographers everywhere.