An open letter from photographer Jason Sheldon to Taylor Swift protesting that she does not offer photographers a fair deal has prompted a response from her management


Taylor Swift. Image via iStock, © EdStock

Taylor Swift’s management has responded to a photographer’s criticisms of the contracts issued to photographers commissioned to shoot her concerts.

In response to a viral letter from Taylor Swift, photographer Jason Sheldon has revealed what appears to be an authorisation form demanding exclusive rights from photographers who shoot her concerts.

In an open letter of his own, Sheldon draws attention to two points in the contract, which he describes as ‘a complete rights grab’.

‘[It] demands that you are granted free and unlimited use of our work, worldwide, in perpetuity,’ he says.

Sheldon told Amateur Photographer that he was commissioned by a regional newspaper to shoot a Swift show in 2011, and that the contract issued by Firefly Entertainment Inc (which is affiliated with Swift) stipulated he had to agree to a single use of his images. This would prevent him from earning any additional income if the paper wanted to reuse the photo in the future.

‘The reason I felt compelled to speak out was because of the similarity to her qualms with Apple,’ he said. ‘It disturbed me that someone with such a massive following was speaking out (correctly I might add) about artist’s rights being abused by big corporations, but there was this double standard that she herself is doing it to photographers who don’t have such a voice.’

He’s not the only photographer to speak out against the terms of a Taylor Swift tour – British photographer Joel Goodman posted a similar-looking document on Twitter that appeared to make reference to the more recent “1989” tour:

According to Sheldon, ‘rights-grabbing contracts’ are becoming commonplace, and in the past photographers have been afraid to speak out against them for fear of simply being told “Sign it or don’t shoot”.

Steve Derry, picture editor for the Midlands Express and Star, which commissioned Sheldon to shoot the concert, said that such consent forms were becoming more common ‘for the larger star’, and that he’d also seen a trend of acts using their own photographers and then charging for usage.

Swift’s original letter caused a public outcry last week after the artist revealed that the company would not be paying artists featured on its streaming service  during the initial three-month trial period.

Swift described the decision as ‘shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company’.

The backlash was so severe that Apple listened, its music chief Eddie Cue promising Swift on Twitter that ‘#AppleMusic will pay artist for streaming, even during customer’s free trial period.’

However, as Sheldon points out, the terms of the contract he received would mean that a photographer who spends time and money photographing one of Swift’s concerts could end up completely uncompensated, as they would be unable to sell their images on further if the original publication declined to use them.

‘Taylor Swift knows it’s wrong, Apple have seen that it’s wrong…  but everyone still seems happy to abuse photographers,’ Sheldon said.

Update 23/06: Taylor Swift Responds

Swift’s management responded to Sheldon’s letter in a statement issued to the BBC, which read as follows:

‘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.’

Sheldon posted a few thoughts on Twitter in response:


  • Bruce Baker-Johnson

    So have I and thousands of others at shows and in the air. I fail to see your point other than my dyslexia! I reported a factual occurrence. By the way many others are now putting these ‘conditions’ re ‘professional use of images of their aircraft, (car etc) even after paying for the ‘privilege’ !!!

  • billtr96sn

    XH558 not 658 and I have taken many photo’s of this old
    girl with NO restrictions

  • Bill

    Cancelled my TS concert in Phoenix, Arizona today for August 18th, will sell my tickets and boycott the 2 faced biatch!

  • Bruce Baker-Johnson

    This is not restricted to pop personalities or even people, and it ain’t new! A few years ago we tried organising a photo shoot of the Vulcan XH658 (before it’s ‘flying days’) which would have brought in funds for the restoration – they were more than happy to accept that – with that proviso that they had total control of all images taken and no commercial use could be made from any images except by or under strict control of them! We walked out of the room, we didn’t do a shoot and they didn’t get the money! Sad thing is that it’s now become quite common practice to get photographers to pay for the privelege of having their work used by the “owner of the digital rights” – which increasingly, it seems, is not the photographer. Faced with any such conditions but especially when some form of payment has been demanded I personally just walk away but then again it’s not my living at stake.

  • KatKalls

    photographs for news vs. photographs for profit… not the same. This is about taking pictures of a performance – not someone walking out of a bar or getting out of their car, sitting in a park or shopping at a mall.

  • LH

    Glad that Sheldon pointed out Swift’s hypocrisy. It’s easy for her to be demanding; she makes millions. What’s one more photographer? And he’s right to point out that although Swift doesn’t take the copyright, she can refuse to give permission for the photo’s use–just semantics and Swift knows it. All you have to do is see how Swift tries to trademark EVERYTHING to know how obsessed she is with keeping as much money as she can for herself. And if you read the fine print in the reply, you’ll note that a photographer can use the image with Swift’s approval.

  • JackAllTog

    “controlling images of the artist can be acceptably dictated by that artist ” Disagree, this would stop news reporters showing bad artist behaviour. Or Governments doing bad things.

  • KatKalls

    Not really out of line, if you consider that the photograph of Taylor Swift has no value if Taylor Swift hadn’t become well known because of her performances. That is not to say that the photographer does not have skill, but controlling images of the artist can be acceptably dictated by that artist as it directly affects their marketing. Otherwise, that photographer would be free to sell or use the image of the artist in any manner that they like, including being a marketing tool for products which may be offensive to the artist.

  • Double standard!