Ariana Grande's Tour Photo Agreement Prompts Protest by News Outlets

Ariana Grande
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande performs onstage during the Sweetener World Tour - Opening Night at Times Union Center on March 18, 2019 in Albany, New York.

The National Press Photographers Association, along with the Associated Press, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and others, issued a letter requesting the pop star change her policies.

Ariana Grande has created a stir with a highly restrictive photo agreement for her upcoming Sweetener tour that has photographers crying foul. 

A number of news outlets -- including the Associated Press, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and 12 others -- argue the pop star's terms and conditions are so unreasonable that they have teamed with the National Press Photographers Association (NPAA) to send a letter formally requesting GrandAriTour, Inc. revise the agreement or work with them on language that is satisfactory to all parties.

The first point of contention is what's known as a "rights grab," which would give the artist ownership of the photo copyrights. "This surprising and very troubling over-reach by Ms. Grande runs counter to legal and industry standards and is anathema to core journalistic principles of the news organizations represented here," writes NPAA general counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher in the letter.

This move is not unprecedented: In 2011, Lady Gaga issued a contract requiring a Washington, D.C.-based television photographer to sign away his photo rights to her, and in 2015 Taylor Swift was accused of rights-grabbing by some news outlets who were forced to comply with unusually strict shooting rules.

Photographer Keith A. Griner, who has shot bands like Pretty Lights, Umphrey's McGee and Thievery Corporation has a different term for it. "It's stealing," he tells Billboard. "The law states that the entity or person that creates, the photographer, is the owner of the copyright -- so they’re stripping that from you."  

Speaking to the additional Sweetener waiver requirement that the photographer provide GrandAriTour, Inc. with the digital files which, may be used "for personal, commercial, and/or archival use by Company and Artist," Griner adds, "What they’re saying is, 'We’re allowed to use your work for our gain, but we’re not going to pay you." 

That certainly seemed to be the case in 2012, when a group of photojournalists boycotted The Stone Roses' reunion tour after a photo waiver was circulated stipulating the band would keep "all Rights in Perpetuity throughout the world" for the sum of £1. As Ian Tilton, who organized the boycott, pointed out at the time, "A photographer employed by a top band to take photos at a gig, to be used by the band for publicity purposes only, would earn £350-£1000 to take the photos. If the band then want to use the photos in a book the payment would be £80 to £250 per picture."

According to one photographer, often the artist implementing these policies doesn't actually know about their restrictions; usually the terms are dictated by management, which may simply want to use someone's photos instead of hiring a photographer themselves. "It's sad, because most people jump to the conclusion that it's the artist demanding all this, when management sometimes is in complete control," they tell Billboard. "Some management are great and others are sneaky, especially if a photographer is new and a total fan – they will give them the photos without blinking."

In Grande's case, however, it's the artist -- not her management -- who is allegedly responsible for the rules. "She doesn't like photos and pretty much only likes [photographer] Kevin Mazur," says an industry insider with knowledge of the matter.

The proliferation of amateur "total fan" photographers has changed the game in other ways for those who still make a living from shooting arena tours and syndicating their photos to multiple outlets. According to another photographer, at a recent show Mumford & Sons denied him and several other professionals shooting for prominent outlets, while allowing access to local bloggers. "A lot of artists push against Getty [which he was shooting for] because it's for syndication," he tells Billboard. "You can't sign a release limiting your capabilities to use it that way, because that's the opposite of syndication." 

That didn't stop GrandAriTour, Inc. from trying to do the same thing. "Another concern is the restriction that 'photographer shall have the limited right to use certain Photograph(s) expressly approved in writing by Artist, in a single instance, solely as part of a news item relating to the Performance in the news publication of which Photographer is an employee/agent,' which is an unacceptable pre-condition for most, if not all journalists and news organizations," writes Osterreich. 

Grande has not publicly responded to the NPAA's statement, nor had her team responded to a request for comment at the time of this article's publication. According to one music industry source, there have been several unauthorized photo books using images from Grande's past tours, which is the reason the contract's terms are so draconian. "It's the same one she has been using for three years," said the source.

Ed. note: This story has been updated to reflect that Ariana Grande and not her management is responsible for the stringency of the photo agreement.