This is a bit of a lengthy post, but it's needed because the details matter.
Back in April of this year, I photographed pop artist AJ Lehrman's performance in Kansas City as he opened for Pentatonix and Us the Duo on their world tour. Prior to the show, we had met for an interview and verbally agreed to social media use of images I'd select, as long as credit was given on the social media channels (FB, Twitter, IG). For the most part, this was followed without issue - up until the last couple of months.
In July, I had found a website using a photo of mine of AJ, in an interview piece on him. It looked to be downloaded from Instagram and then used in the article. I sent a relatively small invoice to the infringing website, looking to settle the issue. Instead of getting a response from someone at that website, I get an email from AJ Lehrman's publicist.
The tone of the email was somewhat condescending; not to mention completely inaccurate when it came to them claiming that the images are "public domain" since they have been on Instagram. One, that's inaccurate. Two, well... I didn't get a response once I politely corrected her. Nevertheless, a little bit of time afterwards, that site was small potatoes and I just let it go after I got them to take it down. Fast forwarding to the last few weeks...
Part of being a photographer is keeping up with copyright infringement. It just IS. It's no less of a career as a signed music artist is. If you blatantly steal their music and show it to the world, you're asking to be sued.
I was doing some reverse image searching using Google and a couple of other tools I use, and I come across an article on a very well known website (I won't discuss the name due to an agreement made) about AJ Lehrman and once again, my photo is being prominently used without permission, credit, or payment. This obviously had started to feel like a repetitive issue with this artist now, and made me question how the same photo is ending up in two interviews now. Almost as if it was being supplied...
Well I did some more searching that day, and I come to find out AJ Lehrman's team is using my photo, a different photo, as the homepage image on his official website. The official website he is promoting his fan club on, promoting ticket sales, everything he does basically is streamlined through there as most bands do.
This is worse than the other two websites using that image in my mind. This is the artist blatantly violating our verbal agreement, and violating my copyrights to these images, already knowing that there had been a previous issue in this department.
Since then, I've contacted the second, larger website and they offered me an undisclosed sum to settle the issue and we agreed upon that. Part of that agreement is to not discuss them in this light and I appreciate that. They offered to settle and I'm very appreciative of their professionalism considering they were under the impression that AJ had the rights to use that image in that manner.
I've contacted AJ Lehrman's official management via email, his publicist, AJ through his Instagram, numerous times. No response. I know they've read my email because the invoice attached sends a read receipt to me when viewed, and it was viewed that same day the initial email went out. It's also worth mentioning that the day the invoice I sent them was due, they removed the image. No response to me or anything. Removal of the image doesn't negate the copyright infringement or my right to getting paid for my work.
What does it tell you when the website who wasn't even aware of the rights issues offers a settlement, yet the major infringer in the artist is ignoring all attempts of contact?
At this point, I have talked to an attorney and I'm considering pursuing this matter further. Not sure how far a demand letter will go since they've ignored all of my attempts at resolution, but if I have to go beyond that, maybe that's the answer. Contact, correspondence and professionalism are not difficult things to give. They're free and should be common practice for people working within this industry.
So I leave with this - feel free to LIKE and COMMENT on this, but please SHARE this post, and leave AJ Lehrman some POLITE comments regarding the matter on social media. Maybe we can settle this without ending up in a court. If you respect yourself enough as an artist, you have to respect other artists for what they do as well.