Topical Series: A Ballroom Gripe – Photography and Video At Ballroom Competitions

Maybe I’m just in a snarky mood, but I thought I’d vent a little steam and do one of my much neglected Topical Series posts to effectively kill two birds with one stone, as they say.

What prompted this is me wanting to share some video and photos of my most recent ballroom competition here on the blog and being afraid to because it could get me sued.  As much artistic material is these days, the video and photos I paid for at the competition done by the professionals have disclaimers and warnings all over them saying I can’t reproduce them without express permission of the artist.  And, after reading a recent blog post making its rounds on Facebook, apparently it is entirely possible to be prosecuted for using such materials, even if my site is not commercial in any way, and I make no money from it.

What this means for you is, no pictures, at least from this event.  And, yes, technically, I have options.  I can ask for permission to post what I bought, though I suspect it would involve paying more money for the rights to the image.  Personally, I think this is kind of weird – you know?  Like who wants a picture of me but me?  What is that print going to do but sit in the photographer’s archives?  They are certainly not going to get rich off of this image they took of me.  And if I paid for the print, well, shouldn’t I be able to use it?  I do understand that this is that person’s living and that they own the rights to the photo but here’s the infuriating part – you are not technically allowed to take pictures at competitions.  This means you are only supposed to get them from the professionals at the venue.  But then you can’t use the photographs publicly.  It’s a catch-22 if I ever heard of one.

So then the other option is to have friends smuggle cameras into the competition and sneakily snap as many photos and take as much video as they can.  That way I own the dang rights to the material and can share it as I see fit.  But this brings up two dilemmas – one, you’re not supposed to do it, and two, you have to have a friend who is willing to do it and able to be present.  This generally will also involve added expense because they must get a ticket to enter the dance session and as many competitions occur on Thursdays and Fridays (at least when I dance in Pro-Am) this could be difficult to schedule if the friend has a job.  And again, this kind of defeats the purpose of having a professional photographer there.  By being restrictive about what I can do with the prints I purchase, they undermine themselves because I then search for ways to get around using them entirely.

The other dilemma is that the quality of the photos and video taken subversively is likely to be inferior to that which could be obtained by the professionals, especially since the person taking them can’t be overt about what they are doing to get the best angle and lighting and all that.

I think one solution would be to offer a deal at the time of purchase of video or photos to also obtain the rights to use the images.  Perhaps it would cost slightly more, but then the material could be shared, with proper citation and credit, which I think would be a win/win situation.  I’d get to use the images and the artist would get advertising (however limited it may be) for their product.

I have no problem paying for some nice photos and video from a competition, and I can recognize the value of having someone experienced taking quality shots, but I’d sure like to be able to share the material. I’d also like the option to take some amateur recordings for my own personal use too. But, yeah, I’m not going to change the ballroom world. It’s going to be how it is. I accept that. But I’m curious to hear what your take is on this particular ballroom dilemma. What do you think about photography and video at competitions? What have you experienced? I know at least one reader is a professional photographer so I’m sure she has a much more informed perspective than mine! Hopefully she will share her opinion.

In any case, the next comp is in town so my husband should be able to come and sneak a few images for me, at least this time!

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