Welp, it seems like Arch Enemy have made a nemesis or two lately. (I couldn’t resist, sorry). The immense backlash to the Swedish metal band of late comes after the recent publicising of photographer and attorney, J. Salmeron, editor of music website Metal Blast Magazine, being banned from shooting all future Arch Enemy gigs. Before we get ahead of ourselves, here’s the gist of what happened.
Salmeron photographed Arch Enemy’s set at Netherlands metal festival, Fortarock, in June of this year particularly capturing a really cool live photo of vocalist Alissa White-Gluz. He takes the photo, uploads it to his socials, Alissa herself kindly reposts it on her Instagram, and usually, that’d be it. Case closed, she shares it, some fans dig it, he gets some extra followers from the tag and credit, no issue whatsoever. However, the Polish clothing company whose custom apparel Alissa wears on-stage, Thunderball Clothing (owned by Marta Gabriel of Crystal Viper) re-posted Salmeron’s photo on their Instagram, which has a direct link to their website and store. In essence, this moves from being a normal share of a live photo on the subject’s social media – which is fine, something Salmeron states he’s happy with and has no problem when fans do it either – to it now being a commercial matter. As his work is being used as a promotional tool for that business to help make a profit on their other products – the unique custom outfits made by Thunderball. (Which do actually look pretty sick).
This is where Salmeron took action, sternly yet professionally contacting Thunderball directly, asking they pay him a licence fee to use said photo – 500 Euros is what he asked for ($812 AUD). And I know what you’re thinking: that’s a bit steep, ain’t it? Well, alternatively, he also asked that if they won’t pay him, he asked them to at least make a donation to a charity of his choosing to make up for the licence payment instead. In this case, he asked for 100 Euros to be donated to the Dutch Cancer Fund. And I personally love that idea. It’s basically saying, “if you won’t pay me directly, at least put some money into a good place as payment“. It also shows a manner of educating people on that use of IP for promotional and commercial uses. Rather than only looking for a payout.
Instead of Thunderball replying, Arch Enemy’s management and former vocalist Angela Gossow responded to Salmeron. After some back and forth, Arch Enemy didn’t budge, said no dice to either payment requests, took down the live photo on all platforms it was shared on (common practice in these instances, to be fair), and proceeded to ban him from shooting all future live Arch Enemy shows. Not only that, but they also used an insulting negative tone in their responding emails that amounted to a “you’ll never work in this industry again” threat; seemingly trying to tank his photography career by copying in their label reps as well. Yep, real classy.
You can read the original blog post from Salmeron over here. It’s a long read, but an interesting one nonetheless, with added screenshots to back up what he’s shared. (As per the screenshots showing that email correspondence, neither Salmeron or Arch Enemy have publicly shown the original chain yet. With only Salmeron posting the Instagram posts and the messages that he sent to Thunderball and Alissa in said blog post. I’ve since reached out to him personally to ask for said screenshots, or for them to be posted elsewhere online other than the text to properly show the conversation between both parties and clear up any remaining air. I’ll update accordingly when I hear back or learn more).
Funnily enough, in a “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” ethos that did give me some chuckles, Salmeron actually shot Arch Enemy again at another festival after being told he was banned from doing so. This time from the crowd where they couldn’t police it. As you can see at the end of this video, Salmeron himself makes a big power move:
Of course, there’s two sides to every story, and now we have the other side. Acting as the band’s and her own clap back against Mr Salmeron, Alissa released her own statement. In it, she doubles-down on their management’s stance and shows a failure to understand the root of the issue. Read her post:
“In early June, I reposted a photo of myself on instagram from a concert photographer, which is common practise. The photo was already posted to Instagram by the photographer himself. I like doing this because it is a way to say thank you and tip my hat to photographers and usually there is a nice symbiotic relationship between bands and photographers this way. If you follow my socials you know this is something we all enjoy. His watermark was visible, the photo was unaltered and he was tagged and credited in the caption, the way we always do it. The girl who made the outfit I am wearing in the photo, Marta, reposted my post shortly after that. She didn’t print it, didn’t use it commercially, didn’t upload or copy it – she reposted it with a free Instagram application called “get_repost”, like many of you do. She was just happy to repost the news that I wear her creations (one of a kind clothing items we designed together, not a product that you can buy), and share it with her followers. 99% of the time, this is how this online world functions like a supportive community and everyone wins this way. Often, photographers send us folders of photos in hopes that we like them and we post those, always with their name and credit. We really felt we were doing just THAT.
The photographer of this particular photo was ALWAYS fully credited for the ENTIRE duration of his photo being on my Instagram and Marta’s. As soon as he expressed discontent the posts were immediately removed. There was never ANY attempt made by Thunderball or Arch Enemy to use that photo for commercial use, and certainly not without compensation. To our understanding, since there was nothing being sold or advertised in the posts, it was not commercial, but we still took his concerns seriously and immediately took the photo down. To be clear, this is not a photographer Arch Enemy hired, this is one of the hundreds of photographers who are in the photo pit at festivals. Once the photographer stated he wanted a fee for online use, we immediately (within minutes) agreed to remove the posts (which were online for a few days at most) so as to avoid any complications. If we were going to use a photo for any commercial application, we would pay them and there would be a contract ahead of time, like we always do and have done with hundreds of photographers.
Marta forwarded us an email from a lawyer saying she owed 500 euros, was in breach of copyright and the email included payment method information. Marta goes by the name Thunderball Clothing online and is a fellow musician, artist and one-woman clothing maker from Poland. We tried to explain that this photo isn’t selling anything, it is showing off the custom outfit I am wearing, but the emails felt more and more coercive, so we simply removed the posts. There was no product for sale in the photo and no attempt to keep using the photo once the photographer stated his discontent. I understand that there are laws in place that dictate when and how a photo can be used, although promotional online use is usually appreciated, especially when it provides exposure for all parties involved. But, the photographer was unhappy with the reposts so we removed them, plain and simple.
We didn’t want any trouble so we deleted the posts and thought that was the end of it since we had no contact since June. Normally, in my experience, people are happy to see the subject of their photo sharing their work and its a beautiful thing to be able to have one concert experience be a platform for musicians, lighting directors, clothing designers, photographers, sound engineers and fans alike all sharing in the art that is created.
All that happened here was I simply posted a photo of myself with full credit, watermark and tagging, then took it down when a lawyer contacted my friend who was among several pages that reposted it. Lots of fan pages are run by teenagers in countries where there may be different laws or a language barrier, who might not understand, and I didn’t want them to end up with some lawyer’s letter in their inboxes, and I know they like to repost things I post, so I just took it down. I’m not really sure why this non-issue has been twisted to scapegoat us 6 months after the fact, especially considering we simply did what he asked and the last interactions I had with him, personally, were pleasant.
We reserve the right, however, to decide who is allowed to photograph our shows and after having corresponded with him we didn’t want any more issues like this in the future, especially when passes are limited and we know so many photographers who love having the opportunity to get a photo pass and have fun with us at shows.
In conclusion, no one from Arch Enemy nor Thunderball ever denied paying the photographer in question for the commercial use of his photo: We simply did not use it.”
However, the above statement is actually not the first addressing Alissa made about this matter. Please see below for the now since deleted Instagram comments from the vocalist. They pretty much share the same sentiment as above: seeing her not understanding what the crux of the issue really was here. Again, it’s not a matter of simply using Salmeron’s photo on her socials, but Thunderball using his photo in promotional posts, in what were basically ads, for their other products. The same can be said for Angela’s own statement, which continues to be criticised as being incredibly stubborn. An attitude which allowed an in for her friend’s business to be ruined. If they’d done nothing, the band wouldn’t be in this mess, but they just had to be right; they had to win.
While I don’t think that Alissa is the culprit nor a bad person (I’ve spoken with her at length before and she was very polite), as soon as Angela and their management went down this road with Salmeron, the vocalist became involved. Her then defending those actions also leaves a rather sour taste. Again, artists using a photographer’s live shot of them on their socials? Yeah, no biggie. But an artist’s management or any associated brands using said photos to promote products in order to try and make profits off their works without any compensation nor any communication about doing so until posting? That’s a paddlin’.
However, in some good news here, Thunderball and Marta released an apology statement to Salmeron directly. In taking the high-road and understanding there was a miscommunication on their end with reposting his work, and with stating that no harm or foul play was ever intended to breach that copyright, they apologise for any wrong-doing done towards Salmeron. And as such, the comments on that statement are all very positive and understanding. Take note, Arch Enemy. Well done, Marta!
“I would like to publicly apologise Mr J. Salmeron for reposting one of the photos he took, on my Instagram page, without having his permission. When few months ago I was reposting his photo from the Instagram page of the Arch Enemy singer Alissa White-Gluz, I was simply proud that such a great artist is wearing a clothing piece that I made, and wanted to share these news with my followers. As I did the repost with an app that included all original credits and watermarks, I thought that it’s OK. I meant no harm, and it wasn’t my intention to promote any product, however, I do agree that it might looked like that, and I understand that the author of the photography could feel upset about it. And I am sorry about it.
After I received an email message from J. Salmeron, who introduced himself as a lawyer and author of the photography, I interpreted it as another spam or scam (well, all of us receive this kind of emails all the time). I saw the amount of 500 Euro and the name of Alissa White-Gluz, from whom I reposted mentioned photo, so without going deeper into that message, I did what I thought was most logic – I contacted her, forwarded the original message that I got, and asked her what to do. I was instructed to take down the photo (what I immediatelly did), and was informed that someone else will take care of it. That again seemed logic, as I was aware that I’m not at the position of taking any actions on behalf of Arch Enemy, nor their members. I had no other contact with J. Salmeron, I haven’t heard from him since then, and to be honest, for the last 6 months I had no idea that something is wrong, especially as the photo was taken down.
That being said, I would like to apologise J. Salmeron once again. Not only I’m willing to discuss with him how to compenaste him and fix the situation, but also how to make sure similar situation won’t happen ever again. After all, we’re all playing in the same team, and we all have one thing in common. We love music.”
[Update: sadly, Marta was apparently hit with some strong online hate, despite countless people backing her first statement and commending her, and she’s had existing Thunderball orders cancelled. As such, she’s since decided to close the clothing company altogether].
Of course, it’s Arch Enemy’s business, their music, and their brand, so they’re well within their right to pick and choose which photographers cover them or not. Just as how it’s in everyone else’s right to lambast them for their approach here when things don’t go their way. Which is the case right now.
For in 2019, Arch Enemy will drop ‘Covered In Blood‘, an LP featuring all of their released cover songs. However, you won’t find the announcement post on their Facebook or Twitter, as it’s been removed or hidden after it was inundated with dozens upon dozens of comments from people, many of them fans, expressing equal parts amusements and disgust at the band’s actions. The same is going for the comment sections on most of their recent YouTube videos, with commenting now disabled on certain social media posts as well. While this will die down in time, the heat has really turned up against them. In fact, if they hadn’t responded to Salmeron (of whom I’m not entirely sure why he waited until late December to go public), then none of this would’ve happened too.
The music industry is fucking hard for most creatives across its many facets, and there’s not always a huge amount of money involved. (Trust me, I know, I barely make any money off KYS as it is). Yet if you’re in a lucky position where you can afford to compensate people for their works in order to further push your own band and brand, then you should pay them. Even if it means donating to a good cause instead.
Sadly, this banning approach from Arch Enemy seems to go far back as 2009-2010, with this email thread showing similar actions taken against freelance photographer, Anouk Timmerman. In that link, you’ll see the band trying to use her photos incorrectly without consent on the band’s official website – listed as www.angelagossow.com/en. After Anouk asked to have them taken down, she was met with a blacklist for all future Arch Enemy photo passes and guest lists. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if more photographers came forward in the future about them.
There’s also a huge level of hypocrisy here as well. Other than positive messages of personal growth and overcoming life’s hurdles, many Arch Enemy lyrics from the Angela-era were predicated upon strong anti-capitalistic, pro-anarchist themes. Take 2003’s masterful ‘Anthems Of Rebellion‘ LP, 2007’s ‘Rise Of The Tyrant‘ or even 2011’s ‘Khaos Legion‘. So many of those song are written about fighting for what’s right and speaking out against injustices; of making sure that the “little guy” wasn’t being shat on. In the process, they heavily marketed themselves as this anti-authoritarian, leftist musical entity.
So the fact that they’d ban a photographer from all future shows in order to save a few bucks is hypocritical. Not a good look in the slightest. It seems that Arch Enemy are more than happy to hate capitalism unless it’s them making the profits or the party at risk of losing out. I think most would agree that protecting one’s artistry and brand is not a bad thing, but this was not the right way to go about it – neither their management’s response or Alissa’s statements.
Then again, we’re talking about a band who describes themselves as “Pure F*cking Metal”, yet who aren’t apparently “metal” enough to properly write ‘fucking’ in their own bios.
Personally, while I wasn’t a fan of the last Arch Enemy record, I do have a lot of love for this band’s material. And as a long time fan, this whole thing is equal parts insane and hilarious. In another word, though, it’s also rather disappointing too. It’s sad to see that Salmeron, someone who has clearly been a fan of their music for a long time and who has looked forward to covering their live shows, getting treated this way for ensuring that his art – his work – was being appropriately used. In saying that, I truly do hope Arch Enemy can rectify this matter soon enough. Because mud really does stick.
It will also be interesting to see if J. Salmeron and Metal Blast still receive guest list access and photo passes for other tours and festivals too.
As per the topic, here’s a nice photo our very own Owen Jones captured of Arch Enemy’s set at the Download Festival Melbourne in March, 2018: