Deal 10: A hot topic, at a hot price!
A Guest Post by Dale Wilson
Photo contests have been around since the days when chemistry was first introduced to develop light sensitive cellulose – in other words, since before photography became a popular hobby in the 1930’s.
What has changed, however, is the intended flavour of the contest. It wasn’t long ago the photo contest was a vehicle that promoted the pleasurable pursuit of photography as a hobby and rewarded excellence in craft.
However, in the past decade, photo contests have more often than not become a rights grab by preying on unsuspecting entrants who have absolutely no idea what all the legal talk translates too. For example, the following text is copied from a recently announced contest by an internationally recognized environmental NGO that I have supported for years. Its rules read, in part:
By entering (reference to contest deleted) the contest, you retain the rights to your works while granting XXXX (sponsors name deleted) the unrestricted, royalty-free, perpetual right to use, reproduce, communicate, modify and display the works (in whole or in part) for any purpose without any fee or other form of compensation, and without further notification or permission.
By participating in this contest, you release and agree to indemnify and hold harmless XXXXX(reference to contest deleted) and its employees, directors, officers, affiliates, agents, judges and advertising and promotional agencies from any and all damages, injuries, claims, causes of actions, or losses of any kind resulting from your participation in this contest or receipt or use of any prize.
So, what does all this mumbo-jumbo mean and how does it relate to the photographer who wants to have some fun with their pictures?
First, because the contest sponsors are using a lot of legal jargon, it behoves the photographer to understand some of the terms. But first, let’s do a very quick primer on photography and copyright. As a preface let me first say this is NOT LEGAL ADVICE, but opinion based on more than 20 years as a professional photographer who has had to learn Copyright legislation by default.
In most free countries of the world, the moment you release the shutter on a camera the image is by default copyrighted in your name as the author of the work. There are a few exceptions, but as an amateur they probably don’t apply. As the owner of copyright, only you have the right to authorize reproduction of that photograph. Furthermore, you also have the right to have your name associated with the work in what is known as moral rights. Refer to the copyright legislation in your country, but for the most part this should hold true for countries subscribing to the Berne Convention.
With that out of the way, let’s get this in context. First, don’t be swooned by having your name appear in print – by law, in most cases, the publisher is compelled to identify you as the photographer under the Moral Rights conditions of the Act. That is the easy one.
What does Royalty Free mean? RF is a picture reproduction term which means the publisher is only compelled to honour you with a ‘reward’ just once. When they add all these other terms be aware that you could very well be providing them the authorization to re-sell your picture, or allow any company of their choosing, to use your picture without any further reward (royalty) coming back to you. The clause of “Royalty Free in Perpetuity” in all likelihood means the sponsor will be gaining something tangible from the use of your free source photo for many, many years into the future. This, in my opinion, is wrong and these contests should be avoided at all costs.
What does “Forever hold harmless and Indemnify” mean? This is the one clause that should send the largest red flag waving from the highest yardarm you have ever seen. Avoid at all costs, as it has potential to cost you more than anything you have ever owned, or will own.
Basically, by giving the sponsor the right in perpetuity to do whatever they wish with your picture you are saying they can use the image in any way they might decide without ever having to consult you prior to that use. In reality the sponsor could potentially sell that image of your neighbour’s young teen (even though you had permission to take the photograph) to a condom manufacturer for advertising purposes without you ever knowing. Your neighbour eventually sees the image, and rightfully flies off the handle and sues.
The publisher says “Not our problem” the photographer indemnified us from any and all claims. Ultimately you have absolutely no say in how the image is used, yet you assume any and all liability. Yes, you are giving the sponsor the right to sell that photo as a stock image so they can earn an income for their cause, and you have provided them the authority to do so just by entering a well intended photo contest for fun – regardless if you are a winner, or not!
Only you can decide whether you wish to enter a contest that demands indemnity against any and all claims. I can only say to you: I never would; it really is that plain and simple.
Before you enter that contest, read the entry rules, and, even more importantly, understand without reservation exactly what you are agreeing to merely by entering an image in the contest. Unfortunately, photo contests really have become the messenger for the time worn saying “the devil is in the details.”
Incidentally, I no longer offer visual or financial support to the NGO whose contest rules I have adapted for this entry. Common logic would suggest a sponsor should have the right to reproduce winning and honourable mention photos for the purpose of promoting future contests.
Once you understand the contest rules, ask yourself: Is this a bona fide contest that promotes and rewards excellence in my hobby, or is this a rights grab with a devil that may come back to haunt me?
See more of Dale Wilson’s work at his website.
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December 17, 2012 09:08 pm
Like alot of people of here, i have considered entering competitions, but I am put off by the legal jargon.
Is it possible for our friends at DPS to make some recommendations of genuine and fair competitions?
Trying to search for these competitions will take weeks.
October 23, 2012 02:40 am
Our local public TV station in Minneapolis has been running a contest to fill a book of photos. They put 50 photos in a book, and collected over 100,000 royalty free picture. Now they are working on book 2. There is a lot of power in the words, you will be published. My guess is they will have 200,000 photos in a very small time.
October 21, 2012 01:57 am
Thanks for this information.
October 20, 2012 12:58 am
Well now National Geographic has a contest in which you have to actually pay $15 to give them the image, the rights to it, but be liable if something goes wrong.
October 19, 2012 12:39 pm
I have set my copyright info on my camera (Canon 60D) but some competitions claim copyright will belong to them. I usually put a watermark as well, but I've also noticed that most rules state that there should be no watermark. sneaky.
October 19, 2012 12:10 pm
I love this article! It it spot on regarding how I feel about photo "contests" that abuse amateur photographers. Here in the Philippines, I still have yet to see a contest that does NOT include these clauses in their T & C. Inasmuch as I would love to join such contest, it totally repels me away from such.
There is this Fruitshake company that holds these regular photo "contests" and almost everything Dale has covered is included in their Terms and Conditions, what is worse, I have to buy 300 pesos worth of their products and pay an additional 100 pesos to be able to join their contest. Then I have to work my butt off taking pictures that they want and when I lose, they still own all my pictures. I said to myself, wow, such a GREAT contest to be in. They save money in paying photographers and they even managed to throw in a marketing strategy to boost their sales. nice, just nice!
thanks for this article Dale! Great one!
October 19, 2012 10:02 am
Great article thanks Dale - if anyone reads this and then doesn't have a look at some of Dale's work on his website they are crazy! I visited Nova Scotia back in the the 1980's and now I am aching so much to go back again - thank you Dale for showing the region (including Labrador and other locations) in all it of it's magnificent glory.
I probably will be dreaming of Nova Scotia from now on and until I get to see it again.
Perhaps you could do a follow up article on some of your landscape techniques which produces such beautiful photos.
P.S. If you enter a competition via Facebook they want to know way too much personal detail - I refuse to provide this and I complained to the company organizing the competition - they now add a disclaimer on all their competitions saying that it isn't them but Facebook asking for all this extra private information. Everyone should see this as an invasion of privacy and a potential for identity theft. I use Facebook but use a false name and date of birth and where I live - I believe that social media is going too far collecting personal private information. (I'm just waiting now for all the comments to come pouring in from Facebook fans about me being paranoid - go for it if that is your wish it makes the world go around).
October 19, 2012 07:33 am
Once bitten, twice shy. I entered an environmental photographic competition, didn't win (or even get a place) but the following year my photo was depicted as the background image on their television ads. I complained and didn't even get the courtesy of a reply. They still have the gall to send me an entry form via email every year and every year I send it back with an explanation of why I refuse to enter.
October 19, 2012 06:03 am
Thanks for explaining the complexities of Image Usage in a simple, understandable way.
October 19, 2012 05:12 am
I have been a photographer for quite awhile now. The first thing I do when I take the photo and download it to my computer is put my copyright on all my photos. There are different software to do this function. If it is only one or two photo's I use Photoshop to do it individually for each photo. I also do not enter contests for this reason. I have had some of my photos end up on Facebook after I have given them to someone. However I was not the one who released them. Since I had put the copyright on the photograph, I was able to request that the photo's be taken down.
There is always going to be someone who wants steal photo's to use for stock or etc. Granted this is not necessarily going to stop these type of people. However if you have to go to court you have a better chance of winning. Also you might want to think about putting a watermark on you photo's. Most places will not steal a photo that has been watermarked. Most software will pick up the watermark. This is an image inside your photo but is not able to be seen by the normal view but comes out if the photograph is checked.
October 19, 2012 03:03 am
I have entered a few contests with these sorts of T&Cs. In particular with one "non-profit" have won 'Best of the Month' placement based on other photographer-members appreciative votes. A few of my shots have been used to promote the state's public parks, the organization's focus, in the state capitol, in newsletters, and their annual report.
It's all flattering....and would be an excellent "bragging rights" PR opportunity for me, if the NPO would follow through especially by sharing photos of the state capitol show, which I asked for a few times. (Do receive their newsletters & got several copies of the annual report).
They of course, receive generous funding from well known national corporations. And the NPO's staff members receive salaries. The CEO's salary is over $250,000....(for a non-profit!). It seems to me modest royalties could be figured into the budget for winners, especially if their work is used for special promos, on printed materials, or in gallery displays.
My contact there is a very nice fellow, and I've met incredible photographers through that venue, but I find myself hesitant to share any more photos with them.
October 19, 2012 02:25 am
I am new to photography (hobby level) so this article was very interesting to me. Thank you so much for shedding light on these legal issues. Curious how this may apply to images uploaded to social networking sites like Facebook. I don't put a watermark on my photos as my photographer friends do, however, as a hobby photographer I never felt the need to. Should I? Thanks!
October 19, 2012 02:02 am
I am rethinking my entry in this weekend's Canon Photo Marathon in Kuala Lumpur. These two clauses have made me think:
10. The organizer reserves the permanent non-exclusive right to publish, reproduce, display, distribute, and show on screen any winning photograph on websites, photo exhibitions, trade shows, or any other media which is under the management of the organizer. In all cases where such photographs are used, the organizer reserves the right to do so without obtaining the further prior permission of the winners and without offering any further compensation in any form.
11. With regard to the preceding clause, the organizer reserve the right to (a) display some or all parts of winning works accompanied by additional effects such as computer graphics, sound effects or music on websites managed by the organizer, and (b) to reproduce some or all parts of the winning works for the photo exhibitions and other events. Winners may not exercise any copyright or personal rights to the photographs used.
I'm thinking I might be spending my Saturday otherwise occupied. I joined last year and enjoyed the experience, but wasn't overly impressed with the way the winning entries were selected. I felt some better ones were overlooked, ones that received a lot of votes from other participants and now wonder if they were 'grabbed'.
I'd be grateful for any comments that could give me confidence either way.
October 18, 2012 08:42 am
There are many legitimate photo contests around the planet. Those sponsors and organizers deserve a doff of the cap for promoting the craft.
However, as others have alluded, the leeches are also there and in places one would least expect. It really is a case of “contestant beware;” unfortunately.
October 16, 2012 02:27 pm
Teds camera shops in australia have competitions like this, enter and and even if you dont win, they have the right to use your photo in promos for the shop. Way to support photographers teds.
October 16, 2012 01:44 am
Much the reason I stay away from most contests. I've seen the jargon you talk about all to often, and I see the red flag. Interesting read though, that I've linked on.
October 15, 2012 07:11 pm
Same problem here in France, although it is mostly rights retention.
Every year, a french magazine about nature organizes a photo contest in the sole purpose or grabbing good quality pictures for free. The contest rules allows the use of pictures in the whole group this magazine belongs to.
October 15, 2012 04:10 am
Thanks for a great post, and I agree that one must carefully read the small print of contests. I had looked into entering a photo contest sponsored by National Geographic, an entity that I thought was reputable. After reading their T&C, I decided not to enter any of their contests due to what appeared to me to be a rights grab.
October 15, 2012 02:14 am
Thanks for posting this...I was starting to gravitate to this thinking. Because I desire some exposure and printing of my work..I was willing to just let the usage rights (not ownership/copyright) go - but you brought up a great point with the condom story of the girl's image used for that.
That's not right..and any company that would do that and affect people's lives - and young innocent people - in this manner angers me.
Plus - if they do it to generate income - that is even more disturbing. If I took the image - I should be making
the income - and not from a 2nd or 3rd party distribution system.
I did read the terms and usage before - but now will be more militant and set the bar higher for myself as to what I will allow in regards to usage of my work. this is the only way we can protect ourselves as a group.
October 13, 2012 11:21 pm
Thank you so much for the information Dale. I have never entered a contest yet, but I surely will be very careful reading the details if the opportunity arises.
October 13, 2012 03:37 pm
I have wanted to participate in several photo contests but have always decided against it because as a practicing lawyer I read the terms and conditions and then start laughing at their audacity before closing the page. They're extremely unfair and, frankly, take advantage of those photographers who don't understand legalese. And they know most amateurs are not going to approach lawyers to have these terms and conditions explained to them.
A lot of my work isn't "out there" for this reason, but at least it is still my work and I haven't signed the rights away to someone else.
October 13, 2012 09:53 am
Believe it or not, NatGeo is famous for this:
Came across this back in 2008, so what does that tell ya? It's been going on for a while...
October 13, 2012 07:32 am
Legally this stuff is so messy it's absurd.
What constitutes a protected image? Is it the raw data that is captured by the sensor? How does it apply to film? Does cropping the image in different ways create different images with unique copyrights, what about adjusting something like contrast or saturation? So on and so on.
Our legal system is so woefully behind the curve on digital rights. Instead of working to establish concrete parameters that protect artists while simultaneously protecting fair use, our legislature has been busy extending copyright for those with deep-pockets and pushing through garbage like the DMCA.
October 13, 2012 05:05 am
We entered our son in a Cheerios contest 2 years ago. He came second and we won a year's supply of Cheerios and his picture was on a box. WOW! Huge bragging rights and it was all wonderful.
Then, this year, they've come back and told us our son's image will be the face of a new Cheerios campaign. He's their spokesbaby, if you will. His picture on Facebook, boxes, twitter, newsletters - everywhere.
What did we get for this second usage? 6 more boxes of Cheerios. The grand prize in the first contest that he didn't win was $10k.
I'm disappointed, sure, but I understand I have no rights once I enter the contest. I'm still disappointed we didn't win that first contest and wish there was more consideration given us for using his image again. That said, legally, they owe us nothing.
October 13, 2012 04:37 am
I have wanted to participate in many photo contests (the ones that are not for pros as I am just a hobby photographer) but I have always decided not to enter because I have not understood the terms and conditions properly. Even in the contests for us hobbyists the terms and conditions are written in such language it is hard to understand and usually they are only in English (even if the contest is for all countries) which makes it even harder to read for those who are not native English speakers.
October 13, 2012 04:13 am
I have made money in contests before and I have seen my stuff used and abused before. To be an artist is to be open to every end of what comes your way.
If you go for the emotional investment (artistically speaking) then you assume some risk wether you like it or not.
October 13, 2012 03:50 am
There are very similar clauses in the google terms of service. So be just as careful about what you upload to them!
October 13, 2012 03:38 am
I don't recall the sponsor, but recently I came across a contest with a $300 prize and publication of the winning photo in their publication. There was not entry fee, and you could submit more than one image. Seemed okay until I read the disclaimer tagged on to the bottom of the page.
The terms went way beyond indemnification language and was very clear about rights retention. There were none! It clearly stated that the photographer was signing over ownership of all submissions to this publisher. Not just the right to use and republish, but ownership of the image itself.
Quite a deal. They get maybe hundreds of images for a mere $300 that, odds are, you will never see.
As more and more people are taking more and more images, these rights grabs will only increase. Many amateurs are only too willing to submit their work for the hope of getting scene. They don't realize what they are giving up or that they may be giving away their right to ever use what was once their image again.
Your photography has value. Don't give it away. Read and understand the terms before entering any contest.
October 13, 2012 01:38 am
I first came across this when a friend alerted me to this! After that I do look at the T&C more carefully, not that I participate in many contests and I have rarely won them!
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