28 October 2012

Watch Out For the Photo Contests!

Photo by Susan Brannon

Susan Brannon
28 October 2012

I have always wondered about many of the photo contests that I see advertised and to be honest, I hardly ever enter any of them.  There are a few reasons; I don't have enough time to enter, I don't want to pay to enter and sometimes when I have tried many of the sites interface is quite difficult to navigate. Some of the contests that I viewed even had dead links...now is that professional for a contest?

My first thought was why would I have to pay a company to enter into a photo contest?  My logic is that just having a contest creates visibility to the company and I can imagine the click ratio increased dramatically.   If a company charges lets say, $25.00 to enter a contest and 250 people enter they have made that is $6,250 in additional income!  Okay, should I have a photo contest?  I could sure use the money to support the Crossing Borders Project to keep it alive.  Let's see, I can offer the photographer a  top spot on the contest web page, showing the wining image and the second and third place will get free spots below!  I can also offer a small tid-bit on the photographer and the image with a link to their website.  Wow what a deal!  With that, I can even afford to offer the 1st prize winner $500.00 the 2nd $250.00 and 3rd $100.00 and I would still be one happy camper.

What about the images that are submitted?  Well, normally when someone signs the agreement upon entering, they agree that the company gets all rights to the images submitted to use for promotional purposes, publications on their website (with credits of course) without any compensation to the photographer.  What a deal for the company and the photographer?  Well, they would hope to get some type of recognition for their wonderful images.

It was not that long ago that contests were to recognize new talent, in the pursuit of the hobbiest and the pleasure of the craft.  Today is a very different story.  it has become a "rights grab".  Imagine if you are an environmental NGO needing some images to fill your publications and website, not including exposure and have a photo contest.  Imagine how many free images you would get to use.  Humanitarian images are actually hard to come by and very expensive to hire a professional to go out an about to take real images of the projects.  When the NGO uses the images from the contest most people do not know (the donors for example) that they are not actual images of the NGO's work and projects.  So instead of the NGO paying let's say 1,000 for two days of work, they receive money and get all the free rights to an image.

Here is an example of the "small print" for a well known non-profit organization (which is another story as far as non-profits are concerned):
     "By entering (reference to contest deleted) the contest, you retain the rights to your works while granting XXX (sponsors name deleted) the unrestricted, royalty-free, perpetual right to use, reproduce, communicate, modify and display the works (in whore 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 XXX (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."

Let me explain, there are copyright laws in most countries when a person snaps that shutter, the image by default is copyrighted in your name as the author of the work. Furthermore, you have the right to have your name associated with that work.

"Royalty Free" means that the publisher is only compelled to honor you with a "reward" just one time.  Read the fine print, because you may be giving them permission to re-use or any other company to re-use, publish your image without any compensation.

"Royalty Free in Perpetuity" means that the company the sponsor will gain something tangible from the use of your free image for many years to come.  In my opinion, this term should be avoided.

Which term should send off the biggest red flag of them all?"Forever hold harmless and indemnify" means that they can do whatever they want with your image without your knowledge or consent.  They can sell that image to someone else for a purpose that you do not agree with under a false context, such as using the image to represent what it was not intended to represent such as an image of a person who is condemning a political candidate and that image is your neighbor!  Imagine if that image was blasted all over the main stream news on the front page!  Imagine what your neighbor would say to you the next day and hands you a lawsuit.

With this term, no matter how they decide to use your image you are responsible and the publisher is free from all legal recourse.

In the end, when you are thinking of entering into that cute contest of baby pictures, read and re-read the agreement and be aware of the terms used.  It may just be a great contest where fellow photographers can view each others work and get some credit for it.  My advise?  Just be careful.