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Competition T's & C's

9 January 2019

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© Sally-Ann Norman. From Find a Photographer

 Nick Dunmur offers advice on what to look out for when entering photography competitions.


Competitions and awards in photography abound these days. You could probably enter a new one every week, so how do you know if it's worth your while, and, more importantly, that you're not compromising your rights?

First up, read the terms of entry (aka 'rules')

A reputable competition will have them presented clearly and easy to access. Look for any clauses that require you to assign/transfer more rights than you think you should be doing. No competition should be taking your copyright, yet, alarmingly, too many do and whilst these tend to target non-professionals (who might be less aware of the issues), professionals do enter and all can be caught out.

Competitions can be an easy way for a business/organisation to amass an image library, and all for free, so always check the terms (or rules) and be aware.

So what should you look out for?

When you enter a photography competition, you will need to grant some rights to the organisers in order that they can show the work on various platforms and publicise the thing - that is inevitable. The organiser needs to be able to show the work on a website, and perhaps to sub-licence them to media outlets to promote the competition.

Good competitions will only seek a grant of rights (or a licence to use) in/of your photographs that is only as broad as it needs to be in terms of promoting the competition itself, so watch out for anything that seeks broader use. The practice of taking a wide range of rights (even copyright) is known as rights-grabbing and is obviously damaging to creators/entrants/you.

It's worth pointing out that, sometimes, organisers of competitions do not necessarily mean to rights-grab and it is simply down to a lack of experience/knowledge that a set of terms of entry have been created that are not in the entrant's favour.

• Terms like 'in perpetuity' (which means 'forever') may well deter you, and rightly so, as it means that the organiser has the rights that you've granted, forever. That couldpotentially undermine your ability to monetise your own work in the future, for example, through an exclusive licence to another party.

• A competition that wants 'exclusivity' from you should most likely be avoided - you're being restricted as to what you can do with your own work and often, having to pay (entry fee?) for that 'privilege'!

• Any time you're asked to 'waive your moral rights', you should be very wary too - these rights include your right to be credited (if asserted) and to object to derogatory treatment of your work. A good competition will have a statement that confirms that any published image will be credited (sometimes with the caveat that insofar as possible in relation to any third-parties, just to cover any genuine errors and omissions - i.e., mistakes do happen).

What does a good set of terms or rules, look like?

You will need to make up your own mind about whether you enter any competition or not, but some elements that indicate a positive set of rules are;

• Clauses that clearly set out the entrant's responsibilities.
• Clauses that define unacceptable content for entries.
• Clauses that respect creators' (your) rights.
• Clauses that define clearly what rights the organiser needs and why.

If all those elements are in place, chances are it's a decent/reputable competition. If not, well, you will have to take a decision on whether the potential rewards are worth what you are having to give up.

Lastly, if you do come across competitions that are right-grabbing in nature, it is very worthwhile telling the organisers so (be polite - they may not realise what the implications are) and if they're open to discussion, helping them change the terms to respect creators' rights.

Some useful links are:
The Artists' Bill of Rights 
The Photoshelter Photographer's Guide to Photo-Contests
Lensculture - How to get the most out of photography competitions

(Note: The views expressed in the above links are not necessarily endorsed by the AOP)

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