Friday, August 30, 2013

Photo contests - a license to steal your photos

Various and sundry photo (and/or video) contests pop up from time to time on the Web and elsewhere.  Many of them with which I'm familiar are associated with media - TV weather broadcasters, private weather companies, and such.  If you read the fine print in the agreement you sign when you submit your photos, you'll typically find something like this (an actual agreement):

By submitting your photo or media to AccuWeather for use, publication on its websites, or in its photo gallery, you hereby grant AccuWeather the perpetual, world-wide, non-exclusive, royalty-free right and license to use, reproduce, distribute and create customized versions, derivative works, and ancillaries of the photo or media in all forms of media now known or hereafter developed, including print, non-print, internet transmission, film, electronic media, advertising, and broadcasting, in all editions and in any language or technical format, for any commercial or non-commercial purpose." This effectively gives them unlimited use of your images for all time for any purpose whatsover ... let the submitter beware!!

Let's go through this carefully:

perpetual = the agreement lasts indefinitely - it never ends
world-wide = they can use your photo anywhere in the world
non-exclusive = [from here] they can resell your photo to anyone
royalty-free = they can use your photo as much as they want without paying you anything for that use
license to use, reproduce, distribute, and create customized versions, derivative works, and ancillaries of the photo = they can do whatever they want with your photo
in all forms of media now known or hereafter developed, including ... = they can use your photo in any medium existing now or in the future
for any commercial and non-commercial purpose = they can make money by using your photo 

Your photo could appear thousands of times without your express permission, thereby rendering your photo copyright effectively useless.  You may retain the copyright, but it will be of no value to you in protecting your copyright privilege.  For all intents and purposes, your photo can become "public domain" through widespread usage, rendering your copyright protection completely impotent.  You can't go after anyone for using your photo if they obtained it from the folks running your contest, and I doubt seriously that the contest folks are giving your work away for free.

The prizes in such contests are usually not all that lucrative, even for "winning" images.  Just getting your work on TV or whatever is meaningless to you if you no longer control how those photos are used. You should weigh any perceived benefit to you carefully in relation to what you're giving up just to have your photo considered.

Potential photo submitters should read the fine print associated with any such contest if they have any image good enough to win a 'prize'.  The people running such contests do not have your best interests at heart.  The image "industry" has evolved to become very unfriendly to photographers and that rapaciousness has spread far and wide.  The fact that terms like the above are widespread doesn't mean that you have to give in to them. 

Much of the same applies to video submitted to media for re-broadcast - they may pay you a modest license fee, but if you sign a license for them to broadcast your video, read the fine print and be aware of what rights you're granting. They may own it forever and have the right to use it for anything, including selling it to others ...

I strongly recommend negotiating a license only for one-time use for a specific purpose, that includes a reasonable licensing fee for you.  If they don't agree to that, don't give them license to steal your work!!  If you really don't understand the terms of a licensing agreement offered to you, don't sign anything until you search out some help in translating the legalese of the contract.  Develop your own licensing agreement and counter-offer yours to theirs.  If they won't compromise, don't let them have your work!

1 comment:

Chuck Doswell said...

I should mention similar comments from a colleague: