As digital cameras and online photo-sharing spur greater interest in photography among hobbyists, I’ve followed a trend that I find increasingly disturbing: photo contests that reward you by stealing your photos.
Camera manufacturers, major airlines, and other high-profile companies have staged contests offering meager prizes — and burying in the fine print that by entering the contest you agree:
- to grant the contest organizers all rights to reproduce your pictures; and
- that the organizers may use your pictures with no guarantee of a byline or credit.
As a photography instructor, I recently learned of a contest for California community college students called College Seen . It’s sponsored by the Foundation for California Community Colleges, which has a Web site  illustrated by College Seen entries. The foundation declares as its mission to develop “programs and services that save millions of dollars for colleges and students.”
With budget cuts and layoffs, most of California’s colleges and universities have done away with staff photographers. But the Foundation for California Community Colleges still has a need for pictures. Preferably, free ones.
The Fine Print
Here’s the fine print for College Seen, Rule #6, Conditions of Participation :
By entering this competition, you agree that the Foundation retains the right to unlimited use of the submitted photographs for Foundation publicity, promotion, and advertising purposes, without compensation.
Name recognition will be given to the photographer when possible, but is not guaranteed.
As a condition of participation, you waive any claim of infringement against the Foundation based upon use of the submitted photograph, and agree to hold the Foundation harmless from any claims or expenses arising as a result of any allegation that you did not own or were not authorized to allow publication and reproduction of the photograph.
I understand most of the conditions. I also understand that a $500 cash prize, along with the potential exposure of winning, can be nice motivators for student photographers.
But explicitly not guaranteeing a byline or name recognition for student submissions? That is downright offensive, particularly coming from a organization created to support the educational system.
How can I in good conscience encourage my students to participate in a contest that doesn’t promise to give them credit for their work?
Using someone’s work without attribution in writing circles has a name; it’s called plagiarism. Shouldn’t the rules be the same when it’s a picture?