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Photography Contests: License to Steal?

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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:

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12 Comments To "Photography Contests: License to Steal?"

#1 Comment By Steve Nordhauser On May 8, 2009 @ 12:31 pm

Although reprehensible, this is not new. I remember an article in Popular Photography in the 1970's about the same issue with Kodak and other contests. The author included a photo taken at a car race with a car exactly upside down in mid-air. His contention was that as an amateur he would have turned over rights to this photo to enter the contest. Instead, it had earned him much more than the top prize.

The internet should make it much easier now for the budding pro to commercialize their work.

I would hope that the lack of byline clause is just protection and not policy. If you sign up for the contest, you sign away your rights so it wouldn't be plagiarism. You've given them the right to use it without byline. However, one of the basic rules of good business is to always give credit where it is due.

#2 Comment By ian campbell On May 8, 2009 @ 1:48 pm

Yes, the rules should be the same. Bt at the same time, further proof that photographers are their own worst enemies -- not only do they eat their own young, they encourage others to eat them as well! We compete with each other to the edge of suicide, as a profession.

#3 Comment By Adrian Stewart On May 8, 2009 @ 2:47 pm

Absolutely Peter, more and more companies have realised they can not only glean good advertising from the competition contest itself but also from the winning entry, it's virtually image ownership for $500. Unfortunately it's not plagiarism in these cases (and the rules are the same for images),
as long as they have a agreed condition of participation, they can do whatever the hell they like! I guess avoiding the companies who offer no recognition is the only way but not everyone may realise they are being taken advantage of.

#4 Comment By Peter Phun On May 8, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

Thanks for chiming in Steve, Ian & Adrian. I tell my students that if they enter this competition, just because they don't win, it doesn't mean their pictures won't get used.

They most likely will and with no byline. The fine print already says so.

The kicker is: this is from the official website of a higher educational institution?

For my part, I'm educating my students how not to become their own worse enemy, one student at a time.

#5 Comment By Stanley Leary On May 8, 2009 @ 4:23 pm

This has always been there. Our capitalistic economy has people always coming up with ways they can make and save money, which often puts another at risk.

Just because people offer something legal doesn't make it a fair deal for everyone.

If we were all required to pass a class in the how just to do a home budget for a HS degree we would help many in our society realize these offers which they only loose in accepting.

Thanks for reminding us of this still continuing.

#6 Comment By William Hicks On May 8, 2009 @ 8:09 pm

Unfortunately, this type of downward slide has taken place for years... it sucks, quite frankly, and the crappy economy doesn't help. Most organizations do not value photography, as the massive proliferation of web imagery serves to contribute to this false perception of worthlessness. Ninety-eight percent of the time, If I quote a price for a stock photo that is anywhere near the actual realistic worth of the image, I don't even get so much as a call back... if its not free or close to it, they don't want to play. Nice world.

#7 Comment By Marcie Hill On May 11, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

As a hobbyist looking to gain more knowledge and experience, I appreciate all of the comments from everyone. I am reminded to read the small print of ALL documents.

#8 Comment By Greg Raaum On May 12, 2009 @ 8:06 am

We hear you too. On Twitc you can add IPTC to your photos and add your own watermark. In addition, you can choose not to have your album publicly available. Not too many other photo sites let you do that especially when they are letting you post and storage images for free. We love Twitter and support open social networking, but we draw the line when it comes to your intellectual property. We are setting up the Twitc Pro service soon where you can sell prints or license your stock photos or video. You heard it here first. But until then, yes, we have a photo contest and we won't steal your stuff 😉

#9 Comment By Michael Chiapputo On May 13, 2009 @ 11:09 am

Great write up. It is very unfortunate that we eat our young. 🙂

Given the fact that many universities are liberal temples, it seems such a contradiction of what they preach vs. what they do. I guess it would be an appropriate motto for them to be... "Do as I say, not as I do."

#10 Comment By john h lawrimore On October 4, 2009 @ 11:01 am

You're article provides excellent advice - ALWAYS READ THE FINE PRINT. But,don't assume all contest are designed to take unfair advantage. There are plenty of contest that afford photographers the opportunity to get paid and receive proper credit and recognition for their work. In fact, a contest can be a great resource for photographers to have a marketable outlet for their product. The question should always be asked "How is my image going to be used and are they paying me appropriately for the use of my image?" The photographer has to keep in mind there is always a risk vs reward consideration. Always try to deal with a reputable sponsor.

#11 Comment By Jurgen Ankenbrand On October 29, 2009 @ 3:02 am

I totally agree that's why I have hardly ever entered any photo contests.
They do steal yoyur images, us ethem for their own benefit and that is a crime indeed and no selfrespecting photographer should help them.

That's my opinion, Jurgen Ankenbrand

#12 Comment By Jurgen Ankenbrand On November 15, 2009 @ 1:32 am

Diogital imagimg has brought a bonanca for photographers making things alot easier and cheaper. But the one negative is thyat it's also easier to stael images submitted by photographers
pros or amateurs and that simply stinks and is dishonmest not to say stealing.
What can be done about iot?
1. DO NOT enter any photo contests, especially
those that say your images may not get a byline.
2. Know whomm you are sending your images to
3. If something sounds too good to be true, it
almost certainly is, I have found out the hard
4. It's a sad comment on society by don't trust
anybody should be your mantra when it com,e sto
trust people you don't know, especially when it
comes to business and they ask you for something
without giving you something in return.
5. Unfortunately as the recession gets worse,
cheating and thievery becomes more prevelent, so
be on the lookout for at at all times BEFORE you
get hurt.

Jürgen Ankenbrand at: [6]