Beware of the Comp

Have you ever entered a photo competition? When submitting a photo for one, have you ever wondered what’s in it for the promoter? You might be surprised at how most photo competitions are just a way for publishers to obtain cheap or even free stock photography without most people realising how their photographs will be used. Here are some samples from terms and conditions of photo competitions I’ve seen recently:

“By entering the competition all entrants grant to the BBC the right to publish and exhibit their photographs on television and on the BBC’s website. Entrants whose photographs are one of the Finalists … grant to the BBC (including BBC Worldwide and other publishers authorised by the BBC) the further rights to publish and exhibit their photographs in print, on their respective websites or in any other media. No fees will be payable for any of the above uses.”
BBC Countryfile Calendar competition 2009

“Copyright in all images submitted for this competition remains with the respective entrants. However, in consideration of their providing the Competition, each entrant grants a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual licence to Telegraph Media Group Limited to feature any or all of the submitted images in any of their publications, their websites and/or in any promotional material connected to this competition. ”
Photos on Sunday, the monthly photography competition from The Sunday Telegraph, May 2009

“Entrants will retain copyright in their submitted entries, however, by entering, all entrants licence TNL a worldwide royalty-free perpetual licence to edit, publish and use each entry in any and all media (including print and online) for publicity and news purposes. This use includes any use in event exhibitions where TNL exhibits Citizen Traveller for promotional activity. ”
Times Travel Photo Competition, January 2010

Notice a theme? By dangling prizes in front of entrants, these established and respected news organisations are basically hoovering up an almost endless supply of stock photography, in most cases without the photographers even knowing. As the prizes are often provided by a sponsor, the promoters can be paying next to nothing for the privilege.

If you are serious about wanting to make money from your photography, you may think that competitions such as these are a good place to start, as the winner will of course receive free publicity. However I would strongly caution against this approach; if a photo is good enough to win such a competition then it’s good enough to be sold through a stock library agency, who will charge (and hence pay you) far more than the value of some of these prizes for a perpetual, royalty-free licence to use that image.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get your images out there and seen, but that is of course what sites like flickr are for – it costs you next to nothing, your rights as the content author are preserved (despite occasional breaches which usually get much publicity and hence are resolved relatively quickly) and you have a worldwide audience. Unless the T&Cs are clear and explicit about not recycling your photographs, leave the competitions to the casual snappers who are in it just for the thrill of getting their pictures in print, and let your photographs earn the revenue they deserve.

UPDATE: It’s just been pointed out to me on Twitter that some photography courses are guilty of similar behaviour. Have a look at the T&Cs for the Shoot Experience photo workshops:

When you enter a Shoot Experience Competition or Event, you agree to … grant to Shoot Experience and its partners (for that Event/Competition) the non-exclusive, irrevocable, worldwide right and licence to use your Entry solely and exclusively for publicity and marketing purposes and in all media in relation to marketing future Competitions and/or Events for a 5 year period.

Thanks to Gareth Bourne for the update.