Photo Contest Rules – Read The Fine Print!

I’ve got the winning image, I just know it!

Verdant Garden

THE perfect photo!

So, there’s this photo contest, you’re so excited because  you have the absolute perfect image for it. There is absolutely no way any of the other entries could be as good as yours. You are going to win this!  It’s a lock, in the bag, piece of cake!

So, blindly you go about filling out the online entry form, selecting the prize-winning file, and as  you’re finishing, you see the link to the “OFFICIAL RULES.”

You hesitate, but only for a moment, then say to yourself, “Blah, rules, who cares about some silly rules, I just want to win!”

And so you click “Submit.”

 What have you done?

Honestly, if you are lucky, you’ll never realize what you may have just done.  You may never come to realize what you have just given away in your haste at a chance to win what, $100, $200, maybe even $500? Oh yes, don’t forget the ever popular possibility of “Photo Credit” somewhere in the magazine. ( you all know my thoughts on that particular scam used to acquire photos for free).

Ignorance after all, is bliss. Or so they say.

The price, a dream. 

Online photo contests, quite often sponsored by otherwise reputable companies, are paying for your photos with a dream. The dream of a relatively small amount of money or prizes, and recognition via your name and photo in print. Because quite often, buried deep within the mind-numbing minutia of the “Official Rules,” rules that almost no one reads because of the indecipherable legalese in which they are often written, is something like this:

“All photos submitted to ******Magazine.com’s Web site become the property of ****** Publishing Inc. ******Magazine.com may reproduce, distribute, publish, display, edit, modify, create derivative works from and otherwise use the material for any purpose, in any form, and on any media”

These are part of the rules for an actual photo contest accepting submissions right now, sponsored by a very well-known, well-respected, regional magazine. But wait, it gets better. By entering the contest, you give them the rights to do whatever they so please with not one, not two, but up to FIVE of your photos if you choose to submit the maximum number of entries allowed.

And it gets even better still.

In this, as in many, many other photo contests, the rules to which I’ve started reading very closely, you don’t just give them the rights to your photos only if you win, you give them the rights to  “reproduce, distribute, publish, display, edit, modify, create derivative works from and otherwise use the material for any purpose, in any form, and on any media” for ALL of your entries, forever and ever, just by entering. Win or lose, five years down the road you may see your precious photo in the magazine in some form or another, maybe with “photo credit,” maybe not.  Certainly without payment.

Yes, there is a bright side. Sort of.

Even though you’ve given the contest organizers the rights to use your photo until the end of time, you do still retain copyright and the ability to sell prints of your entered photos. The “sort of?” You may as well forget about licensing, you just flushed the licensing value right down the drain.

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16 thoughts on “Photo Contest Rules – Read The Fine Print!

  1. Not to mention some contests charge you a fee to enter a recent one put on by Sony wanted $25 to enter 3-photos plus get full rights to use them I think not. You are exactly correct a scam, sham and flim flam.
    Thanks for posting on this topic.

    • Very true, but in all honesty, I’ve stopped reading the rules and moved on as soon as I see there’s an entry fee. Call me cheap, but I’m not interested in paying to enter a contest. AND then give up rights to my photo on top of that.

    • Oh I’m sure the organizers of these contests don’t see them as scams, but to give them non-exclusive rights to your photo just for entering? Now there’s a sweet deal for them to have a ready supply of photos for their magazine should they need them.

    • Now that’s good to know. I have seen where the site host gets the rights to use your photos for promoting their service, which is kind of ok to me. After all, if I’m going to use their web hosting to sell my photos I would like to see the quality of the art being sold to get an idea of how well their sellers perform. And they’re going to want to make their service look as attractive as possible. Usually I’ve only seen this on low or no cost photo hosting sites like Flickr though.

Comments and thoughtful critiques are always welcome.

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