Let’s talk about photography competitions and, specifically, Terms & Conditions

There is a photography competition doing the rounds at the moment, that I’ve been tagged in or sent about seven times in the past couple of days “Hey, you should enter this!”

The very first thing I do, and the very first thing anyone considering entering any competition should do, is read the Terms & Conditions.

In this case, the current Terms & Conditions are very short and simple:

AUTHORITY TO USE IMAGES (Photographers to sign) I hereby give permission to the “Organisation in Question” to use my photos and likeness in all forms and media for advertising, portfolio, stock photography, editorial – altering without restrictions and all other lawful purposes. I understand I am entitled to no compensation. I release the photographer and the “Organisation in Question” from all forms of claims and liability related to my photo usage.

So, what does this mean? Is this about copyright? No, not specifically. This is about usage rights.

In this case, the entrant retains the copyright. (Slight sidetrack – in Australia, in most cases, the person who pushes the button owns the copyright. So, even if I take a photo on your camera, I own the copyright to that photo. There are exceptions, but that’s how it generally works.)

What they give away to the organisation are usage rights. In this case, the organisation can use any photo entered, for any purpose they like. This includes advertising, marketing, etc. They could put it up on a billboard, promoting their organisation, with 50 000 cars a day passing it, should they choose. They can also alter and change that photo in any way they see fit. 

With absolutely no remuneration to the photographer.

So, why is this a problem? If I win, shouldn’t I just be excited that my photo won a competition, regardless of the T&Cs? Well, no. And this is why.

Photographs have value. Good photographs have even more value. 

Think of a website, maybe even your own. Now imagine it with no photographs, whatsoever. Is it still as interesting? Probably not.

Why is social media so successful? Because it is filled with content that we provide. How many times do you see in a forum “Photo for attention”?

We’re visual creatures, and even more so in today’s world of clickbait headlines, we spend less and less time reading (congratulations if you’ve made it this far – now at 400 words, I’m already pushing the boundaries of concentration and reading stamina).

I reiterate: photographs have value.

When a company or organisation runs a photography competition that is an inadvertent, or blatant, attempt at gathering quality stock photography at no cost, all this does is completely devalue the work of professional photographers who are trying to make a living, as well as not appreciating the excellent work of amateur and hobby photographers.

We don’t tell a plumber, a mining engineer, a teacher, a builder, or a surgeon “Please do this for nothing, and I’ll give you great exposure!”, so why does that train of thought still exist for photography?

Fair Terms & Conditions are not complicated. They will detail specific usage (often restricted to promotion of the actual competition), and a time limit. They will not ask you to sign over unrestricted usage rights.

Have you entered photography competitions? Do you read the Terms & Conditions before you do?

Photo for attention…


Postscript: I contacted the CEO of the organisation running the competition in question, and with further assistance from William Long of the Photo Watch Dog, the terms and conditions have been changed.

As is often the case, they were following bad advice in good faith. Once the situation was explained, they were very open to advice on how to adjust the Terms & Conditions appropriately. We wish them all the very best for a successful competition.