Copyright is an issue which photographers deal with on a daily basis. There is a massive lack of understanding of copyright by the general public, and an even bigger lack of respect of copyright by corporations.
One of the major copyright issues which I deal with each week is clients who would like to enter their photos in photo competitions. These are often run by large organisations for calendars or advertising material, often with the promise of free product to a certain value or the promise of making your pet a star. While these are a lot of fun to enter, I ask that my work is not used for competitions like this, and here’s why.
More often than not, these big photo competitions have a very long list of terms and conditions. Somewhere in among of all of these terms and conditions, usually right at the bottom where most people won’t read to, is a clause which says something to the effect of: “By entering this competition, you grant (corporation name here) the whole of the copyright of the images entered for the duration of the copyright, for commercial use including social media, website, and any other commercial or promotional use deemed fit by (corporation name)”.
In plain English, this means that even if your photo does not win the competition and you do not receive a prize, the organiser of this competition now fully owns your photos that you entered, and can use them in any way, shape or form they like without additional compensation.
Where in the past this large multi-million dollar company would have had to pay professional photographers hundreds or thousands of dollars for proper commercial licensing of top quality images, they can now run one of these competitions, offer up a few hundred dollars of product (which has a much lower cost for them to provide) and the promise of making your pet a star to receive hundreds of great photos to use for free. All this, and rarely do they give the photographer so much as photo credit, which actually has very little value to photographers as it is. When was the last time you saw a photo in an advertisement and decided to hire that photographer for a session?
Usually when you have had photos taken by a photographer, the copyright of the images is not yours to give.
Before each session, most professional photographers have clients sign a model release form and contract which ensures that the copyright belongs to them and to check that the client is happy for images of them/their pets/their property to be used by the photographer for things such as Facebook, their portfolio etc. Following the session clients have the opportunity to purchase beautiful prints, albums, canvas wall art or digital files of their favourite images. With the purchase of these digital files photographers will usually grant full rights to print and share these photos as you wish, however copyright (that is, ownership of the image) always belongs to the photographer. This mostly is to protect their work from being altered or used without permission, and also to protect the client from their images in these instances. For images taken in a public place such as a show, photographers do not need a model release and hold copyright automatically.
This isn’t limited to only the pet world. There are several large agricultural businesses, city councils, travel companies who are guilty of these copyright-grab tactics, all fully capable of paying a professional photographer a fair rate to use their images. When I see these types of things, it really puts me off dealing with these companies and I know that a lot of photographers feel the same way.
So, what can you do about it?
First of all, before entering any photo competition (whether with your own photos or another persons’ images), always read the terms and conditions right through. It’s often boring and confusing, but not doing this can have major consequences. If it is a copyright grab competition, think very hard about the opportunity cost before entering any images. Chances are you will want to enter your best photos into the competition, but are you willing to give up all rights to these images? What if you want to use these images down the line?
Secondly, if an image is not your own but the competition allows entering other peoples’ photos, always check with the photographer to see if they are happy for you to enter their images. If they are professional photographers and it is a copyright grab competition, most photographers will ask that you do not use your photos for this for the reasons above.
Thirdly, if you can – please question the company when you see competitions like this.
Standing up to unfair terms and conditions forces companies to take notice of this issue, and really does make a difference. A couple of months ago, an animal rights organisation was running a calendar competition which someone (not knowing the copyright rules) entered one of my photos into. I emailed the organisation and explained the issues with the use of professional images without the permission of the photographer and they took the time to call me and have a good conversation about it. After our chat, they agreed to be more careful with the rules for the next competition which I really appreciated. Many other photographers were having similar difficulties with the competition and the way the organisation owned up to the issues made me really respect them a lot more than if they had simply ignored it and carried on the way they were.
I am not a lawyer. If you are having major copyright issues, I recommend seeking advice from a lawyer who specialises in copyright and intellectual property.