Things You Need to Know About Rights-Grab Photo Contests

It seem that contest photo organizers/ sponsors had found a 'cheap and economical way' to 'harvest' a great deal of creative work, usually images for absolutley nothing - a library of FREE images. These are rampant nowadays not just in the Philippines (from private companies to government agencies) but even abroad. A clever ploy targetting photographers especially the amateurs who are naive and do not understand their rights and the potential value of their work. This, in a way, can 'harm' photography in general because when sponsors/ contest organizers get a collection of free images, they are less likely to buy nor hire/commission a photographer to shoot photos for commercial application - somewhere, a photographer loses a sale.

Yet, no matter how clever their mechanics/ contest rules may be, there will always be loopholes and gray areas which you can detect if you examine the contest mechanics very closely. When joining a (photo) contest, please take sometime to read carefully and understand the specific clauses particularly on the following:

Copyright Ownership/ Policy

As authors of original works, photographer entrants should own copyright of their entries, irregardless of winning and non-winning entries. Think twice if you see any of the following clause explicitly expressed in the rules:"All photos submitted as entries to the photo contest shall be owned by ...."; "..... shall retain the copyright of the photographs."; "All entries shall automatically become exclusive property of .... and may be used, copied, reproduced and/or reprinted by.... into any size or medium for exhibition, advertising, promotion or whatever purpose." (see: ownership of copyright & derivative works)

File Submission

Photographer's entries are submitted independently of the digital files or film negatives except in the case of winners, where the sponsors/ organizers may request high resolution file/ digital scans of the winning photographs for verification purposes. Contest organizers has the prerogative in disposing non-winning prints. These maybe returned (via mail by enclosing self-stamped envelope) or destroyed if unclaimed. It is also understood that mere possession of unreturned/ unclaimed entries, both print/ digital files (low resolution) does not transfer authors copyright to the organizer/s (see: transfer or assignment of copyright). Please be warned should you read the clause "Original negatives and data files should be submitted together with the entry" or "All photos submitted as entries to the photo contest shall be owned by ...."

Terms of Use

Organizers has the right to use the winning photographs for marketing and promotional purposes directly related to the photo competition. It is also the duty of the organizers to give appropriate citation/credit to photographers of winning entries. Please be watchful though for a clause such as this: ".... you hereby grant ...., its subsidiaries and branch offices the perpetual right to exclusively, royalty-free and without limitation freely use, modify, edit, copy, reproduce, distribute, translate, create derivate works from, alter and publicly display or publish such content, for whatever purposes, in any form or medium, either on this web-site or elsewhere, whether promotional or in other activities or events arranged by .... or any of the above stated parties, whether locally or world-wide."


Being the author of creative work, you have the right to require that the authorship be attributed to you, the right to object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification, or derogatory action which would be prejudicial to your name and reputation (see moral rights).

What photographers lose in joining these contests?

Photographers loose all their rights, including economic and moral rights and also future income generated from licensing, etc. (see details on copyright/ economic rights and moral rights).

In conclusion, make sure that all rules and guidelines are clear, fair and justified. Should you encounter unclear and misleading guidelines similar to the clauses stated above, better think twice - it's not worth your time and effort. You may as well join IPR-Photo should you be interested in issues such as these.

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Dennis S. Rito said…
A forum member in iMag Photo who posted her comments: Your post is quite informative, thanks a million. But a budding photographer's questions might then be:

1) Does he have any choice to change the rules of the contests that he joins in?

2) If he can't do anything to change the rules of those contests, considering that almost all of those photo contests are the same, would he still have many chances to join any contest at all?

3) What can camera clubs do to protect the rights of its members insofar as intellectual property rights over their photos are concerned?

4) Finally, if our camera clubs can't do anything to help us in that regard, where else can we seek help?

Here's my reply:

On their individual capacity as an entrant, photographers doesn't have a choice to CHANGE the rules but its possible to INFLUENCE them by writing an appeal to the organizers in writing. This can be done individually, but doing the appeal as a group has a greater chance that said issue can be resolved as what happened in some of the contests in the past, where through the great clamor of photographers, the organizers changed its rules. Maybe, they too are not aware of our rights. It's just a matter of spreading awareness and educating the public- both photographers and users of images.

I beg to disagree, but not all contests are the same. While there are some rights-grab attempts, there are really good ones - you just have to read and understand their mechanics. Its no different from the terms and conditions in your contract.

Camera clubs can help its members by discouraging its members from joining these rights-grab contests. It's also good to discuss the details of the mechanics in the yahoogroups or blogs.

Also, photographers/ visual artists or creators of original work must educate themselves by reading the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines (Republic Act 8293) which is quite self-explanatory.

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