web analytics

Watch out when entering photo competitions

It’s exciting and challenging to enter photographic competitions. They can push you to extend your photography into areas you may not have explored before. And it’s even more exciting if you win.

But, before you enter any competition, read the small print.

Yes, I know it’s a bore and often means wading through paragraphs of legalese. But it’s important. Why? Because if you are not careful you could find that you no longer own the photographs you have submitted.

That may sound a little extreme, but it can be true. According to the rules of some competitions the very act of entering transfers full rights over your entries to the organisers.

For example, here is an extract from the terms of a photographic competition, held last year. I have removed the name of the competition’s organiser, but it is a highly respectable and well-known UK body whose name is familiar to millions:

If you submit any material to us, you agree to grant (Name Removed) a perpetual, royalty-free, worldwide, non-exclusive licence to use your contribution in all media. This includes the right to copy, edit, publish, grant sub-licences and exercise all other copyright and publicity rights over the material.”*

In other words, the organisers take all rights, worldwide, forever, to all entries, whether they win or not. And they can sell them on. Notice the ‘… grant sub-licences …’ phrase. This means they can sell your work without you getting a bean.

The first prize in that particular competition was a camera worth £230.

I suppose, if you happen to win first prize, you could argue that you’ve been paid for the copyright.

Okay. If you want to look at it that way, bear in mind that £230 is a very low price for selling all rights to a prize-winning photograph. And what if you’re one of the entrants who doesn’t win?

This practice by competition organisers is called ‘rights-grabbing’. They (and others, such as unscrupulous photo libraries) engage in it in order to ‘harvest’ a load of photographs to swell their stock of images.

You may say, “… but I’m not a professional photographer. Why would they want my photograph for their library?”

Whether you are a professional or not doesn’t matter. There are many amateur photographers who are as good as, if not better, than many professional photographers. And remember, most people submit their very best to a photo competition.

The World Intellectual Property Organization defines the purpose of copyright and related rights as follows:

… to encourage a dynamic creative culture, while returning value to creators so that they can lead a dignified economic existence, and to provide widespread, affordable access to content for the public.

‘Rights grabbing’ seeks to take advantage of a dynamic creative culture without adequately rewarding the creators for their work. Therefore the practice of ‘rights grabbing’ is unethical.

So be careful out there. If you’re tempted to enter a photographic competition by some fabulous prizes, read the rules carefully before you submit. If the rules say anything along the lines of the organisers taking ‘… all rights to all entries …’ don’t enter.

Click on the image to find out more

And you can do even more. If you find a competition with suspect rules, report them to the Artists’ Bill of Rights campaign. They have a website that gives a great deal more information on this and, amongst other things, they carry a list of ‘rights-grabbing’ competitions. They also have an example of a politely-worded e-mail that you can send to the rights-grabbing competition organisers, telling them what you think of their lousy competition. (Yes, the e-mail is polite.)

There are surprisingly many competitions like this.


Here is an even worse example of a paragraph from a rights-grabbing competition organised, not so long ago, by a prominent sportswear manufacturer:

(Name removed) shall own the entire copyright and all other rights in and to all of the Entries to the Competition. By entering the Competition, entrants irrevocably grant and assign to (Name removed) all rights in their Entries and agree specifically to (Name removed)’s unrestricted use of the same for (Name removed)’s own purposes in all activities including, without limitation, marketing, promotion, distribution and sale worldwide as (Name removed) sees fit, without any further payment or acknowledgement to the entrants.

All copyright, intellectual property rights and all other proprietary rights related to the Entries whether now known or in the future created shall vest in (Name removed) which it shall be solely entitled to register or otherwise protect at its own expense. By entering this Competition, you irrevocably assign to (Name removed) all right, title and interest in and to all such intellectual property rights. You will co-operate fully in obtaining such registrations or other protection and shall execute such documents as (Name removed) requires in order to give effect to this paragraph.



  1. Great post, thanks for the info, it’s very relevant!

What do you think?
(Please note: though your email address is required to control spam, it will not be shown or re-used in any way)