Competition rights grabs don't just exploit photographers, they destroy the industry

When we feature competitions here on Photocritic, we do our best to ensure that they're entrant-friendly: we don't like to promote contests where you run the risk of losing control over your images and we prefer not to support paid-for contests, either. If we're the slightest bit suspicious, the competition PR takes a one-way trip to the delete bin. And if we do feature a competition, we always urge you to check the terms and conditions to ensure that we haven't missed something and that you're happy with the rules.

Last night, I received a communique from an agency representing an internationally renowned publishing house requesting that Photocritic promote a competition aimed at up-and-coming photographers. The prize could be a huge break for an as-yet unrecognised but talented fashion photographer, with a commission, mentoring from some significant individuals, a gallery exhibition, and a chunk of cash.

A closer inspection of the rules, however, has ensured that this competition will not be featured positively here on Photocritic. Indeed, rather than being consigned to the dustbin of broken dreams, I'm going to highlight it for what I believe it is: a rights-grabbing exploitation of ambitious young photographers that has the potential to do them, and the photography industry as a whole, more harm than good.

The issue lies in clause 7a of the contest's rules, covering Ownership and Licence:

All entry materials become the property of the Sponsor and will not be acknowledged or returned. The copyright in any Submission shall remain the property of the entrant, but entry into this Promotion constitutes entrant's irrevocable and perpetual permission and consent, without further compensation, with or without attribution, to use, reproduce, print, publish, transmit, distribute, sell, perform, adapt, enhance, or display such Submission, and the entrant's name and/or likeness, for any purpose, including but not limited to editorial, advertising, trade, commercial, and publicity purposes by the Sponsor and/or others authorized by the Sponsor, in any and all media now in existence or hereinafter created, throughout the world, for the duration or the copyright in the Submission. Sponsor and/or others authorized by the Sponsor shall have the right to edit, adapt, and modify the Submission.

The translation? The competition organisers can use all the images submitted to the competition any way that they want to, across any media known or currently unknown to man, without informing, compensating, or even acknowledging the photographers for the duration of the copyright.

Not only is this an exploitation of the photographers who might submit their images to the competition, but it is damaging to the photography industry as a whole. For every rights-stripped photograph entered into the competition, that's a potential commission taken out of the market. The competition organisers have created for themselves an image archive that they are at liberty to use in perpetuity without compensation. Why would they need to commission material or purchase stock when they have this at their disposal?

Flick through any magazine and you'll see hundreds of images used to bring colour and interest to articles. We use them here on Photocritic. The images aren't intrinsic to the pieces and the content won't suffer from their omission, but the articles look better for them. Team Photocritic tends to trawl through its archives in search of suitable images, but magazine publishers might turn to a stock agency or an in-house photographer for their needs.

For one of the largest and most powerful international magazine publishing houses, it doesn't matter that the images they've harvested from a particular competition are fashion shoots and won't necessarily be front cover material or suitable for splashes. They can be used to illustrate all manner of feature articles across a huge range of publications that need nothing more than a generically beautiful image: 'Ten tips for a tan-ready tummy in twenty days' or '52 things to do before you die'. These free photos can be used time and time again in a huge number of magazines, and in so doing they deprive in-house and stock photographers of work. Cover shots and fashion spreads are the prizes in fashion photography; they're not the bread-and-butter work that keeps rooves over the heads of photographers and food on their tables.

By looking for their big break when they enter a competition that's aimed at up-and-coming photographers, the entrants are quite likely doing themselves out of work in the long run. Please: always read the terms and conditions before entering a competition and don't relinquish your rights cheaply.