Office for National Statistics: 'Tell us your story; give us your copyright'

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We receive lots of emails here at Small Aperture asking us to beat on the big drum to get photo competitions noticed in the big bad world of the intargoogles.

Some competitions we’ll run as articles – and some we won’t. Whether it gets to bask in the glory of our editorial glow or is lobbed heartlessly on the pile signifying ‘Eh, whatever’, depends on a few things. When we were asked to promote a competition run by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to encourage people from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds to complete next year’s census, for example, we thought: ‘What a great idea!’ But our enthusiasm was seriously dampened when we read the competition’s terms and conditions.

We’ll quote it directly from the ‘Then and now: family stories‘ website for you:

18. Upon submission, the entrant agrees to transfer the copyright for any images and content to ONS. This will ensure proper control over the copyright and protect the entrant from inappropriate or illegal use of their images. All images uploaded to the 2011 Census website and Flickr will be deleted from any ONS databases and records by 31 August 2011.’

Yes, you read that correctly. If you enter the competition, you agree to transfer the copyright of your images (and of your words, the competition has dual elements) to the ONS. (Never mind that, under UK law, you cannot sign away copyright without physically signing a piece of paper, but that’s a different matter.)

Now, we’re pretty used to seeing rights grabs. Both here on Small Aperture and over at Photocritic we’ve been quite vocal about the scourge of paid-for competitions and rights grabs, so we try our best to not publicise them. But it was the qualifier: ‘This will ensure proper control over the copyright and protect the entrant from inappropriate or illegal use of their images,’ that really had our blood boiling.

As I read it, we’re being told that we, the competition entrants, are not considered bright enough to ensure our own copyright, so it’s best removed from us. This is so bloody offensive that I barely know where to begin with this one. Am I, or anyone else who takes a minute to read through a comparatively short set of terms and conditions, that stupid? Seems as if the great brains that deal with statistics for HM Government think so. In fact, in their desperation to protect the inappropriate appropriation of our images, they’ll appropriate them from us inappropriately.

I’ve called and asked for some clarification on this – I’m hoping that by tomorrow I’ll have some more answers for you, and it will have turned out that the legal boffins let the horse run away from the stable just a tiny tad too far. But for right now, colour me far from impressed with one of our government departments.