Ask an Agent / 'Rights Grabbing' Photography Competitions

Ask an Agent is a regular monthly column that answers all your dilemmas about the business of photography - a sort of photography agony aunt. Whatever area of the industry you are in, if you have any questions you’d like to ask please send them to LisaASKanAgent5

This month Ask an Agent advises on whether or not to enter photography competitions that ask you to assign copyright.

Dear Ask an Agent,

I know it’s generally a good idea to enter photography competitions, not just to win prizes but to raise your profile, but I’ve noticed that some competitions have written in the small print that by entering you hand over your rights to the images you enter. It would be interesting to hear what you think about this and if they are still worth entering.

Andy Gifford, Cardiff, Wales.

Hi Andy,

Thanks for asking me about this. You are right, entering competitions should be a positive thing for photographers, the kudos of winning or being shortlisted can be a valuable pr opportunity that might benefit your career.

Most prestigious competitions are careful to state that entrants work will only be used in conjunction with promoting the competition. However, sadly, photography competitions exist that ask entrants to ‘assign all rights, title and interest in the photography, including all copyrights in exchange for Prizes’ or something along those lines.

What do I think about this? I think it's outrageous and unnecessary, it’s potentially exploitative and very bad professional practice.

I’m not even sure that this is what most of the competition promoters or sponsors actually require or desire. I believe in many cases it’s due to a lack of knowledge about the industry, either on the part of the people that run the competition or the lawyers that advise them to use these terms. The result - a blanket set of competition terms of conditions are utilised and the promoters probably don’t even realise the gravity of what they are asking.

Let me just spell out what a 'rights grab' is and why they are a no no. When a photographer creates an image he automatically owns the intellectual property (IP) or the copyright in his images. He should be the only person with the authority to grant a licence to use or reproduce the images. This should not be threatened, it should be non negotiable. To ask an 'entrant' to surrender copyright is to ask them to surrender control of where the images appear, forever. So in theory the images could be sold on by the people running the competition to any publication, brand or business. As I say, I’m not convinced this is always the intention but best not to agree to it just incase!

I would advise any photographer to read the small print when entering photography competitions and any competition promoter to delete any clauses that suggest a rights grab, making it clear that images entered will only be used in conjunction with and context of the competition- if they want to attract professionals and not be seen as being exploitative that is.

Please Note: We reserve the right to shorten questions due to space constraints. We reserve the right not to enter into ongoing correspondence. We reserve the right not to answer all questions. Please state whether you would like to remain anonymous. This advice should be taken as a guide only. Lisa Pritchard and LPA take no responsibility for any omissions or errors. Please seek professional legal advice should you require it.