Photo Contests – Are the prizes worth the costs?

There has been a dust up recently over photo contests and the cost of actually entering an image in hopes of winning a prize.  I’m not referring to entry fees, but the cost of giving away all your rights to your prized photographs.  Blog reader Andrew Graham from Belgium pointed me to this article (click here) from the Sydney Morning Herald about how many mainstream photo contests are burying clauses in their Terms of Agreements (TOA) that, in essence, take away all rights to submitted photographs and claim them for themselves.  This means that the companies that are running the contests are free to use or sell the submitted images without compensation given to the photographer.  Most of the contests are aimed at amateur photographers that are so excited at the prospect of winning the contest that they fail to read the TOA.  It doesn’t help that many of the TOAs are written by lawers and are often confusing and filled with so much legal-speak that it is hard to decipher just what you are getting yourself into.

Earlier this week, Super Blogger David Ziser, wrote about an appearance he made on the PhotoNetCast podcast (click here to see his post) where he participated in a round-table discussion that covered this very issue.  David, like most of us, finds it hard to believe that so many people would willingly or unknowingly trade away their rights.  If you think the problem is just with small contests, you would be wrong.  In 2005,  Microsoft ran their FuturePro contest with a TOA that read in part:

By submitting your Entry, you grant Sponsor and Administrators an irrevocable royalty-free, worldwide right, in all media (now known or later developed) to use, publish, alter or otherwise exploit your Entry.You hereby forever release the Sponsor and Administrators from any and all claims you might have in connection with their use and exhibit of your Entry as set forth above. You also agree to sign any necessary documentation to effectuate that license and release.

There was such a public outcry of contempt for the TOA that Microsoft was forced to change the rules, leaving the rights to images intact for the photographers.  So the bottom line is that while you might be excited about showing off your great image in hopes of winning a prize, be wary that you might be filling the stock photo coffers of some corporation without any further compensation to you.

If you are wondering where to find more information about which contests are protecting your rights, check out this link provided by David Ziser to Pro Imaging International.  They are committed to disecting those TOAs and determining which contests are really in your best interest.


  1. Great entry, Jeff. I updated our contest rules over at our blog to make sure it said explicitly that all photos remain the property of the photographer. Towner Jones Photography,LLC is only granted limited rights to display the photos on our blog. With that said, our intent to keep our little contest friendly is more clear thanks to the issues you’ve raised today. Thanks again.

  2. Just the other day, I saw Oprah’s website had a call for nature photos, so I went in to see what that was all about. I got my butt out of there faster than you can say “exposure”, when I saw this:

    4. All Submissions shall become the property of Harpo, may be edited for length, clarity and/or functionality, will not be subject to any obligation of confidentiality, may be shared with and used by the staff of Harpo and any of their affiliated companies or entities and shared with legal authorities if Harpo believes it warranted. Neither Harpo nor any third or other party with whom Harpo shares the Submissions shall be liable for any use or disclosure of any information or Submission that you submit.
    5. Harpo shall exclusively own all known or later existing rights to the Submissions worldwide and shall be entitled to the unrestricted use of the Submissions for any purpose in all media now known or hereafter discovered without compensation to the provider of such Submissions.

    Thanks for a great entry, Jeff.


  1. […] Photo Contests – Are the Prizes Worth the Costs by Jeff Revell […]

  2. mariannebush says:

    RT @Photowalkpro: Photo Contests – Are the prizes worth the costs?

  3. Marianne Bush says:

    RT @Photowalkpro: Photo Contests – Are the prizes worth the costs?

  4. […] received a comment recently on one of my old posts about Photo Contests from blog reader Marianne Bush. It seems that Oprah’s website had made a call for submissions […]

Speak Your Mind