Watch Out for Rights Grabs!
It all started quite innocently. Monday morning’s heavy e-mail load included a call for entries from a photography competition organizer. The call for entries was forwarded by an acquaintance.
This was done as a favor to me, as I’m forever trying to sell my work. Not that I’m unique in that regard – it seems as if every creative freelancer is in perpetual sales mode. We have to be!
Not to mention the fact that being known as an award-winner is quite impressive to photography buyers at publishing houses, ad agency art directors hiring photographers for shoots, and on it goes. You can run through similar lists of potential purchasers of other creative services like design, writing, music, illustration, and programming.
But I’m here to break some bad news to you: All competitions are not created equal. Some, like the one that landed in my in-box, come with rights grabs. Here’s an example from the aforementioned competition web page:
As a condition of having photographs selected as winning images, photographers agree to a non-exclusive transfer of worldwide rights allowing Competition Organizer the following uses including, but not limited to: hanging the image(s) in the Competition Organizer’s gallery; selling the image(s) as part of a gallery show; publishing the image(s) in upcoming exhibit catalogs; displaying the image(s) on the Competition Organizer’s gallery websites; and using the image(s) to promote the Competition Organizer’s gallery photo competitions both before and after the show. Photographers will receive appropriate credits in all cases.
Among other things, Competition Organizer is asking for a worldwide transfer of your rights. If that’s not enough, then you, the lucky winner, can also experience the thrill of having your work sold – but you won’t get paid. Also, note the words “including, but not limited to.” This means that you’re giving the nod to other uses of your work that Competition Organizer decides on without consulting you.
I passed on entering this competition – which also had an entry fee. And I e-mailed my acquaintance to explain why: This competition was way too rights grabby.
Unfortunately, rights grabs are all too frequent in the creative sphere. Sometimes they evoke howls of protest, calls for boycotts, and sometimes these efforts are successful. Terms and conditions have a way of suddenly morphing into verbiage that is much more friendly to creatives.
So, what can you do to protect yourself from rights-grabbing competitions? Here are four ideas:
- Before you enter that competition, read all of the entry material and I do mean all of it. Count on the rights-grabbing stuff being a bit hard to find. As in, it won’t be up at the top of the competition’s home page or on page one of the call for entries brochure. In the example I used above, I had to scroll down-down-down before I found the egregious text.
- Get educated! One of the photography profession’s best friends is the Photo Attorney blog run by Carolyn Wright, who is both a practicing attorney and a photographer. Rights grabs are a perennial hot topic on her blog.
- Limit your competition hunting to well-respected, carefully vetted lists like the one that logo designer Jeff Fisher includes on his bLog-oMotives. No slouch on the awards front, Fisher has earned over 600 for his designs. His work has also been published in more than than 160 books on identity design, self-promotion, and small business marketing.
- Steer clear of contests that call for you to create speculative work in hopes of being the lucky winner who gets paid. Jeff Fisher notes, “Business and organizations, with the ability to pay going rates for professional graphic design services, have found the lure of winning a ‘contest’ will reel in large numbers of designers for the chance of a few minutes of fame, a little glory and perhaps cash or prizes not nearly worth the value of the design effort on the open market. In return, those conducting these design lotteries often get a virtual menu of design options, and the rights to use all entries as they please, with little need of valuable prize options or the outlay of much cash.”
Okay, enough on competitions. I’m here to deliver more bad news: You won’t just find rights grabs in the competitive realm. They might also come via your clients. Happened to me last year. The details:
I took photos of scenes of mourning in Tucson, Arizona in the days following the January 8, 2011 assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Six people were killed during a gunman’s shooting spree at Giffords’ Congress On Your Corner meeting with her constituents. Giffords’ injuries and impairments ultimately led to her resignation from the United States House of Representatives.
A local magazine called me and asked if it could purchase the rights to use some of my photos in a January 8 retrospective. I said yes and sold them the photos. They ran in the magazine’s March 2011 issue.
Shortly after the photos appeared in print, I received a contract from the magazine’s out of state parent company. The company was asking for the right to include my photos on the magazine’s website. And for this, I would be paid…
Seemed pretty grabby to me. So, I took that contract and…
Yes, this means that my photos did not appear on that website. And I suppose I missed out on all sorts of worldwide exposure. But I seem to recall reading some venerable old jazz musician saying “Man, you can get pneumonia from exposure.” The context for that remark was the musician’s struggle to get paid for his work.
And this is trouble that none of us should have. Because our work has value. It makes millions for others. We deserve a share of the wealth.