I am William Long — I am the PhotoWatchDog.
I represent a large number of organisations, groups, and collectives on the issue of photographic competitions in Australia. PhotoWatchDog provides the education to ensure fair Terms and Conditions for photographic competitions for both entrants and organisers.
I’ve been regularly reviewing photographic competition terms and conditions for the past 15 years. What started as a trickle of competitions a decade or so ago, turned into a tsunami. On average I would review 400 competitions a year, and end up appealing the T&Cs of at least 50% to 70% of these. Fortunately over the years, I’ve built a great relationship with many of the leading photographic suppliers, notably Canon, Nikon, Epson and many others.
When a new photographic competition contains unfair T&Cs, I attempt to contact the organisers of the competitions and question these T&Cs to highlight and illustrate where something is clearly unfair to the entrant, often suggesting a better approach to these details in the fine print.
Some organisers are happy to change, as they’ve unwittingly produced a set of unfair terms and conditions and hadn’t realised the impact that a set of unfair T&Cs can produce. I then try and assist them with better alternative suggested terms.
Unfortunately, some organisers have deliberately produced what I can only call Sham Competitions. In these, there is very little interest in producing a competition, but their intent is to acquire images for free. This is referred to as an Image Grab.
A new point of concern is that there is often little genuine interest in the images, but more importance is placed on the acquisition of personal information, an increasing valuable commodity. Not only do entrants agree to give the organiser their personal details, but the online “voting” also requires that voters also agree to submit to similar T&Cs, which allow the “competition” organisers to collect, use and trade that information. Complex Terms and Conditions put people off reading them.
Typical points to look out for:
- Do you lose your copyright? That’s not good – don’t enter!
- Do you agree to licensing the image to the organiser, and is the usage limited to use relating to promoting the competition? That’s OK.
- Is any future usage noted outside of the competition, and how will that be handled?
As an example, let me highlight one such “competition”. This is just one section – and there are 11 sections of a single term, with 54 terms in total : The organisers “own the content of the Entry in any way for use in any media worldwide and have the right to assign such copyright ownership in perpetuity and other Intellectual Property Rights in the Entry to the Promoter.” In short – they want the copyright, and once you’ve read the entire terms and relate each term to each other, in order for it to make sense.
This particular competition contains these points of concern:
- You can’t use the image for yourself in the future.
- You can’t enter it into any other competition.
- You can’t use it in your own portfolio.
- You can be held legally liable if the image gets used for any other purpose in perpetuity.
- Plus, you’re agreeing to all of this just by entering – and this applies to both winners and losers.
The main problem is that the general public simply do not read the Terms and Conditions. Instead they tend to “trust” that the competition organiser is doing the “right thing”. That is where the problem starts. In most cases, a presumption is made by the entrant that the organiser wouldn’t do anything that is so blatantly unfair.
On the positive side, I often accomplish significant changes in attitude and approach by discreet communication between competition organisers. And it’s extremely heartening when major companies like Canon, Nikon, Fuji and many others now contact me prior to agreeing on a set of T&C’s for their competitions, as they are eager to produce something that is going to be an effective marketing tool, as opposed to something that has a negative effect on their corporate image.
With the popularity of social media, and Internet forums, adverse reactions to a new marketing campaign are very difficult to manage, and it’s easy for what was considered a good idea to turn into a publicity nightmare for companies. Many of them are now eager to quickly alter T&C’s that appear to be unfair in any way. And it’s satisfying that companies have often changed their T&C’s within days of my initial contact.
So to keep things reasonably brief:
- Before you enter a competition, READ the Terms and Conditions.
- Before you support by way of sponsoring, or providing prizes to, a competition, READ the Terms and Conditions.
- Before you support, by way of judging a competition, READ the Terms and Conditions.