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Campaigning for rights - Photographers who enter competitions are unknowingly giving up the rights to their photographs and, in one particular case photographers are having to wait for the end of the Universe before they can get their rights back....But a group of crusading individuals are hoping to change all that.
Pro-Imaging, who represent photographers in over thirty countries, aim to stop the sponsors and organisers of photographic competitions who automatically receive full rights to the images entered into contests.
"What these people hide in the terms and conditions is unbelievable, they seem to demand the rights to everything forever," said campaigner, Gordon Harrison.
"For years they have buried all of this information in the small print and we feel more photographers need to know what exactly the terms and conditions say, which for many of the companies we have investigated is not good news."
Gordon began the campaign last year after reading the terms and conditions of the I am buried Corbis competition.
"The T's&C's were outrageous, they laid claim to all rights from the entrants forever and even included the words throughout the universe," said Gordon.
As a result, Pro-Imaging gave Corbis a considerable amount of bad press, which their director of communications, Dan Perlet wasn't very happy about.
"He phoned me up trying to convince me Corbis are good guys and that I should understand what it is like when you get a bunch of lawyers in a room." I replied, "They are your lawyers, you should control them and I went on to create the campaign you see today," said Gordon.
The Pro-Imaging campaigners hope their naming and shaming approach will encourage companies to abandon the mean, rights grabbing conditions they currently use in exchange for a healthier set of rules that respect the legal rights of all photographers, professional or not.
"If an amateur's photograph is good enough to win a contest then it is good enough to sell and I feel they should get the chance to be able to do this," said Gordon.
It seems that the prestige of winning and the exposure the photographer gets seems to override the fact that these individuals lose the rights to their photographs.
"Sadly, many amateur photographers seem willing to give away all their rights in the often vain hope of seeing one of their images in print," said Professional advertising photographer and Pro-imaging member James Callaghan.
Currently, companies found on the Pro-Imaging rights off list have terms and conditions that mean photographers lose the rights to their photographs.
"Too many competitions are taking far too many rights from their entrants. Why should they grab all rights for all time, winner or not?" said James.
The Pro-Imaging organisation says "Competition sponsors and organisers require the right to use submitted images for publicity purposes and to promote further competitions, however many. If not most photographic competitions seek to obtain rights well in excess of those actually needed for publicity purposes."
For this reason, campaign organisers have created a set of conditions, called the Bill of Rights which is available for competition organisers and sponsors to use as guidelines when deciding what terms and conditions to use.
The Bill of Rights isn't a complicated list and asks for simple conditions to be met.
The campaign team would like to see entrants retaining copyright and that rules should state that any images used and published should always be credited to the photographer. They also insist if any entrant, is asked to sign any documents, then a replica of these should be displayed on the competitions website. The bill goes on to list details on the sponsor/organiser only acquiring limited usage rights and that an entrant can decline any license agreements without fear of not being chosen as a winning entry.They also added that there must be a clear statement informing photographers what their images will be used for and that this usage will be terminated 16 months after the start date of the contest.
These guidelines are used when the team looks at a competition's terms and conditions and if any fail to meet the requirements, their name is added to the rights off list, which clearly states how they failed to meet the guidelines.
"We do send notification letters out to those who fail the rights test and they are given seven days to alter the rules," said Gordon.
"If they don't do this then they go on the list and people are told what they will lose if they enter the contest."
Pro-Imaging have targeted several competitions already, and have received a mixed response from them all.
"Some of the feedback is looking promising. The companies do not seem to be too happy about having their unreasonable rules pointed out to the world," said James.
The British Councils Creative Cities Contest, Adobes Design Achievement Awards, the Great Outdoors Photo Contest and 100,0000 Million Places On Earth, Rough Guide are just a handful of competitions that are mentioned on the rights off list.
"We are astounded that an organisation such as the British Council are basically removing the rights from the photographer," said Gordon.
In response to the letter they received from the campaigners, the British Council said they are now using the advice given to improve future competitions.
"We were approached by Pro Imaging regarding our competition at a very late stage so we were not able to change the rules of this particular competition. However, we will implement some of their suggestions for future contests," said Anna Palonka, from the British Council Creative Cities Competition.
"I would like to stress that our rules were written carefully by a legal agency and in our correspondence Pro Imaging admitted we did not violate copyright from authors of works but that we, in their view, needed to do some improvements," added Anna.
One of the world's greatest showcases for nature photographers-the Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award which is owned by the BBC Wildlife magazine and the Natural History Museum, is another well known competition that can be found on the rights off list.
"If you submit a winning entry the rules state no limit on the length of time the images will be used, and if that is the case you would lose the right to exclusively sell the selected images forever. The competition rules are unclear as to whether royalty payments are rights-managed or on a royalty-free basis and we cannot find a statement that says every image used will be credited," Said Pro-Imaging, when asked why the Wildlife Photographer Contest is on the list.
Organisers of the contest said they applaud the efforts of Pro-Imaging who safeguard the rights of photographers and they quickly responded to the points the site made.
"We have worked closely with photographers and industry experts over the competition's 43 year history to ensure that the rules and terms and conditions of image use protect the interests of the photographer and the integrity of the images," said the competition's press officer, Sam Roberts.
"We are meticulous in applying credit lines and in insisting the press do the same. Our terms and conditions state that failure to include the credit makes the author liable to a fee imposed by the photographer."
"The imagery is mainly used for competitions and exhibitions during the current touring season which lasts for approximately 18 months and any commercial use is subject to negotations with the photographers who are all paid royalties," said Sam.
Nikon's Small World Competition received similar words from the Pro-Imaging team, with findings such as: If your work is selected as a winning image you lose forever the right to exclusively sell the image. Let's have a bit of clarity Nikon! Tell us precisely what you will do with the images.
Nikon are now changing the wording of their rules as they admit they were somewhat vague, and hope now that they will better reflect how they use images.
"Since the contest began 34 years ago, Nikon's policy has been to use the winning images for the purpose of promoting the competition and contributing images. It is also our policy to not use the images beyond this purpose without consent from the photographer and we do not sell the rights of these images to any party," said the Communications Manager for Nikon Instruments, Eric Flem.
"Additionally, photographers are always credited when images are used in promotional work for the contest and not only does the photographer retain the rights to the image but any commercial opportunities to sell the image are also passed to them."
These few contests are just the tip of the campaign iceburg, as Pro-Imaging feel there are many more organisers that need targeting.
"We feel the campaign will be going on for a while. We need sponsors to adopt practices that respect everyone and that will take a while," said Gordon.