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Photographers fight ‘photo taking’ comps

Photographers have campaigned for two local photo competition organisers to remove rights-grabbing clauses from their Terms and Conditions (T&Cs). While the National Rural Women’s Coalition (NRWC) swiftly removed the
term that unintentionally granted unrestricted usage rights, Destination Wollongong chose to only meet photographers half way.
NRWC photo contest

NRWC A Rural Woman’s View Photo Competition
The Photo Competition’s original Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) provided the NRWC unrestricted usage rights.

Here is the original clause:
AUTHORITY TO USE IMAGES (Photographers to sign) I hereby give permission to the “Organisation in Question” to use my photos and likeness in all forms and media for advertising, portfolio, stock photography, editorial – altering without restrictions and all other lawful purposes. I understand I am entitled to no compensation. I release the photographer and the “Organisation in Question” from all forms of claims and liability related to my photo usage.

Photographers posted on the NRWC Facebook page to warn others about the contest and question the organisation’s motive. Due to the rights-grabbing clause, there was concern the NRWC may have been harvesting an archive of photos to use as marketing materials.

‘When a company or organisation runs a photography competition that is an inadvertent, or blatant, attempt at gathering quality stock photography at no cost, all this does is completely devalue the work of professional photographers who are trying to make a living, as well as not appreciating the excellent work of amateur and hobby photographers,’ wrote NSW Central Tablelands photographer, Rachel Gordon, in a blog post. ‘We don’t tell a plumber, a mining engineer, a teacher, a builder, or a surgeon “Please do this for nothing, and I’ll give you great exposure!”, so why does that train of thought still exist for photography?

‘Fair Terms & Conditions are not complicated. They will detail specific usage (often restricted to promotion of the actual competition), and a time limit. They will not ask you to sign over unrestricted usage rights.’

NRWC CEO, Keli McDonald, engaged in a back-and-forth with a few photographers on the Facebook post, and invited Rachel to call and discuss the matter.

‘As is often the case, they (NRWC) were following bad advice in good faith. Once the situation was explained, they were very open to advice on how to adjust the Terms & Conditions appropriately. We wish them all the very best for a successful competition,’ wrote Rachel.

The NRWC had no intention to go for a rights-grab, and is simply aiming to ‘promote the wonderful diversity and contribution of rural remote & regional women’.

The organisation told Inside Imaging they ran the new clauses by commercial photographer, William Long, who voluntarily monitors photo contest T&Cs as The Photo Watch Dog.


William told Inside Imaging in 2017 that some contest organisers do intend to build an image library on the cheap. It can be fairly deceptive, as the contest frames itself to celebrate photography or a theme, but the underlying motive is buried in the T&Cs.

Fortunately, William says that more often than not it’s a misunderstanding on behalf of the organiser, due to things like a lawyer drafting T&Cs to head off legal issues. Once organisers are alerted to the unfairness, they are usually open to fix the clause.

‘…Keli McDonald never intended to produce an unfair competition,’ William wrote on Facebook. ‘I run into this a lot of the time, and the first question I ask organisers is, “what is your intent?”. This was down to the wording being vague and misunderstanding of what is involved. I think it’s fair to point out that as soon as she understood the potential of the original wording, she was eager to accept guidance and alternative terms. I wish more people were as keen to do the right thing as Keli.’

The amended T&Cs now read:
Copyright remains with the photographer. My photo will not be passed on to a third party. All entries may be used to promote the National Rural Women’s Coalition Ltd. I understand the National Rural Women’s Coalition may contact me for further permission to use my photo (as is, with credit to the photographer where possible) to promote rural, remote & regional women. I understand that I am entitled to no compensation.

It’s an uphill battle to ensure contest organisers treat photographers fairly, with well-funded (and image-hungry) Australian tourism authorities notorious for running contests with rights-grabbing clauses.

Destination Wollongong’s Photo Taker Competition
Destination Wollongong is currently under fire for its Photo Taker Competition, which awards two photographers bragging rights: ‘your photo shared with credit across Wollongong’s promotional channels’; and a $1000 photo contract.

Comments from the Destination Wollongong Facebook post.

The Illawarra Mercury reports the T&Cs said ‘all entries become and remain the property of the promoter’, and photographers are calling it a ‘free photo grab’ and ‘exploitation’.

‘The reasoning behind the whole campaign was to get a broader range of photos than just engaging one photographer,’ Destination Wollongong general manager, Mark Sled, told Illawarra Mercury. ‘This was more about … trying to put a community lens on all the fantastic things on what to do in Wollongong. In terms of the actual prize, when you look at it on a per photo basis it’s not a lot different to what we would actually pay a professional photographer.’

The tourism authority’s response sidesteps the crux of the matter – that all entrants, not just winners, hand over usage rights without remuneration.

Destination Wollongong didn’t indicate that they planned to change their rights-grabbing ways, however it appears they have slightly compromised in the current T&Cs state:
‘By entering the competition, entrants grant the Promoter a non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, fee and royalty free license to use, modify and reproduce credited images across the Promoters marketing channels.’

This would still be considered unfair by many photographers.

Inside Imaging contacted Destination Wollongong about the contest and did not receive a response.

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