Are photo contests really legit or is it a way to grab the rights to a bunch of different photos? Similarly in the film world – are those contests asking you to create a commercials a legit enterprise or are they just asking you to buy their product?

Photo contests have been around since the days when chemistry was first introduced to develop light sensitive cellulose – in other words, since before photography became a popular hobby in the 1930’s.

What has changed, however, is the intended flavour of the contest. It wasn’t long ago the photo contest was a vehicle that promoted the pleasurable pursuit of photography as a hobby and rewarded excellence in craft.

However, in the past decade, photo contests have more often than not become a rights grab by preying on unsuspecting entrants who have absolutely no idea what all the legal talk translates too. For example, the following text is copied from a recently announced contest by an internationally recognized environmental NGO that I have supported for years. Its rules read, in part:

By entering (reference to contest deleted) the contest, you retain the rights to your works while granting XXXX (sponsors name deleted) the unrestricted, royalty-free, perpetual right to use, reproduce, communicate, modify and display the works (in whole or in part) for any purpose without any fee or other form of compensation, and without further notification or permission.

By participating in this contest, you release and agree to indemnify and hold harmless XXXXX(reference to contest deleted) and its employees, directors, officers, affiliates, agents, judges and advertising and promotional agencies from any and all damages, injuries, claims, causes of actions, or losses of any kind resulting from your participation in this contest or receipt or use of any prize.

So, what does all this mumbo-jumbo mean and how does it relate to the photographer who wants to have some fun with their pictures?

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