Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Beware: Some photo contests and campaigns are little more than rights grabs

Copyright Rights GraphicRecently, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (NJDFW) conducted a “Photo Campaign” to solicit free photo submissions of wildlife for their photo library. They asked for images of New Jersey's “fish, wildlife, habitats, and the recreation associated with them.” They particularly noted that they were “committed to the principles of equity, diversity and inclusiveness, and encourage entries from people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds.”

That sounded great to me as I read the announcement. Then the hammer fell, or rather it was smashed down hard.

The solicitation went on to say,

“All photo submissions will become the property of the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife and may appear in NJDFW publications, on our social media pages, outreach materials, and on our website. An acknowledgement of the photographer may be made with each use of the photograph.”

Then it got worse,

“All submissions will become the property of the Division of Fish & Wildlife. By submitting a photo, the person submitting the photo agrees that any and all intellectual property rights in the photo are transferred to Division of Fish & Wildlife.”

and it was clarified by a statement that emphasized how unethical their submission rules were to me, stating,

“Each person submitting a photo further understands and agrees to relinquish all claims, rights (including any moral rights), and benefits related to the display, modification, reproduction, publication, distribution, use, and other exploitations of the photo submitted.”

Let me summarize. New Jersey,

  • asked photographers to donate their photos of New Jersey wildlife and recreation for NJDFW's use on the Internet, publications and other uses that might occur and
  • stated that any photo submitted, as a result of this solicitation, would result in the transfer of ownership of the image to NJDFW in perpetuity and
  • stated that attribution may or may not be made whenever each photo is used and
  • stated that when a photographer submits their photo that they relinquished all claims, rights and benefits relating to the photo, meaning that the photographer could no longer use their image for themselves without permission from NJDFW and
  • stated that NJDFW could use or alter any submitted image for any purpose they saw fit as they owned all moral rights.

This was one of the most blatant rights grabs from photographers that I've ever seen by a state government. Not only isn't the attempted rights grab unfair to photographers, but NJDFW didn't need to set these harsh conditions to obtain new images for their use to ensure they wouldn't have legal problems using the images.

Not that it would necessarily happen, but under the NJDFW rules, if a photographer who submitted a photo decided to use it for themselves, NJDFW could sue them for damages. Now that's a “gotcha!”

One of the things that galled me about this rights grab is that after a photographer would donate their work to NJDFW, the state wouldn't even agree to give attribution for the image when it was used. Attribution wouldn't cost them anything, but they wouldn't agree to do it.

This isn't the first time an organization or government has done the same. It won't be the last time and far too many photo contests have similar rights grabs.

As a photographer, I've supported the Artists' Bill of Rights Campaign for many years. If you've looked on my NSL Photography Blog, you've seen an Artists' Bill of Rights Campaign support logo on my site for a long time. I am happy to report that the National Press Photographers Association, to which I've belonged for years, also supports the Artists' Bill of Rights Campaign.

“The Artists' Bill of Rights campaign promotes the adoption of a set of ethical standards for competitions and appeals in which creative works are submitted: photographs, music, film, illustrations, graphic design and literary works such as stories and poems. We focus on copyright issues and how they affect everyone who enjoys creative pursuits.”

In the case of NJDFW, they could have asked for submissions of photographs, where photographers would provide a free, perpetual, non-exclusive license to use the images. They could have agreed to provide attribution as a bit of compensation for the images submitted. That kind of fair donation terms would not have impeded their effort to obtain new, high quality, exciting photos for their use. In fact, I believe it would have propelled submissions, particularly if attribution was specifically offered.

I urge you to go to the website of the The Artists' Bill of Rights Campaign and consider supporting the Campaign in some way. I also urge you to carefully review the comprehensive Bill of Rights for Artists on the website.

When your read the Bill of Rights for Artists, use it learn what it takes for a photo solicitation, appeal, contest or competition to behave ethically toward artists and other creatives, including photographers.

As a creative person, you need to understand copyright, creative works owners' rights including moral rights, licensing, etc. As a creative person, you need to look out for yourself and not sell yourself short, whether you are an amateur or professional. In my opinion, all creative people need to demand and insist we are treated fairly, legally and ethically. If we don't demand it for ourselves, no one else will.

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