Featured Photo: Barbara Konecny, Head of Case Management at Pixsy, via Flickr || CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

If you’re a photographer looking for a wider audience, what better way than submitting your work to some competitions?

Photography contests often offer the chance to win money or camera gear. Others tempt you with promise of exposure to creative directors or bragging rights.

But before you hit submit, are you sure you know what will happen to your photos?

Competitions

Let’s have a look at the terms of the popular competitions site Pixoto:

You retain the copyright in any User Content you post on the Site. Pixoto neither has nor wants any ownership of your Content.

that sounds promising, let’s read on;

However, by uploading and/or posting any User Content to the Site, you grant Pixoto a perpetual, nonexclusive and royalty-free right to use the User Content and the name that is submitted in connection with such User Content, as is reasonably necessary to display the User Content, rank the content using ImageDuels, provide the Services and to facilitate, at Content Owner’s direction, the license of Images or the sale of Products on the Site.

Oh.

Pixoto get a perpetual right to license your photo. They do ask you when submitting if you want to submit the photo to their stock marketplace but this is ticked by default.

They’re not alone – many others contests have similar rules. Of course you would expect them to gain a licence to display your photo on the contest website but this often extends to licensing to third parties as well. And when they do so you might not even find out who has licensed your photo. From Pixoto’s other terms and conditions for market contributors:

SUBSCRIBERS MAY MAKE BROAD USE OF SUCH DOWNLOADED CONTENT FOR ONE FLAT FEE AND ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO INFORM PIXOTO OR YOU OF THE USES MADE OF ANY SUBMITTED CONTENT

This makes it extremely difficult to pursue cases against third party image users as there’s little hope of finding out if they are using the photo legitimately.

Social media

A similar issue is groups on sites like Flickr and Facebook. As many organisational users of photographs have cut their budget, but not demand, for imagery some have started sourcing it for free on the web. Something to watch out for here is that the terms of these groups can be obscure or subject to change. Publishers act as though social media is governed by different norms to websites.

One example we saw recently was where a photographer had added a photo to a Flickr group run by a local newspaper some years ago. At the time his understanding was this was a chance to be featured in specific spot in the print edition. The group rules currently say that the submissions can be used multiple times in any of the paper’s web or print properties. His photograph now appears in a web article without attribution.

Does this mean you should never enter your images into contests or Flickr pools? I don’t think it’s as drastic as that. But it does mean you should take care. Make sure you understand the terms and conditions, and weigh up if the potential benefits are worth the risk. You might also consider which photos you submit. Do you use your ones from your main collection, or do you create ones specifically for this use?

Keep creating, and keep safe.