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Calendars, Competitions and Copyright Concerns

By January 7, 2022No Comments
Juvenile bald eagle flying across a clear blue sky. © Frank Gallagher
Juvenile bald eagle. © Frank Gallagher

By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator

We’re getting used to seeing companies, government agencies, and even museums ask for unnecessarily broad copyright terms in their photo contests. Some go as far as having photographers surrender all copyright to the images they enter. Others want unrestricted rights to use photos in any way they see fit, including sublicensing to third parties. And, thankfully, some respect the rights of photographers and other creative artists. The latest example was brought to our attention by NANPA member Mark Larson and, while better than some, still has a few areas of concern.

The Blissful Birder is a website and internet company that bills itself as “America’s Leading Bird Supplier.” They act as a distributor of supplies, equipment, and accessories for birders, owners of birds, and other bird enthusiasts. One of their projects is an annual bird calendar, the photos for which come from a call for entries, posted on their website and in Facebook ads. Bird photographers send in their best photos in hopes of making it into the calendar. However, entrants may also be giving away some rights to their images.

Way too broad

The Copyright Agreement includes a lot of language that is all too standard and all-encompassing for photo contests these days. The artist (photographer) “grants, assigns, and licenses to Company a non-exclusive, irrevocable, royalty-free, perpetual, worldwide license and right to use, display, reproduce, distribute, and publish the Work on the internet and on or in any medium, in all languages, and in each and every country and territory which now exists or comes to exist during the term of this Agreement. Artist agrees to execute and deliver any and all such documents as Company reasonably deems necessary, appropriate or convenient to evidence or effectuate the rights and license granted in this Agreement.”

I get it. I once managed a nonprofit organization that had rights to use certain video clips on TV and reproduce them on VCR tapes. The rights were granted in the 1990s and did not envision You Tube and online video and, as a result, we were unable to move the video clips into these new domains. To prevent just this kind of situation, the language around copyrights has become very broad, including every possible medium both now and in the future. Still, is this necessary for a calendar that has a one-year lifespan?

Who owns the copyright?

Some contests and calendar projects claim that, in entering, the photographer surrenders all right to any image so entered. The photographer can’t sell, license, or even display the photo! By contrast, and in their favor, The Blissful Birder does state that “no provision of this agreement shall be deemed to limit the artist’s right to sell, distribute, display, or otherwise provide access to the work, or contract, grant licenses, or otherwise make arrangements with any other person to sell, distribute, display, or otherwise provide access to the work; provided, however, any such contracts, sales, arrangements, and licenses shall not infringe upon or limit in any way the rights and license granted to company hereunder.”

What use or uses?

And then there’s this: “Company shall have the right to use and license to others, the Artist’s name, submitted work, image, likeness, and biographical materials for the purpose of advertising, promotion, and other exploitation of the Work and the Project and to engage in such promotional activities as Company deems reasonably necessary for the promotion of Company’s products.” The Blissful Birder can use your photo and can license it to others to promote products the company sells that have nothing to do with the calendar.

Compare that to the recent Digital Photo Black and White 2021 Photo Contest whose rules state that the entrant “grants the Sponsors and their designees an irrevocable, royalty-free, nonexclusive, worldwide perpetual license to use the entry and his/her name, city and state of residence for credit purposes in Sponsors’ online galleries, without further compensation, notification or permission, unless prohibited by law. In addition, each winner grants to the Sponsors and their designees an irrevocable, royalty-free, nonexclusive, worldwide perpetual license to use and distribute the entry (as submitted, or as cropped by the Sponsors), and his/her name, city and state of residence for credit purposes, in any and all media now or hereafter known, including without limitation in Digital Photo, Imaging Resource, and any Madavor Media magazines for purposes of promotion of this Contest except as otherwise stated herein, without further compensation, notification or permission, unless prohibited by law.” This contest asks for limited rights to display entries in their online gallery and to use winning photos to promote the contest.

Prizes and compensation

Finally, a photographer’s only compensation is having their image seen in the calendar (and who knows what or where else). There are no awards or prizes, like there are in photo contests and in some calendars. In contrast, Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources calendar contest includes a cash prize, park passes, and other awards. The Digital Photo Black and White 2021 Photo Contest offered cash and all sorts of photography gear as prizes.

If you’re an enthusiast nature photographer and just want to get your images seen by more people, maybe this all doesn’t matter to you. But, if you have any interest in ever selling your work, or don’t want your photos used to advertise and promote products or causes you might or might not approve of, it pays to carefully read contest rules and find out what you’re giving up for the chance to be published. Sometimes, and for some people, it’s a reasonable tradeoff. Other times or for other photographers, it won’t be.

You can find out more about copyright grabs in contest rules in previous articles on the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) photo club, a state fish and wildlife department’s photo campaign (since taken down), and the fine print of photo contest rules.

NANPA will continue to be on the lookout for overly broad language, rights grabs, and other threats to photographers’ intellectual property rights. Through our Advocacy Committee and membership in The Copyright  Alliance and the Coalition of Visual Artists, NANPA fights for the intellectual property rights of nature photographers. If you encounter an egregious example of copyright overreach, let us know.

 Frank Gallagher headshotFrank Gallagher is a landscape and nature photographer based in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in providing a wide range of photography services to nonprofit organizations. He manages NANPA’s blog.