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Copyright in Contests

By July 15, 2022No Comments
Web page for Rural County Representatives of California photo contest

Screen grab of the page on the Rural County Representatives of California website for their photo contest.

By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator

If you’re a regular reader, it must seem like we write about dubious photo contest rules all the time. It does come up a lot, but the truth is that more and more photo contests are surfacing where the contest organizers want you to give away most or all of your rights. Two new examples were brought to our attention recently, one rather big contest and one rather small one.

Small but troubling

Alert NANPA member Mark Larson told us about a photo contest by the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC), an organization that “champions policies on behalf of California’s 39 rural counties.” The RCRC contest seeks “photographs capturing life in rural California and showcasing the beautiful scenery, activities, communities, history, and charm of RCRC’s 39 member counties,” and offers a $100 gift card as the top prize. Second place nets a $75 gift card and third place is good for a $50 gift card. Modest prizes, to be sure, but what got Larson’s ire up was rule 17:

“By entering the Contest, entrants grant the RCRC a royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual, non- exclusive license to reproduce, display, distribute, and create derivative works of the entries, in whole or in part, in any media now existing or subsequently developed, for any educational, promotional, publicity, exhibition, archival, scholarly and all other purposes. Any photograph reproduced will include a photographer credit as feasible. The RCRC will not be required to seek any additional approval in connection with such uses.”

This kind of broad language is, sadly, more common than not these days and, while protecting the contest sponsors, it does so to the detriment of the photographers who enter.

Bigger isn’t better

Consider, too, the case of the AAA World 2022 Photo Contest which gives a larger top prize ($1,000) but whose rules contain two problematic sections. The first, section 6 of the rules, is what we’re coming to expect in contests, granting the sponsor wide ranging rights to do just about anything they want with a photo.

By submitting a photo, each entrant agrees that AAA WORLD shall have the perpetual right to use, display or reproduce the photo in any manner and in any media now existing or subsequently developed without further obligation to or permission by the entrant. Any photo reproduced will include a photographer credit if feasible. AAA WORLD will not return submitted photos.

Then comes the real problem, section 8 c. They’re asking photographers to sign away ownership of their photo! In essence, you’re giving away your copyright to your own work. Ever want to sell the photo again? List it as a stock photo? Use it to advertise your business? Sell it on notecards? No can do. You gave away your rights.

8 c. The prizewinners will be notified by mail or email. Prizewinners will be required to sign and return an Affidavit of Eligibility and Liability/Publicity Release assigning AAA WORLD copyright ownership of the Photo within 14 days of notification. If AAA WORLD does not receive the signed Affidavit within this time period, AAA WORLD reserves the right to award the prize to an alternate winner.

It’s bad enough they want you to sign away your copyright for $1,000 but, if you are one of the four runners up, you’re giving away all rights to you photo for a paltry $100.

What can you do?

The obvious first thing you can do is read the rules. Most contest rules are fairly simple and don’t take long to read. Look for conditions like those above and avoid those contests.

If you see contests with dubious or outrageous rules, contact the sponsors and point out unnecessarily broad conditions or blatant rights grabs. And let us know at

Page from AAA World magazine advertising the photo contest.

Headshot of Frank Gallagher

Frank Gallagher is a landscape and nature photographer based in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in providing a wide range of photograph services to nonprofit organizations. He serves as NANPA’s Interim Marketing and Communications Coordinator and manages NANPA’s blog. He can be found online at or on Instagram @frankgallagherfoto.