This is a snippet from a thread where online contests were covered. The Commercial Appeal is guilty of this very thing.
What is an image grab?
And image grab is a contest that holds the copyright in whole or in part for any image submitted, whether or not it wins, in perpetuity for any purpose. These contests will have tens of thousands of images submitted giving them their own stock database for the cost of a few prizes.
At the END OF THIS posting i will show some easy ways photographers can protect themselves from this, even if you don’t know at first this has been done with your images.
Warning signs of an image grab contest
1. If the contest asks for hi-res files to start with. Most legitimate contests I have run into, like the Lucie awards, ask for small res files to start with and only want the higher res once an image is in the semi-finals.
There is no practical use or reason for using so much server space with larger files unless you plan to use them later since the images are being viewed screen size for the first level of competition (you don’t expect them to print out all submissions do you?)
2. They only want images from the last year. I happen to know that the copyright office is about 12 months behind on registering copyrights, so the images could be considered in legal limbo during that time, making it hard for somebody to prove a registered copyright.
3. Asking for unpublished images only. Now there could be legitimate reasons, but an unpublished image is once again difficult to prove copyright on. And image from lets say the New Yorker has a credit line, and the credit line establishes the owner clearly.
4. Stating that the contest or contest owners AND AFFILIATES retain copyright or all licensing in perpetuity, even if your submission doesn’t win. Why do they need that?
Why are these contests bad?
Beyond the obvious there are many hidden costs to contest like this. A company, such as Smashbox, could take any of these images and put it on a billboard. Even though your image didn’t win. They could use it on their website, they could even put it in a DO NOT DO article, telling people what a bad job you did.
The next few paragraphs will target specific people ending with what a photographer can sue you for.
Why should I care, it is great publicity for me as a make-up artist? Because you don’t own the copyright to the image. But beyond that, if it is used there are many factors that can come and bite you in the ass. You used an image that was a test with a photographer and an agency model. Well that modeling agency is not happy that you took something that is their commercial property (the likeness of one of their models) and gave it away.
Luckily for them they can sue you for the amount that that type of usage would normally cost. Many tests don’t even have a model release, and as a make-up artist unless you have 2 pieces of paper, one a commercial license from the photographer and one a model release from the model you are in trouble.
Not only will it hurt you in the short run, but in the long run. Agencies will inform photographers that you are not welcome on their tests or commercial projects, photographers will inform clients that they will not work with you. A contest like this can ruin your reputation and career.
Why should I care it is great publicity for me as an unsigned model? Ok, again stepping away from the photographer problem, do you know who your make-up artist and stylist were? Because maybe that gorgeous neck ruff you were wearing comes from somebody who is an up and coming designer.
That ruff is their signature piece, and now you have placed it into an ad campaign that isn’t theirs, for a company that they don’t want to be associated with. And as for that make-up artist, well they are the key make-up artist for a competing company, one that has an exclusive contract with them. Or maybe they are part of a union and that union does not take kindly to their member’s work being used in a commercial project.
Or, worse case scenario, they have an agent. On many small projects make-up artists, hair stylists, and wardrobe people recommend models.
Do you really want to be the model that they are telling everyone not to use?
They could be associated with an agency (like Photogenics) that you want to join, and that agency signs you. The make-up artist or stylist finds out, tells the agency what you did, and you are promptly either dropped from the roster, or left to rot with no auditions, no ability to put yourself on auditions without breaking your contract.
Why should I care it is great publicity for me as a signed model?
Hi, it is your booker calling you are in violation of your contract and are liable to the agency for thousands of dollars, oh and they are dropping you.
Everything that is true for the unsigned model is true for you, and more. You have entered a contract with your agency, putting yourself into a commercial campaign without their sign-off is in violation of your contract.
Once your agency drops you they will call all their friends at other agencies and you will become one of the untouchables.
Why should I care it is great publicity for me as a photographer? Now if you have all your i’s dotted and your t’s crossed then I can’t argue with you.
Nobody can require you to enforce your copyrights.
Nobody can force you to not release your photos to bullshit contests.
But, what I said above about signed models it is true. So I really hope you have very binding model releases from your models and you didn’t submit an agency test.
Personally, I would be upset if something that should have paid me $40,000 is using my image for free, but that is just me.
CONSEQUENCES FROM THE PHOTOGRAPHER or Well, what can the photographer do to me anyway?
1. They can sue you, for a lot of money. They can sue you for the amount it should have cost to license the image for the usage used. BUT, even if the image is never used, when it comes to a registered copyright filed with the Library of Congress, copyright laws provide for statutory penalties of up to $150000 per infringement. Your submission is an infringement.
So as an example two of my images were submitted, if I were so inclined I could sue for $300,000 and attorney’s fees. I am not going to, since filing suit in a case like this is meaningless, but if the images were used by Smashbox I would pretty much have to file suit against the company AND against the person who submitted the images.
2. Beyond lawsuits The photographer is the casting agent/talent booker on almost all projects. They will tell their friends, and their friends will tell their friends. You will become persona non grata, and it is a global market.
What can I do as a photographer to avoid these situations?
1. Always place your licensing into the metadata of the images you are releasing. To do this go here http://www.useplus.com/ This website writes licensing METADATA. You can then place this metadata into every image you produce. They even have a free metadata embedder so you can do this even if you don’t know what I am talking about. This website is easy, it takes you step by step to create the license for you.
2. REGISTER your copyright. It costs money, but it gives you many more options in a case like this.
3. Be clear with the people you work with, let them know about contests like this. Let them know what you do and don’t allow as far as submissions.
4. Use a tracker to see who is posting your images, and where. If the contest can show that you didn’t inform them in a timely manner to remove the image they might be able to prove fair use of the image.
As a model or make-up artist you probably do not have the necessary rights to ever submit an image to any contest. If you are thinking of doing so contact the copyright owner and inform them of your intentions. Get their agreement BEFORE you enter what is technically not your property.
As a photographer read all of the rules to any contest and avoid language that states that there is any transfer of copyright or anything that says in perpetuity. Read the contest rules and understand what you are signing away. If you see something suspicious inform your friends and colleagues so they too can avoid these image grabs. These are not contests, they are image grabs and they are scams. Be wary, be safe.