If you're an inveterate photographer you surely have oodles of pictures with a certain merit. Maybe prize-winning? That's what crossed my mind when I saw the number of flower categories for Thompson and Morgan's current competition and thought I'd have a go. Then I read the terms and conditions and now I'm boiling mad.
This is what they say:
All photos that are entered will become, by default, the copyright of Thompson & Morgan and its Group of companies and will be used free of any charge for the foreseeable future in any marketing literature, be it paper, online, broadcast or any other format.
Note that. ALL photos, not just the ones that win. That's every picture entered in all thirteen categories, from the Plant Selfie with the prize of a £10 e-voucher to the Increditransformations category awarding £100 a year for life to spend on plants.
We all know why companies run competitions like this. It's a way to gather useful marketing material, finding pictures that would take a lot of sourcing or setting up and that offer variety in showing their plants off to their best advantage, grown by everyday gardeners. Obviously they save money on hiring professional photographers but, no doubt, they also have to wade through a lot of dross. And we all love a competition; it could be a quid pro quo. But to demand copyright?
That means, if it doesn't win, you'll never be able to put any of your entries in another competition. If you thought of making your images into cards to send friends or prints to put on the wall, you'd be breaking copyright law. If you wanted to post them on a blog or forum, you'd be acting illegally.
Could you take two pictures both identical and just send one, retaining copyright in the other? Well, you could try that one in court but you'd probably lose.
Basically, you've given your efforts away, whether you win or your photographs languish forever unseen in a forgotten folder on Thompson and Morgan's server.
And I think that's unacceptable. In fact, I think it's outrageous. I'm boiling mad that a company thinks such exploitation is acceptable. A kinder stance would be to require exclusive use only of winning images. That use, I suggest, should be time-limited; at least you'd be able to use your own images some time in the future. They could demand an indefinite right to use, without exclusivity, which would mean that you retained the right to use your own images whether they used them or not. They could... Oh, you get the idea. Basically, they could take a stance that was a hell of lot less acquisitive and less punitive on the entrants.
Here's how it looks to me. They say: look, you've gone to the effort of taking all these pictures, and some might be really very good, and we're going to be beneficent and offer a very small number of them a prize. We're doing you a favour here.
What's wrong with this picture? Actually, the favour is that they end up with a picture library at a tiny fraction of the amount it would cost them in professional fees. The entrants, in case you've missed it, in awarding them permanent, exclusive use are doing them the favour.
At the end of all this, you might think that I must have fantastic pictures. I don't. However, they're my pictures, and I don't see the equity in sending them off for a small chance of winning something, only to lose them forever. Perhaps you'd let me know what you think.
Anyway, you won't be surprised to know that I most certainly won't be entering anything in the Thompson and Morgan photo competition, and if you value your rights and those of other photographers, I'd suggest you don't either.