GuruShots changes contest terms in favor of photographers, removes rights grab

Screenshot of GuruShots website - 24 Feb. 2015
Screenshot of GuruShots website – 24 Feb. 2015

Kudos to GuruShots.com for changing their terms and conditions to language that supports the rights of photographers. They’ve eliminated a rights grab and should be commended. I remain wary of the site as a whole, but they are now much more limited in what they and their sponsors can do with submitted photos. Read on for more.

We normally don’t highlight contests aimed at photo enthusiasts; our deadline calendar only lists contests aimed at working and student photojournalists, photographers, and artists. But when I heard about GuruShots in a PetaPixel post, I was intrigued enough to look at the terms and conditions of the site. It’s an investor-backed startup whose main business is running free contests. They’ve already had tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of images submitted, making them a serious player in the photo contest realm.

The adage is that if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product being sold. I figured the site was basically a way to monetize rights grabbing contests. The travel industry does this a lot: images submitted to an airline’s photo contests often end up in advertisements.

When I looked at the Terms for submitting to GuruShots, I wasn’t surprised to find a rights grab. Until last week, the language said that the company and its partners and sponsors had unlimited rights to publish and distribute submitted work.

When I encounter terms like this, I usually write an email to the contest organizer and explain why their contest is bad for photographers. Sometimes they respond well (as Filson did last year) and sometimes they say they won’t change (FeatureShoot’s Emerging Photographer contest last year) or don’t respond at all (National Geographic Traveler a few years back). In this case, GuruShots responded and changed their terms positively.

I wrote an email to GuruShots explaining the rights grab and sent a link to the Artists’ Bill of Rights, which provides guidance for contests. GuruShots’ CEO wrote back quickly wanting to know a bit more about the issue, so I gave some examples of how the terms could be changed. He said he’d talk to his legal team and work on a solution. Just a few days later, he wrote back saying that the terms had been changed. Now, the Intellectual Property section of GuruShots’ Terms reads that by submitting to a contest:

"you hereby grant GuruShots, as well as its partners and sponsors, the right to display the Content and the right to use the Content to promote the challenges(s) on social media and other websites." -GuruShots Terms, Intellectual Property section

By adding “to promote the challenge(s),” the company and its sponsors are much more limited in what they can do with submitted images than they were before. That is, they can only use them to promote the contest they were submitted to rather than as collateral for a marketing campaign, etc. This is standard for all good contests, and GuruShots deserves recognition for changing their submission rules to support photographers and their work.

There’s an open question of whether it’s valuable to photographers to participate in these contests. It remains to be seen how sponsors and partners will use images to “promote the challenge(s).” Social media usage of images by brands is still a viable way for photographers to make a living, so perhaps a brand’s post promoting the contest should involve a licensing fee. Imagine a photo on Coca-Cola’s facebook page with a link to go check out the contest. That’s probably not where I want my photo to be used without substantial payment.

I still probably wouldn’t recommend participating in GuruShots contests. Winning has questionable value to working photographers, and there’s still room for photos to be used to promote companies. Nevertheless, the terms are a marked improvement over what they were.

A lot of people look at our deadline calendar, and we strive to only show contests that are good for photographers. This means contests that are valuable to participate in, which have no or reasonable fees, and, importantly, that have submission terms and conditions that respect the rights of photographers. The Artists’ Bill of Rights is our guiding principle on that last point.

Melissa Lyttle reflects on judging POYi

What is this picture saying? Is it truthful? Does the photographer have a voice and a vision, are they moving photography forward with their image? It’s not enough to simply show up (f8 and be there), point, and shoot. When everyone with a camera phone fancies themselves a photographer, we have to set ourselves apart by approaching situations skillfully — photography is, after all, a craft.”Melissa Lyttle

Recently on tumblr, Melissa Lyttle reflected on her experience as a judge for this year’s POYi contest news division. She writes about the overall experience of judging the contest and gives more fine-grained observations about specific categories and trends in submissions. It’s well worth a read.

POYi is remarkable in its transparency. The entire judging process has been available as a livestream for the past few years (though there were some hiccups this year due to technical issues). You can watch and listen to every “in” and “out” and the debates over images, editing, storytelling, etc., as the finalists are determined. While we’re all left wondering which images were disqualified or lost out this year in World Press Photo, POYi lets you see behind the curtain.

Judging for all of the still photo categories has been completed, by the way, and you can see this year’s winning images on the POYi website.

Two sad notes this year, though. Neither POYi Cats nor POYi Chatroom Heroes seem to be active any longer.

Follow dvafoto on tumblr, by the way. It’s a bit different from what we do here.

Safe to enter: Filson + Magnum Outdoor Photography Contest no longer a rights grab

Filson + Magnum Outdoor Photographer Contest
Filson + Magnum Outdoor Photographer Contest

We know a lot of people depend on our deadline calendar. We try our best to only list contests with good terms and conditions and which will be beneficial to participants and winners. Generally, this means that the contest must meet the Artists’ Bill of Rights at a minimum.

I was excited when I first noticed a contest for outdoor photography sponsored by Magnum and Filson, the award for which would be a spot in the upcoming Magnum Annual General Meeting masterclass and some of the new Filson camera bags. I looked through the terms and conditions, as I always do, and noticed a rights grab that stated: “each winner shall irrevocably grant … the entirety of the rights in and to the winner’s Submission [to the sponsor] … for any and all purposes in any and all media whether now known or hereafter developed, on a worldwide basis, in perpetuity.” I was surprised that Magnum would lend its name to a contest with such an awful set of terms and conditions, so I sent a few emails. Magnum was founded in order to protect the rights of photographers, after all. In the end, Magnum and Filson worked to fix the terms and conditions and extend the deadline to June 12, 2014.

The contest is now safe to enter, and you should because it’s got some great prizes.

I first emailed Magnum’s general email address and used Filson’s online contact form. I didn’t expect to hear back from those initial messages, but a Filson rep got back to me the next day saying he’d heard from others about this and was looking into it. The original June 8 deadline was fast approaching, though, and there was no response. I decided to email the studio of Alec Soth, one of the photographers giving the masterclass offered as a prize in the contest, and he got right back to me saying he’d get in contact with some of his colleagues about this. The next day, I got a call from somebody connected to Magnum who had been in contact with the CEO of Filson.

Both Magnum and Filson did not want to rip off photographers and would be working to change the contest immediately. He’d explained that there was a lack of communication between the legal team and the people running the contest and that the legal team had drafted standard contest terms and conditions without consulting the photography side of the team. This is actually a pretty standard occurrence; I’ve found that many contest operators just user boilerplate legal language for their contests and aren’t aware that they’re bad for photographers.

Within a day, the contest had been amended to remove the rights grab from the terms and conditions and to extend the deadline to June 12, 2014. I’ve already submitted my entry.