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.