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.

Covering a violent weekend in Chicago


“I found myself barefoot, ankle deep in water, holding the hand of a 17-year-old boy who had been shot during the downpour. I told him to hang in there and that the ambulance was on the way.” -Vincent D. Johnson, He was motionless with his big eyes staring up into the rain

It was a particularly violent weekend in Chicago, with some 82 shootings in 4 days. Vincent D. Johnson, a freelancer for the Sun Times, wrote a moving piece about the watching one of the weekend’s victims die while Johnson kept him company waiting for the police. The piece is well worth a read. It’s part of the Sun-Times’ Homicide Watch section.

Huffington Post has collected tweets and instagram posts of two Chicago Tribune staffers, reporter Peter Nickeas and photographer E. Jason Wambsgans, as they covered the violence, too. As you progress down the sequence of events, the victims keep filling up lines in a notebook.

In his piece, Vincent D. Johnson said he remembered advice from one of his teachers, “You’re a human first and a photojournalist second.” The Columbia Journalism Review just published an article about this very subject, which is more contentious than you might think. I was glad to see LA Times’ Clarence Williams’ toothbrush picture lead the article; before I considered myself a photographer, I attended a lecture by him at my university and the story of that image and what effect it had has always stuck with me. There was massive backlash against the phtoographer and writer for not intervening in the situation, and they won awards for the work. Williams’ work on the story won the 1998 Pulitzer for Feature Photography. The story had a real impact, though. The subjects’ lives were improved as a result of the reporting and Los Angeles and the state moved quickly to reform child protective services there.

Make sure to read CJR’s Are we journalists first? It’s a good survey of the issue.

And while you’re at it, revisit Daniel Shea’s Chicago Fire for Fader from last year.

Gawker: Vice Media staffers and freelancers work for a “pittance”

Vice Media
Vice Media

Freelancers—writers, photographers, illustrators, and otherwise—tell us the rates are low, and that Vice (like many other publications) is often slow in paying them. Salaries at Vice Media and the company’s pay rate for contract work were described to us as “a pittance,” “a fucking joke,” and “so low I couldn’t even consider it, it was offensive.” -Gawker, Working at Vice Media Is Not As Cool As It Seems

I’ve never worked with Vice, but have plenty of friends who have, and I’ve heard horror stories about their pay rates and frequent payment delays. This Gawker piece alleges that the Vice empire has been built on wages and assignment rates that freelancers and staffers describe as a “pittance,” and which they often wait months to receive. A former intern told Gawker that they were offered a full-time job at Vice in Brooklyn with an annual salary of $20,000. A high-level editor at one of Vice’s highest-trafficked sites earns under $40,000 per year. Vice has responded to Gawker’s piece: VICE to Gawker: Fuck You and Fuck Your Garbage Click-Bait ‘Journalism’ but does little to dispute the facts of Gawker’s piece beyond some ad hominem attacks and writing that “entry-level salaries range by department and are competitive with comparable emerging media companies in the digital space.” All of Gawker’s sources are anonymous.

Vice has been doing a lot of things right these days. Vice on HBO is a thought-provoking and wide-ranging series. Vice News has been impressive to watch over the last year or so; the reporters there tackle hard news with depth and wit, often on topics and regions undercovered by other outlets. Simon Ostrovsky’s Russian Roulette series on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine is not to be missed. There are creative, weird, and informative pieces periodically published by Vice, such as Mitchell Prothero’s Paintballing with Hezbollah. Vice’s Media Kit (direct pdf link) claims that Vice has over 650 million views on YouTube and the highest watch time of any YouTube channel with original content. Across television, print, and many online publishing outlets, Vice is one of the big successes of the digital media era. The Nieman Journalism Lab had an insightful article about the launch of Vice News which includes some information about the companies financials; selling a 5% equity stake to 21st Century Fox earlier this year means the market value of the company was about $1.4 billion at that time.

Since the Gawker piece came out last week, I’ve seen it posted a few times on social media, and each time have seen comments from freelancers complaining about low rates and long-delayed payments.