Fighting for Photographers’ Rights

It’s been an interesting couple of days. Saturday’s Guardian Weekend magazine had a new section called “In Pictures” – a set of around half-a-dozen photos on a theme (this week: water). They were asking for submissions for the next week’s mag (theme: Parklife), and the best one selected would win a Canon Ixus camera and a photo-printer.

I have a few interesting park photos (in particular, this one), so I thought I might give it a shot. Unfortunately, details on the competition were pretty thin, and I had to read the small print to find out where to send the photo, and what the deadline was. Good thing I did. The terms were not nice! The story is perhaps best continued by quoting the post which, with small alterations, I submitted to the Guardian Unlimited’s talk website, Flickr’s Utata and Flickr Central group discussions, and the Lightstalkers website for professional photographers. (Oh yeah, I also posted it to the Krautrock Message Board, just to keep friends in the loop):

There is a new weekly photo competition in the Guardian Weekend magazine which at first glance looked quite interesting. However, on reading the terms & conditions, I spotted this:

IN CONSIDERATION OF GNL AGREEING TO CONSIDER THE ENTRY, EACH ENTRANT ASSIGNS TO GNL THE COMPLETE COPYRIGHT AND ALL OTHER RIGHTS IN ANY ENTRY WHICH SHALL BE FOR THE FULL PERIOD OF COPYRIGHT. GNL SHALL BE FREE TO ASSIGN SUCH RIGHTS TO THIRD PARTIES.

I’ve seen people get heated up over terms on other photo competitions (e.g. the BBC One Show), but this one seems to take the biscuit. Basically they are saying that once you hit the “send” button, the picture which was formerly yours now belongs to Guardian Newspapers in perpetuity, to do as they see fit. EVEN IF THEY NEVER SHORTLIST YOUR PHOTO, they still own it and can publish it whenever they want, and can also sue you if you try to use it again yourself.

The subtext, it seems, is that GNL is trying to build up its own extensive image library without having to pay anyone for the images. Whenever they publish a story which relates in some way or other to “water” (the topic in this week’s magazine), rather than shelling out for a stock photo or asking one of their own photographers to go out and shoot something, they merely dip into the stack of probably hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures which the public have generously sent in. If another newspaper or magazine is running a story on water, they can just call the Guardian and get one of these photos on the cheap, as no royalties ever need to be passed back to the original photographer.

The long-term implication is that there will be less use of stock image libraries, newspapers will need less photographers on their staff, and anyone who does this kind of thing for a living is likely to find themselves out of a job or scraping by on even less income than at present.

For a newspaper which has publicly declared itself a champion of photography, this seems a very cynical move to say the least.

Far more normal in a photo competition of this sort is a clause which allows unlimited use (rather than full copyright) of any winning photos (rather than all entries) for reproduction only in materials related to the competition (rather than anywhere and everywhere).

I can’t say that I expected to get far with this. My main reason in posting was to vent my frustration. Perhaps also to embarass the Guardian a little and to get the message out to those who might be able to help, but mainly just to vent my frustration. At first, the responses I got seemed to back up my pessimism. I got a few pats on the back for bringing the matter up, a few “stop whinging, photographers are a privileged bunch” type responses, but mostly just replies saying “this kind of thing has been going on for years. You’d better get used to it”.

So I was very pleased when The Guardian emailed me this morning to tell me that they would be changing the terms of their competition, and I subsequently read this article on the Editorial Photographers UK website detailing the whole debacle, and also quoting me twice: “On Flickr one contributor wrote” and “On the GuardianUnlimited talk board one commenter noted” are both me. Also there is a quote which, in the body text they attributed to Flickr, and in the pull-quote they attributed to the Guardian talk board (this isn’t wrong though. I wrote the same thing on both sites).

Glad to be of service 🙂