Norfolk said he was ‘furious’ about the National Trust’s actions, and that he was left in no doubt that the forthcoming competition had been intended by the organisation to boost its own commercial picture library by exploiting the work of competition entrants.

Such competitions – referred to as ‘rights-grabs’ by professional photographers – impose obscure small-print rules allowing the organisers to publish photos entered free of charge or to resell them to others without any payment being made to the photographer.

Following Norfolk’s departure, the competition terms have been changed – but the National Trust deny any connection between the two events, and say that the competition was never intended as a rights-grab.

However, the move to photographer-friendly small-print marks a significant change for the National Trust, who have become notorious for running rights-grabbing photography competitions, as well as aggressively asserting what they see as their monopoly on photographs taken on National Trust-owned land.

“The National Trust would be taking all rights”

Along with three other photographers, Simon Norfolk had agreed to a joint promotion between a Sunday newspaper magazine and the National Trust to shoot images of National Trust properties for use in marketing, advertising and to launch a forthcoming National Trust photographic competition aimed at amateur photographers this June.

However, after accepting the commission, Norfolk became concerned that the true purpose was to gather photographs from amateur photographers for commercial gain.

Norfolk said that during discussions about the project, his contact at the National Trust “made it clear that my work and that of the other professional photographers was simply window dressing for the competition”

“I asked him what would be the terms of the competition. He told me the National Trust would be taking all rights to all the submitted work – not just the winning entries”

“None of my business”

Norfolk, a former photojournalist who became one of the most acclaimed contemporary British photographers after turning to landscape photography in 1993 – claims that when he questioned the National Trust’s unfair competition rules a member of the organisation’s marketing department “told me he didn’t care and that the terms of the competition were none of my business.”

“I was furious that my reputation, and that of the three other photographers, was apparently being used to sucker in amateur photographers to spend the summer filling the hard drives of a new National Trust picture library – all of which the Trust would be able to reuse and resell to generate profits.”

In subsequent email correspondence to the National Trust, Norfolk wrote: “Amateur photographers rarely know much about the business side of photography and often get drawn into unfair relationships with unscrupulous competition holders.”

“I believe that if a picture is good enough to win a competition then it should be given a real prize; and that if a picture is good enough to be re-used in the National Trust’s productions or elsewhere, then it ought to be paid for. I’m kind of old skool.”

Changes come after photographers’ protests

The National Trust – a 114-year old charity with a £350m turnover – denies Norfolk’s version of events, and claims the earlier ‘rights-grabbing’ competition terms never existed.

However, a spokesperson for the organisation conceded that other photographic competitions run by the organisation have attempted to take extended rights from entrants, and their change in policy came after protests from photographers.

“Clearly we have had lots of comments on the [recent rights-grabbing NT photography competition] that’s been running in Northern Ireland , and it seems right to take those comments on board”, said a National Trust spokesperson.

“In hindsight, we look back to those competitions and look to see if we can make those terms and conditions more acceptable. I suspect that with these issues some groups such as professional photographers may be more concerned with the terms and conditions than others, and we try to reflect that with the terms we’re working on with the Sunday Times.”

Alamy’s 17,000 National Trust images

Last month, picture library Alamy contacted photographers who were syndicating photographs of National Trust properties through the agency, telling them that the images would be removed from the picture library in just twelve days claiming that they breached NT byelaws.

At the time, Alamy wrote: “We have recently been working with The Trust to identify problematic images on the Alamy website. As a result of this we will shortly be contacting a group of contributors who have images taken on National Trust property without permission and advising them that these images will be removed.” In total 17,000 images were said to be affected.

According to the National Trust, landscapes and even photographs of plants and animals on open land, are criminal offences under a 1965 byelaw. While the National Trust claimed that they were simply enforcing their legal rights, many photographers saw this as a move to increase the value of the National Trust’s own commercial photo library by creating a near-monopoly on stock photographs. There is also considerable doubt whether this byelaw applies to stock photography.

Several Alamy contributors spoken to by EPUK said that they had been asked to remove images which had been taken from public land or with permission from the National Trust and which they were fully entitled to market themselves.