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Guardian left red-faced over "inadvertent" competition rights-grab

2 October 2006 - EPUK

The Guardian’s Weekend Magazine has quickly reversed the terms of a Canon-sponsored copyright-grabbing competition and branded the rules “an oversight” after an outcry amongst both amateur and professional photographers.

In a statement the Guardian said: “The Terms and Conditions of the Guardian Weekend photography competition were out of keeping with our usual standard. This was an oversight on our part and from next Saturday they will be revised.”

[Editor’s note: the revised terms have continued to cause controversy – read the follow-up story here]

The competition, launched last weekend, and which takes up the back page of the redesigned Guardian Weekend Magazine, features around five themed images. The competition details were printed in tiny and difficult to read five point capitalised text at the foot of the page, and included the following clause.

IN CONSIDERATION OF GNL [Guardian Newspapers Ltd] 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

The assignment of copyright would have meant that as soon as a photograph was entered into the competition the photographer could never use, sell or even print out a copy for their own use ever again.

EPUK has been told that the new revised terms will take the form of a non-exclusive licence, and will not demand a waiver of moral rights. In future the terms will be listed on the Guardian’s website for ease of legibility, rather than in tiny print on the page itself.

The launch of the competition featured work shot by professional photographers Mark Chilvers, Scott Chasserot, David Yeo, Mischa Haller and Franck Allais which had been commissioned specially for the page. The professional photographers were each paid just over £200 for the commission and were not asked to give up copyright.

Mistake initially branded ’ a cynical move’

The “In Pictures” section has replaced a half-page-sized “featured contributor picture”, which did not include a rights grab, did not offer prizes, and most professional contributors were paid between £100 and £400 for reproduction of the image.


The Guardian Weekend Magazine’s In Pictures competition with the 5point terms enlarged.
As with the Opodo/Nikon competition, the issue quickly dominated amateur photographer forums, and seemed certain to damage the Guardian’s reputation as a newspaper which celebrates the best in contemporary photojournalism.

On Flickr one contributor wrote: “For a newspaper which has publicly declared itself a champion of photography, this seems a very cynical move to say the least.”

Elswhere, on the GuardianUnlimited talk board one commenter noted:”It seems that GNL is trying to build up its own extensive picture library without having to pay anyone for the pictures.”

The Guardian’s Head of Photography, Roger Tooth, declined to comment, saying only that he was not responsible for the competition, which falls under the control of Weekend picture editor Kate Edwards. However, when professional photographers were asked to sign over free usage of 100 of their images to Live8 in return for covering last year’s concerts, Tooth described the proposed rights grab as “absurd”.

Groundhog day

The launch of the competition, and the subsequent rules u-turn, could not have come at a more ill-judged time, given the recent global furore over the Nikon-partnered Opodo Reflections competition.

It would be difficult to find two competitions more alike than the Canon/Guardian and the Nikon/Opodo contests. Both are organised by large and well-established companies. Both offer prizes by major camera manufacturers. Both are aimed at amateur photographers. Both are long term competitions. Both offer relatively low-value prizes. Both insisted that the photographer give them free license to use and resell the pictures forever, granting the organiser a free-of-charge picture library whose value could be measured in the millions, and both sets of rules have been changed after protests.

The competition not only would have given the Guardian Weekend Magazine a chance to fill a page with free content each week, but also would have provided the Guardian and Observer with a free-for-use photographic library with a huge resale value.

Sponsor Canon’s involvement unclear

There was also uncertainty over the role of competition sponsor Canon. Just two weeks ago, Canon stated categorically that they would never sponsor a competition which had rights-grabbing terms. While researching background on the Nikon/Opodo Reflections competition two weeks ago, EPUK asked Canon:

If Canon UK were asked to sponsor a photographic competition which insisted that all entrants give the organiser a royalty-free perpetual license to use all entered photographs, would you refuse to do so ?

At the time, a spokesperson for Canon told EPUK:

Canon treats photographers and their copyright with the greatest of respect, and would never ask them to agree to such [rights-grabbing] terms as part of a competition.

Canon UK were contacted about their involvement in the Guardian competition, but declined to comment.

Guardian Newspapers Ltd is wholly owned by the Guardian Media Group, which last year made a pretax profit of £46m on turnover of £700m

Want to contact the EPUK Website editor? editor@epuk.org

Comments

Glad to be of service :)

I see you quoted me twice in the article. Well, three times actually. “On Flickr one contributor wrote…” and “On the GuardianUnlimited talk board one commenter noted…” are both me – I also posted about this on Lightstalkers if you’re in need of any more quotes.

Also the quote which in the text is attributed to Flickr, in the pull-quote is attributed to the Guardian talk board (this isn’t wrong though. I wrote the same thing on both sites).

Comment 1: Dan Sumption, 2 October 2006, 02:05 PM

I’ve been following this story on the Utata group on flickr.com.

I’m very glad that reason has prevailed (or at least public pressure!) at the Graniad… I hope the Weekend picture editor gets a bit of a roasting for this absurdity.

And well done to Dan Sumption for following through on his protest.

Comment 2: RC, 2 October 2006, 03:38 PM

How can I subscribe to the Guardian ? I’m in the U.S.A.

Comment 3: Stan Williams, 3 October 2006, 11:04 AM

how whinging is this website ? paranoia and sensationalism are two words that spring to mind. Not everyone’s out to get the poor old ‘artist’ – your articles sound more like crusades than news stories

Comment 4: chloe, 3 October 2006, 11:05 PM

Chloe, why are you whinging about how whinging this website is? Couldn’t you just keep a lid on it for once? Or go and read a different, less whingy website.

It might surprise you, but some people get worked up over things like the theft of their work and the dismantling of their jobs. Now that’s something worth whinging about.

Comment 5: Dan Sumption, 4 October 2006, 03:34 PM

Chloe,

Paranoid? Words mean what words say – especially legal terms in contracts. There is no other purpose to them, except to escape the equitable provisions of the 1988 CD&PA. The only possible motive is exploitation. If they were not there, there would be no story and no concern, and it would help ‘artists’ a great deal more not to be mugged by lawyers’ small print.

If this is ‘whingeing’, perhaps consider sending a few hundred quid of your money to the poor victimised corporates who keep pulling these stunts. Somehow I doubt you will put your money where your mouth is…

Comment 6: Tony Sleep, 4 October 2006, 04:07 PM

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