The Million Places on Earth competition bills itself as “the biggest global online travel photo competition ever”, and invites amateur photographers to enter “as many times as you like”.
However, the competition rules state that the top two prizes of $1million each – one for the photographer, and one for the “associate” who “referred” them – will only be paid out when “the five millionth (5,000,000) Entry has been accepted”. Any such library of images would be much larger than the collections held by many international stock libraries.
In the two months so far, the competition has attracted just 39 entries, of which 19 have been entered by two people closely connected to the running of the competition. At the current rate of submissions, it would take around 20,000 years until the prizes are awarded.
In publicity for the competition, the organiser themselves have estimated the closing date as a slightly more optimistic 2020, a target which would require over a thousand images to be submitted every single day for the next thirteen years.
EPUK understands that the organisers believe the five million mark will be reached within two years, meaning they would need to be receiving over 280 entries every hour of every day.
In the meantime, the terms and conditions allow the organisers to “use, store, display, publish, transmit, transfer, distribute, reproduce, create derivative works of or otherwise commercially exploit any photograph submitted”.
This “rights-grabbing” clause allows the organisers to profit from the licensing and sale of any submitted photographs without having to pay the entrants any share of the royalties.
Although the front page of the competition website states “images with the most votes will get published in a book, possibly showcased at an exhibition and ultimately you might even make money from your photos”, it unclear where this money would come from. The terms of the competition place no obligation on the organisers to pay any such royalties.
While there is no suggestion that the competition or its organisers are breaking any laws, similar competitions have come under fire before.
Commenting on an earlier ‘rights-grabbing’ competition at the Guardian Weekend Magazine, Mark Stephens, a leading media lawyer for Finers Stephens Innocent, told EPUK: “The entrants are often amateurs without legal knowledge seeking a platform for their work in a very competitive environment.”
“A lot of work is done in the market place to assist photographers with their knowledge of copyright, but I am sure in many cases they are not aware of what they are giving up.”
An unspecified “monthly prize” is also offered for the photograph recieiving the most public votes. On another part of the competition website the organisers say they are “currently seeking sponsors” who can donate prizes such as “cameras, camera equipment, camera bags, outdoor and camping kit, outdoor clothing, flights, trips and tours, subscriptions to photo and travel magazines, travel guide books and outdoor gadgets such as GPS’s [sic], etc.”
While the website states that the organisers are “talking to a great number of potential sponsors every day”, none are so far listed on the website.
Competition or stock library ?
Suspicions have also been raised by the types of photographs which can be entered in the competition, which read more like guidelines for a travel photography library rather than a contest to reward photographic ability.
Submitted photographs must be “unique, high class travel imagery, not pets, friends or family” and of “of identifiable and recognizable places on earth”. Entrants are required to keyword and caption their images, just as they would if submitting to a stock library.
In line with the usual advice given by stock libraries that colour images sell far better than monochrome, the rules also state “black and white photos are not eligible, only colour photos are acceptable”.
Entrants have to obtain “credits” to enter each image, which are sold on the website for £1 each, in multiples of 1, 10, 20, 50 and 100, with discounts for bulk purchases.
Finally, the organisers reserve the right to use entrants details to “market our products and services and those of any third parties…. by mail, telephone, email, text message, or any other reasonable method.”. Such a large database of customer details could be considered a potentially lucrative and saleable asset.
The competition organisers
The competition is run by Beentheredonethatgotthephoto Ltd, the sole director of which is listed as 41 year old IT consultant Terri Crowther. The domain name is registered to a second company, Farford Solutions Ltd, which again lists Crowther as the sole director. The domain contact address given appears to be Crowther’s home address as it appears on publically available documents at Companies House.
The contact email for the internet domain is firstname.lastname@example.org. The phone directory lists a Michael T McCaffery who lives less than a mile away from Crowther.
The two companies, and a third unrelated company of which Crowther is also a director, have yet to file accounts at Companies House.
Of the 39 photographs submitted so far , 14 were taken by Crowther on her Finepix S5000.
Another five were taken by “Mike McCaffery” – whose name matches the email address on the domain registration. Most of the 66 users registered so far haven’t supplied any images at all, making an average of 0.3 photographs contributed by each user.
Editor’s note: Five days after the original article was published, Terri Crowther responded to a request for a comment, and made certain changes to the competition terms. You can read the followup article here
UPDATE: In December 2008, the competition announced that it was closing, citing ‘lack of interest’ among would-be entrants as well as the loss of the last remaining sponsor. In the two years it had run, it had received a total of 1,425 entries – or 0.0003% of its target. Despite the assurances given on their website, the two $1m prizes were never paid out. It did, however, give out three prizes of £146.30, £19.35 and £22.95.
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