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MPOE amends competition terms but fails to stop controversy

16 February 2007 - EPUK

The organiser of the “Million Places on Earth” photography competition has defended a target of 5,000,000 entries as “achievable”, but it seems likely that any potential winner would never see a penny of the prize money.

Organiser Terri Crowther has dismissed as “pure speculation” EPUK’s original article, which pointed out that the rules of the competition meant it was virtually certain that the organisers would never have to pay out the prize money, while allowing them to profit from exploiting the work of entrants.

She added: “You do not know anything about me or my company or my integrity”

However, Crewe-based IT consultant Crowther, who is the sole director of competition organisers Beentheredonethatgotthephoto Ltd says that the original text on the competition website “did not make some of the points clear” and that the amended version now “reflects our true intentions.”

Crowther said that her motivation for setting up the competition was she had “some fun and exciting ideas” which would follow on from the initial competition and would involve the submitted photographs. She could not elaborate further.

In response to our article, the rules of the competition have been amended, and a revised website FAQ attempts to address some of the more controversial points raised in EPUK’s coverage.

Astonishing claim

The website now states that the prize money of $2million – believed to be the highest ever paid in a photography competition – will still be paid regardless even if the anticipated 5,000,000 entries are not received.

The competition FAQs now state:

18. Will the competition still pay out the prize money even if you don’t receive 500,000 [sic] entries?

Of course, the competition will still pay out the prize money. We will close the competition early if necessary, based on the number and uniqueness of entries received.

The terms of the competition – which will form the legal contract between entrant and organiser – say “MPOE reserves the right to close the Competition prior to the five millionth (5,000,000) Entry being accepted”, do not give any indication as to what point this might happen, either in terms of number of entries or time period.

“The aim of the competition is to find one million unique places on earth. We can only estimate how long this will take, bearing in mind the possibility of duplicate photos of the same place being received”, she said.

Crowther added: “We will be in a better position to determine the amount of entries after the competition has been running for a few months at which point we can then decide to reduce the number of entries if necessary.”

“5,000,000 entries would be achievable”

She admits that her initial target of 5,000,000 entries was “a tall order” and that she is “currently in the process of revising her thinking”, but adds: “We believe that with right amount of marketing and publicity, 5,000,000 entries would be achievable within a reasonable timeframe”.

Asked by EPUK as to give an estimate as to what a reasonable timeframe might be, she said “How long is a piece of string ?”

The competition website says she originally estimated that it would take “approximately two to three years” to reach 5,000,000 entries, but that she is currently re-evaluating this.

The competition FAQs were amended this week to add: “There is no definite end date. But the sooner we have found a million unique places on earth, the sooner one amateur photographer and one affiliate will each win the Million Dollar prize.”

The anticipated entry rate remains a crucial issue for the credibility of the competition for two reasons. The prize money will only be raised from the entry profits, so without a certain number of entries, the company would simply not be able to meet its obligations.

Secondly, for the competition to be feasible, the closing date would need to be within the foreseeable future, and certainly within the lifespan of the entrants.

An entry every minute for a decade

EPUK estimated that it would take tens of thousands of years at the current rate of submissions to reach the original target of 5,000,000 entries. To reach that in even a decade would require a staggering 1,300 entries a day, or a new entry every single minute for the ten years.

Crowther told EPUK that the prize money of $2million will be funded entirely from entry fees, which are listed at £1 per picture with bulk discounts.

“That is why we cannot fix the end date of the competition”, she said. “We have to ensure that there is enough to pay out the prizes”.

At current exchange rates, that would put the company’s break even point at 1,070,000 entries even before Paypal fees, salaries, operating costs and taxes were taken into account. This figure would be even higher if sterling falls against the dollar by the end of the competition.

Given this, EPUK estimates that no prizes will be paid out until at least 1,250,000 entries have been received. Even making a generous assumption that the future average entry rate will be ten times the rate of entries so far, that would still take over 500 years until prizes were awarded.

This figure would still require a level of interest which would need to dwarf any previous photographic competition. For comparison, the well-established and prestigious annual World Press Photo competition, which does not charge an entry fee and benefits from huge publicity, attracts around 65,000 entries a year.

“No intention to resell images unless asked”

Crowther denies any suggestion that there is any intention for her company to actively seek to resell any of the submitted images. The newly added competition FAQs now state: “MPOE shall not sell your photographs unless specifically requested, in which case prior consent shall be obtained from you.”

It goes on to “You will make money from your photos because if your photo gets used by us, we will pay you a royalty fee”.

However, the actual rules state: “MPOE shall, in certain cases to be determined by us, pay you a royalty fee, the amount of which shall be determined by us at a later date, if and only if, your photograph is used by us.”

The caveats mean that the organisers still remain under no legal obligation to pay the copyright holder any royalties whatsoever.

Asked to comment on this by EPUK, Crowther said: “We will in some cases, such as if the photo was sold or if we used it in the creation of a derivative work, pay out a royalty fee. If the photo was however, published in a book or displayed at an exhibition for example, where the photographers’ name would appear next to the photo, we would not want to pay out a royalty fee in this case.”

Undisclosed royalty percentage

Even if a royalty were to be paid, there is no indication as to how this would be calculated. The only indication on the website as to the size of the royalty is that it is “a lot more that your entry fee costs”. It costs £1 to enter the competition.

Pressed by EPUK on this issue, Crowther said that any royalties that the company chose to pay would be calculated on a percentage basis, but did not elaborate further.

The website FAQs now address the potential resale of personal data, which was potentially permitted under the original rules. “We will not sell your data to any third parties. We will only use your personal data…for our own marketing purposes and potentially those of our sponsors and partners”. It is not clear, however, as to who might qualify as a competition “partner”.

“He has nothing to do with the business”

Crowther has also denied that the owner of the email address which appears on the domain registration, and who had also entered five pictures into the competition, is in any way connected with the running of the competition.

“The Mike McCaffery who registered my domain name has nothing to do with the business”, she said.

Referring to the five photographs entered by McCaffery into the competition, she said: “He has paid his entry fee and is entitled to enter the competition just like anyone else.”

She added that it was coincidence that a person of the same name was listed in the phone book as living less than a mile from her in her small village.

Following the original article, Crowther has removed 14 of her own photographs which appeared as entries. The website FAQs now say that these images were uploaded “purely for testing and display purposes when the website was first launched”, although the images were still visible three weeks after the original launch date.

Crowther did not respond to a question from EPUK as to whether she or anyone else involved with her company had ever run a photographic competition before.

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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