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National Trust lose high profile photographer in competition rights row.

16 May 2009 - Nick McGowan-Lowe

Renowned photographer Simon Norfolk has pulled out of a major National Trust photographic project in protest over rights-grabbing terms in an associated competition run by the conservation body.

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.

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the bye law they quote is to cover hawking so they are interpritting the bye laws to cause people to panic.

Comment 1: eric barrett, 16 May 2009, 07:41 pm

Have reposted the link here


to try to keep up the pressure.


Comment 2: Steve, 17 May 2009, 11:01 pm

IF photography of anything on NT property is eventually banned I shall be forced to terminate my NT membership and boycot their shops/catalogues etc as this is unacceptable. If a butterfly alights on a flower growing on NT property and I capture that image, can I only sell it if I edit out the flower?? Ridiculous.

Comment 3: Nicky H, 19 May 2009, 09:50 am

The National Trust have been a notorious bunch of money grabbing theives for years. As far as rights over landscapes though, would that even stand up in court? Rights over buildings are fairly precarious as I understand so I would have thought the legal case over landscape would be even shakier. As for plants and other material, it just looks unenforcable. How on earth are you going to prove where a picture of a daisy was taken if there are no identifying marks?

Comment 4: Peter D, 25 May 2009, 02:59 pm

I would just like to say, like every thing ales that rises in popularity as digital photography is really taken off this last year, there seems there are still people out there trying to spoil a great out dore activity by trying to make money out of laws that have never been used or thought of for many years, to earn revenue out of someone misfortune shame on you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Comment 5: ken Birch, 10 August 2009, 09:20 am

I was recently taking some photographs of my daughter at East Riddlesden Hall, Keighley, West Yorkshire, for my college portfolio, when a National Trust worker came thundering over to me and demanded to know what the photographs were for. When I explained they were for personal use, he carried on interrogating me to make sure they were not for commercial gain. Does the NT think that people who are taking photographs of family members in unidentifiable areas of their properties are such a commercial risk that they have to upset a seven-year-old child just to protect their dubious rights? My daughter is now reluctant to be photographed on that particular property and reticent at other national landmarks. Shame on you National Trust!

Comment 6: Lisa, 21 November 2009, 06:07 pm

It would not be so bad if the NT were the only organisation guilty of ‘rights grabbing’, but unfortunately they are not!

Pro Imaging are campaigning to stop the unethical business practice of right grabbing that far too many organisations have adopted for photo competitions.

Even if the NT were struggling financially, their attempt to assert their monopoly on photographs taken on National Trust-owned land would still be shamefull, but they are not!

Comment 7: Andrew Newey, 3 May 2010, 10:16 pm

When I was at photographic college (about 12 years ago) I had an architectural brief and asked about using a NT property. I was told that I could take photographs outside but that I wouldn’t be permitted to take shots inside, even though I was able to show a letter from the college stating that it was a required brief.

They offered to sell photos of the interior to me to use. I am forced to conclude that they are just out to grab as much money as they can in any way that they can.

Comment 8: John H. Maw, 5 July 2010, 06:11 pm

Vote with your feet. Since this came about the NT are minus 2 memberships and my wife and I will no longer be purchasing any of their overpriced merchandise either. My images were removed from Alamy despite being taken with NT permission.

As far as I can see, for the NT it’s a lose/lose situation. Their greed has sickened people like me and they will lose out on the publicity from national newspaper shoots, (which I often organised), that helped to provide publicity for them.

Comment 9: John Robertson, 16 August 2010, 07:50 pm

I notice that the National Trust (or maybe that should be National Front – as they seem to want to dictate to people, like modern day n*@@a’) have neither the common decency, or the balls, to reply to this, setting out their position. Or maybe it is just so far beneath them! Until they do no meaningful dialogue can reasonably take place.
Lastly, if I wish to enter a photo of an NT property into a competition or whatever, I AM GOING TO DO SO! Come what may!

Comment 10: William Bates , 4 March 2012, 03:30 am

I sell photos on a site and they were going to take down all photos taken on NT properties until I had a long and protracted email conversation with the people at NT in which they grudgingly and cynically tried not to admit that there IS NO LAW to prevent people taking photos for commercial gain as long as they are on public ground. I suspect if anyone pushed the issue they would also win a case of taking photos on NT properties too as while they are privately owned, they are privately owned “in trust” for us all, and not for the benefit of the organisation.
The NT have been power hungry and uncaring of peoples’ rights for some time now in their quest to dominate: I cancelled my membership some years ago because of their distorted view of what they ought to be doing and their questionable practices. They are determined to erode peoples’ rights to their heritage in order to continue their ‘charitable business’ to ensure it makes more and more profit but delivers less and less.
We all need to stand up to them, their brief is to ‘hold in trust for all of us’, not to ‘own and shut everyone else out’.

Comment 11: Gary Finnigan, 18 December 2015, 11:46 pm

Do any of you care to give back to National Trust? If you donate them a small amount out of any sales using their backdrop, and sign and contract to this and let them enforce it, they are massively likely to let you use the shots. Why should you use what they upkeep and protect for everyone, and then give them nothing? It’s like street photography where you profit from someone’s face and they make nothing. Pay the joint venture contributors if you take from them and use the backdrops they look after. -I know this is off topic, as the points about rights-grabs and Alamy shots being removed are sound.

Comment 12: Kia Ora, 5 October 2017, 07:22 pm

The National Trust make a bloody good living out of donations and they keep everything they buy IN TRUST for us. It’s not privately owned by them, it’s IN TRUST for us. Therefore we ought to have rights to what is being held IN TRUST, FOR US!
They are a greedy, sanctimonious organisation who’s powers have gone to their heads and they try to monetise everything and restrict everyone’s access.
They are the height of evil.

Comment 13: Gary, 6 October 2017, 08:56 am


Image harvesting again

Comment 14: Paul McMullin, 7 August 2019, 04:45 pm

your_ip_is_blacklisted_by sbl.spamhaus.org

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