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Error 4: Lack of Comprehension of License Terms

I see photographers enter into two kinds of license agreements regularly, often without knowing much about their terms and conditions:

  • Terms of service that govern participation on social media and photo-sharing services such as Facebook, Instagram, and the like
  • Conditions of entry to photo contests

Many such agreements contain very broad rights grants to the services or the organizations sponsoring the contest. At first blush, some of these agreements appear to unfairly favor the website operator, often calling for a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual license to use and sublicense images posted on the service. Although some nefarious website operator might use that language to exploit the images that its users upload, the vast majority of websites have no intention of doing anything like that—their lawyers include the broad language to make sure that they’re fully covered for any conceivable use, to avoid being sued later.

Such broad language is less justifiable in the context of photo competitions, where the sponsor really just needs some sort of limited-use right to display the work within the context of the contest. In some cases, contest sponsors include very broad use rights so that they can essentially use all of the contest submissions (not just the winners) free, essentially as a stock photo library. That type of agreement strikes a lot of photographers as unfair, but you might be okay with it.

I’m not saying that you should or should not post images to certain websites or enter certain competitions. However, I strongly encourage you to scrutinize the terms of each service you use or competition you enter, so you can make an informed decision about whether to participate at all, and which images you can safely submit.

For more guidance on terms of service, go to the American Society of Media Photographers website for the free guide “Know Your Rights on Social Media: Legal Considerations and More.” For more on photo contests, check out PhotoShelter’s free resource “The Photographer’s Guide to Photo Contests.”

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