Some tips for running an amateur digital photography competition

Want to run an amateur digital photography competition for your school or organisation? It is now easy and virtually cost-free to run a photo competition online. In a low stakes amateur competition it’s unlikely you are going to end up in an Archibalds-worthy legal challenge. But to ensure the competition runs smoothly and happily, a bit of planning is worthwhile.

The online site
When choosing an online site for your competition you should consider your needs and aims. Is it for fun, fundraising or some other purpose? Will your organisation host the competition on its website, or would a social media site be easier to use? Will entrants upload their own photos, or will you? Do you want social media features such as “like” for people’s choice, the ability to curate and sort photos by tagging into different categories, the ability to post rules, restrict or enable comments? Are privacy considerations an issue? Can you share or change administrators? Who is personally responsible for running the competition?

The rules
Once you decide on the site, you need to set the rules. These will depend on your particular circumstances, but for starters, here are ten issues to think about, and below are some sample rules you can look at for ideas. Remember, if you get it right the first time, the next year will practically run itself. If you get it a bit wrong, you can fix it up next year too.

1. Clearly state the criteria. Ok, it’s not a professional competition, but entrants need to understand the parameters, and the rules must not be misleading. Are you looking for photographs in a particular genre or theme? Or are you happy to leave the criteria pretty broad to maximise entries? Do you want to set other limiting criteria such as when and where a photo was taken? Who can enter? Will you allow digital effects, cropping, stitching of images and the like? You may wish to consult with your proposed judges or look at some professional photography competition rules. It’s up to you, just be clear.

2. All entries must be judged. A competition of skill is the opposite of a “game of chance”, which can require a lotteries permit. (To check any regulatory conditions for competitions in your jurisdiction, go to your consumer or gaming regulatory authority website. In New South Wales, the Fair Trading website is a good starting point). In order to be a competition of skill, all entries must be assessed on merit. It’s recommended to keep the definition of “merit” broad (eg “entries will be judged on technical and creative merit in the judges’ absolute discretion”). If you think there may be a lot of entries, you can introduce a shortlisting rule which will allow the organiser to shortlist entries for the judges, provided once again that all entries are assessed.

3. The judges’ decision is final. Despite all the above criteria, your rules should absolutely state that “the judges’ decision is final, and no correspondence will be entered into”. If you have one rule, this is the one to have. But you also need to ensure the competition is actually run with integrity, and is perceived to be so. It helps if at least one of the judges is from outside the school or organisation, and is a professional photographer. At a minimum, the administrators, the judges and their families must be barred from entering.

4. Is there an entry fee? If there is an entry fee, how will you collect the money? If it is for a charitable cause, are you issuing tax receipts and have you compiled with charitable donation rules? If it is for fundraising, are you deducting any expenses including prizes and if so, will you be transparent about this? Is the key aim to raise money or to cover costs?

5. Make entering easy for entrants and organiser. The method or methods of entry ideally should be inclusive as well as efficient. For example, while it may be efficient to require everyone to upload their own photos and pay online, some people are not digitally enabled or do not wish to become a member of a social media entity just to enter. However, to make the competition viable you do need to minimise the administrative burden on the organiser (you). You may also need to consider if there are any anti-discrimination issues for your organisation in relation to the options for entry, as well as considering the security and trackability of payment options.

6. State when entries close. It’s best to be brutal about this deadline, to be fair to everyone. However, you may decide to accept last minute, technically late entrants who sent their photo but perhaps didn’t manage to get their fee through the online portal in time. If so your rules should make it clear this is a matter of your absolute discretion. Obviously, once judging commences it is too late to accept entries.

7. Proof of compliance. In practical terms, it’s hard at an amateur level to really require proof that someone took a photo or complied with the rules. It’s unlikely you will have the resources to professionally verify compliance, for example, nor might it be advisable to go public with a rejection if you can’t prove it (or even if you can). These issues are usually best considered privately by the judges in the exercise of their discretion. However, at a minimum your rules should require entrants to warrant that their photographs are their own original work and meet the competition rules. If the entrant is a child, the parent or guardian can make this warranty on their behalf. The warranty can be obtained by obtaining a signature on the entry form and/or deemed by their entry (“entry is acceptance of the rules”).

8. Copyright consent. A photograph is a copyright work, so your rules will need to obtain permission (a non-exclusive “licence”) to reproduce each entry for any purpose associated with the competition. This might include using it in publicity for the next competition, distributing it on social media, and so on, for however long you need to do so. Any changes to the photo (eg cropping it for use on a flyer) should also be covered. If you want exclusive rights or want to “acquire” the winning photo in exchange for the prize, you should seek legal advice on how to draft these provisions, and consider what is a fair exchange for someone’s artistic effort. For an artist’s perspective, see the Arts Law Centre of Australia’s fact sheet on competitions, which contains other useful links.

9. Online privacy. Most Australian schools and many private organisations must now comply with the Australian Privacy Principles when collecting, storing and distributing personal information. Personal information in this context could include entry details of entrants and the geo-location information on a photograph. While the competition may not be undertaken directly by the school or organisation (eg, if it is a solely run by parents) and therefore may not be directly subject to these provisions, it is always good practice to obtain privacy consents. Particular care to obtain consent should be taken when personal information could reveal a person’s school, home address or other personal details, and preference should be given to designing the competition so that such information is not unnecessarily revealed. For example, in a school competition you may decide not to use the surnames of student entrants, or you may be able to turn off geo-locating information on photos if entrants so request. If the subject matter is going to be potentially sensitive, you could consider using an intranet site rather than a publically accessible online site. If the competition permits human portraits, you may need to consider getting (or better still, asking entrants to get) written consent from the subject to the use of their image and if required, permission to publish the subject’s name, age or other personal details.

10. Prizes. Your rules should retain the discretion not to award any particular prize if there are insufficient entries of merit received. It is also prudent to require that the prize is taken up or used by a certain date, that it is not substitutable for cash and non-transferable, and that if it becomes unavailable that you can substitute it. You should also consider how you will announce the winner and how you will deliver the prize to the recipient. If it is not delivered in person, you need to consider delivery expenses, and definitely get the parcel tracked and signed for.

EXAMPLE OF SOME RULES (this one was a school competition run on Flickr)

By posting your entry you agree to the Competition Rules. Photos must comply with the Rules and will not be approved for upload to this group until the signed entry form and fee are verified as received. Please include in the photo title who took it (first name, last initial and year of student/parent/staff – e.g. Rain puddle by Elijah Z, Year 3 or My dog by Mrs X,) and where it was taken.

1.Entry into the Competition is deemed acceptance of these rules. The “how to enter” details on the entry form are part of the competition rules.
2.Entry into the Competition is open to current students of [ ORG ] and their immediate family members, and [ ORG ] staff members.
3.The competition celebrates local nature in all its forms: wild, urban or domestic. A photo must feature nature, photographed in its local setting. For the purposes of this competition, “nature” means any animal or plant, including introduced species, or any naturally formed geological or atmospheric phenomenon, but excluding humans and human creations. Inclusion of humans or human created elements is acceptable provided nature is featured.
4.All photos must be of local origin and taken less than two years previously to the competition closing date. For the purposes of this Competition, “local” means photos taken in the suburb of [ SUBURB ], immediately adjoining suburbs or otherwise within 5 km of [ ORG ].
5.All entries by currently enrolled students are eligible for the “competition winner” best student photograph. Other prizes to students will be awarded for best landscape or sky, best wild nature, best urban or domestic photo, best bird, best pet and best macro (small scale) photo.
OPEN CATEGORY: [STAFF AND FAMILIES OF STUDENTS]: A prize for best photo, any subject will be awarded. A prize may also be awarded for best preschooler photo. Staff and the immediate family members of students are not eligible for the “competition winner” or other student prizes. Students are not eligible to enter the open category.
6.The Competition period is 12:00pm [ ] to 5:00pm [ ].
7.Entries may be made as a Single Entry or a Family Entry. A Single Entry permits up to two photos to be submitted by one person who is an eligible entrant. A Family Entry permits up to six photos by one or more persons within the same immediate family of a student to be submitted.
8.To enter, entrants must:
A. complete the Competition entry form and pay the entry fee to [ PAYEE ENTITY ]: Multiple entries are permitted.
B.Submit photo or photos as indicated in the “how to enter” details on the entry form.
9.Adjustment of colour, saturation and other corrections are permitted, as are effects such as black and white. Cropping of any degree is allowed. However, the intention is to present the image as it was photographed in nature. The integrity of the original subject must be maintained. An Entry must not be created from more than one original photo and elements must not be moved.
10.All Entries must be taken in a safe and lawful location. Children taking photographs should be appropriately supervised by their parent or guardian.
11.The judges will judge the entries in their absolute discretion and no correspondence will be entered into. The judges will select up to 3 shortlisted (commended) and one winning photo in each category. If a large volume of photos is entered in a category, the Organiser reserves the right to preselect at its absolute discretion 20 or more photos eligible for shortlisting by the Judges in that category. The Organiser reserves the right not to award a prize in any category if insufficient photos are received.
12.Prizes will be awarded at a date to be announced.
13.All prizes must be taken as offered. Prizes are subject to availability with no cash alternative and are non-transferable and non-refundable. Prize winner(s) cannot change, vary, substitute or extend any element of a prize (in whole or in part) and must claim the prize by December 1 of the competition year.
14.Each entrant hereby grants a non-exclusive licence in all media in perpetuity to reproduce and communicate the photo for the purpose of promoting the Competition, [ ORG ] and future Competitions. Entrants consent to their name and year being published in association with the competition website and in the announcement and publicity of finalists and winners.
15. The person submitting the entry warrants to the Organiser that each photo is an original artistic work of the named entrant.
16.The Organiser’s administration of the rules will be final and no correspondence will be entered into.
17.If the Competition is cancelled entrants may apply for refund of monies with proof of payment but no other liability shall be accepted.
18.The Organiser is [ P&C OR OTHER ]. The Organiser will nominate a delegate/s to run the Competition, and a judge or judges. A judge may be substituted due to unavailability. The organizer’s delegate, judges and their families are ineligible to enter.

This post discusses general issues for consideration and is not to be relied on as legal advice. The sample rules are a starting point only. You may copy use and adapt these rules without attribution provided that by doing so you acknowledge that you are not relying on their legal suitability. You should consider your own circumstances and if necessary, seek legal advice on drafting your own rules and complying with applicable regulatory conditions in your jurisdiction. Australian educational institutions may download, reproduce and use this post without a CAL licence. Statutory revenue for this post is hereby waived.

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