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Design Contests: Use Caution

After being contacted by a company about a "design contest" that had HORRENDOUS clauses in the terms & conditions, I wrote about it in my DA journal. After a few people suggested it, I wrote an article about the subject of shady design contests for the news section of DA. Since I think it counts as "advice for artists", I thought I'd share it here. Copypasta'd below.

Please go to DA and fav/heart this if you agree with it. I'd like for it to get out to as many young artists as possible.

Design Contests: Use Caution

You see them everywhere and perhaps you've even been contacted about one before: Design Contests. At first the benefits sounds pretty cool: if your design is chosen you get a prize, maybe publicity, and you see your work on display whether it be commercially on apparel and other retail items or featured publicly.

While many of these contests are legitimate and harmless, some of them are a legal way for companies and publications to swindle young or inexperienced artists in order to get cheap design work. It happens all the time and many artists fall for it hook, line, and sinker because they don't bother to read the legalese of the terms & conditions of the contest.

For example: Company X is holding a design contest for tee shirts. If your design is chosen as one of the best, you get $100 and your design is placed on the short list to be considered for production. If your design is chosen for production you get another $100 and you see your design for sale on the website for $18 a piece.

At first glance this might seem like a pretty neat prize until you consider what a designer would be paid if they were legitimately hired to design that tee shirt. There is also no mention within the contest about being paid royalties for the sale of the design, nor is there anything stated up front about the issue of usage rights/copyrights.

You own the full rights to any image you create as soon as you create it. Copyrights, usage rights, distribution rights... all of it. You own those rights until they are purchased by another company or entity. For a buy out, which is the complete transfer of copyright from the artist to a new owner, the industry standard rate is anywhere from 100%-500% of the cost of the original image. These transfers are always in writing either in your own contract or the contract that is provided by the client. If you're working for a company as a designer, rights transfers are laid out within the terms of your contract of employment.

When it comes to design contests like the example outlined above, reading the legalese of the terms and conditions is essential. Many times the terms and conditions will contain clauses such as:

  • The contest holder owns the rights to anything you submit to them. Sometimes for a certain time span, sometimes indefinitely.

  • The contest holder reserves the right to alter your work any way they see fit without consulting you or getting approval from you.

  • The contest holder owns all rights to the image for commercial use, all media use, publicity use, etc.

The last one is very important because it means even if you were paid, say, $200 in prize money for your design on that shirt, you don't see a penny of that $18 the company makes off of each tee sold. You are entitled to royalties from each sale unless the rights have been transferred to the seller.

If your design is chosen to be produced you may not even be credited for your design. Legally the contest holder isn't required to credit you unless a "by line" clause is contained within the terms and conditions of the contest. A by line clause requires the purchaser of the artwork to include credit to you as the artist and it must be somewhere visible around the artwork. As an example of a by line in publication, if you look at the illustrations used for articles within Reader's Digest or any other magazine, there will be a small line somewhere near the image that says "Illustrated by [Artist Name]".

Magazines often hold such art contests with the promise of your work being published when in reality all it does is provide them with a wealth of free artwork to use any time they wish in the future without any monetary compensation for the artist who submitted the piece. Again: it's cheap artwork.

To sum it up: Always read the terms and conditions of any art or design contest you enter. If you're not careful, you could sign away all of your rights without knowing just by clicking that little check box on the submission page.

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( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 24th, 2010 07:04 am (UTC)
Same applies to just about any artistic contest. There was a site a while back that had a huge list of bad contest organizers for various arts. I've lost the link long ago, sadly, and don't know if it's still up or not.
Jun. 24th, 2010 07:15 am (UTC)
I've learned not to enter contests at all anymore. It would have to be something very special for me to consider it.

The times I've tried it out, I either never got the prize(s) I was owed or a friend of the holder ended up winning. And I don't like the terms of professional contests.
Jun. 24th, 2010 12:31 pm (UTC)
Jun. 24th, 2010 03:22 pm (UTC)
Ditto. I tried it a couple of times, before I caught on that really, even personal contests are just a way for someone to get a bunch of different people to draw their character but only have to pay for one of them.
Jun. 24th, 2010 05:39 pm (UTC)
That one almost always makes me rage. I am also so disappointed in the people who create those "contests".
Jun. 24th, 2010 09:22 pm (UTC)
Agreed. I remember being asked numerous times on Gaia to enter. Nope, dun think so. :/
Jun. 24th, 2010 07:30 am (UTC)
heh heh heh.
sounds like you got that Flip Flip design contest email too.

Thanks for this article, I'll be faving it and spreading the word when I sign into DA.

But honestly, stuff like this has made me wary about other things like Patch Together, Woot shirt and Threadless. But then again, I don't know enough about the payout or royalties to really say if the payout there is appropriate or not.
Jun. 24th, 2010 07:53 am (UTC)
sounds like you got that Flip Flip design contest email too.

Bingo. I was already turned off of it just by seeing the prizes. Seeing the terms and conditions just sealed it for me. I thanked them for inviting me, politely declined saying I couldn't give away the rights to a design for $200, and told them if they're ever interested in hiring designers on a freelance basis to please keep me in mind.

Translation: I see what ur doin thar.
Jun. 24th, 2010 03:28 pm (UTC)

Unfortunately since the dA mods often team up with companies offering such shoddy contests or themselves offer contests like that, a great many people are falling into the trap of thinking these contests are okay because dA supports them.
Jun. 24th, 2010 08:20 pm (UTC)
I hate scammers. Ugh.
Jun. 24th, 2010 08:29 pm (UTC)
I wish this had come out before I decided to enter Showtime's Dexter contest :( by the time the finalists were chosen though, I had realized it was a *good* thing that I wasn't one of them.

The fact that I would have won a SHIT load of stuff that I normally can't afford ($250 and $450 worth of DVDs, action figure, bobblehead and mug) was pretty much the only reason that I entered in the first place. Then I realized, hey, they'd be selling my design for $25 a piece. 100 shirts means $2500, and I know math well enough to know that $2500 > $250 + a bunch of merch.

They also seem to have a section of stuff that was made by SCAD students that probably didn't even get a prize or compensation equal to that (though I'm thinking they got credits or graded for it or something? idk).

Plus, it's not like I would have been in San Diego when they announced the winner. The chances of my name even being attached to that was very slim, so the chances of me finding other opportunities from that one contest were even slimmer. I hate to sound selfish and greedy but money's kind of important and I'm not exactly going to make it very far if I just let people use my stuff to make money themselves. :/
Jun. 24th, 2010 09:26 pm (UTC)
You don't sound greedy at all, believe me.
Jun. 24th, 2010 11:13 pm (UTC)
Okay good :p I'm always worried that whenever I talk about money I sound like a new brand of Hoover vacuum for money.
Jun. 24th, 2010 11:19 pm (UTC)
There's nothing greedy about not wanting to be taken advantage of :)
Jun. 25th, 2010 11:18 am (UTC)
I think it was interesting that one of my friends turned down a link one of their mates posted to their FB. Pretty much saying "I'd loose © rights to my work; it isn't worth it." And then I saw youe article written on DevART.
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