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.