That’s not your photo… anymore.

Another *Really* Horrible Rights Grabbing Contest – Costco

Beware of the 2009 Costco Photo Contest; it’s especially bad considering how they treat you and your entry. Do they assert that they can do what they want with the winning images? No. Do they assert they can do whatever they want with any of your entries? Kind of. Do they assert that they will now and forever own all intellectual property rights to any image you submit. *** Ding, Ding, Ding! *** (read like: TV Announcer) “That’s Right, Bob. Now tell all our lucky contestants what they’ve won, er… lost.”

Read the terms:

10. Entrant confirms and promises that entry is original and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any third party. By participating, entrant agrees that ownership of the entry and all intellectual property rights in the entry is assigned to Costco, and will do all things necessary to give effect to that assignment.. Entrant agrees to sign any further documentation required by Costco to give effect to this clause.

If you enter this contest and don’t win, Costco could potentially sue you for copyright infringement just for posting the picture to your own web site, Facebook, or Flickr page. Note that the terms above don’t say “Shared” copyright. It says they own it, all of it, all by themselves. So that photo you took and entered: Surprise, you don’t own that photo anymore.

Please spread the news: tell your family & friends to avoid this contest. Friends don’t let friends enter bad contests.

Comment on this post:
Copyright info for using or linking to the pictures.

31 Comments on “That’s not your photo… anymore.”

  1. Maria Says:

    I’m not quite sure why people enter ANY contest. Just about all of them require that you give away at least some rights to your work. Are the prizes really worth it? Seems to me that a good photographer stands a better chance at profiting from his/her own work by SELLING it than entering contests that give it away.

    Just a thought…

  2. Younes Bounhar Says:

    That’s got to be the worst I’ve ever seen!! Wow, I mean assigning OWNERSHIP, that’s guts for you. I’ve seen many where you give a perpetual license. That’s bad enough, but at least they have the decency to let you own your own picture…but stripping you of ownership…that’s gotta be a first. That’s institutionalized theft, period.

  3. Peter T. Says:

    Didn’t Galen Rowell once sue Costco for copyright infringement and won? It looks like Costco wants to make sure that that doesn’t happen again…

  4. Photographer Beware – Two Examples of Intellectual Property Rights Grabbing ‘Contests’ | G Dan Mitchell Photography Says:

    […] first is an astonishing example that Gary Crabbe has just written about. (Follow the link to Gary’s site for the full details.) The short story is that anyone who […]

  5. G Dan Mitchell Says:

    Gary, great catch and thanks for posting this. I’ve got another one for you that is almost as bad, and perhaps worse given the party producing the “contest” – see my post here:


  6. Rajan P. Parrikar Says:

    It is bad enough that we routinely have photographs swiped off our blogs and websites. And now this skulduggery from what are supposed to be respectable corporate entities.

  7. Karla R. Says:

    Who actually runs these “contests”? Is there a particular company or several that offer contracted services and determine the rights clauses? Someone maybe needs to expose this in a larger way. After reading Gary’s alert regarding The Smithsonian’s contest rules, I wrote them an objection as a long time subscriber, but received a reply similar in essence but terser to that posted by G Dan Mitchell regarding the Sierra Club’s contest. The public is terribly uneducated (and somewhat uncaring) about copyright and ownership laws. Celebrity status of even the lowest kind seems to be the goal in today’s culture–gee if they keep all our pictures, maybe we will eventually get published! Never mind that no one will know whose image it originally was.

  8. Dave Wilson Says:

    I’ve seen many, many competitions which claim a free worldwide licenses to the images entered but this is the first one I have ever come across which claims actual ownership. This is appalling – Costco should know better than to try pulling something as underhand as this.

  9. G Dan Mitchell Says:

    I originally thought – particularly with the Sierra Club situation – that the folks running the contests were simply unaware of how wrong and offensive their terms were, and that they had either copied some boilerplate terms from someplace or else had them written by an overenthusiastic young attorney.

    However, my experience with the Sierra Club contests has convinced me that we are giving the contest organizers too much credit. I’m afraid that we really need to get the word out consistently and very bluntly – since reason won’t get their attention I’m afraid that only some very bad publicity will.

    The primary reason that firms offer these contests (aside from snapping up the IP rights of a large number of photographers…) is for publicity. Although they play it as if they are doing it “for us,” the bottom line is that it brings them business/traffic and that it does so in a positive way – they are helping photographers “get recognition” and so forth. As long as the positives outweigh the negatives for them in this regard, I don’t think they will pay us much attention.

    As a start, spread the word of Gary’s article and my article (link above) as far and wide as you possibly can.


  10. Jeff Conrad Says:

    Potentially even worse than the rights grab is an agreement to indemnify the entity conducting against any actions arising from use of the photograph. Consequently, they can use your image in whatever manner they see fit, usually without compensation and often without credit, yet you are responsible for legal costs if someone alleges improper use (e.g., false-light portrayal), no matter how frivolous the allegation. In other words, for the small chance of winning a prize, you run the risk of losing everything you have. Admittedly, the odds of this happening are probably very small, but if they’re zero, why is the indemnification needed?

  11. G Dan Mitchell Says:

    The “indemnify and hold harmless” language that Gary mentions is indeed part of the Sierra Club terms. If you ENTER one of their contests or POST A PHOTO ON ONE OF THEIR WEB SITES, not only do you give them an unlimited cost-free license to use your work in any way that they want INCLUDING ASSIGNING THE RIGHTS TO OTHER PARTIES, but you also accept ALL OF THE LEGAL AND FINANCIAL RISK for situations that you cannot control or foresee when you post your photo.


  12. James David Walley Says:

    “I’m not quite sure why people enter ANY contest. Just about all of them require that you give away at least some rights to your work. Are the prizes really worth it? Seems to me that a good photographer stands a better chance at profiting from his/her own work by SELLING it than entering contests that give it away.”

    Well, some contests less onerous than the ones mentioned above may be worth entering if the exposure is worth the potential loss of revenue. Specifically, if the contest terms merely grant the sponsoring organization a limited, fee-free license to use the image in their own publications, the exposure from a winning photo being featured in the publication may lead to a large number of print sales, and even some stock licensing, that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise because your photo would have been “lost in the noise” of millions of other photos of the same subject.

    But no photographer should have any use for contests that would require them to sign away ownership rights, or grant a perpetual royalty-free license that could then be assigned to anyone else. Shame on Costco and the Sierra Club, two “progressive” organizations that should have higher ethical standards than this.

  13. Nicole Says:

    Wow! How sad, they are paying you maybe $1500 + 2 pack leather photo album for you to never use that picture again! You can’t even post the picture on your website to say that you won that contest or probably even print the picture to put in your brand new leather photo album!

    Thanks for the warning!

  14. Joseph Hoetzl Says:

    Hi, if you haven’t seen it, this “contest” is on the “Rights off” list over here:

    More details on the Rights Off list are here:

  15. JestrBob Says:

    Why do people enter contests?

    As an amateur photographer/imager, I enter contests, Like my local county fair to seek validation for my art. it is a chance to see my photos along side others.

    In an effort to try for perfection of my art, the side by side comparison on my own images which images made by other people.

    Why others enter into contests, I don’t know.

    Why do people post their images on Flickr or any of the sharing sites?
    Why do people even take pictures?
    Why do artist paint?

    While is may be a valid question, I feel in the end you will have as many different answers as people which you ask.

  16. DBJohnson Says:

    I have been keeping my local club informed about this kind of thing for awhile. Now I’m making an even more pronounced effort. Thanks for the heads up!

  17. Stevo Says:

    Scary, but not really any different that the Terms of Service at Facebook. They also “own” everything you post and do with it what they will.

  18. Peter Phun Says:

    Rights Grab is not just confined to Costco and Sierra Club. Even higher institution of learning are doing this as well.


    It’s driven by the bean counters. Why pay a pro to get us images when we can get a bigger pool of images for next-to-nothing and get all rights to the picture.

  19. enlightphoto Says:

    @ Stevo:

    Actually, yes; Costco is very different from Facebook. Facebook only asks for a non-exclusive worldwide royalty free license only for the duration that such content is actually posted. They don’t claim or assert ownership of the image. You are still the legal owner of your photo.

    On the otherhand, Costco claims, and you are assigning, legal ownership of the photo, and all rights therein, in perpetuity. You simply have zero legal rights to the photo you took, once you enter it in their contest.

    To me, that’s a very big difference.

    But thank you for taking the time to comment. It’s much appreciated even though we’ll have to disagree on that point.



  20. Stevo Says:


    Thank you for pointing out the specifics. I post nothing on Facebook. Their licensing, coupled with their (invasion of) privacy policies, keep me from posting anything of value on the site.

  21. david sanger Says:

    Worth contacting Nikon since they are a sponsor


  22. Photography Links – July 10, 2009 « Photo Notes: Photography by Patty Hankins and Bill Lawrence Says:

    […] Crabbe has a post on the Costco Photo Contest (avoid this […]

  23. Gary Crabbe / Enlightened Images » Blog Archive » Great Photo Business Links of the Week; 090707 Says:

    […] Gary Crabbe / Enlightened Images Travel, Outdoors, Assignment, and Stock Photography; News & Views. blog home web site about portfolio prints store contact « Gary Crabbe / Enlightened Images home page « That’s not your photo… anymore. […]

  24. G Dan Mitchell Says:

    Gary, I almost can’t believe it but here is another one – in a contest run by photographers, that reassures entrants that there is “no catch!”


    This one upsets me in a whole different way.


  25. Jeff Conrad Says:

    Dan, why are you being so nice to these people ;-)?

    If you look on the Contest Legal Conditions Page, it gets much worse. In addition to granting rights, you agree to indemnify and hold them harmless, and also agree to significant limitations on legal remedies. You also grant permission for them to share your contact information with sponsors unless you opt out. And the Aperture people are responsible for almost nothing.

    Perhaps it’s just legal boilerplate, but there comes a point beyond which I simply can’t buy stupidity as an excuse.

  26. G Dan Mitchell Photography » Thought I found a photo contest with fair terms… but only for a moment Says:

    […] #2: “Jeff” points out that I was apparently incorrect about the lack of contest terms assigning legal liability to […]

  27. Sal Says:

    Thanks for posting this. I was within days of entering a picture into thi contest that many of my friends say is some of my best work. I’ll be damned if some shyster tells me what I can and cannot do with something I made.

  28. Idaho Statesman & Idaho Camera Photo Contest: read the fine print (of any contest) « Zeb Palmer Says:

    […] VERY BAD: Costco Photo Contest Good, specific rules: photo contest […]

  29. Maureen Says:

    I just found out my sister entered this, being completely unaware that she was giving up her rights to the photo. If she calls Costco and tells them she wants her entry pulled out, will she retain her rights?

  30. DBJohnson Says:

    @Maureen: Legally, I doubt it. The rules are written so that submitting a photo is the key element that passes the rights to Costco. Realistically, possibly. I received a response back from a Costco representative stating that the rights-grab in the rules was due to an over-enthusiastic legal department. While this may be plausible, the rep also refused to change the wording to match what he said were Costco’s stated intentions.

    My personal opinion is that your sister should consider this an expensive lesson to read the fine print.

  31. Photo Contests and your Rights. - Fine art photography forum Says:

    […] the fine print if entering photo contests…apparently they can retain all rights to your image. Gary Crabbe / Enlightened Images Blog Archive That’s not your photo… anymore. __________________ I welcome any comments suggestions and feedback as it all helps in the […]

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