Beware of the Online Art Contest – You Lose, even if you Win

Beware of the Online Art Contest – You Lose, even if you Win

(c) Drew Brophy

(c) Drew Brophy

It’s an exciting thought, to simply download one of your art images for an online contest where the “winner” will have their art printed on a poster for  the Flight of the Concords show!

Wow, how great will it be that your artwork is selected out of thousands and will be seen by millions.

And guess what you win?   NOTHING!!!!  And, alas, you can’t put it on your website, or anywhere else, for that matter.  Because of the fine print that you initially  missed, you now learn the sobering fact that you are no longer the owner of the artwork you submitted.

If you dare to use that art for any reason whatsoever, you can be sued for infringement.  Yes, this is how many online art contests operate.

Simply by uploading your artwork, EVEN IF YOU DON’T WIN, you are granting all rights to your art over to the contesting company, forever and ever, amen.

This is the type of language you want to watch out for that I’ve “borrowed” from the Flight of the Concords Poster Art Entry Form: (I’ve underlined the important parts.)

“By uploading a Poster, entrant agrees that all rights, titles and interests, including any copyrights to Poster shall be deemed a work-for-hire for Sponsor, owned exclusively by Sponsor.  Sponsor and its licensees,  affiliates and partners have the exclusive right to use, alter and/or edit any Poster in any manner including the Grand Prize limited print run and to use any Poster in future advertising, promotion and publicity in any medium now known or hereafter devised throughout the world in perpetuity, without notice, approval or other consideration to you or any third party.  ENTRANT WILL NOT RECEIVE MONETARY COMPENSATION FOR SUBMISSION or for granting any of these rights.  Be aware that your Poster may not be acknowledged………………”

What’s the harm in this, you ask?  So what if they make posters out of my art and don’t pay me for it? So what if they plaster it on billboards?  It’ll be cool to see my art there….

Here’s where it hurts you:

1.) When rights are transferred, your name will not be attached, or maybe it will be, it’s at their sole discretion.  But do you want it to be?  They can take your art, alter it to something you you would NEVER want to approve, and that you would never want to be associated with, thus putting you in a position where your art is compromised, and possibly, your career.

2.) You can’t use that artwork ever again, for anything, ever again.  Even if you didn’t “win” – even if they throw it away. Technically, they own it, you don’t.

3.)  YOUR ART IS YOUR BRAND.  And just like every other brand, you have to have control over what happens to it, where it’s shown, to be sure that it doesn’t end up somewhere that compromises your values.  (EXAMPLE:  You signed your rights away, and now, out of your control, your artwork ends up with one of the sponsors’ “affiliates” and is being used for an advertising campaign that has naked ugly gay guys – not that there’s anything wrong with that – but it doesn’t fit your persona or your personal value system because you are an ordained Monk….you get the idea?)

If you are an artist that doesn’t have a following or a recognizable style, and that typically transfers rights to clients, than this is okay for you.  But, if you are an artist that has fans, contracts with galleries and/or licensees, that has a distinctive style that is recognized, and/or that wants to be a the next big thing, then you have to always own your art.  Always.  One hundred percent of the time.  No exceptions.

Don’t be lured by contests that trick you into losing all rights to your art.  Instead, focus your energy on creating for fans and collectors that pay you for your talent, and who respect your need to keep your copyrights and control of your art and career.

spunk-brophy-head-shotI want you to Be Aware!  Read everything that you agree to, online and otherwise.

Please, share your thoughts and experiences on this topic in the comment section below.  I want to know what your take is on this!

xxoo Spunk Brophy

P.S.  Come on, follow me on Twitter!

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  • kat
    Posted at 15:33h, 10 January

    Many thanks for the heads up! Are there any companies that offer morally sound competitions that you could direct me to? Or maybe some tips on how to get my art “out there”. I’ve been creating board art for friends at their request in my spare time (my day job isn’t at all arts related, nor did I study it) and I am not well versed in the ways of gaining artistic exposure 😉 kat.

  • Chris
    Posted at 05:25h, 21 July

    Thanks for the great article Spunk! You have made many great points about the current environment of Online Art Contests today…many websites are secretly scamming the Artist out of their ownership and proper compensation. It is a shame that certain sites give everyone else such a bad wrap. I personally operate my own Online Art Contest website but would never dream of misleading or harming the artists that choose to participate in my project…that is just blatantly wrong and unprofessional.

    While there are some out there who aim to wrong others, there are an equal amount of those with good intentions. As you advised, just be aware of the “fine print” and always understand the contest rules.

    Thanks again,

    Keep Creating,

  • Spunk
    Posted at 07:28h, 27 April

    Yes, Christian, consignment is another thing to watch out for. However, it works in a lot of cases – you just have to choose your partners wisely. We are very careful with whom we consign with. McKibben Studios in Laguna Beach is the only gallery we are willing to consign to at this time. I should write a blog post about consignments…..

  • christian reinertsen
    Posted at 06:16h, 27 April

    great tip i’ve been burned before, also be careful of consignment….not only myself but many artisans i know trying to get their work out there have been burned by shady studios. i left alot of work with this gallery, so did many other artist better than myself….one late night they packed up and took everybodies art with them. rhino

  • Jeanette Rogers
    Posted at 08:52h, 25 April


    You are a guardian angel for us all, both new and old artists. Thank you for guiding us through these challenges, pitfalls, and dangers that we may not see until it’s too late.
    Keep up the great work you, Drew, and your wee one, Wiggs are doing.


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