Thursday, 17 November 2011 15:27

Students to give Google free photos for Google+ Adverts.

A few days ago we received an anonymous notice about a Google competition entitled the Google Photography Prize. This competition is open to students aged 18 years or older in higher education from around the world, excepting a few places such as North Korea. Students are to share up to eight of their best shots and upload them to a public Google+ album. The primary aim of this new Google competition is to increase the number of Google+ users by encouraging young students to sign up for Google+. This is all fine so far and if it also encourages young people to be creative through photography we welcome that.

Google Photography Prize - The Review Process

traffic-light-stopWhen we review a contest we first look through all the promotional pages of the contest to get an overview of how it works. Next we look closely at all of the terms and conditions, particularly looking for any that will affect the entrants intellectual property rights, and as we do so compare the rights claimed by the organiser with the principles set out in the Artists Bill of Rights.

This can take a while to do because it is our aim that our reviews are thorough, accurate, and explain as simply as possibly what impact the terms and conditions will have on entrants' rights. We found in this case that the terms and conditions for Google Photography Prize failed to comply several principles set out in the Artists Bill of Rights. The complete review of the contest on which this summary news item is based, including extracts from the competitions terms and conditions, can be read in the Google Rights Off Report.

We have explained below the impact on a student's intellectual property rights of entering this competition. The explanations are written such that they are addressed directly to the student, so pretend you are a student as you read them!

The Outcome of the review

Your Moral Rights Undermined & Copyright Information Deleted

The terms and conditions state you retain your moral rights, we are glad to see this statement. It is however undermined by the the fact that a) any photograph entered by you into Google+ will have all its copyright metadata deleted (by Google) wherever it is displayed on the Google+ service. This renders your image an 'orphan work' (i.e. your ownership details have been removed) and b) nowhere in the terms and conditions does Google state that they will always credit your photograph everytime it is used. BeingĀ credited as the author of an image is one of your most important moral rights. It is also a human right under article 27 of the UN Human Rights Act, that is, your moral interests in any artistic creation you make should be protected. Deleting your copyright information undermines the protection the law of copyright created for your benefit. We have published some additional information that explains the purpose and importance of metadata if this terminology is new to you.

You must agree to hidden terms and conditions

The terms and conditions state that if you win, or are a potential winner, you are required to complete various additional forms, but the terms and conditions of these additional forms are not displayed on the competition website. This is like being asked to sign a blank cheque. It is not an acceptable business practice to require you to accept all the terms and conditions when submitting a photo but fail to display all the terms and conditions that will ultimately apply to it.

You lose your exclusive rights

The terms and conditions are granting Google, Saatchi Gallery and unamed others use of your work for ever, that is "for the duration of the rights", up to 70 years after your death in the UK and varying periods depending on the law in other countries. This will remove from you, in perpetuity, the exclusive right the law granted you over the use of your work. It will prevent you, for example, from ever being able to license your photograph exclusively for a period of time to another organisation.

Your photos will be used to advertise Google+ - you will not be paid

The terms and conditions grant the organiser the right to use your work beyond that needed to promote the competition. Google say they "will not commercially exploit the Photographs". This is not true, Google's terms and conditions make clear that your photograph can be used in the "promotion and/or advertising of the Google Photography Prize or Google+ service". Google+ is a commercial service, Google is promoting it vigorously and it is in competition with Facebook for users. If Google wants your photographs to promote its Google+ service then it should negotiate a commercial fee with you for a license to use it. Instead it's using you (and other students) as a resource to provide them with free images. For further information on fees and licensing refer to our Introduction to Rights and Licensing.

Google will deny you your legal rights should any dispute arise

Google want to prevent you from ever taking any legal action against them as expressed in their competition rule 19, that you must abandon your legal rights of redress in any dispute. For example, if you were to find Google, or any of its "affiliates, licensees, promotional partners, developers and third party marketing entities" misusing your competition photographs in a way that is outwith the published terms and conditions of the competition that you agreed to, Google wants to deny you your legal rights of redress. They require "you to waive any and all such rights" to "the extent permitted by law" as a condition of entering their competition. This is an extraordinary attempt by Google to escape responsibility for their own actions, as an ethical stance it is unacceptable.


Google make statements that your moral rights are respected and that they will not commercially exploit students photographs. However, the way Google+ treats students images does not honour their moral rights, Google+ deletes copyright metadata from every students image displayed on Google+. Also the terms and conditions themselves actually state that Google will use students photos to advertise Google+.

It is impossible to recommend to students that they should enter a contest with such terms. The complete review of the contest on which this news item is based can be read in the Google Rights Off Report.

STUDENTS: There are reputable contests that will not delete your copyright metadata nor seek to use your images for advertising goods or services; check out our Rights On list of competitions that are specifically for students.