Art, Ethics and Morals

All that, and You aren’t even Exposed

I feel a little bad about doing this. So don’t take it as me calling out this specific company – I really want to hope and think they are well-intentioned but thoughtless of consequences. 

They responded to my tweet, took down their initial contest tweet on Twitter, but when I went back to check the rules, they changed them. I made a difference! See updates at the bottom of the post… and remember, just asking a polite question can make a difference. I’m so happy now! 

My grandmother, who loves my art and wants to see me succeed, shared a contest with me. At first glance, it looks like fun and something I could really be a contender for. 

I immediately thought of the Icelandic Chicken I’d done a few years back and put on a t-shirt myself. I could do another thing like that. 

But then, I went and looked at the rules for the contest, and they broke my heart a little. 

Well… Maybe they at least give the artists and designers credit when they use their images? There’s no cash prize involved here, by the way: the winner receives a t-shirt (presumably with their design on it) and a gift card to the website. The losers don’t get anything at all.  I went to their website and looked at their merchandise to see if they named the artists.

Sadly, also no. 

So in essence what this company is getting for the contest is a lot of designs and art they can and will use freely, without even offering the sop of artist exposure in return. It is, as my sister sadly noted, not kind. Again, I’m not trying to call this specific company out here. There’s a reason the first thing I did, before even sketching ideas, was go and look at the rules for the ‘contest’ involved. I’ve seen this before. It is shockingly common. I don’t know if there is some legal sop they cling to, to justify this kind of treatment of artists. Quite likely, if only to ease their consciences. Or it might be that they really are devaluing artists so badly they think they can just take all the designs they like for free. Honestly, they would likely do better just to grab some clip art. That at least would be honestly and cheaply paid for. 

What chaps me, though, is that contests like this one are publicity for the company. They could easily get graphics cheaply, via clip art or a freelance designer. Someone, in theory, is going to have to go through all the submissions they get from this, and that someone is presumably paid minimum wage, which is going to add up over several hours of work, to more than a single great graphic would cost to have done. At least they will make some money, even if the artists don’t. The company, though, gets the rosy glow of customer perception that they are doing something sweet and fun. It creates a warm fuzzy feeling in the heart towards the brand. 

I hate that, as an artist, I have to be so cold and cynical towards stuff like this. I’d love to go ‘Aw! that would be fun!’ and do up a cute chicken graphic with fun lettering and send it in, knowing that if I didn’t win, at least I could repurpose it for another use later. Or if I did win, send the gift certificate to a friend who has so many chickens a few more would not go amiss. I hate that instead I knew I had to go look at the rules, and pour cold water all over my sister and grandmother being excited for me. To cast a side-eye at a company that may not realize what they are doing is wrong, and cruel. 

It always sucks to have my rose-colored glasses snatched off my face. 

This was their initial response on Twitter – and you won’t be able to find it, as they deleted the thread, but that’s why I screencap. 

The new rules are much, much better! Yay! 

29 thoughts on “All that, and You aren’t even Exposed

  1. The really sad thing is that this company probably hasn’t ever even thought through what they are doing. Most of these hatcheries are family-owned small businesses, no matter how many thousands of chicks they sell each year, and probably simply aren’t ‘up’ on the world of artists and rights and so on (although it sounds like they’ve at least had a lawyer look at this). Maybe send them a version of your blog post?

    1. I know they are likely unaware, which is why I felt sad writing this up, but if I can teach young and aspiring artists what to look for, that’s a win. And to value themselves – although that’s a lesson I’m still learning myself.

      1. See my reply to the above comment. They’re aware.
        The only people who aren’t aware are the ones submitting artwork.

    2. Oh no, they know EXACTLY what they are doing. They HAVE thought this through. This isn’t innocent.
      I have a friend who used to be a graphic designer (she quit and went back to college and is now an accountant). She ran into this for years. Damn near every company out there, nowadays, holds these contests because it doesn’t cost them anything. They all know it, they all talk about it, and there are always a lot of people who are stupid enough to fall for it.
      It is, an industry standard.
      And it has been going on for at least 20 years now.
      The ‘better’ companies at least give the artist some cash and possibly some recognition.
      The ‘best’ companies don’t take ownership of all of the other entries.
      But trust me, they’ve talked to their lawyers (you have to), they know what they’re doing, and they don’t care.
      It IS a total reflection on what kinds of bastards run the company and what their typical business practices are.
      They Are Scum.

  2. Yeah, I’m betting the “we own everything submitted” is some sort of legal boilerplate that they were told needed to be in the rules of the contest. It’s sad that they don’t look at those things and think about the implications. Perhaps a word to their customer service or whoever about the contest and what they’re doing to people?

    It is sad that you have to be so cold and calculating, but its survival and it means making sure you own your creative output.

    1. It may be simpler than that. They may simply have looked up what a big ‘reputable’ competition did and simply taken the language from there without ever talking to a lawyer or really understanding what they were reading. Never a good idea, but a common one.

      1. Especially with a small business who doesn’t regularly deal with IP, they may well have thought it just meant “we won’t be returning your submission to you if you don’t win, so keep a copy for yourself.”

        I remember the writing contests in several children’s magazines I read as a child, and they even said to keep a copy for yourself, because the copy you sent wouldn’t be returned, which lead me to understand that boilerplate as only asserting ownership of the physical copy (although not in such sophisticated language). It’s probably just as well that I’d never actually get a story finished before the deadline — but in actuality I expect the publishers probably just threw away the stories that didn’t win, because filing space in New York offices is expensive, and would never care if you took your copy to the school newspaper or a club newsletter and got it published. Even today, with children’s magazines, it wouldn’t be good optics to come down on a child who then published their non-winning story on their blog or suchlike.

        OTOH, in the adult world, you’d be taking a risk if you assumed that non-winning submissions would be tossed.

  3. I ran into a similar situation about 2 1/2 decades ago. A company hired me for a specific purpose, having accepted my standard contract. Job got done, and the frontsman waffled on payment. Fortunately, the owner had a different take on it.

  4. That sucks. It is also why I always tell writers and artists to read the terms of contest entries/contracts/etc., very closely. The worst I’ve seen is still an anthology contract where the editor/publisher not only got all rights to the story forever but to the characters (even minor ones), the settings, basically everything mentioned in the story became theirs.

      1. They know there are writers and artists out there who want to be published so badly they will sign just about anything without reading the terms until it’s too late.

  5. As I quoted to the missus last night, my favorite phrase in this arena is in response to all such “contests”. It’s a quote I believe originated with Harlan Ellison back in the day. It goes (pardon my French) “Eff you! [Actual word not sanitized.) Pay me!” If more artists were schooled to the harsh realities of commerce, fewer thieves like the chicken factory alluded to above could get away with such theft.

  6. This is why you need to read the terms of the contract (and the terms of a contest are a contract) and if you don’t understand them completely, you need to go talk to a lawyer. Yes, it sucks, and yes it’s expensive, but that is the world you live in, when you make your living by IP.
    I was offered a comic deal for one of my series by a 4 billion dollar company that is the second biggest comic company in the world. The terms were horrendous and they refused to do anything to change them and stopped talking to me when I asked questions (I had my lawyer go over it and there was stuff in there that I had missed).
    They were offering me about a tenth of a percent of what I’d already made off of the property. One time payment. They get the rights in perpetuity, they get all derivative rights, they get to make millions. I get 4 figures.
    Oh they had a lot of bluster about how ‘they’re taking all the chances’ but no, they’re not. They’re not taking any chances.
    Sadly a lot of ‘desperate’ authors have signed away all of their IP rights and down the road we’ll hear them bitching and complaining as one of these properties will take off and probably become well known. And no one will even know they created it.

    Side story: Many many years ago I got to sit in on a conversation with the Vice President of Capitol Records. This man was there when they signed ever major talent in the record industry. He told how many times they screwed the talent out of millions of dollars because they WOULD NOT get a lawyer to look over the contract because they were afraid they’d lose it. Truth was, back then at least, they would have still gotten the contract. But the default contract the company always offered was not a good one for anybody BUT the company.

  7. This is an eye-opener. Guess I should have read the small print! At least, it sparked a conversation that may help some people!

    1. I love that you thought of me, though! And I don’t want you to feel like you can’t share stuff like this, but yes, we have to look at the fine print. Which is sad, but that’s life.

  8. Would a better standard-cover-our-tail type phrasing be something like “by submitting your images, you are granting us a non-exclusive right to use them now and in the future, with or without attribution, including for financial gain”?

    1. That might be marginally acceptable, but the change they made is fantastic – they are not laying claim to any but the winning image, which they will reimburse the winner for, and in their tweet they specifically say they will credit the winner.

  9. A common thing I see in writing contests is that they let the public vote for the winner. To do that, they have to let the public read the submissions. There’s a word for that: we call it publishing. So entering the contest uses up your first publication rights, which at least for science fiction and fantasy are worth 8 times as much as second publication rights.

    These are usually community contests, run by volunteers who don’t understand publishing contracts. They think a People’s Choice award is a great idea. They don’t understand what they’re asking the writer to give up.

  10. There is no reason in the world they can’t leave the rights with the winner, and simply take an unlimited license for themselves to use. Yes, they moved in the right direction, but still they’re being unnecessarily greedy of things they do not create.

    (Insert my usual lecture about how Creative Commons licenses, and even the full Free Culture ones, allow people to use things freely while keeping ownership with the creators, here. Corporations, to include Amazon, hate them, but will gladly take ownership of what they didn’t make for themselves every chance they can connive.)

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