From the moment that anyone creates anything – writes a story, take a photograph, draws or paints or produces music – that person enjoys rights in that creation. This includes copyright, so often misquoted as to what it stands for. In essence, the words you craft, the photographs you make, are your copyright and you have the right to control copies made of them. It's an inherent right – you do not have to register your work or stake a claim: it is intrinsically yours for the term of copyright.
In the UK, this term extends for 75 years from the end of the year in which you die, so that your descendents may benefit from your work. In the meantime, you can choose to negate your copyright and place it in the public domain with or without restrictions, or sell it or give it away but, unless you do one of these things, nobody can take away your copyright without your knowledge or say-so.
However, some organisations and individuals would like for nothing better than to remove those rights, essentially so that they can enjoy a free ride and benefit from your creative work, without offering recompense. To take one example, you might enter a photographic competition and not read the small print that says that the act of entering gives the organiser extensive rights to your pictures. You might still own the copyright, but that free ride just started, in perpetuity. And you agreed to it when you entered the competition.
Such things are generically called 'rights grabs' – you have lost some or all control of your work and someone else can now benefit. No matter that the competition might have awarded a prize (on average, probably to someone else), you are on the losing end of this transaction.
In short: you own something of value in copyright and, all too often, other people and organisations would like to have it. For free. When they are successful, it hardly seems that their actions were ethical ... Step back one moment and consider: why is a rights grab – conditions applied to your work which assign rights to the organiser beyond those required for the competition itself – buried in the small print? Perhaps because if the meaning was more up front nobody would enter at all ... Of course, you can still choose to enter after understanding what a rights grab is and whether it applies, which will always be your right. You should hopefully, though, want to understand what is at stake. Plus – wouldn't it be better if due respect was shown to entrants in the first place? Herewith is the Artists' Bill of Rights.
The Artists' Bill of Rights is a voluntary organisation set up to establish ethical rules that competition organisers should follow, in order to respect the creative people who are asked to enter. There is no need for organisers to claim copyright or excessive use of your pictures or text in order for the competition to run, and if they do so it is time for you to run away. Quickly.
The Bill also exists to highlight and increase awareness of these issues; it is both needed for this purpose and is showing some success. Do not think that these are minor issues: big business is involved, as you will see if you visit the Bill's website. Past transgressors include Nikon, various UK newspapers including the Guardian, the National Trust and many more prominent names.
The Bill of Rights highlights organisers that act unethically in a 'Rights Off' list, while praising those that show respect to the creative people they represent: 'Rights On'. It also lists organisations and companies which support the ethics of the Bill, and Wild Places is proud to have met the criteria and be credited on the site.
The Artists' Bill of Rights was created to serve you, the creator of new works; the time it takes to read the information on the site, so that you know what to watch out for in the small print, is time well spent. And perhaps you could persuade your employer or organisation to sign up in support.
Wild Places Publishing has been a long-time supporter of the Artists' Bill of Rights. Caving organisations that have also signed up are the Hidden Earth annual cave photographic competition in the UK and the NSS Photo Salon in the USA, as well as the international governing body for caving, the UIS.
Spread the word; it benefits us all.