We shouldn’t have to discuss large, global multimillion-dollar companies, profiting off the creative and personal branding efforts of professional photographers.
Yet paying photographers compensation for their professional work tends to be falling on deaf ears inside the offices of both GQ Magazine and Glen Grant Whiskey.
This is a year, where COVID-19 has run rampant, depleting the finances of many photographers and exposing them to potential workplace risk and ongoing health problems.
The photography competition itself.
This competition has pitched itself towards providing an emerging photographer looking for a big break.
“Calling all budding photographers. We know how hard it can be for creatives to get their big break, and that’s why we wanted to give one emerging Aussie photographer the chance to showcase their talents on the world stage and take their career to the next level.
Thanks to The Glen Grant, GQ is on the lookout for Australia’s next great photographer, with a competition that could see you on set at the next GQ photoshoot. And we’re not just talking about getting a sneak peek of how it all comes together, but actually shooting it yourself. One lucky candidate will be chosen to work alongside the GQ team to create a digital cover shoot that celebrates the Australian landscape”
This all sounds great so far!
“Why the landscape? Well if you know anything about The Glen Grant, it’s that it is a whisky inspired by nature. Just take one look at its iconic distillery in the idyllic Speyside town of Rothes, Scotland, and it’s easy to see why. In fact, it would be hard not to be inspired by The Glen Grant’s picturesque setting among the rugged Scottish highlands.”
This already displays a tenuous link to Australia, but that’s not the contention of this article.
“But the connection goes deeper than postcard views. Nature also forms the foundation of what sets The Glen Grant apart from other whiskies. It starts with the pure, natural spring water found only in the Scottish highlands, in which barley is malted – soaked in tanks – before being distilled into crisp, clear, fresh, light The Glen Grant single malt whisky that has been enjoyed for almost two centuries.”
My problem starts here. This “photography contest” is a glorified ad campaign mixed in with a photography contest. The ad copy itself is powerful (and no doubt created by a copywriter who was paid for their creative work).
This hypocrisy is ripe in the corporate world, where the veneer of cut-throat market forces is a justification for contests like this.
It does, however, get worse as we continue.
Apart from the boilerplate legalese, upon entering this contest, you’re nothing more than another contact in their marketing database to hock their wares.
Individual prize value is up to $4,999 (including GST). The winner will receive: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work closely with the GQ team on a creative concept, which they will then execute and shoot, the winner’s work will be featured on GQ.com.au and across GQ Australia’s social channels.
Here lies the core problem. It seems there is vagueness as to whether you are getting paid for your time or not.
They value the shoot at $4,999AUD including GST, yet what is being valued here? The financial remuneration? The logistics of the shoot? The inherent value of having your photo published on this front cover?
Unless otherwise expressly stated, prize values are based on the recommended retail prices at the time of first publication of these terms and conditions (inclusive of GST). The Promoter accepts no responsibility for change in prize value between now and the ultimate prize redemption date.
We are no further towards getting an answer. It appears the value is what the front cover ad inventory would cost within Australia.
Prizes cannot be transferred, exchanged, or redeemed for cash.
In consideration of the Promoter awarding the prize to the winner, the winner permits the winner’s submission, image and/or voice, as recorded, photographed, or filmed during the winner’s participation in the prize to appear in connection with the Promoter or any of its related bodies corporate or the goods and services of any of them or the advertising or marketing of any of them, in any media whatsoever throughout the world and the winner will not be entitled to any fee.
And within these two clauses, buried deep within their TandCs, it puts the final nail in the coffin regarding any financial reward to the photographer.
You are given the financial value of having your work published. Nothing more, nothing less. You cannot reserve the right to charge the publication, a fee for licensing your photo.
The chances are slim to none, that you would have large commercial success in reselling the photo as exclusive usage rights would not exist once GQ and Glen Grant Whiskey continue to publish and republish your photography through the world.
The Promoter acknowledges that the entrant may own intellectual property rights (including copyright) in any material created or otherwise submitted to the Promoter in connection with the entrant’s entry or participation in any aspect of the promotion. The entrant does not transfer their intellectual property rights to the Promoter by submitting an entry. The entrant grants the Promoter a non-exclusive, irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide, sublicensable licence to use the Works (including modifying, adapting or publishing the Works, whether in original or modified form, in whole or in part, to use, modify, delete from, add to, publicly display and reproduce, the photo(s), including without limitation, in any online media formats and through any social media channels, pages or accounts) for the sole purpose of running the Promotion, promoting and celebrating the promotion and future promotions and agrees that the Promoter may assign and/or sublicense the Works to third parties for this same purpose. Should the Promoter wish to use an entrant’s Works for any other purposes, it will contact the entrant to discuss licensing opportunities.
You are entitled, however (thank you GQ!) to the intellectual property rights of the material – however this, again hurts the commercial viability of reselling as you must grant GQ an irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide, sub-licensable license to use the Works without limitation. What a mouthful that was!
You would presumably need to organise your travel, accommodation, food, drink, insuring your gear according to these terms and conditions.
Now if this is all a misunderstanding (I sure hope it is), then it’s remiss of GQ to hide this within their legalese, and not be forthcoming about the nature of the reward, as well as the expenses that could be incurred.
All entrants agree that if they win the prize, they will not, and their companions will not, sell or otherwise provide their story and/or photographs in relation to the taking of the prize, to any media or other organisation, without the Promoter’s prior written consent. Photographs will be allowed to be taken only at the discretion of the Promoter and the prize provider.
You are further barred from taking any advantages that exercising your experience towards publicity and news, to further your (yes the age old favourite) exposure to your brand or company.
Arguably, as a content writer, I am enjoying more exposure from writing guest content from an hour’s worth of my time, than the article contestant would.
All Instagram accounts must be public in order for the Promoter to communicate with them and notify if they’re winners for the promotional period and the judging period. If they are not, they will not be considered for judging.
In fact, the whole angle of value to Glen Grant seems to be based around social media engagement and exposure, for if you do not have a public Instagram account – you are barred from having your work judged and eligible to win.
Why is a harmless competition such a problem?
Sometimes what we feel is harmless at face value, actually has harmful and hidden consequences.
As GQ is owned by Conde Nast which is a subsidiary of Advance Publications – as of 2019, it is the 221st largest privately held company in America (via Forbes).
We have a privately owned company that brings in $2b in revenue, that has questionably sold this social media contest as advertising inventory, for another publicly owned company (Glen Grant is owned by the Campari Group – 1.77B in revenue for 2020) to enjoy impressions, exposure and engagement in exchange for cash.
This is a problem.
Both companies are enriching their brands and revenues through financially vulnerable creatives.
Due to this power and financial imbalance, it’s a recurring problem that when allowed to run unfettered, continues to reinforce the notion that artistic creatives such as photographers are able to have their work exploited for the benefit of multi-billion dollar companies.
This is not at all fair remuneration. Period.
In an ideal world, all competitions should at a minimum, allow all entrants to have their social media handles tagged for the photographer’s social media engagement, brand exposure, and search engine optimization benefit.
Furthermore, should contest finalists make it forward to final judging rounds, their work should be renumerated. Period.
If your photographs are good enough to be used for the enjoyment of a business in it’s quest for profit, then their business model should be sound enough to put aside a licensing fee for your work.
Finally, the contest winner should be rewarded to the fullest extent afforded to a professional commercial photographer; not thrown into a competition that offers fewer financial incentives than The Voice.
My hope is that conversations through the media, put pressure on these companies to level the playing field for creatives.
I trust that GQ and Glen Grant both understand the rhetoric I have used in arguing for them both to look back at this competition and see the potential damage that they causing our industry, as well as the good they can do to reverse decades of exploitation.
Here’s hoping, as the ball is well and truly in their court.
About the Author
Adam Marsh is an Australian Photographer and Cinematographer. He runs and operates Moment 2 Moment, a photography and video production company that offers corporate video production, event photography, and videography in Melbourne, Australia. His work can be found on his website, YouTube, StarNow, and 500px.