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Be Wary of the Wellcome Photography Prize

The Wellcome Trust is the world’s second largest charitable trust with an endowment of approximately £23.2 billion (~$30 billion). For the past 20 years, it has produced a photo contest called the Wellcome Image Awards, and this year, it rebranded the contest as the Wellcome Photography Prize.

The Prize is free to enter, and images can be submitted into one of four categories. Each category winner receives £1,250 while the overall winner receives a prize of £15,000 (~USD$19,000). Furthermore, the winners and shortlisted entries will be displayed at the Lethaby Gallery of the University of the Arts London.

My company, Photoshelter, has evaluated contests for many years, and the Wellcome Photography Prize passes muster on several fronts: no entry fee, big cash prize, and an exhibition.

But the terms and conditions (T&C) are onerous:

Copyright holders grant to Wellcome a royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable and sub-licensable right to copy, adapt, distribute, perform and use their images in any media (including social media, online and print) in connection with Wellcome’s charitable mission, including in relation to all promotional activities for the prize and for commercial purposes. Copyright holders will be credited and Wellcome will offer the copyright holder a reasonable fee should Wellcome make use of their image on merchandise which generates a revenue for Wellcome.

The T&C is better than contests like the Smithsonian’s, which allows them to use images on merchandise without compensation. But the merchandise stipulation is hardly worth bragging rights.

The most photographer-friendly contests limit image rights to the promotion of the contest for a fixed period of time (three years is typical for progressively minded contests). But Wellcome’s T&C suggest the contest raison d’etre is to generate a library of contemporary science images for the Trust to use without compensation in perpetuity.

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