22 November
Photo by Dan Cristian Pădureț on Unsplash

Entering a Foreign Art Prize or Competition?

What you need to know when entering foreign arts prizes and competitions

Arts prizes and competitions have become a global business. With the click of a button online, it is easy to enter overseas arts competitions from Australia. These competitions can be a fantastic opportunity for creators to access a global audience and raise their profile, but what are the risks? How can you take steps to protect your work?

Arts Law regularly reviews Australian prizes and competitions and rates them from 1 to 5 stars based on how friendly they are to artists. You can see some of our recent reviews here. But these reviews are about Australian prizes and competitions. What do you need to think about when entering a foreign prize or competition?

What are you signing up for?

The first step is to understand what you are signing up for.

Most competitions will have ‘terms of entry’ or ‘terms and conditions’. Usually, by submitting your work you are agreeing to be legally bound by the terms. These terms might address things like prize money, copyright (what permission you are giving the organisers to use your work), and moral rights (how you will be credited and whether your work can be altered). It is important to read and understand these terms before submitting your work.

What country’s laws apply?

The terms might also include a ‘jurisdiction’ clause—a clause that says which country’s laws apply to the terms. If there isn’t one, the terms are likely to be governed by the laws of the country that the organiser is based in.

What does this mean for you?

If you don’t understand the terms and want to speak to a lawyer, you should try to find a lawyer (or a service like Arts Law) in that country.

The other reason it matters is that different countries protect copyright in different ways. Many countries have signed up to an international treaty called the Berne Convention for the protection of Literary and Artistic Works, which means they have agreed to protect copyright works in their country that were created in Australia. If the competition is based in a country that hasn’t signed up to the Berne Convention, then there is a risk that your work won’t be protected there. When your work is not protected by copyright, other people are free to take it and use it for their own purposes. You can check if a country has signed the Berne Convention on the World Intellectual Property Organisations’ website here.

What else should you look out for?

While we can’t tell you about the law in other countries, there are some common things to look out for in competition terms.

You should look closely at how the terms deal with:

  1. Copyright – do the terms ask you to ‘sell’, ‘transfer’ or ‘assign’ your copyright to the organisers? You should be wary when they do because the organisers are probably asking you to give away your copyright to them completely. It is much fairer to artists when competitions only ask for permission to use their work in certain ways. In the terms, this might be called a ‘licence’ or it might be a statement about the specific things the organisers are allowed to use your work for. You should look carefully at what the organisers are asking for. Are they asking for more than they need? Is the prize money or profile-raising worth it?
  2. Attribution – do the terms say anything about how the organisers will credit you as the creator (or performer)? It is best practice for organisers to always credit you when using your work. In Australia, this is one of your moral rights. It is also important to any profile-raising that the competition offers. Your reputation in the arts market will only benefit if organisers credit you for your work.
  3. Alterations – do the terms let the organisation make changes to your work? Are these only minor changes or any changes? We know that creators take great care choosing what goes into their work. So you should be careful with competitions that let organisers change that work without your permission. This could affect the quality of your work and your reputation. In Australia, this is another one of your moral rights (called the ‘right to integrity of authorship’).

This is just a selection of the key issues to look out for. If the competition involves sending physical artworks overseas, you might want to look at how the terms deal with insurance and responsibility for the work.