Warning: Photo Rights Grab by New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife

"Gone Fishin'," Great Blue Heron, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland © Frank Gallagher
“Gone Fishin’,” Great Blue Heron, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland © Frank Gallagher

By Sean Fitzgerald, Co-Chair NANPA Advocacy Committee

It recently came to NANPA’s attention that the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (NJDFW) is conducting a “Photo Campaign” soliciting free photos for their photo library.

NANPA has serious issues with this “Photo Campaign” as it amounts to a blatant “rights grab,” which is neither fair to photographers nor in any way necessary to achieve their apparent goals. Here is a sample of the problematic terms:

  • It demands complete relinquishment of the photographer’s ownership (and copyright) and moral rights to any and all images submitted, apparently in perpetuity.
  • Since NJDFW now owns any submitted images and prohibits any subsequent use, NJDFW could even SUE the submitting photographer should that photographer ever subsequently “use” the image in any way.
  • It provides no compensation or benefit whatsoever to the photographer and does not even promise a credit for usage.

The NJDFW Photo Campaign is a particularly unfortunate attempt to take advantage of the unwary and will also undercut the livelihood of those professional photographers who work in New Jersey and strive to document its natural resources.

Thus NANPA recently notified the NJDFW about its concerns and how it might modify the campaign terms to be more fair and acceptable but has so far been rebuffed. Unless the terms are changed, we advise members not to submit images to the NJDFW Photo Campaign and to discourage other photographers from doing so. We are coordinating with fellow visual arts organizations to get the word out to the broader photographic community at-large in New Jersey and beyond.

While photographers are always free to donate images for uses and causes as they see fit, they should never do so casually. Never give away your copyright unless there is a very good reason to do so (like a very big paycheck) and you are well aware of the consequences.

Unfortunately, rights grabs like this one are common. Photo contests are a big offender, but problems can arise any time you allow a third party to use one of your images. Be smart. Ask yourself at least a few simple questions.

  • Do the terms ask for a reasonable and non-exclusive license to use images rather than blanket relinquishment of ownership, copyright, and moral rights?
  • Do the terms clearly specify how images will be used (e.g. promotional and/or commercial), in what mediums (e.g. print, internet, social media, etc.), and for how long (set term or in perpetuity)? Make sure you are good with those terms.
  • Do the terms provide the submitting photographers with any tangible benefit, including at least a promise of a proper photo credit for any usage?

If this is all new to you, a good resource is the Bill of Rights for All Creative People. Also, check out NANPA’s blog article on a similar rights grab by some microstock agencies and Bernie Friel’s look at contest rules in NANPA’s Contest Secrets handbook.

If you have any similar stories to share, insight into what is going on in New Jersey, or contacts in New Jersey who can help us spread the word, send them to advocacy@nanpa.org.

Sean Fitzgerald is a Texas-based nature and conservation photographer. He is a past president of NANPA and serves on NANPA’s Advocacy Committee. A winner of numerous awards, Sean’s work has been featured in a variety of publications. His prints are in a number of private and corporate collections and hang in large-scale installations across the country. He also leads workshops and uses his photography to support the conservation of ecosystems like the Great Trinity Forest and Blackland Prairie.

Prize-winning photo by Karen Schuenemann plus a selection of pages from free handbook titled CONTEST SECRETS: WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU ENTER A PHOTO