Published on: 17 July 2015 in Longform

Entering competitions? Read the small print!

Reading time: 5 minutes and 29 seconds

Recently we have been made aware of a number of film “competitions” which offer sizeable prize funds to the winners. Our issue with these competitions is that they often appear to have worrying terms and conditions attached which have significant implications in relation to your rights.

Directors UK's Head of Legal Affairs, Charlotte Brotherton writes:

Film competitions are a great way of getting publicity for your film, or in cases where you submit a pitch, of getting the film funded and made. However it’s important to understand the impact of the terms and conditions than govern a competition. By entering you are accepting the terms and conditions and these create a binding contract between yourself and the organiser even if you don’t read or understand them.

Before submitting your work check carefully the terms of entry and make sure you understand them and most importantly that you can comply with them. You need to be aware that many competitions require the entrant to give the organisers an exclusive copyright licence or full assignment of copyright. This means that by entering the competition you may find yourself giving up your rights in your work to the organisers. In many cases the copyright assignment may only apply to the winning entry, however in some cases Directors UK have seen it apply to all entries. Such a term will mean that even if you don’t win a prize you have lost your copyright and the ability to make any money in other ways from permitting others to distribute, reproduce or make other uses of your work. You have also lost the rights to make a copy of your work for your showreel or portfolio. The competition organiser will have the right to exploit you work, making money from doing so without your further involvement.

Most competition organisers do not need an assignment of copyright. If they ask for this you should question why.

It is more acceptable to give a non-exclusive licence of your copyright, which will allow the organisers to use the copyright, for example, to promote the competition and use the film if it is a winning entry,  for a limited time. If the terms and conditions do ask for an assignment or even an exclusive licence try to ensure its limited to winning entries only.

If you are deciding to enter a competition you should always consider if the copyright arrangements are acceptable to you in the circumstances.  If you disagree with any of the terms you could try and contact the organisers before you submit our entry however its often different to get the terms changed. If the conditions can not be amended and they are not acceptable to you then you should always be prepared to walk away.


Directors UK member, Mark Radice shares his experience:

Last November, I received an email out of the blue, which seemed to be offering me work.  That wasn’t so unusual – it’s pretty easy to google me and find my website and contact details.  But this message said that they’d found my profile via Directors UK and wanted to know if I’d be interested in a filmmaking project.

I read on.  They were looking for 60-second films about a shower gel.  “Use your imagination to dramatise the experience!”  To take part in the project, I had to visit their website.

So I followed the link and found details of a company called Zooppa.  Zooppa wanted me to make a film and enter it into a competition, the winner of which would receive £10,000.

For a moment I was a bit stumped.  I thought it was a potential job, an opportunity perhaps to expand my experience by doing some short-form, corporate work.  But no, it was unpaid work, and I’m not in a position to work for free.

This message was promptly swamped by about 200 other emails, and I soon forgot about it.  Until about four weeks ago, when I received another message from Zooppa – this time asking me to make a film about a credit card, dramatising how the card’s “features could help people to get more out of the possibility of today and tomorrow!”  The reward this time was $34,000.

I asked, perhaps a little disingenuously, if this was a paid job. To which I got the reply that it was a competition but that they really liked my work.  They also assured me, “it would be great if you joined our community!”

This was my first experience of this sort of thing, and I’m afraid I didn’t bite.  I have the same financial commitments as most, and I need to be paid for my work.  I don't get paid a huge amount, it has to be said, but it is at least something.

I’m not anti-competitions per se.  But there was something I found a little more disquieting about Zooppa.  Why are they approaching experienced filmmakers, expecting them to work for free for major brands?  Take a look at the terms and conditions on their website, and it becomes even more sinister.  Once you’ve made your short film and entered it into the competition, they then take full control over your content.  You give up all your rights and transfer over the copyright – even though it’s your little film that you’ve dreamt up, self-funded and made. 

There is a tradition of making ‘spec’ commercials – but surely that makes sense when the filmmakers not only initiate but also have ownership over the idea.  I know there are other directors who have also been approached by Zooppa and felt similarly uneasy – I’ve read about it on Facebook groups and internet forums.  This type of funding might appeal to some young filmmakers who are first starting out – but even then I feel uneasy about the principle of expecting people to work for free.

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