Design Competitions: Scams?

Recently I was browsing my Facebook news feed and saw an interesting ad on the right hand side. It was for a “design competition” to design the album cover for a band’s upcoming release, the prize being $1000. Now, that prize is pretty good. Hiring a graphic designer to do an album cover would cost around that amount, probably. However, it got me thinking of all the similar contests I see out there that offer prizes closer to $100. And even if the grand prize results in what may be fair compensation, there are other factors that I think need to be considered…

Like copyright issues. During my senior year of high school, like many of my classmates, I started a fastweb account (a site that matches you up with scholarships to apply to.) My matches included some of these types of art competitions, one of them being to design new packaging for red vines (I think.) I was contemplating entering, but I made sure to read the fine print first. To my surprise, I found that the Red Vines company would retain copyright on all images I submitted. I would no longer own the work that I submitted, regardless of me winning or not. I think they offered around $1000 in scholarship money to the winner, an absolute bargain to the company, given that for that $1000, they not only get a new logo/design, but they also own the rights to the thousands of other entrants who didn’t win. It all just seems more than a little exploitative to me. Why not just hire a talented graphic designer to do the job? Or just nix the contest and just start a damn scholarship if you care about education so much? Oh, because it doesn’t involve getting tons of cheap/free labor. It just seems a little shady- and it’s such a gamble for the entrant. All but a small fraction of the entrants walk away with no prize money, nothing they can (legally) use in their portfolio, and out however many hours they spent on their work. Seems like an exceedingly bad deal to me. Oftentimes, these contests don’t produce very good work, and sometimes a winner isn’t even chosen.

Would you want being paid for your work to be a roll of the dice?

There are so many young designers/artists out there (me included) who are really hungry to break into the industry and get exposure. I feel like many of these types of competitions take unfair advantage of these naive dreamers. This website is a great resource on spec work and its unethical nature. Generally, these types of contests ask for designers and artists to put in hours/days of their own time, not to mention use their own materials, to produce work that has only a slight chance of actually paying them. Think about working at your own job only to be told when you clocked out “sorry, you weren’t the winner today, so you worked for free this week. No paycheck for you!” So, I’m not saying that all art/design competitions are bad, but be sure to read the fine print and seriously weigh the pros and cons before forking over your work and (often) money in entry fees. Overall, I think one is better off taking on small clients and getting experience that way. If someone truly respects your work, they’ll pay you a fair wage for it.

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