Adobe, Billie Eilish, and Copyright: Why You Should Always Read the Fine Print

Adobe, Billie Eilish, and Copyright: Why You Should Always Read the Fine Print

As creatives, we are often focused on just that: creating works that help us relate to ourselves, others, or the world around us. Unfortunately for some, this means that creating takes precedence over some other tasks.

A photography business is a business. You have to know how to run a business, which includes handling financial and administrative tasks inherent to that. Especially earlier in your career, before you have a network of people helping you, this means wearing many hats.

One such area of focus is knowing at least the basics of copyright law on a national and international level. Of course, this is a huge task, and often, lawyers specialize in just copyright law, but knowing the basics of who owns what is important. In Australia, for example, the creator of a work owns the work. This means that any image I create, own, and can profit from if I have the proper releases, such as a model release or a property release if a certain model or location is apparent in the image. These rules also diverge for commercial and artistic usage.

My takeaway point here is to know at least the basics of what you own and why owning your images is important.

The Make the Merch Contest

Adobe is often supportive of creatives and usually does a pretty good job of providing resources and opportunities for creatives. Entering your work into contests is a great way to get seen by the right people; I’ve personally benefited from entering state and national level contests. Showing your work at some of these galleries has led to sales, as well as other opportunities for me and you might get benefit from it too.

But I was very disappointed by Adobe’s recent contest rules. Even if you win first place, the pinnacle prize for which is $10,000, you give up copyright. This might be alright for some folks, but you also give up copyright if you lose.

Use of Entries: For the avoidance of doubt, Sponsor shall own all right, title and interest in and to the Grand and First Prize winning Entries. Each entrant (unless the Grand Prize or a First winner) retains ownership of their Entry. Each entrant hereby grants to Sponsor, Billie Eilish, and their affiliated companies and designated agents a non-exclusive, transferable, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty free, unconditional, fully paid license and right to post and to make, have made, use, copy, reproduce, modify, and create derivative works of any materials provided by the entrant with the entrant's Entry or otherwise through the Contest ("Contest Materials"), (b) to publicly perform or display, import, broadcast or transmit, distribute (directly and indirectly) license, offer to sell and sell, rent, lease, or lend copies of the materials (and derivative works thereof) and use for any lawful purposes, including for purposes of advertising and trade, and (c) to sublicense to third parties the foregoing rights, including the right to sublicense to further third parties. This license expressly includes a right (but not the obligation) for Sponsor to modify Entries to remove any third party intellectual property. Additionally, each entrant consents to the use of the name, statements, photographs, videos, voice recordings and likenesses of themselves appearing in the Contest Materials for publicity purposes, as well as any other purpose associated with the Contest.

Once an Entry is entered into the Contest, any such posting will be deemed made at the direction of the entrant within the meaning of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Communications Decency Act. EACH ENTRANT REPRESENTS, UNDERSTANDS AND ACKNOWLEDGES THAT THEY WILL NOT BE PAID FOR OR RECEIVE ANY FORM OF COMPENSATION OR ROYALTY (OTHER THAN THE PRIZES STATED HEREIN IF SELECTED AS A WINNER) IN EXCHANGE FOR GRANTING SPONSOR THE NON-EXCLUSIVE LICENSE RIGHTS OR FOR ANY SUBSEQUENT USE OF SUCH ENTRY BY SPONSOR. If requested, entrant will sign any documentation that may be required for Sponsor or its designees to make use of the non-exclusive rights entrant is granting to use the Entry.

This is bad because it means that you lose out on benefiting from your hard work in any real way. If you win, you lose, and if you lose, then you lose.

I’m not jaded enough, or maybe I am, but I realize Billie Eilish didn’t sit there and write these rules. But they were not written by someone who had the best interests of contributing creatives in mind. What hurts most is having something like this happen two years into a pandemic when creatives are struggling most.

My intention isn’t to attack Eilish, her team, or even Adobe but to rather highlight that these competition rules are indeed problematic. Hopefully, in some small way, those considering entering will reconsider. Or perhaps in a big way, I hope this article will convince organizers to amend contest rules in favor of creatives.

Ali Choudhry's picture

Ali Choudhry is a photographer in Australia. His photographic practice aims to explore the relationship with the self, between the other, and the world. Through use of minimalist compositions and selective use of color and form he aims to invoke what he calls the "breath". He is currently working towards a BA (Honours) in Photography.

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You might want to re-read that, I don't think you've quite got it.

Only the winner gives up copyright as far as I can see, and for $10,000 — not a bad day at the office!

The rest is a necessary evil, granting non-exclusive rights (so you can still benefit and profit from your photo). This just means if they choose to use your image, which you knowingly submitted, as promotional material, they're fully covered to do so.

At no point does it say you give up copyright if you don't win. This is like Facebook or instagram all over again, some of those ts&cs need to be there so you don't sue them every time someone shares a photo outside of your newsfeed!

Wonder where I've seen that though...

... ahem, Fstoppers ts&cs...

License: You retain all ownership and copyrights in the content that you submit to us. WE WILL NOT SELL YOUR CONTENT unless you have entered into a separate contract with us allowing us to do so; but by submitting content to us, you grant Fstoppers the right to post it on the Site, use it as part of the Services, use it for our internal purposes, and use it to promote FStoppers (the “Uses”). More specifically, by submitting content to us, you agree that we have a perpetual, non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, irrevocable, fully and freely assignable and sub-licensable license to use the content for the Uses -- including, but not limited to, the rights to use, display, publish, translate, reproduce, distribute, modify, prepare derivative works based upon, and perform publicly your content (or any part thereof) online and offline in any form, media or technology now known or hereafter devised for purposes of the Uses.

You should probably delete this article! ;)

You probably shouldn’t be so smug about claiming it so hard. I’m not sure what you’re trying to prove by posting fstopper’s Ts&Cs that start “You retain all ownership and copyrights”.

The author is correct in part: if you win the grand or first prize, you are agreeing to transfer your copyright to adobe or whatever company they set up to run the contest.

Where the author erred, is in misunderstanding what the legal language looks like when you agree to provide an entity with a free license to use your work. Both the contest and fstoppers explicitly state that entrants retain ownership of their work (except for the aforementioned winning entries in the contest).

These are standard terms in photography contests, because they’re required in order for the organization running the contest (or website) to use the submitted art to help promote the contest, or indeed to just display the work as fstoppers does.

So the author is partly right, and partly mistaken.

Which I see you’re aware of from your other comment. So perhaps you could, even should correct the author’s error, so that the article can be amended.

But it’s not necessary to be a doink about it.

I'm sorry. The facts are right there in black and white in the second sentence

"Each entrant (unless the Grand Prize or a First winner) retains ownership of their Entry."

Furthermore, this is quintessential 'fake news'. I get pissed off of seeing this so often. A company creates a standard set of ts&cs (like Fstoppers, like Instagram, like anywhere of this nature — that's fine) that allows them to function on a basic level. Next up, someone who doesn't understand it screams that they're stealing your copyright in its entirety.

What I'm trying to prove by posting the Fstoppers ts&cs is that they're nearly identical in wording and intent. If Adobe are stealing your copyright, so are Fstoppers (they aren't).

They are correct that the grand prize winner is transferring copyright. But they're doing so for $10k! When was the last time you turned down a $10k commission for a single image? Furthermore, if that wasn't a commission and just the prize for winning a competition, would you turn it down and not enter? I wouldn't, I'd sell any image I have for $10k, right now!

"Where the author erred" is in claiming you MUST know 'at least the basics of what you own and why owning your images is important'. Being the author on a respected site automatically puts him as somewhat an authority, which he himself seems to support. But he isn't, at all, clearly. A simple five-minute fact check would have prevented this.

He was partly right about the wrong thing though.

"But I was very disappointed by Adobe’s recent contest rules. Even if you win first place, the pinnacle prize for which is $10,000, you give up copyright. This might be alright for some folks, but you also give up copyright if you lose."

That should be ONLY if you win first place. The rest is blatantly wrong and dangerous to espouse.

I'm no expert, especially in American law, but at worst this is libel with the distinct aim at damaging reputation, entrants and revenue. 'Hopefully, in some small way, those considering entering will reconsider.'

Apologies if you think I'm being a dick about this, but it's dangerous to host an article this blatantly stupid and false on Fstoppers.


The author wrote,

"You give up copyright."

This makes it seem as though the photographer will not own the copyright to their image any more. Not true at all. The photographer still has the copyright to the image. But now the contest people also have copyright. The photographer just extends the copyright to the contest people, but still has the right to do whatever they want with the image. It's not as though only one entity can have the rights to something. In this case, when a photographer enters an image in the contest, they still have full rights to that image, but now the contest people also have full rights to the image.

Got it?

No, the contest people do not “also have copyright”. They get a license, which is not the same thing. It is right in the quoted language.

Got it?

The contest people's terms grant them to do all of the things with the image that copyright allows the owner to do with the image. There is absolutely nothing at all that the copyright allows the copyright holder to do that the contest people don't have right to do.

Got it?

I don't appreciate your flippant tone. It would behoove you to be careful how you speak to your betters.

This is why all 'creatives' should take a business and contract course... Lawyers are out there to confuse and then take


It doesn't say you give up copyright if you lose.

But this:

"If requested, entrant will sign any documentation that may be required for Sponsor or its designees to make use of the non-exclusive rights entrant is granting to use the Entry."

Is that legal?? I don't see how they can force you to sign just anything they come up with in the future.

You really feel hurt by this? Don't enter the stupid contest. Does Billie Eilish owe you something? Did you pull her out of a burning building? Every contract ever written was written to benefit the person who wrote it. Hurt?

I don't know if Ali is planning on responding, but in the event he doesn't, I'll take the liberty of answering your questions in his place.

No, I don't think Ali was hurt by this. I don't think Ali was planning to enter the contest. No, Billie Eilish does not owe Ali anything. No, he did not pull her out of a burning building. And once again, no he was not hurt.

Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Misleading headline -- this was not Fine Print, it was stated clearly in the main contest rules. This straw man argument about Billie taking advantage of her fans creative work was started on twitter by a couple of Billie fans who misread that part of the text and started accusing her of stealing work. Deumoi gossip site repeated it and then "journalists" did a poor job by repeating the information without thinking for themselves.

Don't you just love how other people will profit off of YOUR work while they've done nothing but find a way to do so??

Don't enter online photo contests.

This kind of contract language came about from lawsuits in the music industry and big companies routinely use it now. In past cases, a musician submits an unsolicited demo tape to a record company executive. Six months later, the record lable releases a song that is very similar to a song on the demo tape and gets sued over it. Coincidence? Probably, but maybe not. Either way, the company has to defend itself and might even lose. It's hard to prove that you didn't listen to a song.

A couple of things came out of that. First, no one in the creative arts business ever opens unsolicited material. They'll make a point of sending it back unopened as future evidence in court. And second, you get contract language like this that says, even if we steal your work or your idea, you told us we could (in this specific case, by entering the contest).