Artist Beware!

I was about to submit one of my designs to H&M’s T-shirt design contest, but like a good little lawyer, I decided to go through and read the terms and conditions of entry. Man, I’m glad that I did. I was all set to enter when I read the following provisions:

3.7 Submission and Ownership of Content:

(a) The website will enable entrants to submit to H&M the form of the original artwork (the “Content”) for display on the website and potential use by H&M in connection with the sale of its products, whether as a Submission in the Contest or otherwise. Upon submission, the Content, whether or not protected by copyright, will be the sole property of H&M. [emphasis mine]

Yes, my dears, that means whether or not your artwork is selected as a winner, once you submit it, it belongs to H&M, meaning that they can use your art however and whenever. Is this legal? Yes, indeed, thanks to the Work For Hire Doctrine. Just read a little further in the contest rules:

b) All results and proceeds from the Content (or in connection with any ancillary, subsidiary, supplemental, promotional or derivative work relating to any version of the Content), and all other materials of every kind whatsoever created by an entrant if relating to any version of the Content (or relating to any ancillary, subsidiary, supplemental promotional or derivative work relating to any versions of the Content) (collectively, “Work”), are a “work made for hire” (as that term is used in the United States Copyright Act) for H&M, prepared as a work specially ordered or commissioned for use by H&M; of which H&M is to be deemed the “author” within the meaning of the United States Copyright Act. All such copyrightable works, as well as all copies of such works in whatever medium fixed or embodied, will be owned exclusively by H&M upon their creation and entrant will have no interest in any of them. Without limiting the foregoing, if any of the Work, or any part or element of the Work, is not deemed to be a “work made for hire” for H&M, the entrant irrevocably and exclusively grants and assigns to H&M (or, if any applicable law prohibits such assignment, entrant hereby grants to H&M an irrevocable royalty-free license of) right, title and interest in and to such Work, throughout the universe, in perpetuity, in any and all media, whether now or hereafter known or devised. [Emphasis mine]

Sorry for all the extra emphasis but I only do it to drive home the point; when you are submitting art to contests such as these, it means your artwork forever becomes property of H&M. So let’s say later on you decide that you want to use your work to design your own line of T-shirts or something else; according to these provisions you can’t do that without permission of H&M because your artwork isn’t yours anymore; it belongs to H&M. Unfortunately, a lot of artists aren’t aware of these provisions within copyright law and things can get so nasty that an artist can get sued for copying his own work.

Crazy, right?  It very well may be but it’s totally legal under copyright law. That’s why it’s always important to always read terms and conditions of art contests before you submit your works to competitions like these or enter into such an arrangement with an employer or someone who commissions you.

That said, the only way I could envision myself submitting to these kinds of set-ups is if I am getting paid substantially and deriving massive benefits for giving up rights to my own work. Being somewhat of a control freak, it would drive me crazy to think that I would have to ask someone else’s permission to use one of my own creations.While I’m intrigued by the idea of having my art on t-shirts, I’d rather do it through an agreement that I broker myself.

So, fellow artists, beware! You don’t have to be a lawyer to be cognizant of these things; just be sure to read the rules and conditions and fine print before giving your artwork up.

Click here to read more about H&M’s terms and conditions regarding their “Your Art Here”.




18 thoughts on “Artist Beware!

  1. chrisopher nadeau

    This is why, as a writer, I avoid contests now. Most publishers only retain one-time rights or the right to republish in a collection but the work is the author’s.

  2. elle

    Good looking out J. Much appreciation and thanks for your insight regarding this matter. As always, amongst the small print there’s a loophole.

  3. Eric Nye, artist

    wow! it’s so true. this just drives the point home for me. I really need to pay more attention. It seems like there are so many people who exploit artists to make money but the artists themselves rarely get their fair share. I foolishly applied to a contest at Artist’s Wanted. Seems like a great way to make money…put up a basic thousands of artists enticing them to enter a contest…make them pay $10 per image submitted…collect thousands of dollars…give the award to someone you know or yourself since nobody really knows who your organization is. beware!

  4. Jaimee Post author

    Hi, Eric. I’ve gotten those Artist Wanted emails, too and thought about applying but never really got around to it. I guess there was a part of me that was suspicioius of them, since they seem to have so many contests. I think finding good opportunities that really do benefit artists will have to take a lot of diligence and research.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Tom J. Byrne

    Hi Jaimee
    It’s true and well done for furthering peoples education.
    There are some interesting art and law sites where information is given freely. Worth looking them up.

    I wrestled with this for 10 years giving other artists advice on how to counter these contracts and they are still using exactly the same ploys to get people to hand over their intellectual property. Very little has changed. I’m an artist now a lawyer. It should be a part of art education in university.

  6. Jaimee Post author

    Hey Cyndi:

    Thanks for the referral. I’ve never heard of Yellow Llama and they seem similar to Cafepress, though it seems like their shirts are somewhat of a higher quality. It’s always great to have another resource in my arsenal so thanks once again for sharing!

  7. Michael Kees

    wow I was going to try out a contest just for kicks and giggles, and then I read this.. good job on this piece.

  8. april jarocka

    I think it’s the same on a lot of sites especially FB. but I could be wrong. I’ve always been sceptical about uploading work to FB but it goes to show that a lot of people should really read the small print!!!!!

  9. George Williams

    WOW!! glad I read this post…I will make sure that I play close attention to the contest rules in the future. You make me want to go back and “actually” read the rules for the contest I have submitted to in the past!!
    GS Williams

  10. Popllama

    good to see an artist reading the fine print. just so you are all aware of the facts. was created by an artist graduate of SVA in NY, she is a wonderful talent and my wife. The objective was 1st to create a venue where artist could safely present and promote their work without risk or compromise of their copyrights or IP rites. 2nd objective was to create a space and provide resources where artist could generate a sustainable income by scaling their work using yellow llama provided tools and resources. if ever any artist has a question or concern about the safety of their work, placed on Yellow llama, they will find our dirrect phone number on every page of the site. use it! ccall and ask anything you like, we are here to help develop our member artist.



  11. Merisi in Vienna

    I wonder whether, in case one would submit and win, if H&M could simply claim the artwork theirs, without even crediting the artist. In any case, it sounds particularly unfair that a company like H&M would act the way it seems they do. Thank you for the warning!

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