Challenging bad practice: a focus on competitions

The AOI was founded in 1973 by a group of illustrators and agents. Proactive, passionate and committed, these individuals banded together to make sure illustrators’ voices, spoken together, were loud enough to be heard.

This is still at the heart of what we do today. Sometimes we do this reactively – when a case is brought to us, but more often we do it proactively – when we see something that is fundamentally unfair. Almost always, due to the sensitive nature of such negotiations, they are done in confidence, making it impossible to share the details.

However there are, perhaps surprisingly, trends. Over the past few months we have worked with the organisers of several competitions on their terms and conditions of entry.

A good, ethical competition can be an important part of an illustrator’s career. It can provide a focus to reflect on your work, a goal, and (if you are selected) an important boost commercially and emotionally.

Of the four competitions we have worked with most recently we have had two main concerns: entrants being required to create work specifically for the competition which may profit the organisers or their clients or sponsors and / or the requirement to waive (give up) moral rights and / or assign all rights as a condition of entering or winning.

The first concern is very simple – a competition should not be an excuse to get new artwork samples, which should always be paid for. This is the same for companies looking to work with an illustrator – if they want to get an idea of a person’s work they should consider their folio of existing work. From that point they can pay for samples, if required.

The second concern, the requirement to assign rights, is often more common. We recognise that using entered images to promote the entrants (and therefore the competition) is mutually valuable, but this right to show the work should be time limited. As with any commission, the winning work should have a defined, limited licence which is fairly remunerated. The requirement for all entered works, regardless of success in the competition, to be assigned is unacceptable.

So, what have we achieved? Following our communications, one competition was retracted and offered paid opportunities for samples instead.  Another deferred and re-launched with revised terms. Two have changed their contract terms. We remain in live conversation with one who, having assured us their terms would change, went live with different, but no more acceptable terms.

Every win is important. Sometimes an organisation genuinely does not realise they have done something wrong. Other times they are aware, and through diplomatic negotiation we can work to realise change. This work does not stop, pandemic or no pandemic. Fair terms for all illustrators are vital for us as individuals and as an industry.


22nd May 2020
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