This is why you should ALWAYS read photo contest rules. REI, a company I frequent, is running a photo contest whereby one (yes, one) person will win a $500 gift card. They are requesting that you submit original photos showing someone in their REI clothing or using the REI gear. In return, you are granting REI (and their licensees and assigns) a royalty free license for eternity to use your image in, basically, any way, shape or form that they desire. Billboard? Sure, they can use it. Television ad, yup, they can use your image for that too. How about putting your image on the cover of one of their catalogs, or on the homepage of their website, or on a REI bumper sticker? Yes, you gave them the right to all that as well. For nothing.
This is a sad, yet all too common, practice for companies. The company knows very well that to assign a photographer to shoot a advertising campaign can very easily cost them tens of thousands of dollars. But even if REI found an image that they wanted to license instead of assigning a photographer, like the image above, they would pay several thousand at minimum for a specific license (meaning, a license to use the image in a advertising campaign only). But to gain the royalty free rights in perpetuity that they are asking for in this contest, they would pay well, well, well into the five-figure category.
So, do what you want, but beware of contests that are, as we say in the photography world, “rights grabs” that ask you to grant a company tens of thousands of dollars worth of rights for a shot at a $500 gift card. Yes, that’s right, I said a shot, because even if you don’t win, you still grant the company the rights to use your images. Read below and note that the first four words stipulate that the rights are granted upon “submission,” not even if you win:
By uploading a Submission, entrant grants to REI (and REI’s licensees and assigns) a royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive license to use, reproduce, modify, publish, create derivative works from, and display such Submissions in whole or in part, and otherwise exploit the Submission in all media now known or hereafter devised, throughout the universe, in any way REI sees fit including, but not limited to, entertainment, instruction/education, promotional, advertising and/or marketing purposes. In connection with all rights granted herein, REI (and REI’s licensees and assigns) shall also have the irrevocable right to incorporate Submissions, in whole or in part, into other works, in any form, media or technology now known or hereafter developed. If necessary, entrant will sign any necessary documentation that may be required for REI or its designees to make use of the non-exclusive rights entrant is granting to use the Submission. Proof of submission will not be deemed proof of receipt by REI. —Taken from the Official Rules section of the REI Top Brands Photo Contest.