The Geneseo Study Abroad Office informed returning students on Oct. 23 that they would be holding a photo contest for people who traveled under a SUNY program between the fall of 2016 and the fall of 2017. The contest, however well intentioned, has some serious problems when it comes to giving credit to students’ artwork.
The purpose of the contest is to encourage students to contemplate their experiences abroad after having returned to Geneseo, as well as to share these experiences with faculty and other students. It is also likely designed to garner interest for future study abroad applicants and to inspire them to take the leap and experience the rest of the world.
In the contest’s contract, however, the language disregards the efforts of the individual artist, while turning a creative contest into a promotional ploy.
The contest’s six submission categories offer a space to describe the context of the photo chosen, requiring some thought and reflection from its participants. Once contestants are ready to submit, the short final contract requires the participant to “consent and authorize SUNY Geneseo College or any entity authorized by SUNY Geneseo College … to copyright, use and publish any of the images submitted through this form.”
It goes on to state that Geneseo has the right to use these photographs throughout the website to promote the school for “Geneseo-related purposes and not for any commercial gain.” Finally, the last line of the contract reads, “I am aware that … the images may appear with or without my name.”
For a university that prides itself on its policies regarding academic dishonesty and plagiarism, the contract presented for a lighthearted photo contest seems to contradict these attitudes.
The language of the contract and its stipulations disregard the intellectual property of photographers and other artists. The commodification of our study abroad experience and the lack of concern for artistic crediting detracts from the innocent message that was sent through the contest’s initial email in October: “What wowed you on your study abroad experience?”
The winners of the contest in each of the categories produced beautiful work, and all of it is currently credited on the Study Abroad portion of the Geneseo website. At the same time, there remains the possibility that these artists will eventually lose this credit.
If Geneseo and its entities do not intend to remove the artists’ names, the language of the contract should be reconsidered.
After the names of the contest winners were released in December, English majors, minors and various club members received an email from assistant professor of English Lytton Smith, informing them of a photography sale taking place in Brodie’s Lederer Gallery. The photos sold included Geneseo students’ works between the years of 1967 and 2013. All pieces would be sold for $1 and the proceeds would be “directly used to support art on the [SUNY] Geneseo campus,” according to Smith. The artists’ names were not listed on any of the pieces—another example of students’ credit rights being violated.
If this cycle continues, it is easy to believe that in 20 years’ time the work submitted for the 2017 study abroad photo contest will be sold to future Geneseo students—matted and without credit given to the artists.
Although the contest promotes the Study Abroad Office and the work doesn’t appear in a strictly artistic setting, artwork is artwork, and those who create it must be given more consideration.