Saturday, May 17, 2014

Axis of Evil Contests

Joy is a photographer. Joy takes travel photos. Joy sees that the National Geographic Society is having a Traveler Photo Contest. Joy picks out her best travel photos. Joy reads the rules to make sure she is sending them in correctly. But Joy can't enter the contest. Why can't Joy enter the contest? Simple: Joy lives in New Jersey.

Other than the fact that every sentence in the prior paragraph contains "Joy," what is wrong with this story? If you seized on the last passage, you'd be right. But the rules for the contest are very clear. You have to make sure your entry is submitted between March 18, 2014 and June 30, 2014. You have to have model releases for people and written licenses for any art work included in a given shot. And you have be willing to grant the Society an "irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide non-exclusive license to reproduce, distribute, and display" any photos you submit.

That's all pretty boilerplate stuff. You find that kind of thing in just about any contest, whether it's about photos, poetry or creating a limerick for the back of a cracker box. You have to get your entry in by the deadline, you have to affirm that you're submitting your own work and not someone else's, and you have to grant the rights for your entry to the sponsoring organization of the contest. For most people, none of those bars are too high to clear, even if you're from Essex County. And in Joy's case, it was check, check and check.

But as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!" In this particular contest, the third paragraph of the rules states who is allowed to enter. As with many of these things, employees or their family members are not eligible. Then there's the usual catchall prohibition to cover all untouched legal bases, "contest void where prohibited." But then comes this line, stated very clearly in capital letters: "CONTEST IS VOID IN CUBA, IRAN, NEW JERSEY, NORTH KOREA, SUDAN AND SYRIA."  

Yup, you read that right. New Jersey, the state that gave us Bruce Springsteen and the Boardwalk and Frank Sinatra is on a list of Axis of Evil members and their ilk. In the eyes of the National Geographic Society, that means that a person in Weehawken or Rumson or Summit is no better than one in Havana or Homs or Tehran. Put another way, they are equating Chris Christie with Kim Jong Un. And that's unfair. (I'll leave it to you to decide to whom it is unfair, but I digress.)

Of course, you have to wonder why this is. It turns out that a photo contest is classified as a "skill contest." This differs from a sweepstakes or promotion in that an entry fee can be required; in the case of NatGeo, it's $15 per entry. In the past, a smattering of states have seen fit to prohibit skill contests if they require a fee, assumedly because they discriminate against those that can't afford to enter. Over the past several years, most of those have tweaked their laws, and so it's now legal for such contests to be entered by residents from such formerly banned places as Colorado, Maryland, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Vermont.  

Not so in the Garden State. Because of a number of case law rulings centered around the state's gambling industry, many contest sponsors felt it was easier to exclude Joy and her fellow Jersey girls and boys rather than get caught up in the state's legal system. And so living as she does in Maplewood, NJ, Joy could enter a contest at Amazon to win a Victorian Lace Gourmet Food and Spa Gift Basket Set, or one on to collect a Nutribullet 12 –piece blending/juicing system. But enter one of her gorgeous photos of the Cape Cod shoreline with the Society? Not a chance.

But change is hopefully coming. Seeking to put its residents on equal footing, the state legislature in Trenton passed a bill just this past January clarifying the law. And assuming it passes muster with National Geographic's lawyers, the 2015 variant of the contest will accept Joy's pictures with open arms. That gives her a year to take some new shots to send in. I just hope she doesn't plan on vacationing with her camera in Damascus: it might be a gray area.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves Joy's photos. You can see them at Marc's column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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