Many of us run the occasional promotion on our blog in the form of giveaways or contests. Having had experience over a number of years of running competitions in jobs I’ve had, I was aware of a lot of the legislation that exists, however I had never really thought about it much in terms of my blog. I decided to look into it, naively thinking I could just do a little bit of research and then post the main rules on here for any other bloggers who may be interested. Turns out it’s far more complex than I had realised.
This post is going to be quite long, and frankly not very interesting for anyone who doesn’t run prize promotions on their blog, so if that’s you, you may as well stop reading now, I won’t be offended, see ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya!
For the rest of you (and I know I’m going to lose more of you along the way)…
As you can imagine there is different legislation in different countries, and in different states/territories/areas within countries. And even within those, there isn’t just one piece of legislation – depending on what type of prize promotion you are running (I’m going to use the term “prize promotion” to cover all types of contests and giveaways), you could need to refer to legislation about prize draws, giveaways/sweepstakes, competitions/contests, lotteries, promotion/advertising/marketing, gambling, gaming, data protection, equality etc. Plus there are many variances in terminology that can be confusing, and when you do read the legislation, you have to contend with all that Paragraph 6 Section 4(b) Schedule 7 type of malarkey.
I couldn’t possibly cover everything in this post (nor would you want me to), so instead I’m going to draw out some key points which you may want to think about (although PLEASE do note my disclaimer at the end).
The first question that sprung to my mind, and possibly yours is this – if you’re running an online prize promotion on your blog, and you are allowing entries from around the world, do you have to comply with the legislation of all countries? The short answer is yes (eek!). The long answer is yyyeeeesssss (eeeekkk!).
Let’s ignore that question for now (I’ll come back to it later), and answer some others…
Doesn’t all this legislation only apply to businesses/corporations?
No. A lot of it won’t be relevant to little ms/mr blogger, but much of it is, and you’d be wise to inform yourself of it.
Are there some general rules that apply in all countries?
What? You expect me to have read the legislation for ALL countries? Get real! I have however looked at the legislation for several countries, and what I can say is that there are some general rules that seem common to many.
Primarily, for the types of prize promotion we are talking about, there are three main categories:
- A free prize draw Also known as a giveaway, or a sweepstake. It is free to enter, and the winner/s are drawn at random. (in some countries, free prize draws are generally free of direct legislation, although you do of course still need to comply with common laws. In other countries free prize draws with no skill element required to enter are not allowed). Remember that if it’s random, it really must be random; a simple way is to attribute a number to each entrant and then use an online random number generator.
- A competition or contest These involve some skill or special knowledge to be demonstrated in the entry, and may or may not involve a cost, or purchase required, to enter. The winner/s are judged on merit of their entry, and not by random selection.
- A lottery This involves a payment to enter, and the winner/s are drawn randomly.
Be clear on those distinctions because mixing them could run you into trouble. If you require entrants to pay something, or buy something, in order to enter and then the winners are chosen randomly, you could be deemed to be running an illegal lottery or possibly a gambling operation depending on the nature. And if they are required to play a game of chance, this could be an illegal gaming operation, EVEN if payment is not involved (Whhaaattt?).
Almost everywhere, if you run a lottery, or any form of gambling, or gaming, you need a permit. Therefore if you are requiring people to pay something in order to enter, then there MUST be a skill/knowledge element to enter, and the winner MUST be judged on merit of their entry, and not randomly or by chance. And you need to have something in the case of a tie, that also isn’t random.
To add some more complication. When I spoke of “payment” to enter, in some countries, mainly the US, payment is classed as “consideration”, and other things can also count as consideration, such as time invested in making an entry, which can count has having paid to enter, and therefore to reiterate, there MUST be a skill/knowledge element involved, and the winner MUST be judged on merit of their entry. I’ll also throw in here another point, sometimes it’s ok to have a payment type entry, with a random drawing, as long as there is an alternative free entry route that is as easy, and as well publicised as the payment route entry (I’m a bit fuzzy on the details of this aspect). Rafflecopter entries presumably cover this well because whilst they may have some entry options that involve some “consideration” there are others that do not, so they’re covering all bases. I saw talk on one lawyer’s site which implied that even asking people to ‘Like’ or ‘Follow’ something could potentially be classed as consideration.
Are you following this? Good, let’s complicate it further…
What is meant by skill/knowledge?
In many countries, the skill/knowledge required to enter, mustn’t be so simple that the vast majority of people could do it, so it couldn’t just be a question that was say “What is 2+2?” You may be wondering where the line is drawn between what is too simple, and what is acceptable right? Well indeed, and there is no definitive answer, that would be for a court to decided if it got to that stage.
In the case of blog contests, we quite often see creative skill required, to draw something, or write something, or come up with an idea for something. These are skill contests, and thus winners must be awarded on merit and not by random drawing.
Got that? Here’s a bit more…
Does “free entry” mean completely free?
When we talk about “free entry”, the cost of a phone call, text message, internet usage cost, or postal stamp to enter would still be classed as free entry as long as they are at the standard rates; any premium rate calls, or special postal delivery costs etc would then be classed as paying to enter, unless there is also an equally valid free route.
Is it ok to ask people to buy something in order to enter?
When we talk about “Purchasing a product” in order to enter, this is fine as long as the cost of the product required to enter the contest isn’t more expensive than the product costs anyway. And in some cases, purchasing a product to enter can still count as free entry (I’m not going to explain this one further, as it’s another area I’m a bit fuzzy on).
If I’m running a skill based contest on my blog, is it ok for me to be the one who judges it?
This one is a bit tricky (you know, like most of the rest of it). The UK legislation says that where the judging of results could be subjective (i.e. it’s not something with a right or wrong answer) you must always have an independent judge, you can be a judge too as part of a panel, but there must be at least one independent person. I found this in the legislation of a couple of other countries too, but not all those I looked at; do check that one out yourself (I’m not doing EVERYTHING for you). Either way, you must state clearly what the judging criteria is.
Are there restrictions on what you can give away as prizes?
Yes, in many countries you need a permit if the value of your prize is over a certain amount (generally much higher than would apply to most of us bloggers). Also, there are prize restrictions on items that are restricted (funnily enough), such as alcohol.
Do I have to list the terms and conditions of the contest, and if so, what must be included?
Yes, listing the terms and conditions is as much to protect you as anything else. There are lots of examples online of what should, or could, be included in the Ts and Cs, so do an online search for that and find something suitable. One point to keep in mind, when you state the closing date/time of a contest, remember to take account of time differences if it’s open to residents outside of your time zone, and specify which time zone your closing time refers to.
Are you nearly finished here Vanessa because I’m getting soooo bored?
I sure am. As well as reading my disclaimer below, remember that my notes above are a broad overview of SOME of the rules that MAY be applicable in your country or area. My mind keeps going back though to my first question, about whether an online contest open to everyone must comply with the legislation of every country. Because if it’s true that it must, then we’re kind of screwed….except, I saw on one law site where they suggested including the words “Void where prohibited” in the rules/Ts and Cs, which then puts the onus on entrants to find out whether they are eligible to enter from their country or not. Although of course if you do that, then presumably you’d still need to check out the legislation yourself for the country that the winner comes from, to be sure they are eligible before you give them the prize? But maybe that’s the only way around it, and it may be the way I go from now on. Did I mention how complex this all is?
Also worth noting, Facebook and Twitter have their own rules if you run prize promotions on there that you should seek out and adhere to.
For any of you that have stayed with me to the end of this post, congratulations, I would give you a prize except I’m not sure if I’m allowed…
Were you aware of all of the rules/some of the rules? Do you let it affect how you run prize promotions or do you just do it the way you want to and keep your fingers crossed that it won’t ever be an issue?
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this post is correct to the best of my knowledge, however, I am not a lawyer, nor do I claim to be any kind of expert on the law. Nothing in this post should be taken as legal advice. Always do your own research and/or get legal advice before running any kind of promotional activity on your site.
These are some of the websites that I looked at when researching this post: