“Open to U.S. residents.” “Void where prohibited.” “No purchase necessary.” Those phrases are all over contest fine print. But why? And why are so many contests (including Etsy’s Survey Sweepstakes…sorry) only open to United States residents?
Contest law is very complicated due to, for example, lottery laws, gaming and gambling laws, consumer laws, trading laws, and tax laws. And to make things even more complex, contest law varies from state to state and from country to country. In fact, depending on the contest, certain states require the posting of a bond, some states require a specific notice requirement, and other states even have laws about postage. Yes, laws about postage!
Etsy is an international site. We have buyers and sellers from all around the globe. And we love our community. To solely enable U.S. residents to participate in an aspect of our site did not sit well with me or with Etsy. So I called an attorney who specializes in contest law to find an alternative. Unfortunately, his response supported my disappointing findings. He explained that in order to hold an international contest, Etsy would need to consult a licensed attorney who specializes in contest law for each and every country eligible for the contest. And, in fact, for many countries a translator would have to draft the rules. “How much would this cost and how much time would it take?” I innocently asked the contest law attorney. His two-word answer was most discouraging: “a lot.”
But Etsy is not the only company who must make difficult decisions regarding contests. Even gigantic companies grapple with these issues. I recently traveled with a major international airline. The magazine in my seat pocket boasted a contest … which was open to U.S. residents only. My favorite brand of soda advertises a reward program. But the program is only open to U.S. residents. And eBay’s recent contests were only open to the U.S. and in some cases also Canada (excluding Quebec). And if we were to just put “Void where prohibited,” we felt this wasn’t being upfront about the issue and might end up making international Etsians even more disappointed in us in the end.
And so, as much as I would love to open up Etsy’s Survey Sweepstakes to more than U.S. residents, at this time, it’s just not feasible, and believe me, this makes us very sad.
Sarah Feingold is Etsy's in-house attorney. She is also a jeweler with an extreme sweet tooth.