Today my guest is Alex Gazzola.
A writing competition offers motivation and potential opportunity for writers, both aspiring and established alike. A break from your ‘normal’ work. The discipline of writing to order, and to deadline.
If you don’t win, you’ll have only parted with a modest entry fee at most (although many don’t charge), and you’ll still be able to use the material you created elsewhere.
At least – you would hope to be able to use the material elsewhere …
Depressingly, it’s not always the case these days. Increasingly, competition organisers are introducing what I term ‘rights grabby’ terms and conditions, specifying that entrants assign copyright in entries as a condition of participation. Not just winning entries, you understand – which is questionable enough – but usually non-winning too. I have even seen one specifying all rights (which is effectively copyright) in work which did not meet the entry criteria – in other words, disqualified entries.
If you’re as appalled about all this as I am, you can fight back.
First, read terms and conditions – and don’t enter any which make unreasonable demands.
Sometimes a grab is straightforwardly put, as in this Vogue Contest, which says plainly: “Copyright of entries belongs to the Condé Nast Publications Ltd [Vogue’s publisher]”
Sometimes it’s more wordy. A recent Irish Times travel writing competition specified that “The entrant assigns intellectual property rights in his or her submission to the promoter and waives all moral rights” – just one among many grim demands.
Occasionally, no mention of copyright is made, or else there’s an ostentatious declaration that you retain it … and then you’ll spot a sneakier clause reserving all manner of rights, which may allow the organiser to profit from your work, and possibly prevent you doing much with it in future.
For instance, this Rough Guides Travel Writing Competition says that “… each entrant grants to the Promoter a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive licence to edit, publish, translate, modify, adapt, make available and distribute the entry throughout the world” – in other words, they can exploit your work for ever, anywhere, and pay you nothing. And if you object? “If you do not want to grant us these rights, please do not submit materials to us.” The charmers.
To fight back, politely challenge them – by email or via social media – and ask them to reconsider. It may not get you far, but you’ll have added another voice of dissent.
Warn your followers, friends and online colleagues. Report organisers to any relevant writers’ bodies. For instance, I grassed up the Irish Times to the British Guild of Travel Writers. I was ignored, but the more voices object, the more we’ll be noticed.
One group which doesn’t ignore me is the Artists’ Bill of Rights, a volunteer campaign group defending rights on behalf of creatives.
The AboR regularly dismantle unacceptable terms (usually in photography competitions, often riddled with obnoxious clauses). You can learn a lot from their demolition of the Irish Times travel writing competition’s T&Cs here, for example. Their website outlines the many ways you can support them – but at least give them a follow on Twitter (@ArtistsRights) or like on Facebook.
What else? Publicise, champion and enter those competitions which request only fair usage of winning work – and whose organisers split any secondary revenues with the writer.
Finally: explain the value of copyright to new writers who look to you for advice, and how it sustains the creative industries. We must defend it. It is not an option.
Alex Gazzola is a journalist and author specialising in food allergy and intolerance – and in writing advice. His ebook, 50 Mistakes Beginner Writers Make, is out now. A follow-up – imaginatively titled 50 More Mistakes Beginner Writers Make – is released early in 2017. His blog is at www.mistakeswritersmake.com