Sunday, 18 December 2016

Guest post by Alex Gazzola


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




26 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post, Alex and Patsy. I have come across this myself but thanks for the reminder to read all terms and conditions. I'll remember to mention this in any workshops I run in future.

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    1. Yep - it's important to always read the rules and know what we're agreeing to, Keith.

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    2. Great to hear, Keith - spreading the word is the best thing we can do!

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  2. Wow, that's sneaky. Now that I know what to look for, I'll send out the warning to everyone I know if I see one that keeps the rights.

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    1. Very sneaky - but remember - it's not about them 'keeping' the rights - it's an attempt to 'take' them from you, though they may phrase it to convey the false sense they should be theirs. By default, they are yours. They are asking you for them - by participating, you are essentially agreeing to hand them over.

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    2. It's easy to asume all the terms and conditions are reasonable and pretty much the same for all competitions, Alex.

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  3. I'm a read the terms and conditions writer and won't enter anything that's a rights grab. Sadly many organisations seem to consider this acceptable, and as you say it's not.

    I'm keen on ensuring all writers understand their rights, and I've done articles for our writers club magazine in the past on just this.

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    1. I suspect that it's not that they consider it 'acceptable', but a means to an end - the end being to source free articles they can do what they want with. It's often travel, because there are brochures to fill and websites to populate with material, and if they can avoid paying copywriters or photographers for that - then a very generous prize in a competition is worth forking out for in exchange for all that free creativity that no doubt comes rolling in.

      Do consider sharing your articles on your blog etc - it all helps! :)

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    2. You're right, Carol - we need to know what our rights are before we can decide if we're willing to give them up.

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  4. I am not a big competition follower. For the few I do enter, I would have no objection (like most of us) assigning rights for a prizewinning, or even shortlisted piece, but I would shun any comp that wanted to claim rights over a piece of work not even worthy of a mention!!

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    1. I'm happy to allow a story which has won a prize to be published, PET, but it would need to be a really, really good prize for me to consider giving away all rights.

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  5. I suspect that sometimes the rights grab isn't a deliberate attempt to cheat writers, but that the organisation concerned are trying to protect themselves from any legal problems when they publish the winners and think it's safest to demand all rights from everyone.

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  6. I will be reading the small print when, and if, I enter any competition.

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  7. Good information, I have only entered a few, several years ago, but do a poor job of reading the rights info.

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    1. I hope you'll remember to read them properly next time, Neil.

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  8. Thanks for reminding us how important it is to read ALL the rules of any competition!

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    1. Absolutely, Rosemary. It's so easy to miss an important little detail.

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  9. Thanks Patsy for hosting Alex ... and then for the warning - just to be aware and read the small print carefully - better to be safe than sorry. Thanks for the enlightening post - I haven't entered any competitions yet, but am thinking of doing so ...

    In the meantime Happy Christmas and all the best for 2017 - cheers Hilary

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    1. It's the being aware which is important, I think, Hilary.

      Happy Christmas!

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  10. This certainly proves - yet again - that it is vital to read the small print!

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  11. Very interesting post, Alex and Patsy. Thank you.

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  12. The few short stories I've written were subbed to places that let me retain copyright. I don't think I'd enter anything that took away my rights to republish sometime in the future. Thanks to Alex for all the info!

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    1. It's the not being able to use it myself part that worries me most too, Lexa.

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Thanks so much for commenting!