This week I got a question about a contest advertised by FieldReport, "a community of readers and writers devoted to sharing — and rewarding — great true-life stories." The contest has been widely advertised on blogs, jobs boards, and writing forums. Here's a sample announcement:
FieldReport Award for True-Life Stories
$40,000 in total prizes awarded July 1
FieldReport is a new web site that awards huge cash prizes for the best in personal writing. This call for submissions is for FieldReport’s pre-launch beta period. The reading period for the contest is May 1, 2008 through June 30, 2008, but you should submit by mid June to have the best chance of winning. Prizes are awarded July 1, 2008. To enter, go to www.fieldreport.com and type in the password “truelife” (the word, not the quotes). To submit, each participant must create an account and rank other pieces on the site. All submissions must be true (nonfiction) stories that actually happened to the author.
First prize: $20,000 for the top-rated story of true-life experience, as determined by quality rankings of the FieldReport community of reviewers.
Category prizes: $1,000 for the top-rated story in each of 17 story categories and $2,000 for the winning story in two categories: Brush With Fame, and Travel + Nature.
Here's a more detailed description of contest categories and procedures.
In my world, if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. So I decided to do a bit of checking. What follows is long and technical, so I'll give you the short version up front: contest winners must surrender copyright, and merely by submitting to FieldReport, you grant a sweeping menu of rights which may encumber not just the submitted work, but future work derived from or related to it.
The FieldReport website is set up so that it looks as if it's only accessible via password. If you've seen the contest announcement, you know what the password is--but the password is really just a marketing gimmick, because if you Google FieldReport, you can easily access most pages of the site, password-free. That includes the official contest rules. These reveal the following:
- The entry period is not really the entry period. Although Clause 3 states that the official contest period extends from noon on March 31 to noon on July 1 (Pacific time), "Entries must be received by June 15 at 12:00 noon (the 'Submission Deadline') to be guaranteed the reviews and scoring required to be eligible for prizes." (Like some other content sites, FieldReport has a proprietary ranking system that determines the top stories based on reviews). Entries received after that may be eligible for review and scoring, but only at FieldReport's discretion.
To be fair, this is stated, more or less, in many of the contest announcements I've seen. But many of those announcements were posted in early June, and the non-deadline deadline is something that could easily be overlooked. So why not just end the entry period June 15, instead of letting it extend an additional 15 days that probably don't count? My guess: increased membership. FieldReport wants as many members as it can get, and the contest, with its huge prizes, is a terrific enticement.
- You win, you lose...copyright, that is. Clause 11 explains that prizewinners may be required to execute an affidavit attesting to their eligibility and their acceptance of of the contest rules. No biggie, right? However, if the prize is $1,000 or more, the affidavit must include "an assignment of all rights in the winning FieldReport to Sponsor." That's right: winners must surrender their copyrights.
And there's more.
Not just contestants, but anyone submitting content to FieldReport must agree to be bound by FieldReport's Submission Agreement--a document replete with author-unfriendly terms, many of which could easily be missed by an impatient writer skimming the agreement prior to submitting.
- The grant of rights is sweeping--and I do mean sweeping. Submitters do retain their copyrights--only contest winners are required to give that up. However, the license you grant to FieldReport when you submit content is extremely broad, and includes not only the range of rights necessary to enable FieldReport to display your content on its website, but also the right to use the submitted content "in any manner and form, including electronic and book form, on the Site or in other media, whether now or hereafter created; to use the Content for internal business purposes; to reproduce and distribute the Content for marketing and publicity purposes, and to sublicense the Content to third parties for any reason." The license is perpetual and irrevocable--and though it appears to apply to all submitted material, "FieldReport shall have no obligation to publish, use or retain any Content you submit or to return any such Content to you." Merely by submitting, you are granting these rights, whether or not your content is ever published.
FieldReport does pay for any rights it licenses or exploits. If it publishes a book "or other publication" that includes your content, you get 15% of net revenues. If it licenses your content to third parties, you get 75% of net revenues. For compilations, there's a complicated pro-rata system.
- FieldReport wants a cut of other income generated by your content. The license in Clause 1 is nonexclusive, which means you could sell your content elsewhere. If you do, however, you will have to give FieldReport a cut. According to Clause 4, you will owe a "commission" of 25% if you sell your article or "or otherwise exploit the Content in any manner" (by incorporating it into a memoir, perhaps?).
- Not just the submitted article, but other works may be encumbered by the terms of the submission agreement. According to Clause 5, if your article generates income (including prizes and licensing fees) in excess of $2,000 during the 18 months following its publication on FieldReport, you will be bound by the terms of the submission agreement for "aNY modified or derivative version of the CONTENT" (FieldReport's caps). "Modified or derivative" isn't defined. But what if, as noted above, you wrote a memoir that incorporated a version of the true life story you submitted to FieldReport? Would the memoir be bound by the submission agreement--i.e., would FieldReport have claim to most of the rights? What if you wrote a novel that incorporated a fictionalized version of the story? Would FieldReport own that?
- Contest participation is required. According to Clause 8, anything you submit to FieldReport can be entered in a FieldReport contest, at FieldReport's discretion. This means you may win prizes. But if you do, you will have to give up copyright--and remember that $2,000 income threshold that triggers additional rights claims. (I could find no provision in either the submission agreement or the contest rules to allow a prizewinner to decline the prize.)
- Articles published on FieldReport are there forever. The only way you can remove submitted content from FieldReport is to ask FieldReport's permission--"AND FIELDREPORT DOES NOT HAVE TO GRANT THIS PERMISSION." Interesting that they put it in caps.
So simply by submitting an article to FieldReport, you grant FieldReport a nonexclusive license to use that article in any way it chooses, including selling the article to others--and possibly grant it the very same license for future work based on or incorporating the article. You'll also owe it 25% of any re-sale of the article, and you can never remove your article from the site.
How do those big-money prizes sound now?
Who's behind FieldReport? Here's the team. As often seems to be the case with content sites, which live or die on the backs of writers, most of these folks come from non-writing-related backgrounds--including the music industry, which could explain the draconian rights provisions.
Once again, writers--ALWAYS READ THE FINE PRINT!