Friday, August 05, 2011

Contest Alert: WriteOnCon

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I've gotten some questions over the past week about a fiction contest currently being conducted by WriteOnCon, a "totally free, interactive online Writer’s Conference held annually during the summer."

The contest, which is being conducted in association with TheReadingRoom.com, offers a grand prize of $1,000, an author profile page at TheReadingRoom, and evaluation by literary agent Catherine Drayton of Inkwell Management for the winning 500-word excerpt of a YA or middle-grade novel.

So far, so good. However, contestants must register with TheReadingRoom in order to enter--and that's where the problem arises, in the form of the following clause in TheReadingRoom's Competition Terms (my bolding):
7. OWNERSHIP OF ENTRIES

Competition entries and material submitted in connection with any competition (whether written, audio, electronic or visual form, or a combination of those) or any photographs, video and/or film footage and/or audio recording taken of competitors are assigned to TheReadingRoom.com upon submission and become the property of TheReadingRoom.com which may use the material in any medium in any reasonable manner it sees fit. Copyright in any such material remains the sole property of TheReadingRoom.com.

All such entries and material remain the property of TheReadingRoom.com (subject to the limits contained in the Privacy Statement).

Each entrant warrants that he or she owns the copyright and any other intellectual property rights in any such material submitted in connection with any competition and has full power and authority to agree to and grant the above assignment, consents and other rights to TheReadingRoom.com.
There are several anxious questions about this clause in the comments thread that follows the contest announcement. In response, WriteOnCon staff say: "All that means is that The Reading Room has a right to post your 500 words publicly if you happen to make it to the top 5. Don’t worry…they won’t be kidnapping your baby!"

That may be. But the clause clearly includes copyright assignment language. And copyright assignment is just not necessary to enable a website to post user content. All that's needed is a nonexclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce and disseminate the content online in connection with the operation of the website. Where a website allows user content, you'll usually find that kind of license language in its Terms and Conditions. A copyright assignment is major overkill, and not the norm. I can't see how copyright assignment benefits TheReadingRoom, anyway--nor am I sure it would stand up, if challenged in court.

Would TheReadingRoom would ever actually exercise a claim? Might the assignment pose rights problems for authors down the road (if they got a publishing offer, for instance)? Probably not, on both counts. But you never know. And that's enough, in my opinion, to suggest that writers exercise an abundance of caution in considering whether they really want to enter this competition.

Yet another reason always to read--and understand--the fine print.

EDITED 8/6/11 TO ADD:  TheReadingRoom has changed the entry terms for the WriteOnCon competition by adding a special entry category just for the competition. It now reads: "All copyright in the work remains the property of the author and TheReadingRoom makes no claims to ownership of the copyright." Kudos to WriteOnCon staff for addressing this issue and removing any rights ambiguities for their contest participants.

Members of TheReadingRoom may still want to be cautious about entering other competitions, though. The general competition terms haven't changed--the copyright assignment language is still there.

13 comments:

Rogue Mutt said...

They put the "Con" in "Contest"!

Anne R. Allen said...

Wow. This one looks so legit, with Nathan Bransford's agent attached. But that is one iffy contract clause. Will RT!

matantisi said...

I suspect that "[a]ll that means is that The Reading Room has a right to post your 500 words publicly if you happen to make it to the top 5. Don’t worry…they won’t be kidnapping your baby" is because the entries are supposed to be a 500-word excerpt. That still doesn't explain why they have to take copyright ownership.

Very silly, speaking as a lawyer. Why add legal issues to something so straightforward.

Katie Anderson said...

I think you guys might be over reacting. Write on Con is EPIC and all kinds of reputable agents and editors participate. There's no way they'd attempt to steal someone's words. I'm sure it's some kind of legal issue that they HAVE to do in order to operate the contest...

Heck, Facebook has the same kind of clause that owns everyone's photos, right?

Ishta Mercurio said...

In response to Katie Anderson's comment, this isn't the people organizing WriteOnCon who are claiming copyright, or as you say, "attempting to steal someone's words"; it's the Reading Room - two completely separate organizations.

Did the organizers of WOC read and fully understand this fine print before they decided to partner up and do the contest? I don't know.

Do the organizers of WOC think it will cause you problems in the future? Probably not - they're pretty great people, and I can't see them trying to get in the way of writers who are just trying to make a start out there.

Does this mean you won't have any issues if you join the contest? Not necessarily. Facebook having the same policy doesn't make it a good policy, or a policy that you should agree to.

Do I still love and adore the WOC team and think their conference will kick some serious butt? Absolutely.

Just some things to think about.

Laura Pauling said...

Hi, Just wanted to let you know that the terms have totally changed at The Reading Room. None of that scary language is included anymore! Now it reads that they have permission to post your entry if it is chosen and you keep all rights. Yay!

Cheryl said...

So glad to hear they changed the language. It always amazes me when contests use language that is way beyond what they actually mean and then get upset about the response to it. Say what you mean. Most legaleze is actually understandable to the average person. The only questionable issues are terms specific to an industry. Otherwise, it's not that difficult to understand-people aren't that stupid.

We know what things mean and when a contest plans to do A with something but clause for B, then there's a problem. I don't care what a contest "plans" to do with my work; I care about what they have the "right" to do with my work. Big difference.

I don't believe anyone thinks contests are big bad evil entities out to steal anything. The point is, *they can* and I think there's plenty of evidence in the world to prove that you shouldn't give away anything to anyone just because they are "great people."

Saying exactly what is meant isn't that hard - as shown by them changing the language.

Victoria Strauss said...

The terms have changed for WriteOnCon entrants only. For other competitions conducted by TheReadingRoom, the copyright assignment language is unchanged. I've edited my post to reflect this.

Olin Sain said...

I've been writing seriously for five years now and this writing businees is full of scams and cheap heist. I like the scam where I received $175.00 from paypal for books I didn't know I sold. Go figure!

Doug Brunell said...

Excellent posting, as always. I was not going to enter either way, but I appreciated reading this.

Evelyn Krieger said...

I didn't see anywhere in the rules that the novel had to be finished. Did you? Also, notice it says: send your PITCH, not the first 500 words of a novel. Comments?

Ann said...

what do you think of the Readers' digest contest?

Anonymous said...

Funny to find this 3 years later...I am actually one of those poor victims that fell for the stupid scam called Dippub. I actually only just stumbled upon this old blog now as I was googling their contact number which to no surprise is no longer to be found!

I was approached by dippub in 2011 through a writers site I used to post my poetry on. At first I was very skeptical about it all. But when I found out I didn't have to personally fork out any money I thought what have I got to lose?! Well a lot. For one my confidence and the trust of some people who kindly put money in to help fund my book, with the deal being that they would receive a signed copy and a certificate. That's 10 people who funded me. It wasn't until July 2013 that the book was published into eBook first and told that my supporters wouldn't receive a hard copy until I made a substantial amount of sales on my eBook...I told them they had to be joking and to get on to my hard cover printing straight away. Then they gave me a ridiculous proposal that if my supporters bought the eBook they would make them a deal and they could have the hard cover...what kind of a shit deal is that. Mind you when I first agreed to this I was younger and more naive. Now I won't hesitate to open my mouth. So anyway after having a really shitty experience with this as they only promoted my book twice, once on some blog and once on their Facebook page, as far as I was aware I made no sales. So 6 months after the eBook was out I put my foot down and demanded they get on to printing my hard over book. For 3 months they kept saying they were getting on top of it. I had enough of the cat and mouse gamed and emailed them saying I wanted out of the program as it was over 2 years on and that they refund my supporters their money back.
They told me that they would take me off the program but that they'd already spent over $1000 alone just one my front cover...What a crock of shit. I gave them about 10 different pictures that I took myself and all they did was use about 5 and blended them together and put the title and my name on it. Lying theiving bastards. They also mentioned something at the end along the nes that I may have to pay THEM back. So they told me they would be in touch soon. This was nearly 1 month ago now and I've already sent a follow up email and no response. I just want to rip their heads off. Wait not 'they' I am really talking about ARGUS MILTON. So now, it's time to fight fire with fire.