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 ENTRIESThere 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!"
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.
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.