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.

12 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?