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December 11, 2014

Alert: Questionable Terms of Use in HBO's Game of Thrones Compendium

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

UPDATE 12/18/14: HBO has changed its terms of use to partially address the concerns below. See the addendum at the bottom of this post.

If you're an artist and a Game of Thrones fan, you may have heard that HBO is inviting contributions to "the ultimate compendium to Game of Thrones."

What exactly is the Compendium? According to the FAQ:
The Game of Thrones Compendium will be the world’s first collaborative, crowd-sourced compendium. The end result will be a printed and bound edition. Every entry chosen for inclusion in the printed book will receive a copy with their name listed as an author.
Entry is open to anyone over 18 in the USA, UK, Canada, and Brazil. A wide variety of content is eligible: "anything from story analysis, arts and crafts, original artwork, costume or jewelry design, music – anything that extends the Game of Thrones experience." There's a rigorous selection process, conducted by "[l]uminaries from the fields of journalism, food, art, craft, fantasy and fashion". Only a small number of submissions will make it into the printed book.

Sounds pretty cool, doesn't it? So why is the Compendium being featured on Writer Beware?

Well, for a start, the lack of meaningful compensation for artists. Assembling content for free via crowdsourcing, and paying with contributor copies, is something you'd expect from small presses, tiny ezines, and one-off anthologies--not a huge corporation like HBO that, moreover, is likely to realize some serious revenue from this project. Could HBO not crack open its bank accounts to provide a few dollars for the people who are going to help it make all that money?

Of even more concern are the Terms of Use, to which anyone submitting work--not just finalists chosen for the Compendium--must agree. Here's the relevant language:
10. GRANT OF RIGHTS; USE OF SUBMITTED CONTENT:

(a) HBO will consider any Submissions and/or anything you contribute to this Service as available for its use free of any obligations to you. You understand that your Submissions may be published on the Service, on other websites, on advertising and promotions, and may be selected for the compendium book. Submissions will not be treated as confidential.

You understand that the Submissions are considered non-confidential and non-proprietary communications, and therefore others may view your Submissions without your knowledge.

(b) Subject to the provisions of any additional terms, by posting or uploading a Submission to this Service and/or providing any communication or material to HBO, you automatically and irrevocably:

(i) grant and assign to HBO a royalty-free, transferable, sublicenseable, non-exclusive, unrestricted license in the Submission throughout the world in perpetuity including, without limitation, all copyright, together with all consents (if any) necessary to use, reproduce, display, perform, modify, make derivatives of, translate, reformat, distribute, or publish for advertising and promotional purposes, including to be used on the Service and associated websites, by HBO and/or by any person authorized by HBO, by any means and in all media now known or hereafter devised, in whole or in part, without payment or other reference to you or any other person.

(ii) waive all moral rights in the Submission which may be available to you in any part of the world and confirm that no such rights have been asserted;

(iii) understand and agree that by submitting concepts, ideas, slogans, trade dress, logos or other branding you hereby disclaim any trademark rights in such Submissions.

(iv) appoint HBO as your agent with full power to enter into any document and/or do any act HBO may consider appropriate to confirm the grant and assignment, consent and waiver set out above;
Boiling all this down: HBO is claiming all rights in perpetuity to use for any purpose whatsoever without any obligation to pay or otherwise compensate for that use--and, since artists are required to waive moral rights, HBO doesn't even have to identify or credit the artist.

This is not really surprising, given that GoT is a media franchise. Even if you're not doing work-for-hire, if you're officially using elements of a media franchise (as distinct from non-official use such as fanfic or fan art), you will generally be expected to hand over copyright to the franchise owner. And indeed, Clause 10.b.i. requires artists to "grant and assign to HBO...without limitation, all copyright."

But while this is understandable for actual contributors to the Compendium, there's no need to demand it of everyone else. And HBO is indeed demanding it. Instead of doing what many other contests of this sort do, and letting the grant of rights expire upon rejection for artists who aren't selected, HBO is requiring the very same perpetual rights grant from everyone who submits, regardless of whether their submission is actually used. That is the very definition of a rights grab.

There's also an odd discrepancy. In Clause 10.b.i.--the same clause that demands the copyright assignment--the grant of rights is described as "non-exclusive." This would suggest that artists retain ownership of their work. But they if they've assigned copyright, they can't retain ownership--so what is "non-exclusive" doing in this clause? This makes no sense to me, and I fear it will mislead artists who skim through the Terms of Use.

As of this writing, the Compendium is six days away from opening for submissions. I would frankly not encourage anyone to submit under the terms that are being offered. HBO could easily have served its copyright interests as a franchise owner while being fairer to artists: allowing the grant of rights to expire upon rejection, paying artists chosen for inclusion. Instead, it's keeping everything for itself, as ruthless and greedy as any character in the show.

Shame on you, HBO.

UPDATE, 12/18/14: HBO has altered its Terms of Use to address some of the concerns expressed above. Here's the new language of Clause 10: 
10. GRANT OF RIGHTS; USE OF SUBMITTED CONTENT:

(a) You understand that your Submissions may be published on the Service and Submissions will not be treated as confidential.

(b) Subject to the provisions of any additional terms, by posting or uploading a Submission to this Service and/or providing any communication or material to HBO, you automatically and irrevocably:

(i) grant and assign to HBO a royalty-free, transferable, sublicenseable, non-exclusive, license in the Submission throughout the world to use, reproduce, display, perform, modify, reformat, distribute, or publish on the Service and to display at live events and in social media to showcase the Service.

(ii) waive all moral rights in the Submission which may be available to you in any part of the world and confirm that no such rights have been asserted;

(iii) warrant that you are the owner of the Submission and entitled to enter into this Agreement; and

(iv) confirm that no such Submission will be subject to any obligation, of confidence or otherwise, to you or any other person and that HBO shall not be liable for any use or disclosure of such Submission.

(c) Subject to the terms and conditions of this Agreement, HBO hereby grants you a non-transferable, non-exclusive and limited license to use the names, images, characters, trademarks, logos, and other indicia of the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” (collectively, “GoT Materials”) solely in connection with the creation of a Submission for the Service. You shall not make any commercial use of this license or use the GoT Materials in conjunction with any third party trademarks, logos, names or other indicia.
What's better: This is now a true non-exclusive grant of rights--HBO no longer claims copyright on submissions. Artists now retain ownership of their work--although that's complicated by 10.c., which prohibits any commercial use of that work.

What's not better: The grant of rights still applies to all submissions--not just those that are chosen for the Compendium. Artists must still waive moral rights--and since those include the right of attribution, this means that HBO can use your submission without crediting you. And there's still no payment for artists.

11 comments :

Jennifer R. Povey said...

My first question: Does Martin know about this?

Anonymous said...

What, they let you keep your firstborn child? How generous of them.

Victoria Strauss said...

Jennifer--that was my first question too!

Jennifer R. Povey said...

Because I don't think he'd be happy about this.

adan said...

"HBO is claiming all rights in perpetuity to use for any purpose whatsoever without any obligation to pay or otherwise compensate for that use" -

Actually seeing a lot more of this from other big corps too.

Very glad you posted this and broke down the details of it, thanks!

Jennifer R. Povey said...

It's always been very common for newspapers to do this with writing contests. And I mean big, reputable papers, too. At a certain corporate level it seems to be considered okay. It's amateurs who submit to these things.

However, from an entertainment company I would expect better. Or maybe it has something to do with most of their people working under work for hire terms?

adan said...

I probably should add too, saw a lot of this in "standard" contract offers my wife and I would get for our poetry from card companies back in the 90s.

Basically, if a business can convince you to hand over your rights, they're presumed in the right, even without spelling out what it really means for you, the content creator.

Some say this is free enterprise. I'm not so sure it's that clear cut. So thank goodness for Writer Beware!

Victoria Strauss said...

I wouldn't be so concerned about the work-for-hire provisions, including the copyright transfer--par for the course with media franchises--if HBO were paying contributors, and letting the grant of rights expire for artists who aren't chosen.

Sue Bursztynski said...

As you say, Jennifer, it's amateurs who enter. Real artists wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole. It smacks of shady companies that run poetry competitions for school kids and offer as compensation a discounted - not free! - copy of the book. What they do is, they tell you that your poem didn't win the competition but was so good they will publish it anyway, with the above terms. One of our students fell for it. When I explained to her how she'd been sucked in, she called the local papers and graciously granted an interview about her award winning poem...😉 I suspect that she went a long way after her first stumble.

Jennifer R. Povey said...

I fell for one of those too, many years ago. Bought the stupid book too. And my mother proudly showed it off.

SO embarrassing now.

widdershins said...

@Jennifer ... me too. It's on my shelf, as a pointed reminder.

 
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