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January 11, 2019

Can We Get a Do-Over? Harper's Bazaar Removes Predatory Rights Language For Its 2019 Short Story Competition

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

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Yesterday, a number of writers alerted me to this writing competition for UK authors:
Harper’s Bazaar has a proud tradition of publishing the very best in original literary fiction, including stories by Virginia Woolf, Thomas Hardy, Ali Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Continuing this legacy, we are happy to launch our annual short-story competition once again, inviting published and non-published writers to follow in the footsteps of these literary greats.
The winner of this 2,500-word short story competition will receive a two-night stay at Brownber Hall, Yorkshire, along with "the chance to see their work published". The theme is "Liberty." Entry is free, and the competition is open until midnight on March 15, 2019.

A publishing credit from Harper's would certainly be something to boast about. But there was a problem. Specifically, the grant of rights, which the entry guidelines described thus (my bolding):
By entering the competition and in consideration for Hearst publishing your entry, you assign to Hearst the entire worldwide copyright in your entry for all uses in all print and non-print media and formats, including but not limited to all rights to use your entry in any and all electronic and digital formats, and in any future medium hereafter developed for the full period of copyright therein, and all renewals and extensions thereof, any rental and lending rights and retransmission rights and all rights of a like nature wherever subsisting.
In other words, merely by entering this competition, Harper's was asking you to surrender your copyright, and all the rights that copyright includes (which meant that you could never sell or publish your story anywhere else), for zero financial compensation. Moreover, there was no language in the competition guidelines to ensure that the grant of rights would be released if you didn't win.

That's a hell of a predatory rights grab for a competition that doesn't even guarantee publication to the winner--only "the chance" of it. What's especially egregious is that there really is no benefit to Harper's of holding copyrights, rather than merely licensing publishing rights. For the winning story, a conventional grant of publication rights would surely do just as well. For non-winning stories, why lock up rights at all?

I wrote this post yesterday. I don't know if Harper's had a sudden epiphany, or if it got wind that writers were pissed off...
...but this morning, when I re-read the competition guidelines just to be 100% sure everything I wrote was accurate (I always double-check in this way before I publish), I discovered that...guess what? The copyright language was gone. Poof. Harper's guidelines for this competition now include no grant of rights--or indeed any language addressing rights at all.

It's great that Harper's retracted its copyright grab (though without acknowledging its mistake). But why include the grab in the first place? I'm continually amazed at publications that run these kinds of competitions with these kinds of predatory terms. In some cases it's greed or legal overreach. In a few cases, the publications don't understand their own guidelines language. But often, I think, it's just carelessness, or maybe heedlessness. Writers only skim guidelines, right? Especially if they're published as one looooooong block of text in italic font with no paragraph breaks. And it's just a 2,500 word story that the magazine may not even publish. So who cares?

It's a reminder, yet again, to read (and be sure you understand) the fine print.

Here's a screenshot of the original guidelines, with the copyright language down at the bottom of the screenshot. The link is to a cached version.

UPDATE 1/19/20: The contest is open again for entries. The theme this year is "Summer", and the prize is a two-night stay at Grantley Hall in Yorkshire and "the chance" of publication.

Harper's has not tried to insert a copyright grab into its Terms and Conditions again, but there is rights language:

This, as I've discussed many times in relation to many different contests, is a red flag. Simply by entering the contest, you are granting Harper's parent company, Hearst (which owns many publications in addition to Harper's) the right to publish and syndicate your entry without any compensation to you...and there is no corresponding language releasing you from this grant of rights after the winner has been announced and the contest is over.

There's also nothing to indicate whether this is an exclusive or non-exclusive grant. Since it's safest, where there's ambiguity, to assume a maximalist interpretation of legalese like this, you should consider that if you enter this contest, you may be giving up your right to publish your story anywhere else, ever.

Also note that, per the Terms and Conditions, "Once entered, entries cannot be returned or withdrawn."

January 4, 2019

The Best of Writer Beware: 2018 in Review

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Happy New Year! It's time for Writer Beware's annual (well, sort of annual; I missed the last couple of years) look back at the most notable posts of 2018.

New Scams, Old Tricks

Publishing and marketing scams operating out of the Philippines first started appearing in 2014. These scams, which copy the Author Solutions business model (including expensive publishing packages and an emphasis on hugely overpriced junk marketing), in many cases have been founded and are staffed by former Author Solutions call center employees. They take the relentless cold-call solicitation and poor customer service for which AS is notorious to new levels, employing blatant falsehoods to trick authors into their clutches, and often not providing the product for which authors have paid.

This is the most pernicious new scam to come along in some time, and it has been proliferating like mad these past couple of years. I've identified over 30 companies at this point (for a full list, see the sidebar). Fortunately, since they all follow pretty much the same template, they are relatively easy to recognize, with a distinctive complex of characteristics including egregious and sometimes hilarious English-language errors on their websites and in their email pitches.

Army of Clones: Author Solutions Spawns a Legion of Copycats Twelve publishing and marketing scams to watch out for (some of them run by the same people)--and how to identify new ones

Army of Clones, Part 2: Twenty-One (More) Publishing and Marketing "Services" to Beware Of As the title says, twenty-one more publishing and marketing scams--more than half of them established in 2018

Amelia Publishing and Amelia Book Company: Sons of LitFire Publishing One of the original clones attempts to create new revenue streams by setting up two apparently unconnected companies

Solicitation Alert: Book-Art Press Solutions and Window Press Club Two apparently unrelated clones turn out to be--surprise!--the same outfit

Information You Can Use

Does the Bankruptcy Clause in Your Publishing Contract Really Protect You? What happens when a publisher goes bankrupt? Can you rely on the protection of the bankruptcy clause in your publishing contract? (Short answer: no.)

Alert: Copyright Infringement By the Internet Archive (and What You Can Do About It) In January, SFWA issued an alert about massive copyright infringement by the Internet Archive, which has been carrying out a program of scanning entire books and posting them online for borrowing. Unlike a regular library, which only uses licensed, paid-for copies, these scans have been made without authors' permission.

How the Internet Archive Infringed My Copyrights and Then (Kind Of) Blew Me Off The Internet Archive's less than professional response to my efforts to get my own books removed from its unauthorized scanning program.

Troubled Publishers

Author Complaints Mount at Curiosity Quills Press I published this post in April, but the story is still unfolding, with the most recent reports indicating that emails have started bouncing. I think it's just a matter of time.

Small Press Storm Warnings: Fiery Seas Publishing Fiery Seas' closure was announced to authors via email in December, but there has been no official announcement that I'm aware of, and as of this writing the company's website is still live.

Publisher Enigmas

Would you be excited to hear about a publisher that proposed to pay you a salary for writing books, plus royalties and benefits? That's the premise of De Montfort Literature, the latest of many, many tech-oriented ventures that have sought (usually without success) to revolutionize publishing (yes, there's an algorithm). De Montfort is still auditioning authors (a process that has been curiously slow), so as yet there's no proof of concept. Plus, digging deeper into the background of De Montfort's founder turns up some very odd information.

De Montfort Literature: Career Jumpstart or Literary Sweatshop?

Trademark WTF

Can an author trademark a common word--for instance, "cocky"--and then deny all other authors its use in book or series titles? You wouldn't think so, but that's what author Faleena Hopkins tried to do in 2018--including threatening legal action against authors with existing titles that included the word. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending.

Trademark Shenanigans: Weighing in on #Cockygate

Questionable Contests

There are a lot of these, but here are three notable ones that caught my eye in 2018:

Contest Caution: The Short Story Project's My Best Story Competition Rights grabs and other alarming language in the guidelines.

Contest Beware: Fiction War Magazine Not only questionable rights language, but failure to pay prize winnings.

Contest Caution: Waldorf Publishing's Manuscript Contest Lots of reasons to be cautious of this one--including the fact that the publisher is a fee-charger (though it doesn't disclose this fact to potential contestants)

Bonus Weirdness

I'm including this one (about a publishing scammer also convicted of credit card fraud) because it's weird, but also because it's the single post about which I got the most harassment this year. People involved with the scammer have left comments, bombarded me with emails, threatened me with legal action, posted fake reviews on Writer Beware's Facebook page, and trolled me in public forums. Fortunately, after 20 years with Writer Beware, I have a pretty thick skin.

Scam Down Under: Love of Books Brisbane / Julie "Jules" McGregor
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