Where there’s a Bill… (Mistake #67)

I’ve written before about writing competitions of which I disapprove. You’ll find some background at the Copyright page on my blog. And as I said last year, it’s a mistake not to read terms and conditions.

So here we go with another, this one from Cornish Traditional Cottages, who are inviting short articles for their “What I love about Cornwall” Writing Competition. The prize is apparently a holiday, but I can’t see mention of it on the page at the time of writing. Here’s a condition:

“By submitting an entry to the Competition, you give Cornish Traditional Cottages (CTC):
Permission for your entry to be published in any promotional material and grant CTC a non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide licence to republish your Competition entry (edited if required) in electronic format and hard copy for promotional purposes free of charge…”

This, you understand, stands even if you don’t win the competition. Every entry can be used.

I tweeted CTC and asked: “Why are you requesting a free worldwide license to use all entries? Why not just winners?”

There was no response to that, and so I emailed, and received this from their Marketing Co-ordinator:

“There can only be one winner for this competition and we may wish to display other entries that do not win in promotional material. We hope to include one entry a month in ‘Cornwall Living’ magazine…”

Did she not think that the writers of material used promotionally or published in a commercial magazine should be recompensed? Response:

“The winner of the competition gets a free holiday in Cornwall and if any other entries are used they will gain from exposure. There is no intention to make money from the competition, apart from any benefits from our name being mentioned alongside the writers. It’s not compulsory to enter and from the responses we have received so far people seem happy to go ahead with these terms and conditions.”

Or perhaps they don’t understand them. Or haven’t read them. Just a thought.

Anyway, what this boils down to, if you enter your work, is that CTC can use your material in lots of ways to promote their business and not pay you a penny.

They have a photography competition too. Here’s a clause:

“The photographer retains the rights to all of his or her media, and by submitting, grants permission to CTC to display or use submissions in any promotional material free of charge.”

You may or may not have heard of the Artists’ Bill of Rights Campaign, who promote ethical standards towards entrants of creative competitions, mainly in photography, it seems. I figured they’re the best people to address this with CTC further, and on that basis I’ve reported the competitions to them.

Why does all this matter? Surely if someone wants to enter a competition and cede the rights specified in the T&Cs, why should it be anyone’s concern but theirs? Everyone needs to look after number one, right?

If you think that, first please go read the Bill of Rights, and click across all the tabs. The Rights Abuse tab and the Exploitation tab contain particularly interesting stuff.

Here’s a digested version of edited highlights of what they have to say, for those in a rush: businesses need words and images for their promotional material and marketing; they could buy those words and images from writers or photographers; but – boohoo – that costs money; so a cheaper alternative is to run a competition with ‘rights grab’ terms, and wait for usable material to come in for free.

Examples? I can’t beat the following Bill of Rights line: “The travel industry are very enthusiastic about acquiring your holiday photographs so that they can produce their holiday guides and brochures at least cost.”

Quite.

You may still be thinking this isn’t important or anyone else’s business. But if new / amateur writers and photographers volunteer material through competitions such as these, have you considered what might happen to the livelihoods of the copywriters and photographers who might normally be hired and paid to supply what is now being offered for free?

And this is not merely potentially eroding their income: there is also a larger creative issue at stake.

Taking photographs of the great outdoors and writing brochure or marketing material is bread-and-butter work for some snappers and scribes: the kind of work that pays the bills, and buys them time to work on bigger stuff – that experimental photography project or exhibition, that screenplay sitting in the drawer. All jobbing writers have regular work which they can rely on, and often this allows them the luxury to work on the novel – or even to get involved in other stuff, like give readings to kids.

When regular work is lost, that time is denied us. Output is curtailed, and our creative culture is weaker for it.

Be attracted by the chance to ‘gain from exposure’ and enter competitions such as those described above by all means, but doing it with your head in the sand would be a shame. Because if you intend to make a living out of words or images one day, you’ll be excavating under the foundations of the industry you hope will eventually support you.

Comments 6

  • Well said, Alex. Woman's Own tried this tack recently via their Facebook page, on which they asked for short story submissions for their Summer Special – 'no fee for publication'. There was an outcry – mostly from those who write for the women's magazines and expect to be paid for their work. Eventually, after dozens of complaints, Woman's Own relented and are now paying £200 for any story that they publish as a result of this 'competition'. Result! But we have to protect our markets and stand up for what is right!

  • Thanks, Helen. I did comment on Womag's blog on the subject, but it never appeared.
    I wonder whether the travel competitions are a bit worse, though? At least in the WO case, it's an established market, which will be read by lovers of fiction and potentially other editors / agents, and judged by experienced people. I think it was right there was a fuss and that payment should be made to the winner, but I do think some of the travel writing competitions take it to another level: there's no real gain or cachet in appearing in a brochure or on a travel website, I don’t think, and in many cases the judges involved are just staff members, without any experience in writing or photography.
    On the other hand, you could argue that an established magazine with faithful readers and good contributors should know better than to offer just publication as a prize….

  • Did my nasty blog eat your comment, Alex? I do apologise. Perhaps I don't feed it enough.

    I doubt Woman's Own is read by lovers of fiction, since it's one of the womags which doesn't normally print fiction. The fiction lovers will buy Woman's Weekly, My Weekly etc. I worried that the WO competition in its original set-up would attract only low-quality fiction, and WO readers who might have enjoyed decent stories would be put off fiction even more. There are so few markets for womag stories, we need the competition to be a success and have WO readers write in and say how much they enjoyed the fiction! There's a fighting chance of that now the mag has agreed to pay £200 for stories they print.

    I agree about the travel mags. Hadn't realised the point about using reader holiday snaps to avoid paying photographers. It is shocking behaviour.

  • Ha – I forgave it weeks ago!

    Sorry – very unfamiliar with the fiction market and women's weekly mags in general. Hadn't considered your point at all about encouraging better entries and getting new-to-fiction readers behind short stories. Good work all round.

    Yep – it's particularly worrying what is happening in the travel industry. Worse for images, it seems, but it's creeping up in words too.

  • very interesting. love the blog too. adam.

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