I began a series of tweets yesterday to talk about copyrights and publishing. As I started going through the terms of one particular essay contest, I realized just how difficult explaining everything in tweets might be. So, here we are...
Most writers who write in the short-form genres (poetry, short stories, flash nonfiction) don't think much about rights. The vast majority of them are never going to be showering in cash. But rights-grabbing happens... a lot! And you don't even have to sign a contract.
A popular magazine is having an essay contest. It's been annually occurring for the better part of a decade and has a fairly normal set of rules. Until, that is, you get further down the page.
It starts: "In addition, by entering, Entrant grants to Sponsor and its affiliates..."
First, the following applies to anyone entering the contest, not just the winners. So, just by submitting your essay, you agree to grant the magazine whatever comes next. And, how many "affiliates" does this magazine have? Two? Two hundred? How many people now have access to utilize what they're asking?
"...nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free license to edit, publish, promote, and republish at any time in the future and otherwise use Entrant’s submitted essay..."
Nonexclusive is fairly harmless. You're free to publish your piece elsewhere.
And they're free to publish your essay, too! Without compensating you at all... ever.
They also have the right to edit your essay in any way they want. If your story was about the love you had for your pet goldfish, they can change it to say you ate said goldfish. On the plus side though, your name is still on it! So your neighbors (if said magazine publishes your piece a year from now) will know what a nasty elephant-eater you are! I know I said goldfish, but, welcome to the world of editing!
***I know the above example is basically libel. But they can change the whole tone of the piece and add tremendous amounts of typos legally. They can wreck your reputation as a professional. Plus, most of us don't have the cash to sue a huge company that can just print a microscopic "correction/retraction" months later.***
Oh, that "anytime in the future" part can mean a year from now. Or two, decades, that is. It's a surprise!
Don't forget that "and otherwise use" part, either. Who knows what uses they could think up? Could your essay become an article? An expert quote on those who suffer from polar-bear-snuggling addiction? An inspirational calendar sold in their online store for $19.99? You don't know. You might not even have the right to know.
"...along with Entrant’s name, likeness, statements, biographical information, and any other information provided by Entrant, in any and all media for possible editorial, promotional, or advertising purposes, without further permission, notice, or compensation (except where prohibited by law)."
They can use your name to advertise. They can use your picture in an editorial (it doesn't say the editorial has to be on the topic of the essays). They don't have to even tell you what they're up to because you submitted. Legally, as I said, they're not allowed to commit libel, but... they have plenty of other things they can do.
Will they do anything unethical with those essays? Probably not, to be honest. But it's not a guarantee they won't use them somehow. Without paying the writers, though they can afford it. Without even letting them know.
Is it still worth it to enter said contest? The decision is up to each writer.
Always read everything. Ask about what you don't understand.
You can give away a lot in these modern times, with just one click.