In a previous post, I discussed author-unfriendly submission and contest terms at FieldReport.com, a site that encourages writers to submit true stories from their own lives for others to read, review, and rate. Among other things, FieldReport required contest winners to give up their copyrights, and also claimed rights in any derivative works based on winners’ entries.
Update: FieldReport is sending contest winners agreements to sign, with an email that claims that changes have been made to the Submission Agreement “in favor of our authors. Instead of assigning all rights you just do a license.”
In fact, however, little has changed. The agreement requires writers to “license on an exclusive basis all rights, title and interest, including copyrights, in and to the FieldReport to Publisher” (my emphasis). To be honest, I’m not clear on whether one can license copyright–copyright itself, that is, as opposed to assigning it, or licensing specific rights from the bundle of rights that comprises copyright (any IP lawyers, please feel free to weigh in). But it seems clear to me that FieldReport’s intent hasn’t changed: they still want possession of winners’ copyrights. What’s more, winners must agree to indemnify and defend FieldReport against claims of copyright violation or libel.
Do the FieldReport folks really believe that they have changed the bottom line for contest winners? Or are they, perhaps, hoping that winners who read the email won’t carefully read the agreement? Interestingly, although the original contest rules on FieldReport’s website clearly stated that a surrender of copyright was required, the rules have been revised since my previous post–and the copyright transfer is no longer mentioned.
The Submission Agreement has also been revised, and while I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it now favors authors, some provisions have been made less sweeping. Most notably, the licensing terms have loosened a bit. FieldReport now claims exclusive rights to submitted articles and stories, plus exclusive rights to any modified or derivative works, for 18 months or 6.5 years from the date of submission, depending how much money a work earns in prizes and compensation. Thereafter, exclusivity expires and FieldReport claims no rights to derivative or modified works (as it did before). However, FieldReport still permanently retains nonexclusive rights to the original content, and writers must still pay a 25% commission to FieldReport if they sell or license the work elsewhere.
In other changes, FieldReport has added a Grand Prize category, for which all winners of its Qualifying Contests (like the one that just concluded) are eligible. Prize: $250,000 (yes, all those zeroes are in the right place).
So where will the money come from? There are Google ads on the site, but that hardly seems adequate to fund so much prize money. There must be investors…and oh yes, there’s this: FRBooks. “Choose your favorite FieldReports from the site, the top Fieldreports, or create a book of your own FieldReports for you, your friends or your family. Choose a special interest and make a collection. You write the introduction. You choose the book cover. FRBooks will publish it for you and send it.” Per the Submission Agreement, writers are compensated for such use of their material.
I have to say that this is a pretty cool concept. It also puts the licensing requirements into better perspective. The fact remains, however, that contest winners must, to all intents and purposes, surrender copyright–something they now won’t discover until after they have won a prize. And there’s the claim on derivative works, and that 25% commission.
I just hope that writers who are drawn to the site by the big money prize possibilities are taking a little extra time to read the fine print.