This post has been updated to reflect changes to the contest rules made by Bardsy. Scroll down to see an addendum.
Yes, folks, it’s another of my posts about problematic writing contest rules.
I do a lot of these, and the issues are often pretty similar from post to post. But because writing contests are so popular, and poor rules language is so common, it never hurts to blast another warning out there.
Bardsy offers products and resources intended to help writers “Optimize Your Writing Process”, including writing tools, templates, video courses, automated tips and prompts, and something called the “Bardsy Method“. Bardsy members can publish their stories to the Bardsy Library, where they can be accessed and read by other members, or submit to Bardsy anthologies for possible publication. All of this is accessible for a monthly membership fee of $12.99.
Right now, Bardsy is running a “NoNoWriMo Prep Contest” called “The Short and Long of It“. Writers can enter unpublished short stories of between 1,200 and 3,000 words. The winner will get a cash prize of $299, plus a free six-month Bardsy Elite membership (Elite membership normally involves an invite from Bardsy and a higher monthly membership fee). An unspecified number of finalists will receive a 50% discount on regular Bardsy memberships for six months (a prize, in other words, that they will have to pay to take advantage of). There’s no entry fee. Notably, there’s also no guarantee of publication–even though Bardsy does claim publishing rights.
And that’s where the problem arises. Specifically, in the Additional Rules section of the contest guidelines:
There are several issues here. First, simply by submitting to this contest, you’re granting publishing rights to Bardsy–whether or not you win or are declared a finalist.
This isn’t unusual: many contests include such language as a convenience, because it spares them from having to contract individually with winners or anyone else they choose to publish. But once those decisions are made and the contest ends, there’s no reason to retain non-winners’ rights. If there’s a sweeping grant of rights like this, it should be balanced by language ensuring that the grant expires at a certain point–sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, many contests don’t bother, and Bardsy is no exception.
Second, the grant is royalty free, which means that if Bardsy makes use of your story beyond hosting it on its website, you will not get paid (more on that below). I don’t think I need to editorialize on why this isn’t optimal.
Third, the grant is perpetual, which means it won’t expire for the life of copyright, and non-exclusive, which means you could publish elsewhere. But there’s a catch. Any grant of rights, even a non-exclusive one, removes your ability to grant exclusive or first rights to anyone else. You will only be able to publish the story on a non-exclusive basis. This takes quite a few publication options off the table. Submitting to magazines? Original anthologies? Not unless they accept reprints. Remember, too, that this is a contest for an unpublished short story, with no guarantee of publication even if you win. Potentially, you’ve given up your ability to grant first or exclusive rights on an unpublished story that will remain unpublished–at least, by Bardsy.
Finally…see the second sentence of the paragraph? In addition to making explicit that Bardsy is claiming rights it may not use, it ensures that if Bardsy does publish or otherwise exploit your story, it doesn’t have to attach your name: “Bardsy will have the right…to include or omit reference to the author.” Your story could be published without your name, or even under someone else’s name.
The right of attribution–to be named as the author–is a component of moral rights, which the US doesn’t really recognize. Even so, this is, in effect, a waiver of moral rights.
All in all, if you’re thinking of entering this contest, there are some serious issues to consider. But wait–there’s more.
The contest isn’t an isolated example of author-unfriendly legalese. Here’s the grant of rights included in Bardsy’s general user terms, to which you agree simply by using the various Bardsy services–including writing and story-creation tools and templates that are not downloadable and can only be accessed by logging into Bardsy:
Here, the waiver of moral rights is explicit (see the last sentence).
Also, while the language granting a royalty-free license to “use, copy, modify, etc.” is fairly standard for sites that, like Bardsy, display user content (it’s not intended to sneakily grab your rights, but to enable the site to broadcast and display that content), the paragraph goes beyond that basic set of permissions by giving Bardsy the power to sublicense your content to “partners” for publication and other uses, and “to profit from such uses of your Content”. Not only can Bardsy freely sublicense your work to third parties without seeking your permission or approval, it can potentially make money from doing so… while you, having agreed that any use of your work will be royalty-free, get nothing–perhaps not even, since you’ve waived your moral rights, credit as the author.
How likely is any of this to happen? Maybe not very. However, if you agree to something that could happen, you should never assume it won’t happen. Bardsy does market itself as a program for homeschoolers for $8.99 a month–a program that looks like regular Bardsy, just re-packaged with different promotional verbiage and a lower monthly fee.
There’s also the principle of the thing. Why deprive writers of the right to have their names published with their writing? That, at least, is not a theoretical concern. In the one example of a Bardsy anthology I could find (apparently published only on the Bardsy website), writers are credited only with their first names and last initials, as if they were in some writerly 12-step program.
Always, always take the time to read–and be sure you understand–the fine print of contest rules and website Terms and Conditions. If ever you’re confused as to the meaning of contest legalese, or want to report language you think is author-unfriendly, please contact Writer Beware.
UPDATE 10/25/21: In response to the discussion in this post, Bardsy has modified the contest rules.
Finalists will now receive a free Elite membership for three months. And the grant of rights has been amended to release the rights of non-winners 90 days after winners and finalists are declared, and to remove the language allowing Bardsy to publish without the author’s name:
The waiver of moral rights has also been removed from Bardsy’s User Agreement.