Writing contests and competitions are a way for aspiring writers – and confirmed authors as well – to gain experience, visibility and when they win, sometimes even some money. By entering into such competitions, they get an opportunity to have their work read by judges and critics and can hope that their entry gain the visibility and recognition necessary to lead to a publishing deal. What many people entering these competitions sometimes fail to think about however is the copyright aspects to it, and the consequences which entering into such competition can have. Indeed, by entering a writing contest writer typically give up some – or all – of their rights over their own work! While this can be a perfectly acceptable trade-off, aspiring writers should nevertheless always review the terms and conditions before entering a writing competition and make sure that these are acceptable to them.
In this Blog Post, we are going to go through a quick copyright checklist of the crucial elements people wishing to enter into writing contests or competition need to know about and have in mind.
Make sure you have the right to enter the work into the competition
Firstly, and this goes without saying but bears repeating: you should never present a piece of writing which is not yours as if it were your own work. Entering such competitions almost always requires the signing of a declaration of some form in which the participants certify that the work they have presented is indeed theirs.
Sometimes, competition organisers may ask for proof of copyright ownership over the work in question. As copyright is an automatic right which exists from the moment of creation of the work, there is no formal means of registering copyright in Europe – and therefore official means to prove ownership. Such a requirement will therefore not be usual in writing competitions organised in Europe. The situation can however be different in competitions organised by US-based organisation: they may require proof of copyright ownership over the work presented at the time of entering into the competition. The reason for this is that in the US, unlike the EU, copyright needs to be registered with the US Copyright Office in order to be legally enforceable, meaning that copyright registration is common practice in that country. When there is such requirement, those interested in entering the competition can either register their work with the , or ask to the organisers what evidence they accept as proof of ownership – and whether it accepts other means such as, for example, France’s .
Even if the work is indeed yours, another element to take into account is whether you are free to use it for a given competition. Indeed, you might have committed your work in another competition in which exclusivity was a requirement (meaning that by entering that first competition you agreed not to present it into another one or send it to any publisher), which is quite common. Likewise, if you have already sent your short story, essay or novel to a publisher who has agreed to distribute or publish you work you might be under the obligation not to disclose or otherwise publish your work yourself without their previous approval. In a nutshell: check whether your work is already committed to someone else!
Check the terms and conditions of the competition
When entering a writing competition, or better said, before entering into a writing competition, it is greatly recommended to check the terms and conditions and the clauses related to the copyright over the works which are entered into the competition in particular. Most organisers of writing competitions will include in their call for papers – or in their general terms and conditions – a clause related to the rights over the works which they receive. Specifically, here is what you should be looking for:
- Copyright ownership over the works presented in the competition
One of the conditions for entering the competition might be that the organisers claims ownership over copyright in the works which have been entered into the competition. In effect, this means that by participating in the contest you are assigning (i.e. transferring) the ownership over your own work to the organisers. This is not common, but it does happen.
When such a clause is included, you should therefore think carefully about whether participating to this competition is worth it for you. By assigning your work to the organisers, you lose every ownership rights over it, and you will no longer be allowed to make copies of it, presenting it to publishers, etc… as these rights will now be the property of the organisers who will therefore be allowed to use your work as they see fit!
- The organiser’s rights to use the work
A more common practice is that by entering the competition you are giving the right to the organisers to use your work in specific ways and for specific purposes. Typically, by entering into a competition you are giving the right to the organisers to publish your work. Since the winning pieces in writing competition often get published in a catalogue, bulleting or prospectus, the organisers need the express consent from the authors to do so, and to include a clause to that effect in the terms and conditions for entering into the competition is the way to achieve this. However, you should check if you are not giving them more than just that.
Indeed, a competition’s terms and conditions may include a license granted to the organisers giving them the right not only to publish but to edit, adapt or exploit commercially the piece presented (i.e. sell it as a standalone book or as part of a catalogue), with or without further economic compensation to be paid to the original author, you.
These rights can be non-exclusive, meaning that the author does retains the right to use or publish his or her work outside of the competition. However, they can also sometimes be exclusive, meaning that not only are you giving them the rights to exploit your work commercially, but by getting the exclusive right to do it they preclude you from doing it yourself meaning that you forego the option of using or publishing your book through other means (or find a publishing company willing to do it and compensate you for it).
- Whether these conditions apply to all the works entered into the competition, or only to the winners
Clauses related to the rights which are granted to the competition organisers may apply to all of the works which are entered into the competition, or only to the winners and runners up. This can be important since while you may not mind losing some rights over your work if it wins because you trust the organisers will therefore publish and disseminate it, but not be so enthusiastic to the idea of the same if your work is not actually one of the winners and therefore unlikely to get much visibility.
There is a wide range of possibilities, and before entering into a writing competition you should therefore check what exactly are the terms and conditions related to the rights over the work which you are sending to the organisers. Each individual writer should think carefully and decide whether entering a writing competition is worth giving up some rights over their work. Our goal here has not been to dissuade anyone from entering into writing competitions, quite the contrary: whilst they can be a highly valuable experience and opportunity, aspiring writers should make sure that they enter any competition with their eyes open and with full knowledge of what terms and conditions apply and the effect it can have on their ability to reuse their work outside of the competition.
- Publication date
- 18 December 2023
- European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency