Sunday, 7 February 2010

This is one offer I CAN refuse...

Do you think this as out of order as I do?

Harper Collins has got together with UKTV to run a competition for crime writers:

Submit a short crime story between 2000 and 5000 words that starts with the following first line: “In my experience, those who beg for mercy seldom deserve it.”

So far, interesting. I read on, until I got to this paragraph:

Where you submit your entry to this such submission you grant UKTV and HarperCollins Publishers Limited each a perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide, sub-licensable right and license to use, reproduce and publish, distribute and make available to the public your entry in any media, now known or later developed, for the full term of any rights that may exist in such content.

If you do not wish to grant such rights to UKTV and HarperCollins, you should not submit your content to the site.

My jaw dropped. So, even if you don't win, by virtue of entering it into this competition, you have lost control of your short story. And if they want to, Harper Collins or UKTV can publish your story, turn it into a film, make it the basis for a TV series, use your ideas or characters, all without paying you a penny. You no longer have any rights in it at all. Further on it says:

For the avoidance of doubt, subject to the licence granted above to UKTV and HarperCollins Limited, you shall retain ownership of the copyright in your entry.

Not quite sure what good that would do you. I'm going to pass.


  1. My jaw just dropped too!

    That is egregious... and basically sums up the business today: too much power is in the hands of the publishers which allows them to dictate terms.

    The constant irony of this - something I often muse about - is that without writers publishers would have nothing to sell. So why is the relationship always so unequal?

    Answer on a postcard pls (though I retain the right to use your responses inperpetuity to make myself look good).

    I agree, Lexi. One to avoid!


  2. Yes - and it demonstrates Harper Collins' belief that there are plenty of writers so desperate to get a foot in the door of a big publisher that they will agree to almost anything.

    The trouble is, they're probably right about that.

  3. Hi!

    Just proves that you must, must, must always read the small print.

    And then it's up to you to decide whether it's worth paying for or not.

    Hopefully not. There are other avenues to explore if you want your short story used (and abused - but not so blatantly as the above!).


    Take care


  4. Yes - and never rely on someone else reading the small print for you, no matter how much they charge per hour.

  5. That's appalling.

    A lot of contests these days have similar strings attached, but as you say, Lexi, people will enter.

    *Waves at Guy and Old Kitty*

  6. It occurs to me that there could be another reason for it.

    Apparently, in America, film companies will not look at unsolicited scripts in case they later come up independently with a similar idea, and get sued for plagiarism. Perhaps HC and UKTV are covering their backs.

    But that still doesn't make it acceptable, I think.

  7. Yes, this is kind of typical. I've long thought writers are at the bottom of the heap, particularly in the movie industry, where the directors and actors get all the accolades, even though, without writers, there would be no movie! I hate watching Academy Awards etc. because it annoys me so much...

    I can't wait for the predicted cultural shift in publishing, where the internet and portable electronic reading devices make for a more level playing field. I hope it works to writers' advantage when it happens.

  8. It will, as I keep saying, only take one indie best-seller - one book that does so well its author won't be interested when publishers want to take it over and cash in on a sure thing - and everything will change.

    Roll on the revolution.

  9. Thanks for this, Lexi - HC had the audacity to email me about this particular competition. One great thing about the internet and building a community of writers via blogs etc. is more awareness of the industry and an increased solidarity for writers that can help prevent us getting mugged by something like this. Appreciate you sharing.

  10. What rubbish. I suppose they will still get folks to give away their hard work to them.
    How could they even dare? Who else gives away their work for free with no rights whatsoever to it? Yet, we writers are expected to.

  11. Who is ever fine with fine print?

  12. HC must think we are a really cheap resource. I'm done with surrendering rights to my work, there are plenty of far better competitions, imo.

  13. That is tantamount to theft of a writer's work. I'm not surprised it falls under the crime category!

  14. We're all agreeing.

    Can I call for any dissenting voices? Is there an argument to be made on the other side?

  15. I think we can all agree that Harper Collins is a beneficent entity, operating in the public interest and unfailingly treating their writers with the greatest respect and deference. If they found it necessary to include such language in their fine print we can only surmise that there are very, very good reasons for them to do so. Reasons having nothing to do with greed, lust for power or corporate paranoia. Ultimately, I think we would find that these provisions actually act as protections for the writers themselves, wrapping them in a warm, tight blanket of security.

    Big companies are, by definition, good for the world. Good for the economy. Good for the environment. Good for our collective souls.

    I think that these lyrics, from the landmark Broadway musical "L'il Abner", sung by the minions of billionaire industrialist General Bullmoose, sum it up best.

    Three rousing rahs!
    A few huzzahs!
    And a hip-hip-hip-hoorah.
    What's good for General Bullmoose
    Is good for the USA!

    He makes the rules
    And he intends
    To keep it that-a-way.
    What's good for General Bullmoose,
    Is good for the USA!

    There, now do you feel more kindly towards dear Harper Collins?

  16. Hi

    Me again - but Plumboz's extremely considered and well-thought out treatise on the many advantages HarperCollins twinned with UKTV (like Jordan twinned with Alex Reid) brings to ungrateful writers has won me over.

    There's even a very catchy song attached.


    Take care

  17. Hey, I'm making an easy thirty dollars every quarter as an independent. What do I need a big publisher for?

  18. Thirty dollars a quarter?

    Don't let it go to your head, that's all.

  19. I found another HC contest entry form from last year, in the US. This is what it says:

    "All entries become the property of Sponsor, will not be
    returned, and may be used by Sponsor for any purpose whatsoever, without further compensation to the
    winner, including publication and advertising and promotion of Sponsor’s goods."

    But I can't see how a story that didn't win would help "promote the Sponsor's goods." What are they planning to do, put out samples of what not to submit? "Here's a really bad one we got... hah hah!"

  20. Interesting.

    I looked up the HC rules for the Action on Co2 Competition which is running now, and it's quite different. The only restriction is for winners:

    You agree by entering this competition that in the event of Your Story winning the competition you will assign the copyright to Your Story to Act on CO2 and that the copyright of Your Story will be owned by Act on CO2.

    That's all.