Fine Print

Do you always read the fine print? Most people don't. Usually it seems people are just so trusting they continue with whatever is happening, hoping for the best. But as writers it's important to always read the fine print, just as it's always important to read the guidelines. Because not every guideline is the same. As many of you have probably already seen, O Magazine is having a poetry contest guest-edited by Maria Shriver. Cool, right? Well, not really. Because here's some of the fine print (I've gone ahead and bolded the shady parts):

Stories, ideas, suggestions, essays, audio, video, photographs, related materials and any other materials of any kind submitted (hereinafter, the "Submissions") will not be returned or kept confidential. All such Submissions may be used:(i) on (the "Website"); (ii) for broadcast or publication by Harpo, Inc. or any of its affiliated companies or entities, including, but not limited to, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Harpo Productions, Inc. and Oprah Radio (collectively "Harpo") or its related companies or entities, including without limitation, The Oprah Winfrey Show, "The Oprah Winfrey Network" and distributed in all markets and media worldwide in perpetuity. You consent to your name and location being published. 1. The Submissions may be shared with The Producers and/or developers of Oprah Radio and/or other Oprah Radio (or its related entities, including, without limitation, and OWN) related programming. 2. Neither Harpo nor any of its affiliated companies or entities are obligated to use or pay you for any Submission. 3. It is possible that similar Submissions may be submitted to Harpo by multiple sources and that a Submission may be similar to ideas generated or developed independently by Harpo employees. 4. All Submissions shall become the property of Harpo, may be edited for length, clarity and/or functionality, will not be subject to any obligation of confidentiality, may be shared with and used by the staff of Harpo and any of their affiliated companies or entities and shared with legal authorities if Harpo believes it warranted. Neither Harpo nor any party with whom Harpo shares the Submissions shall be liable for any use or disclosure of any information or Submission that you submit. 5. Harpo shall exclusively own all known or later existing rights to the Submissions worldwide with the unrestricted right to use the Submissions for any purpose in all media now known or hereafter discovered without compensation to the provider of such Submissions. 6. Harpo reserves the right to change due dates and specifics for Submissions in its sole and exclusive discretion. 7. By providing the Submissions, you represent and warrant that you are at least twenty-one (21) years old. 8. No Submission may contain material that is abusive, vulgar, threatening, harassing, libelous, defamatory, obscene, invades a person's privacy, violates any law, any intellectual property or other property or other rights, or is known to be false.

On the one hand, I don't think Oprah is seriously trying to screw writers over. Harpo, Inc is just so huge that it's important to protect the company. But protect the company from what, exactly? A half-baked haiku? Also, look at number 2: Neither Harpo nor any of its affiliated companies or entities are obligated to use or pay you for any Submission. Which means that if your poem is selected, they don't have to pay you anything. Why? Well, maybe because Oprah's new half-sister is already bleeding her dry, who knows. But she's friggin Oprah. You'd think she could throw you a few bucks, or at least a year's subscription to her magazine.

But it's not just Oprah you need to be careful about. Every year, NPR has their Three-Minute Fiction contest. Now, I love NPR. They were kind enough to have me on one of their programs and helped sell a lot of copies of the Hint Fiction anthology. But I would never submit anything to their Three-Minute Fiction contest, based on some of the fine print. Actually, there's a lot of fine print for this contest, so I'm just going to show the biggie:

7. GRANT OF RIGHTS.  By submitting a Story entry, the entrant grants to SPONSOR (i) the right to edit the Story for grammar and spelling; and (ii) a non-exclusive, assignable, perpetual, license to produce, publish, distribute, transmit, exhibit, exploit, and license the Story and any portions thereof in any format (collectively "distribute" or "distribution," as applicable) by any and all means, uses and media, whether audio, print, audiovisual or otherwise, now or hereafter known, throughout the universe in all languages. Entrant further agrees that NPR shall have the first right to distribute the Story unless NPR waives that right, in writing; provided that, NPR's first right to distribute shall automatically expire on December 31, 2011. Entrant retains the copyright and all other rights in the work.

So basically, if you submit your story, it becomes the property of NPR until the end of the year. Yet, somehow, Entrant retains the copyright and all other rights in the work. Uh-huh, sure. Plus what's the payment for such a huge contest? Well, that's number 6:

6. PRIZE. One (1) Contest Winner will be interviewed and have his/her Story read on-air during Weekend All Things Considered and will receive an autographed copy of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's collection of short stories, "The Thing Around Your Neck" (total approximate value- $30.00).  No substitution, cash redemption or transfer of right to receive prizes is permitted, except in the discretion of SPONSOR, which reserves the right to substitute a prize of equal or greater value. Prize consists only of items expressly specified in these Official Rules.

So here you don't get any money, but you at least get something. That's just mildly more promising than Oprah's contest, right?

In the end, it's up to you to always read the fine print. This is your work; protect it.

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In other news, I'm supposed to leave for AWP tomorrow. As D.C. isn't that far away, I plan to drive. Only now it's freezing rain. And the weather's supposed to get worse. So keep your fingers crossed for me, thanks.