Writing competitions are a great way to get your name out there as an author. Whatever your discipline or form of choice – poetry, short or long fiction, non-fiction, plays, television films – having something your wrote win you an award, is almost free PR.
And the prize money? It can buy you time to produce more work or help you pay for your bills. We all know that writing doesn’t necessarily give you regular income so prize awards help.
The other day, the lastest SAFM radio play competition was announced and on of the competition rules got me thinking about copyright.
Copyright is always a sensitive hot topic, especially when it comes to commissioned work with the national broadcaster. SAFM is part of the SABC.
One of the rules to entering the competition is that the authors of the winning entries have to make the “usual cession of copyright to the SABC”.
The usual copyright is what any writer or producer who is commissioned by the SABC to create content has to deal with. In simple words, when you’ve been commissioned by the SABC the work no longer belongs to you. You cede all rights including subsidiary rights. You get paid for the work and that’s it.
What struck me about this rule is that this is a writing competition. A competition, I assume, is meant to encourage writers into creating work for radio.
Don’t get me wrong, ceding copyright isn’t necessarily the wrong thing to do. Every situation is different and ceding your rights isn’t necessarily the end of the world.
But, often, people make this decision without thinking it through or being aware of the implications.
Should you be ceding your copyright to the company running a writing competition? What is it that you are giving up when you cede copyright?
The exclusive and assignable legal right, given to the originator for a fixed number of years, to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material((http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/)).
To learn more about how copyright works in South African law, download and read the Copyright Law of South African ((Read PDF version from the Cipro website http://www.cipro.co.za/legislation%20forms/Copyright/Copyright%20Act.pdf))
Your copyright extends beyond just what you write. If you fully understand what it is your are creating then as a writer you’ll be able to enjoy passive income from something that you created years ago.
Now about this competition:
This is a very nice prize, essentially your payment for them using your story. The ten cool points are the exposure that all creative folk will hear about through out their career. Have you ever heard of a surgeon being asked to operate for exposure?
But let’s stay on point.
When you cede copyright, it begins to work for whomever you have ceded it to. Not you.
Ceding your copyright, limits the earning potential of whatever it is that you write. You lose out on potential future income. Star Wars illustrates this point excellently. After making the first film, writing and directing, George Lucas had the chance to negotiate for a higher writing fee. So what did he do, faced with the chance to make
He declined to do so, instead negotiating for advantage in some of the as-yet-unspecified parts of his contract with Fox, in particular ownership of licensing and merchandising rights (for novelizations, T-shirts, toys, etc.) and contractual arrangements for sequels. The studio was unconcerned to relinquish these rights, as its last major attempt in the field, with the 1967 film, Doctor Dolittle, had proved a discouraging failure. Lucas exploited merchandising rights wisely, and Lucasfilm has earned hundreds of millions of dollars from licensed games, toys, and collectibles created for the franchise. ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Lucas#Film_career))
Now, imagine you have written something which has that kind of potential and for a competition, you have given up your copyright?
There are many benefits and gains to entering and winning a competition. You get your name out there. If you’re a first time writer, you have your first piece of writing published/produced.
So as a writer, you need to learn about what your copyright entails. It is never wise to cede your copyright. If, you only give up, say radio rights, in this instance, then you have other ways to use your story and earn an income from it.
Future earnings are the passive income I keep talking about. Future earnings come from adaptation, Your one story has the potential to keep earning you some income. Think carefully about future earnings before you cede your copyright.
Ask Steven King. Ask Niq Mhlongo. Ask JK Rawling. Ask Danielle Steele even.