I’ve just been reading the terms and conditions for a short story competition. Should I tell you its name? It carries the logos of various Arts organisations and is glowingly endorsed by a well known media celeb and purveyor of language.

There are no prizes, but the winner gets an award (endorsed by those organisations) and twenty or so runners up get published alongside it. But what does the writer have to pledge to win this prestigious approbation? Perpetual, exclusive rights to everything you can think of (and clauses including that which hasn’t yet been thought of), without remuneration, I should add, including the right to hack, mutilate and transform the piece – into whatever those organisations want it to be….

Is it really worth it? The piece you submit will have to be (at least according to their lights) pretty good….and you won’t get anything except the kudos, ever; and you might have to suffer the indignity of being associated with an agenda quite at odds with any espoused by your original text…a few words changed, even only the word orders, can subvert many a story.

Perhaps what made it so pungent for me, was that I had been reading Dickens’ letters (in the single volume edition edited by Jenny Hartley and published in 2012), including several about his outrage at the way American publishers were pirating the works of English (and other) writers during his lifetime. Dickens was a long time campaigner for copyright protection. I wonder how he would have viewed these terms and conditions? At least no one has to involuntarily accept them, but only might be seduced by the possibility of being associated with the names of those offering them.

If nothing else it makes you realise it’s worth reading the small print of competition rules and conditions. Sometimes they just might be as eye watering as a kick in the crutch!mildred

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