Rights Caution with CBC’s Canada Writes Contest

Here’s the text of a letter sent by SF Canada to the Canadian writer community last week regarding one of the clauses in the official rules for CBC’s Canada Writes Contest. Apparently, even if you don’t win and are not paid for your entry it may still become the exclusive property of CBC:
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Dear members of the writing community;

CBC has long supported the arts with various programs including contests. Last year I noticed a contest for a poem on Mark Forsyth’s BC Almanac (Radio One). But when I read the rules and regulations CBC asked for all rights, including moral rights. I thought and hoped that this might just be an error, not to be repeated.

However, this year, CBC has been advertising Canada Writes, geared specifically towards writers. The full rules and regulations can be found at: http://www.cbc.ca/canadawrites/rules.html. The paragraph that concerned me was found under 4. Registration:

Entry forms become the property of CBC, free of any compensation or charges, and will not be returned to contestants. All submissions must be original and not infringe copyright or the rights of any other party, individual or otherwise, including but not limited to any person, group, entity, or company. By entering the contest, each participant shall waive any and all moral rights over his/her entry and grant CBC an irrevocable licence to use of the work on-air or online: the entries may be read and aired on CBC Radio One in whole or in part, or online, on any websites or platforms related to the CBC, without any compensation being payable to the participant. (Emphasis mine)

While it is not uncommon for some contests to ask for all publishing rights in return for a contest prize, it is highly unusual to ask for moral rights. Any reputable publisher will not ask for such rights and CBC taking this precedent is dangerous. The issue of rights is a complicated and often confusing one. I am no copyright lawyer but as a writer and artist I am concerned with this requirement by CBC. Below is a definition of moral rights:

http://www.nolo.com/definition.cfm/Term/D4718204-9904-42DF-8A5C84A64827173D/alpha/M/
In copyright law, rights guaranteed authors by the Berne Convention that are considered personal to the author and that cannot therefore be bought, sold or transferred. Moral rights include the right to proclaim authorship of a work, disclaim authorship of a work and object to any modification or use of the work that would be injurious to the author’s reputation.

This is of such concern to me that I cannot conscionably sit back as either a writer or as the president of SF Canada without bringing it to people’s attention. On January 19, I emailed CBC expressing my concerns. I heard nothing. Again I wrote on January 30, asking for a response and should I not receive one by February 6 I would contact as many Canadian writers’ organizations as possible. (If you would like to see a copy of those letters, please contact me and I will send them.)

If we ignore this, we set up a precedent for artists losing moral rights, where their works can be altered or attributed to someone else at the whim of the owner. If your organization has already been in contact with CBC and has any news on this issue, I would be interested in hearing what is happening.

Over the years, in various ways writers’ works and rights have been jeopardized. With a united voice I believe we can stop this trend and educate people before it becomes entrenched. I must say on a personal level that I am shocked and saddened that CBC would stoop to this level and I sincerely hope it is just the work of overzealous lawyers and can be circumvented.

I look forward to talking more with you and finding a solution.

Regards,

Colleen Anderson
President
SF Canada

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One Response to Rights Caution with CBC’s Canada Writes Contest

  1. Darrell

    I’m not an expert, but I think it’s worth noting that the CBC is subject to different regulations in this area than other broadcasters. With the changes to the IP regs that groups representing artists/composers/writers, etc. have been making I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a regular thing for this type of contest.

    From what I’ve read, the regulations tend to change for CBC first and then the rest of the industry. For instance, proposed regulations that govern the rights of original performers are already binding on the CBC.

    Again, not really my thing, but the different language may simply reflect the different regulatory reality.

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