Entertainment Weekly, Do You Even Fanfic? (Writer Beware) 1

Today in “big media company attempting to exploit writers,” Entertainment Weekly has really outdone itself with a for-exposure-only-as-prize contest for… fanfiction? Here’s a tumblr summary of this terrible BS, but I wanted to dig into the awful terms and conditions a little more.

All bolding is mine for emphasis.

From section 1, “How to Enter.”

Entries become sole property of Sponsor and none will be acknowledged or returned.

Well, that is a giant screaming warning flag that says WRITER BEWARE. WRITER DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLET $200. WRITER RUN THE FUCK AWAY. Things get more than a little weird because we’re talking fanfic (more about that in a minute), but in general if you EVER see anything that says anyone other than you becomes the sole owner of your writing, unless it comes with a fucking enormous check (and it better be HUGE), you say NO.

In non-abusive contracts, it’s all about the assignment of extremely specific rights (eg: first world electronic rights) with rights not negotiated still remaining with the writer. The writer still retains copyright. You as the writer still own the story; you are negotiating with the publisher for their use of it. Ownership will change hands if you’re, say, writing on spec for a company or doing tie-in work, but that comes with the expectation of some significant pay because you are giving up your ownership.

By entering, Entrant warrants that his or her entry (1) is original and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any third party, (2) has not been published in any medium or (3) has not won an award.

This is the part that has me just scratching my head. As far as I can tell, whoever had this ugly brain baby at Entertainment Weekly doesn’t actually understand what fanfiction is or how it works. The entire fucking point of fanfic is that it technically does infringe on the intellectual property rights of someone else. You are using someone else’s intellectual property without their permission. Literally. If you weren’t, it wouldn’t be fanfic! But generally it squeaks by under fair use (though this is a topic an entire book can and has been written upon) because there is no profit on the part of the fanfic writer–and I’d argue a lot of big IP holders realize that fanworks add value to the property as a way to encourage fan participation, loyalty, and recruitment. But really, the point here is that what EW is asking for in their own rules is by definition NOT fanfiction. If you owned all the IP on your story, it wouldn’t be fanfic, and you should still definitely not be giving it to Entertainment Weekly for FREE.

Also? Point #2 is basically them demanding first world rights to the work. Considering how egregious the “becomes sole property of Sponsor” is already, this is a footnote, but it’s insult to injury. (By the way, if you want to see what an actual non-predatory contract looks like, SFWA did a model magazine contract that’s really good.)

From section 5 “Conditions of Participation.”

By entering, Entrant represents that any fan fiction submission and other materials submitted as part of Entrant’s Contest entry are original and will not constitute defamation an invasion of privacy or otherwise infringe upon the rights of any third party, and that the Entrant owns or has the rights to convey any and all right and title in such video and other materials.


In addition, by entering, Entrant grants to Sponsor a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free license to edit, publish, promote, republish at any time in the future and otherwise use Entrant’s submitted fan fiction, along with Entrant’s name, likeness, biographical information, and any other information provided by Entrant, in any and all media for possible editorial, promotional or advertising purposes, without further permission, notice or compensation (except where prohibited by law).

Translation: if we pick your fanfic, which we have now said we instantly own upon submission, we can then do whatever we want with it and use you as a promotional tool however and whenever we want. Without even having to tell you when we do it. Or ever give you any kind of monetary compensation for it.


As a note, regular publishing contracts can and do allow for minor copyediting of the work without the author’s approval. That’s standard. Anything beyond copyediting? In my experience this is NOT something you ever want to agree to unless you trust the editor completely to just fix your grammatical screw ups and not fuck with your story. Considering how gross this has been already, how trustworthy do you think Entertainment Weekly would be with your work?

Acceptance of the prize constitutes permission for Sponsor and its agencies to use Winner’s name and/or likeness, biographical information, fan fiction, other materials submitted for advertising and promotional purposes without additional compensation, unless prohibited by law.

What prize? ALL THAT EXPOSURE? SO MUCH EXPOSURE. LET THEM EAT EXPOSURE. But really, second verse, same as the first. They get to flog you and your work for advertisement and promotion without any compensation to you.

By entering and/or accepting prize, Entrants and Winners agree to hold Sponsor and its promotional partners, its directors, officers, employees and assigns harmless for liability, damages or claims for injury or loss to any person or property relating to, in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, participation in this Contest, the acceptance and/or subsequent use or misuse, or condition of any of the prizes awarded, or claims based on publicity rights, defamation, or invasion or privacy.

This is a “hold harmless” clause, which can be anything but harmless to the person tacitly accepting this contract. On one hand, some of this is butt covering in the case of you not liking your “prize” (SO MUCH EXPOSURE) and wiggling out of ay fuss you could kick up if, say, a future employer doesn’t like how EW is using your likeness and fanfiction to promote… whatever it is they’re promoting. But does this also leave the writer holding the bag if an intellectual property holder goes after EW and the writer if they decide this violates fair use, despite the fact that EW has grabbed all possible rights? To be honest, I’m not good enough at this to say yes or no one way or the other, but I wouldn’t fucking trust it.

Any time someone tries to fuck over writers with for-exposure, rights grabby bullshit, I get mad. Those scams are almost always aimed at young writers who are hungry for even acknowledgment, and it’s gross and dishonest–but at least there are resources out there aimed at educating beginning writers about people who want to prey on them. This makes me even angrier because it’s tacitly aimed at a population that has no real reason to even require familiarity with like publishing rights.

Shame on you, Entertainment Weekly. Shame on your house, shame on your publicists, shame on your legal department, shame on your editors.

One comment on “Entertainment Weekly, Do You Even Fanfic? (Writer Beware)

  1. Pingback: EW shits on new writers – Death Is Bad

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