Intellectual Property: With the success of shows like American Idol and other reality-TV-based talent competitions, contests encouraging writers, singers, songwriters and filmmakers to submit their ideas and material in order to be “discovered” have become more prevalent. While certainly, these contests have proven to be beneficial to more than a few individuals, they are not without their obstacles.

Those interested in entering any such contest, or otherwise submitting material pursuant to a request, should be cautious as to what rights they are ceding with that submission. Quite often, the terms of the contest could grant the contest-host all of the intellectual property rights relating to the submission. In addition to preventing the original artist from continuing to utilize or promote his work, it could also mean that the company hosting the contest could pursue the project without the submitter’s consent or participation.

For example, assume that there is a film festival that is hosting a contest for unknown, independent filmmakers to win an opportunity to have their films featured at the festival. More often than not, when entering such a contest, the artist submits his materials with a signed application. This application may very well have terms and conditions that are associated with it, and to which he may unknowingly agree by just signing the application. Even when there is not a written application, there are often terms and conditions that are deemed to be “accepted” when the applicant submits his materials. These contractual terms (even though they may not “look like” a contract) could include an assignment of intellectual property to the contest host. For example, such terms often say that the submitter has no right to have the materials returned to him, and that he may grant the host company all right to the work to exploit it as it wishes. In such event, the submitter may be deemed to have abandoned his rights, and the work will no longer remain his own. Importantly, the assignment may be deemed to have been made simply by submitting the work, and the rights may be granted even if the submitter does not win the contest.

This is why it is critical to have an attorney review any and all documents before signing them. It is also important to maintain copies of any document signed. Why? Because at a later time the submitter may want to pursue the original work, and he may not know whether or not he gave up his rights. If he had kept a copy of the agreement, he could at least have an attorney review it at a future time to determine the status of his rights.

Comments/Questions: ljm@gdnlaw.com

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