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Research Contest Conditions

It’s becoming more common for companies and other groups to run contests to flush out new ideas in a field, for example, YarcData are offering $100,000 prize money for a contest about doing stuff with big RDF graphs.

This contest is pretty tempting, but the conditions below worry me a little.

7. YarcData’s and Cray’s Ownership of Submissions: Each Submission, including, without limitation, all contents, concepts and ideas embodied therein, becomes the exclusive property of YarcData and Cray, may be used by YarcData and Cray for marketing and other promotional purposes, and will not be returned by YarcData or Cray. By entering a Submission, each Entrant hereby irrevocably assigns to YarcData and Cray all right, title and interest in and to such Submission, including, without limitation, all Rights related to the Submission without expectation of compensation or acknowledgement (other than the prize, if any, that is awarded as set forth in these Official Rules). Entrant waives any and all artistic and moral rights associated with his/her/their Submission.  YarcData and Cray shall have no obligation to make attribution with respect to the Submission, retain any of the Submissions, or maintain any information or ideas contained therein, as confidential or proprietary.

8. Right to Use Name, Likeness, and Other Identifying Information: By entering a Submission, each Entrant hereby irrevocably consents to the unlimited reproduction, distribution, display, performance, and other use by YarcData and Cray and their respective successors and assigns of his/her/their name; image; likeness; voice; Submission; biographical information; statements and quotes; stories and anecdotes provided; all of his/her/their other personal or commercial attributes or identifying features; and any interior or exterior photographs or other depictions of the Entrant’s home or office, which may or may not contain images of the Entrant’s family, friends, or pets (each, a “Likeness”), for any purposes directly or indirectly related to this Competition, and in any format or medium now existing or later developed. Each Entrant hereby waives any and all rights of publicity and rights of privacy associated with YarcData’s and Cray’s use of a Likeness. YarcData and Cray may, in their sole discretion, and without providing notice to or receiving consent from an Entrant, modify, change, adapt, or otherwise alter a Likeness. Entrants shall have no right of approval, no claim to compensation, and no claim (including, without limitation, claims based on invasion of privacy, defamation, or right of publicity) arising out of any use, blurring, alteration, or use in composite form of a Likeness. The rights granted under this paragraph are without compensation or notification to the Entrant of any kind, except as required by law, and shall extend to all Submissions, all other materials submitted by Entrant, and all other materials developed in connection with the Competition, regardless of whether they are developed by the Entrant or another person or entity.

I’m not a lawyer, but the above implies to me that if you enter the contest and win nothing they can still use your ideas and not even credit you. That’s not a good situation to end up in.

You assign them your rights, which sounds like you give up your own title to the submission. Does this mean you couldn’t enter it somewhere else as they now own it?

The reason for my concern is that I work with the students on the Electronics and Computer Science courses at Southampton and they enter and win contests.

They also have ideas at University that make their careers; AudioScrobbler is now part of and that began life as a 3rd year project here!

My concern is that we may need to have some basic rules about what contests we are willing to promote to our students.

Any ideas? Of the top of my head;

  • Their work should not be used without attribution
  • Transfer of ownership should not be a criteria of entry (although maybe a criteria for being awarded the prize)
  • It is acceptable for the contest to require the work is open licensed (creative commons, open source etc), as that benefits the entire community and is a clear choice for the student to do or not do.

Can anyone suggest anything better? Should we have a guide for companies of what is or is not OK?

Posted in Best Practice.

9 Responses

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  1. Naom Korn says

    I would suggest a fairer alternative

    Anyone involved in a Hack Day etc

    1. retains their rights, but licences out anything that they create under a GPL Licence for Open Source, or Creative Commons BY SA licence (for Content), Open Data Commons (for data) licence

    In this way, they would retain attribution, but provide the means for event organisers, each other and anyone else to be able to reuse anything they create through open licensing.

    The quid pro quo of them retaining their rights would be that they would also need to make sure that they do not infringe any third party rights and only deliver third party content under the licences above, which they had the permissions to do so.

    A case of more rights, greater responsibilities

  2. Rowan Wilson says

    I am also not a lawyer, but I think you’re correct in your interpretation. In fact the competition rules explicitly state that you can’t use the submission in other competitions at section 6. Having had a quick look at Southampton’s IPR statutes I also think that certain required elements for an entry would be owned by the University anyway (section 3.1.5 for the queries, section 3.1.2 for any commercially exploitable patentable processes in any part of the entry). This is a problem, because the competition rules prohibit organisations (like the University) from being entrants, yet they also expect assignment of the IPR from the entrant. I’m also a bit worried by section 6(b) of the rules, where the entrant essentially provides a warranty that (among other things) there are no patented processes embodied in the entry that they haven’t obtained rights to. Given the wide range of patented software processes out there this would be a hard condition to agree to responsibly.

    It’s in the nature of these kind of terms to be fairly onerous though, I think. Where there are potential incompatibilities with institutional regulations these probably need to be identified by staff and pointed out to students. It might be worth making them known to the competition organisers too, as they need to be aware of how their terms limit their pool of potential talent.

  3. Misti Lusher says

    Appreciate the dialogue on this and points made. We are reviewing internally.

    • Christopher Gutteridge says

      The return email address for this comment is — it’s very reassuring to see that they are taking these concerns seriously.

  4. amber thomas (@ambrouk) says

    Glad Naomi and Rowan have commented. Its something I’ve been wondering about at JISC, since we run hack events and challenges. I’ve found that that if I ask whether more guidance on IP is needed for participants, it is assumed that I am trying to lock down and reduce sharing. Anything but! My aim in trying to seed that discussion is to ensure that these activities are ethical and fair, and don’t put developers in a position of losing out. As you say, its not simply about open sourcing code but about ownership and attribution. People who develop intelllectual property, esp software, need to be better informed about their rights. Its a misanthropic view to assume that knowledge means they’d share less … likelihood is that they’ll share more and feel empowered to do more with their code! So, thanks for your post and glad it looks like the contest managers are reviewing their situation – I imagine the business models for coding contests are still pretty tentative so its a good time to raise it.

  5. Misti Lusher says

    Thanks everyone for your comments on the contest. Part of the reason we are holding it is to help build the community and to accelerate the adoption of SPARQL and RDF. We want more people to get excited about graph analytics and its potential to solve problems that other technologies can’t – or not as well.

    We have now amended the rules so that YarcData will now make the software submission source code available under a free open software license. Please see the amended Contest Rules for details.

    Hoping to see some cool entries we can share with everyone. Graph on…

  6. Christopher Gutteridge says

    It’s certainly progress. I still wouldn’t enter under the revised conditions. I would be giving up all rights to my image to this company for all time. Stuff that.

    That said, I don’t think this company are asshats. They’ve gone away and revised their rules due to community feedback and it is a stonkly generous prize — more than the annual salery of any SPARQL coder I know (with the *possible* exception of a certain Aston-Martin driver).

    Despite my ongoing caution, I think it speaks volumes that this company (yarcdata) have responded so fast. If you’re willing to open source your idea (assuming you don’t give a darn about the clause about giving them unlimitted rights to publish photoshoped pictures of your pet rabbit) then it a much more attractive contest than it was 24 hours ago.

    There’s still a conversation for the hacker-mentor community to have about what boundries we can recommend which benefit both the company and the contestents (win or lose.)

  7. Steve Tonks says

    I work in the web industry having come from the gift industry and I’m always amazed at how opaque and unclear IP law around web based products. In this instance going to the companies and stating “We’d love to promo this to our students, many who go on to successful careers etc. we can tell you that we’ll not be recommending entering your competition because XYZ” To try and help them raise their game and give the students a fairer shake. Otherwise it’s little more than crowdmugging.

  8. Samuel Gertler says

    Absolutely not. Its your original idea, it should be yours and protected. They have absolutely no right to claim it as theirs.

    I think there should be some amendments to the IP law and the way IPs are protected. The whole process is painful and somewhat open to abuse.

    Also there is a serious lack of a genuine platform for all innovators and business minded people in need of funding to actually meet the right investors and raise the capital needed.

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