A reader of our blog wrote in to ask: Who owns the copyright when I submit a work to a legal writing competition sponsored by my law school? Can I post on my blog what I submitted?
Here's our response:
When you submit a work to a legal writing competition, whether you retain the copyright in that work or have the right to publish the work elsewhere depends on the terms and conditions of the competition and those on the entry form you might have signed when submitting the work.
Without knowing the terms and conditions of your particular competition, it's hard to say what rights you may have relinquished to your law school. Legal writing competitions vary widely in their terms with respect to copyright issues. At the very least, competition sponsors will want the right to publish your submission at some later point in time. Terms for the scope of that publication right may vary by the length of time in which they may exercise the publication right, the format or medium of publication, whether the license granted is exclusive or nonexclusive, and whether it is commercial or noncommercial.
For example, the writing competition sponsored by the American Bar Association Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice requires that entrants grant the ABA a license to "edit and publish the entry in the Administrative Law News." In contrast, only the winners of the writing competition sponsored by the ABA Forum on Air and Space Law license their articles for reproduction "in any medium without time, use or territorial limitation, as long as the use is for noncommercial purposes." The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers is clear that authors keep the copyright in their work submitted to the legal writing competition and that their papers may be published by the author in scholarly journals subsequent to entry in the competition. They do however, require a "nonexclusive license to publish his or her paper in any form (including by electronic means)." Furthermore, some competitions may reserve a right of first publication, in which case you may need to look for a term specifying the scope or time limit on such a right. Once that specified time limit has passed, or if the right does not include electronic publication, you would be able to publish the material on your blog.
The bottom line is that you should look to see if the writing competition you entered required you to assign copyright to the sponsoring organization or required you to give an exclusive license that includes publication in electronic media. If so, then you wouldn't be able to post your submission on your blog. If however, the terms and conditions of the competition required no more than a nonexclusive license, then you would be able to publish the material on your blog.