Alert for Poets: Oprah Wants You (But You May Not Want Oprah)

Writer BewarePosted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Oprah. The mere mention of her name sets writers’ (and let’s face it, publishers’) hearts aflutter. Oprah, maker of best sellers. Oprah, whose most offhand endorsement can generate massive sales. What author hasn’t daydreamed about that kind of exposure? What author hasn’t wondered how their life would change if their book became an Oprah pick? Well, other than Jonathan Franzen.

So I’m betting that legions of poets are thrilled by this call for submissions at Oprah’s website.

Poetry—it has the power to excite, encourage, and even sustain us during difficult times. How has poetry made an impact on your life? O, The Oprah Magazine is teaming up with guest editor Maria Shriver for our poetry-themed April issue, which hits newsstands March 15. Send us your original work or a favorite poem that’s especially meaningful to you—Maria will review submissions, and some may appear in the magazine or on this spring.

Sound tempting? Not so fast. There’s a problem: the Terms and Conditions for original submissions, a.k.a. the fine print, to which you consent in full simply by sending in a poem. These appear (in very fine print indeed) below the entry form.

According to Item 2, poets won’t be paid. “Neither Harpo [Oprah’s company] nor any of its affiliated companies or entities are obligated to use or pay you for any Submission.” (My bolding.) For many poets, perhaps, not such a big deal–I’m sure plenty of people will be willing to pass up money in order to be able to add Oprah’s magazine to their publication credits.

But that’s not all. Again, my bolding.

4. All Submissions shall become the property of Harpo, may be edited for length, clarity and/or functionality, will not be subject to any obligation of confidentiality, may be shared with and used by the staff of Harpo and any of their affiliated companies or entities and shared with legal authorities if Harpo believes it warranted. Neither Harpo nor any party with whom Harpo shares the Submissions shall be liable for any use or disclosure of any information or Submission that you submit.

5. Harpo shall exclusively own all known or later existing rights to the Submissions worldwide with the unrestricted right to use the Submissions for any purpose in all media now known or hereafter discovered without compensation to the provider of such Submissions.

What this boils down to:

– Simply by submitting your poem, you grant Oprah’s company and anyone in or affiliated with it the right to use or disclose your submission and any information accompanying it, without limit.

– Simply by submitting your poem, you grant Oprah’s company all rights to your entry, exclusively and worldwide, presumably for the full term of copyright.

Run away.

Recently, a lot of anger was stirred up in the writing community over a contest launched by new publisher First One Publishing, which featured very similar rights grabs. Will any of that outrage be directed Oprah’s way? It will be interesting to see.

Just another reason to read the fine print.