What you should know about the 2015 Palanca Awards

The Carlos Palanca Foundation is now accepting entries for the 2015 Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in the Philippines. Apart from the fact that you can only submit unpublished works now, the biggest and perhaps most disturbing change is that winner will now be obliged to sign over all their moral rights to their winning work. You can find more about Philippine Intellectual Property rights here and an update here.

Here’s the excellent original post by Tin Lao on Facebook.

(This note was modified on March 5, mainly to say that authors can waive their moral rights under the law, but the waiver will not be valid under certain situations; and that moral rights last forever, beyond the +50 years after death (pre-2013 provision). Thank you, Drea Pasion-Flores, for pointing these out to me.)

The 2015 Palanca Awards entry rules bother me very much. I’m quite curious what interests the changes seek to promote or preserve. I hope this is not a case where overzealous lawyers have crafted rules to protect the client but end up defeating the client’s ultimate objective (which, I’m guessing, is to attract the greatest number of good writers to join the competition).

Future and past winners might wish to check what they will be assigning the contest sponsor:

1. Not only “the concurrent and non-exclusive right to exercise the full copyright and all other intellectual property” over the winning work, BUT ALSO the intellectual property over the contestant’s PREVIOUS PALANCA PRIZE WINNING WORKS.

Meaning to say, if you won before (and the rules didn’t then require that you assign full copyright to the sponsor) and win again in 2015, you’d be assigning full copyright over even your past winning works, which have nothing to do with the current contest. In effect, you’d be giving the sponsor the right to use and distribute (and more, see below) your past and present winning works.

(Caveat: This right is concurrent and non-exclusive–meaning to say, when you assign it to the sponsor, you still exercise it too. But what if Past Winning Author isn’t too keen on sharing copyright over her previous winning works? This might actually discourage her from joining the 2015 contest.)

(By the way: What IS copyright? Under the Philippine Intellectual Property Code, the right to carry out, authorise, or prevent the following:

Reproduction of the work
Dramatization, translation, adaptation, abridgment, arrangement or other transformation of the work
The first public distribution of the original and each copy of the work
Rental of the original or a copy of the work
Public display of the original or a copy of the work;
Public performance of the work; and
Other communication to the public of the work.

Copyright is an economic right–therefore, a copyright holder can derive profit from doing or allowing anyone to do the foregoing activities. If you assign copyright to someone else, you’re allowing that person to profit from doing any of the above activities. It’s the copyright holder, for example, whom you need to ask permission from, if you would like to turn a written work into a movie. The copyright holder might give permission in exchange for a fee. Here’s an interesting hypothetical situation: a theatre group knows that you dislike its work. And so, instead of getting permission to perform your play from you, they strategically go to the person you assigned non-exclusive copyright to. If that person allows the group to perform the play for a fee, it would have no obligation to share with you the fees it collected from the theatre group.)

2. All moral rights over the winning works are waived, in the sponsor’s favor.

What are moral rights? From the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines: The author of a work shall have the right:

– To require that authorship of a work be attributed to him or her
– To alter the work before its publication or to withhold it from publication
– To object to any change to one’s work
– To restrain the use of one’s name with respect to any work that she did not create (or which is a distortion of her work).

Moral rights are different from but connected to copyright.* Sure, sponsor, go ahead and exercise full copyright over the winning work (concurrently with the author, that is)–but ask a contestant to waive one’s right to be associated with the work as its author too?

Andrea Pasion-Flores points out that Sec. 195 of the IPC does provide that authors can indeed waive their moral rights but this waiver is not valid only if the work is used to “substantially tend to injure the literary or artistic reputation of another author” or to “use the name of the author with respect to a work he did not create”.* But what if the person favored by your waiver uses one’s work without attributing it to the author?

In fact the 2013 revisions to the Intellectual Property Code (IPC) provides that moral rights cannot be assigned or licensed, and shall last during the lifetime of the author and even after his death.**

3. Finally, the rights one assigns to or waives in favor of the sponsor are “worldwide, continuous, and exercised for the maximum time allowed by the law”. Sure, the copyright one has assigned to the sponsor is nonexclusive and concurrent–but some markets do ask for first exclusive publishing rights in a particular region of the world. This would limit the markets that one might wish to bring the work to internationally. (But then again, if one self-publishes, or is happy/lucky enough to find reprint markets, this shouldn’t be a problem. Even so, I can imagine some people might be bothered by this.)

Oh yeah, and this year, only unpublished works can be entered. Posted it on your blog? Sorry. It’s now “a work available to the public by wire or wireless means in such a way that members of the public may access these works from a place and time individually chosen by them.” (IPC 171.3, as referenced by the CPMA rules) This mode of communication to the public already disqualifies your work.

Of course, one is free to enter the contest or not. However, I think it’s only fair that people who enter it know what they’re giving away in exchange for the prize money and prestige of winning the contest. 🙂 (I actually don’t like that we treat the contest as an exchange/ transaction of this sort, but intellectual property rights discussions ARE about business transactions.)

Then again, as one of my copyright-friends has suggested, there’s always this option too: Join, win, publish own version, upload on various electronic platforms, make derivs. :))

Update: (c/o Tin Lao) No more waiver of moral rights; no more retroactive assignment of copyright over past winning works. One still assigns the sponsor nonexclusive copyright over the winning work (meaning, you both share copyright over the winning work). More details here.