Home > Getting Published, Publishing Scams > When A Major National Newspaper Decided to Screw Indian Writers Over

When A Major National Newspaper Decided to Screw Indian Writers Over

I’m reproducing blogger Sid Balachandran‘s post with his permission:

Dear TOI Write India team,

I am upset.

Upset, is perhaps a very loose term to use here. I am frustrated, agitated, pissed off and gobsmacked – all at the same time. Do you know how it feels to be sucker-punched in your gut when you least expect it? No, how would you? Not unless someone did it to you.

Do you know why I’m such a bundle of emotions at this moment? Yes, it is because of you. It is because of the so called ‘campaign’ you ran to make India write. And if I’m going by the number of entries that you’ve mentioned – the number is about 30,000. That means, you are currently sitting pretty with over 30,000 almost unique stories based on the prompts that you gave India.

So, yes, you did make a whole lot of India really write. Well Done!

But then, this happened.

 

The first time I saw this tweet yesterday, I was a bit taken aback. Surely, most publishers wouldn’t both reject your work and keep rights to it, at the same time. At least, I haven’t heard of this happening before. So, I went back to the TOI Write India page and started hunting around for the T&C’s. It took some time for me to find it, but yes, staring back at me were these words – under Other T&C’s, which was well down the bottom half of the page.

 

So, I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of us (At least the ones in my circle of writers and bloggers) were not aware of the fact that ‘once we submitted our stories, regardless of whether we won or made the short list, we were in effect, signing off the rights of the stories to you.’ Oh, and not just the right to that story alone, but also the rights to modify and commercially exploit it in any way you see fit. Oh, and you don’t need to give us any credit for that either. Or payment. Nope. Nada.

Sounds, fabulous? If you’re TOI, perhaps.

See, here’s the thing. All of us, yes, every single one of us who contributed to the program, did so because we believe in writing. We believe in the stories that we weave. We believe that we had a fair shot. Of course, we were aware that there would only be a limited number of winners. And if I’m honest, most of us are probably not even that upset about not winning. What we’re upset and angry about is the audacity that you have to claim these stories – even rejected ones – as your own. Some of those prompts – they made us relive some really personal moments, and we incorporated them into the stories that we submitted. Some of us, toiled day and night to come up with those stories that made you laugh, cry or kept you on the edge of your seats. We perfectly understand that a lot of us lost to perhaps better deserving winners. That’s the nature of it – we’re okay with that. And yes, we do agree with you wholeheartedly when you say – all of us who wrote for any or all of the prompts – we’re all winners. Yes, we are. Because it got us writing and made us go beyond our comfort zones at times in order to write.

But saying this – “THOSE STORIES ARE NOW OURS. WE KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH THEM” – have you no conscience? Ah yes! Big names and brands – why would you? We’re all little pawns in your quest for world domination, isn’t it?

I have to be honest – I can’t remember seeing the clause anywhere when I submitted my stories. In fact, as a general rule I do go through T&Cs when I submit anything. Of course, I skim through them at times, but I’m counting on my sensibilities to having picked up something as ‘odd and sneaky’ as this so-called clause. It didn’t help much either that the part of the T&Cs that contained this clause was on a separate page and buried deep in the legalese that would put most of us to sleep.

I admit – ignorance or overlooking something is not an excuse. That is, if the clause existed in the first place. Or even if you’d given us an alert message as part of the actual submission process. I’m sure you’re counting on most of us not spotting it. Because, if we did, I can assure you, you’d have had far lesser entries that what you are currently sitting with.

This note will probably never get to you. I’m a nobody. And honestly, I don’t think you’d care anyway.

If I’m frank – there isn’t any dearth of stories or writers. All of us who submitted those stories – we can write equally good or even better ones again. We’re not one-trick ponies. But what we have done, is pour our sweat, days, nights, sleep and everything into those. And yes, it hurts – almost as much as if someone you trusted drove a knife into your back and continued to twist it – when you say that you can do whatever you want with those stories, without having to give us even a mention. To say that we’re not even worth the space of a footnote on a book – that’s a horrible feeling.

To those of you wondering ‘So, it’s a story – what’s the biggie?’.

It isn’t just the matter of a story or hundreds of them. It’s a matter of principle. A matter of trust and faith. A matter of knowing that your work means something. And not get even the slightest credit for that – well, we wouldn’t wish that on even our harshest critics.

As for you, TOI Write India – this won’t stop us from writing or publishing our work in the future. Yes, it might make us read the entire T&Cs properly before giving someone our work.

What you won’t get, are any more of our stories. Ever.

Enjoy YOUR 30000 stories!

Sincerely,

A fool who was stupid enough to write for this campaign.

Update: If anyone from the TOI Write India campaign is reading this:

Yes, this is an emotional post. It reeks of anger, of helplessness, of frustration, of having lost faith and much more. Because, that’s how we all feel right now. Oh, and you could possibly claim that that was just ‘legal speak’ and you do intend to credit us. Well, let’s just say, we all have our doubts. Trust, once broken, is very difficult to regain.

Update 2: If you see this thread: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?…*** you’ll all realise that it wasn’t just a case of ‘one person having missed the T&Cs’ but a large majority of them. So, no, it wasn’t very ‘evident’. *30000 is a rough estimate based on a figure revealed on a Twitter chat.

 

***This is what Sid’s referring to:

Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 9.04.09 PM

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  1. July 17, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    That is shameful! Dreadful exploitation. These days a writer expects that more often than not content that they write will be read for free. But that does not mean that anybody has a right to STEAL content. It is quite usual for winners of competitions to sign away their rights to work for a period. But for EVERYone? Like you and Sid (and I’m sure many others) I’ve never heard of that before. As a writer, I feel Sid’s pain. But if it’s in the small print, I’m not sure what can be done.

    • rasanaatreya
      July 18, 2016 at 8:33 am

      TOI’s scrambling to avoid a PR nightmare. They are now allowing writers to withdraw from the competition. All the more reason for us writers to be really careful what rights we sign away.

      • July 18, 2016 at 1:53 pm

        Yup – always read the small print. (And it is quite difficult to know what rights pone should retain and what it is normal to sign away. I find that especially so with e-publishing. I had a better grip when everything was paper!) But when dealing with an organisation that is supposed to be empowering and supporting – one really shouldn’t have to become distrustful. TOI have behaved very badly.At least they now seem to realise what a hornet’s nest they have poked. The hubris of that tweet was beyond all! Glad to hear they are back-tracking.

  2. July 19, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    Hi Rasana,

    The Terms and Conditions were updated after April 19th, 2016. Here is a snapshot saved by web.archive.org on that date.

    http://web.archive.org/web/20160419221629/http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/books/writeindia/aboutcampaign/46795359.cms

    • rasanaatreya
      July 20, 2016 at 8:28 am

      I’m posting an update on this fiasco.

    • July 20, 2016 at 5:35 pm

      So what date was Vinita’s tweet – before or after 19 April 2016?

      • July 21, 2016 at 11:47 am

        That was July 17th, 2016.

      • July 21, 2016 at 6:06 pm

        Well after the T & Cs were supposed to have been changed, then. So it doesn’t look as TOI was interested in changing its position with the changed T & Cs.

        Writers get little enough credit for their work these days, without scandals like this. All too often with e-publishing all an author gets is a credit for their work: no remuneration at all. Who will the eventual readers of those published stories believe wrote them? I can’t recall now if these stories are to be published on paper but, if they are, who will get the royalties?

      • July 21, 2016 at 6:20 pm

        There is no mention of royalties anywhere in the T & Cs.

  3. rasanaatreya
    July 21, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    For good reason

  4. Longerseconds
    August 29, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    I remember reading clearly, that only the copyrights of the winning entries would belong to TOI, and once the jury is out, the other authors can do with their stories as they see fit. This I remember reading very clearly. I swear. Now, if these terms were changed, TOI should have notified all authors and on public domain, through mass communication. If that did not happen, then this can be construed as fraud by TOI. Provided, one can prove that the terms were different in the beginning.
    But, as you rightly said, our imagination and creativity is not confined to one story or eleven. So, TOI can live on the corpses of dead stories like hyenas, but the jokes on them. The authors, mind you, thirty thousand of them, can start a campaign against this fraud and we will win too.

  1. July 18, 2016 at 7:44 pm

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