Manhattan teen cartoonist prompts review of Scholastic awards’ copyright rules

After a 13-year-old Manhattan girl questioned why winners of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards had to give up the copyright to their work, the nonprofit that runs the competition is reviewing its terms and conditions.

Sasha Matthews, of the Upper West Side, decided not to submit her “Everyday Superheroes” comic book, which raised money for the American Civil Liberties Union, in the competition after her dad read and explained the terms and conditions to her.

“Everyday Superheroes” is Matthews’ fourth published work. The cartoonist, whose drawings often have a political angle, published her first comic, “Sitting Bull: A Life Story,” when she was just 10 years old.

“I was surprised and disappointed,” she said about learning that winners would have to grant “all right, title, and interest (including all copyrights) in and to the submitted work” to the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, Inc., which administers the awards, for two years.

Recognizing that many of the more than 345,000 teens who submitted works probably didn’t know what the terms said, Matthews took to Twitter.

“How come the @Scholastic @artandwriting award requires kids to sign over ‘irrevocable copyright’ if they win?! And why is it hidden in the ‘Terms & Conditions’ link that no one reads? Is it weird that I think that’s wrong?” she wrote in December.

The terms were written “to allow the alliance to display student work in cultural centers and educational institutions throughout the country and to raise awareness of the exceptional talent of students and the need to support them,” Virginia McEnerney, executive director of the Alliance, said in an email.

But the ability to display the work could be granted through a license, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig said.

“Once you enter into a license to promote the work, you have all the permissions you need,” he told amNewYork. “That’s exactly what they could have done here, but rather than entering a license, they just grabbed the copyright.”

Matthews wrote about the copyright issue for a school assignment and got it published in February on the blog Boing Boing.

Shortly after, the alliance reached out to her dad, letting him know they would review its terms and conditions before next year’s contest.

“The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the 501 (c)(3) nonprofit that administers the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, is currently exploring a revision to the program’s terms & conditions for participants,” McEnerney confirmed.

A full review will take place over the summer, so it wasn’t clear how the terms would be changed.