Thursday, May 03, 2007

Refundable entry fees?

Galen Brown has a good post about some organizational irregularities in the recent Pulitzer prize in music composition. The prize winning work had not been entered in writing via the advertised nominating procedure, but had instead been selected directly by the jury during their deliberations in preference to all of the works which had been entered by the required procedure.

AFAIC, the jury's selection is a matter of their own tastes and preferences. However, the Pulitzer organizers do have a good faith obligation to all of those composers who entered in writing, following the published rules, and paying a $50 fee. These musicians had a good faith expectation that the organizers would follow the rules as well and select a winning work from only those works that have also followed the same entry procedure, and that expectation has here clearly not been met.

I believe that the organizers now have an obligation to all the entrants who followed the advertised procedure, and that is to return the $50 fee. Although it might be argued that this was, as described, a "handling fee", it was, for all intents and purposes an entry fee.

Further, I believe that the organizers also have the obligation to state clearly in application materials for any future competitions that the jury has the right to select a work that has not been formally entered, and they are similarly obliged to indicate that they reserve the right not to select any work at all in any given year.

Of course, it would be best of all if no entry fee were required, but barring that, the Pulitzer organization should at least publicly offer the opportunity for entrants to request a fee waiver. As for any actually "handling" costs, it is entirely reasonably to ask that entrants who wish their materials returned submit their materials with self-addressed and stamped packaging for safe return. Composers should not be expected to pay fees to cover costs related either to file-keeping within the Pulitzer organization, payment of jury members, or the prize money itself.

Finally, this year's award strongly suggests that the composition of the jury will bias the selection to one genre or another; for this reason, unless the prize is split among a number of genres, it would be a great service to potential entrants if the jury membership were to be named upfront.

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