The Tweet Heard ‘Round the World: National Arts Contest Changes Policy After Local High-Schooler’s Complaint

Sasha Matthews.

By Lisa Kava

Sasha Matthews, a 14-year-old Upper West Side resident and accomplished cartoonist, appears to have influenced the organizers of a prominent art and writing contest to make a significant change in their copyright policy.

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards program was created in 1923 and taken over in the early 1990’s by a nonprofit called the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers.  Scholastic, Inc. remains one of the contest’s sponsors. The nonprofit organization holds a yearly contest where teenagers in grades 7-12 can enter and submit original work in various categories including “editorial cartoon, poetry, graphic design, fashion, science fiction, video game design and more.” It’s a popular contest: in 2018, 346,000 works were submitted, according to Virginia McEnerney, the Executive Director of the Alliance and the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

Matthews, currently in 9th grade at the High School for American Studies, decided to enter the Scholastic Art and Writing contest last December. She’s been drawing comics for years and published multiple books, including one titled “Everyday Superheroes”, with proceeds going to the American Civil Liberties Union. Matthews went through the application process step by step and was all ready to submit her work when her father, Scott Matthews, noticed a clause at the end of the application as part of the terms and conditions that stated:

“The student irrevocably grants an assignment transferring to the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, Inc. (‘Alliance’) all right, title, and interest (including all copyrights) in and to the submitted work (‘Work’), such that the Work, and all rights relating to the Work, shall be the exclusive property of the Alliance.”

“At the very end after all of the steps, on a whim I looked at the terms and noticed this” said Scott Matthews. “I explained to Sasha what it sounded like they were saying to me. The idea that they were going to say now that they claimed ownership of her work did not feel right and the way that it was presented was not front and center but the last step of the process.”

After learning she would have to agree to this stipulation, Sasha Matthews changed her mind and decided not to enter the contest. “The fact that kids who win would not have the right to their work and their work was so good that it made them win.. that’s unfair” she explained to West Side Rag “Also Scholastic didn’t even say this outright, it was hidden at the end and it’s a pretty important thing.” Matthews tweeted her feelings about these terms:

And Scholastic Awards responded with a tweet:

Soon after, Matthews was given a homework assignment for a school class where she was studying journalism. She chose to write about her experience with the contest. Her assignment was subsequently posted on the website Boing Boing.

Then, in March the Alliance for Young Writers and Artists issued a statement to amNY about the policy.

“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.”

Neither Scott nor Sasha Matthews was in touch in any significant way with the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers over this past spring or summer.  But on September 12, Scott Matthews received an email from McEnerney asking him to inform Sasha that the terms of participation have changed and that participants would no longer be obligated to transfer the rights to their work.  McEnerney said in a statement to West Side Rag:

The nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists & Writers’ mission is to raise awareness of the remarkable talent of creative teens through the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, providing students with recognition, exhibition, publication, and scholarship opportunities. The Awards’ participation terms have been updated as part of an annual review to ensure the program continues to best achieve its goals, incorporating feedback from staff, Affiliates, participants, jurors, alumni, and sponsors. Teens who participate in the Awards now grant the Alliance a non-exclusive license to promote submitted works to a wide audience through exhibitions, special events, publication, and social media. While participation no longer requires a two-year grant of exclusive rights, our dedication to recognizing the next generation of great artists and writers has not changed.

We asked McEnerney if Sasha’s tweet and published homework assignment prompted the update and change in terms.

“The annual review is a formal process implemented by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers each summer during our quieter months to ensure all elements of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards continue to achieve and advance the program’s goals. The results incorporate feedback from all sources available to us including our staff, affiliates, participants, jurors, alumni, and sponsors,” McEnerney answered.

West Side Rag spoke to both Scott and Sasha Matthews about their feelings on the recent announcement. “They could have acted sooner but I am glad that they addressed the situation” said Scott. “Sasha had spent nearly 300 hours working on her project and did not want them to own her work.”

“I am pleasantly surprised,” Sasha said. “I was hopeful that they would do something about it, I didn’t really think that they would but they did and I’m very happy and proud of myself.”

We asked Sasha Matthews if she had a message for teens who are interested in entering contests such as this one in the future. “I think it is the contest-thrower’s responsibility to make sure the contest is safe and good for kids to enter. But you have to look out for yourself and be careful.”

NEWS | 14 comments | permalink
    1. wombatNYC says:

      Kudos to Shasha — He did a great job and should be proud of himself

      • Joe says:

        She. Herself.

        • Dad here! Just to note: Sasha is indeed a “she” but like many kids today, she doesn’t really much care about the whole pronoun thing. I understand and appreciate Joe wanting to make the correction, and I also know Sasha wouldn’t want wombatNYC to feel bad at all. No biggie. 🙂

    2. Bob Lamm says:

      How great of Sasha and Scott Matthews. How slimy of Scholastic to ever create and implement this clause.

    3. Doug Garr says:

      We shouldn’t be surprised by their effort to hijack students’ work as their own. Many years ago, I received a contract from Disney and I tried to X out the clause that said the company bought “all rights, in perpetuity, throughout the universe.” I was amazed that a lawyer could come up with that phrase. When I asked my editor if that meant my heirs couldn’t sell rights to the work on Mars, she said, um, yeah. I refused to sign it; they refused to remove it. The Author’s Guild newsletter published that remark some years later.

    4. Kathleen says:

      Yay, Sasha!!

    5. Adrienne says:

      Thank you Sasha! I don’t know you and I wanted to know more about your work because you inspired me so much.
      I’m sharing what I found with “Rag” readers.

      Sasha’s website

      Her comics are available at the BookCulture Bookstore

      Here’s more about Sasha’s amazing work.
      “Everyday Superheroes” started off as a fundraiser for the American Civil Liberties Union. Sasha’s idea was to offer to draw everyday people, doing the things they do in everyday life — but in the iconic form of superheroes. In the end, she completed 95 commissions and
      earned $11,635.83 for the ACLU.

    6. UWSScaffold says:

      Dear WSR, Could you bury the lede any further down?

    7. Carolyn A. Langway says:

      This will make a great college application essay someday! cheers for Sasha

    8. Myron Kandel says:

      Bravo to Sasha and her father for her courageous and principled defense of artistic rights, especially for youngsters. Would it be possible to see a sample of her work?
      — Mike Liebling

    9. lyla b ward says:

      Wonderful! Hope there are thousands more like Sasha!

    10. Hambone says:

      Good for you kid

    11. Joey says:

      Too much legal mumbo jumbo in the world.

    12. Bruce E. Bernstein says:

      yay Sasha!

      I’m a huge Sasha Matthews fan. thanks to WSR for ongoing chronicling of her work and activist initiatives. She’s a Real West Sider!

      I hope Sasha is enjoying the High School for American Studies.