Contests and Publication Rights - What is standard practice?
Your site provides an excellent list of short story contests. It is very interesting and shows the variety of contests available. I'm inspired to consider trying my hand.
In general, do contests take rights of the piece that is submitted? Or can you generalize?
John, whenever a publisher of any sort makes your work public, they make some form of publication rights agreement with you--this is to protect you both.
The rights agreement specifies where you have agreed to have your work displayed, and ensures that it will not be used in a way you did not authorize.
It also protects the publisher should an author later claim that he did not authorize the use of the work, or
should she try to sell the same rights to someone else.
So don't think of anyone "taking" your rights. Rights are a protective agreement between author and publisher about who may distribute the work and where it may be used.
A contest will only need a rights agreement with you if they make your work public. They will assume that the purpose of entering the contest is to gain exposure for your work, and will provide a rights agreement only if you win and they need one.
In publishing online, you generally need to provide exclusive online rights to the publisher because when material on a web site is duplicated elsewhere, search engines may penalize the site and rank it lower.
This doesn't apply to everything, of course, with news stories being an obvious exception, but for story sites it is generally true.
Also, even after you agree to certain rights, you can ask for them back if the publisher is not using them.
I recently asked Plume to return the US rights to my novel Burning Ground, for example, as they were no longer making the book available, and I'd like to make an electronic copy for distribution in the US.
You may also approach publishers for exceptions. For example, after I published Vanessa Woolf-Hoyle's story "The Woman Under the Thames" in Page Forty-Seven, the London print magazine Litro noticed it and contacted her.
They wanted to also publish it, but only if they could include it in their online magazine. When she contacted me to ask if that would be all right, I agreed. Most publishers likely would, provided some time had elapsed between the initial publication and the request.