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What’s the Big Idea at Your Country Your Call?

Your Country Your Call looks like a good idea, and it is, and a lot of effort is going into it. However, there are also clearly some big, serious problems with it.

Simon has pointed out that if you enter the competition, you are giving your IP to them. What this means is not made clear in the discussion. What it actually means is that you are giving the organizers the option to take your idea and implement it, and also to prevent you yourself from implementing it. They can pay you any amount they wish when they exercise this option. They are not bound to pay you EUR 100,000. The amount of the prize is not specified in the terms and conditions which you sign up to. And anyway, the organizers can change the terms and conditions  any time they want.

I would really put this down to failure to think the issues out rather than any real malice. I doubt if the organizers plan to operate in this way, but that’s not the point. The point is, they can if they want.

So it’s vagueness, rather than malice. But the vagueness goes on. What the organizers are looking for is as vague as the terms and conditions. When you analyse it down, ‘transformational proposals’ is what it seems to boil down to. The last time we heard the word ‘transformational’ it was John Gormley talking about the revised Program for Government. And he was using it very vaguely indeed.

Still, it’s not YCYC’s fault the word has been sullied. But what do they want? Suppose we agree we need to transform Ireland (I agree with that) how do we do it?

The problem is that transformation is a fancy word for ‘change’. Change is difficult, and in practice, change is expensive and takes a long time. It involves upsetting people and causing a lot of trouble.

In general, you don’t get much change on a national scale for half-a-million euros. If you are depending on government help to drive change, well you will be in for a disappointment. Governments (and institutions generally) are like Dublin Bus. It’s very hard to get change on-board. This isn’t because governments and institutions contain bad people. It’s just that that’s the way institutions are.

Are there things we could do? For sure there are. But they won’t result in the sort of change YCYC seems to be envisaging, at least not in the short term. You could do a pilot project of some sort for EUR 500,000 for something like an International Content Services Centre, or you could develop a new brand identity for Ireland. These could well be the catalyst for change. But they probably wouldn’t be, or at the very least would require a lot of other similar scale initiatives to get them to take off.

Equally, I could say that there is a need to transform banking in Ireland. I could certainly give you a blueprint for doing that over six weeks, but there is no chance that I would get support within Ireland for doing that. One or possibly two of the sponsors would have a conflict of interest and the whole thing could not possibly be judged on its merits or even on the actual facts (i.e., that the two main banks in this country have run out of equity capital).

The vague thinking has led to another problem in YCYC, the idea that you might be able to jettison the guy with the idea before you even get going. This is like throwing the pilot out of the plane once the plane has got clearance to take off from the tower. It just doesn’t work like that. Great enterprises and great change need someone to champion them. It’s nice to think you could wheel in a few lawyers or PR guys to get the idea into the sky, but it just doesn’t work like that.

There is also vagueness about the funding. It’s far from clear whether the organization actually has the funding to do what is promised. It’s not at all clear where the money is coming from.

We don’t even know who is organizing this, apart from the chairman and one other brave soul who has bravely exposed himself to the ravages of Twitter.

One thing we have to do as a nation is to get rid of the vagueness. We have to deal with the tough problems head-on, not just hope they will go away.

Hopefully the Your Country Your Call organizers will recognize this and face the issues they have head on, so that they and the nation can get the maximum return from their investment.

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  1. Antoin, you are not right about the IP. It only remains with YCYC if yours is one of the two winning entries; otherwise it passes back to the author. Also, we are assuming that a winning entry will generally be such that it would not involve serious IP issues, and could not in any case be implemented by the proposer themselves.

  2. Antoin,

    Some valid points and appreciate the intent in the post.

    Speaking as one of the YCYC organisers, we do recognise there are aspects of what has been organised that others may seek to do differently. For example as I said in response to a post you made elsewhere the merits of keeping ‘the pilot’ as you describe them on board after the winning proposals are chosen is taken. We might differ at this point on defining how that might be achieved but it would benefit our overall process I think to consider the options further – it is as you say part of facing the issues and I certainly am comfortable that we do so.

    There are a number of aspects of the competition that you ask about which I think are out there in the public domain but it might be helpful to emphasis them here.

    You ask about funding. The overall project is being delivered by the combined efforts of 30 odd organisations making contributions of in kind services, cash or people – some on secondment. A fund of €2m has been created with contributions from across that group capped at €130,000 per contributor . That fund will be used to cover prizes (€200,000), the development fund for the winning proposals (€1,000,000) and such hard costs as might be incurred in delivering the campaign – which we intend to be as little as possible.

    The names of all the contributors will be published in the next few days. Initially they were approached on the basis that there wasn’t an explicit intention to publish the names but now that we are committed to doing so we are just doing everyone the courtesy of telling them before doing so.

    The Directors of the Company running YCYC – An Smaoineamh Mor – are Laurence Crowley (chair), Austin Hogan (project director), Martin Murphy and Eugene McCague. There is a Steering Group to deliver the competition which is Messrs Crowley, Hogan and Murphy from above plus Ann Marie Shaw, Ferdinand Von Prondinsky and myself. There are a number of others seconded in to work on aspects of the web delivery and the communications activity. David Byrne SC (former EU Commissioner) is chair of the evaluation and judging process with a panel of national and international judges spanning the creative, commercial and social entrepreneurial sectors to be announced later this month.

    Ultimately I think we all share an intent. I appreciate your caution as to time frames to change – it can’t be argued really – but equally one has to keep pushing to take a step. We might look more closely together at how we might improve that step so that it is not a case of one step forward, two steps back?


  3. Ferdinand,

    According to the rules, there is no requirement that there only be two winners. Any number of the people who enter can be a winner, and so become subjected to the option. There is no requirement to pay the winner 100 grand. If I have missed something let me know.

    This may not be what is intended but this is what is said.

    Anyway, once the grant has been made, the promoter is perfectly within it’s rights to change the rules so that the IPR licence does not expire. This would be perfectly reasonable since the licence is perpetual anyway.

    I think you are putting a narrow casting on intellectual property. The entire idea, other than what is in the public summary is a trade secret; the video explanation makes it clear that this is the understanding [EDIT/UPDATE: the terms and conditions say something different from the video in this regard. I suppose it depends on what you mean by ‘private’]. Entrants have a legitimate expectation arising from this that the confidentiality of their secrets is recognised and will be maintained. (this is a big burden for ASM to have taken on, in fairness). Maybe ASM does not consider trade secrets a serious IP issue but I think that is a mistaken view, in law and in honour, if not in actual practice.

    I know that this is not the construction you would put on the rules, but I am just telling you what the black stuff actually says. In practical legal terms if this came to litigation, these terms would leave all the cards in the hands of ASM and none in the hands of the entrant.

    That is not necessarily a bad thing! In practice the promoter needs a lot of rights to make this thing work. However I think the pretence of not taking the rights does not do ASM credit.

    Am I being pedantic here? Absolutely. But I didn’t start it. The rules of the competition are long, complicated and finicky, unnecessarily so in my opinion to protect the integrity of the competition (which is obviously the main thing).

  4. As Antoin says, it is not necessarily a bad thing that extensive IP rights can be accumulated by ASM, but the concern arises from the lack of clarity about what will happen to the winning entries.

    There are two potential outcomes:

    (1) Nothing substantive happens post-competition, as with the Ideas Campaign.

    (2) The winning ideas are developed, as is suggested will happen on the YCYC website.

    The questions that arise from the IP provisions of the T&Cs relate to the second potential outcome. It is not clear who would develop the winning ideas and who would profit from such development.

    Obviously, whoever might carry out such development will carry risk and this could justify the IP provisions. But I expect people might like to know who will carry out the development and who will profit if it is successful.

    Does ASM envisage development or licensing by a state agency/semi-state, privacy company or ASM itself?

  5. The response to Simon’s post gives an idea of how the idea would be developed. I think it is ‘development’ rather than ‘implementation’ that they have in mind.

    There is another possible outcome, that it will give people pause to think about what we can do to fix our problems and that there will be some serious thought and debate about the problems. At the moment, the debate and the search for solutions is not going well at all, and YCYC’s biggest likely contribution is if it inflames some debate and lateral thinking.

  6. i have to agree with you .. the competition started with great enthusiam to help the irish people and the irish economy get back on its feet.. some good ideas and some points of view..!! we had our own idea removed through spam etc and re-entered with idea 3429.. basically we do have the job creation business to employ 1 million irish.. we are so far out in the wings that we have no chance of being seen and as you pointed out the most supported will not create any jobs and not solve economic problems.great drug awareness blog and forum and helping many sufferers. similar to the venus project idea.. great mass organisational support from the members of the movement .. no interest in the competition just a membership and awareness drive that probably netted 10,000 new members from ireland.. so the competition might be remembered for doing just that and being very effective at it.. just a thought have a look at my ideas if you get a chance..?? thanks pete fox


  • Your Country, Your Call « A Clatter of the Law July 14, 2010

    […] Antoin O Lachtnain suggests that this IP-grab is “down to failure to think the issues out rather than any real malice.” He is probably right: website operators very often do not give adequate attention to their terms and conditions and see them as boilerplate, rather than something that should be comprehensively thought-out and bespoke. Recent Ryanair judgmentsdemonstrate the crucial role website terms can play in some disputes. […]