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Rock attacks terms of PoW-backed Orange competition

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Mobile phone network company Orange has run into trouble over copyright by launching a competition to design new telecoms masts and asking those who enter it to waive all their intellectual property rights.

Last week it enlisted the projects office of the Prince of Wales' Institute of Architecture to develop a competition to design new 'Millennium Landmark' mobile telecommunications masts. But the company is asking all entrants to sign away all their intellectual property rights including copyright, says it is not even 'obliged' to work with the winners to build their ideas, and will modify winning designs if it wants to without the permission of the architect or designer who entered them.

The company, which is seeking to increase its coverage to 10,000 masts by 2001, has put up a total of £16,750 in prize money in three categories, opening up the design of the masts to the public and students as well as professionals. The Prince of Wales launched the competition last week at St James's Palace, saying it was a 'great opportunity for creative thinking' with which to 'encourage a more inclusive attitude to the design of masts and related equipment'.

But riba president David Rock, alerted to the small print in the competition details, said last week that the copyright situation was 'not good . . . All the implications of this are that they will take the winner's ideas and bastardise them without his or her control' he said. 'I've had similar conversations on other competitions - this is not good enough at all.'

Rock intends to write a letter to Orange 'expressing his 'displeasure' and requesting the company to alter its terms and conditions so designers could at least be paid a royalty. He said he would otherwise have written a wholly different letter, offering help in the form of names of potential judges, but would now only do so if the royalty condition was met - though he doubted that would happen.

The competition will be in two stages: initially an open ideas competition followed by a second stage where the chosen designers will help develop solutions for implementation. No sites are offered but entrants are asked to choose a selection of locations such as urban, rural or an area of outstanding natural beauty. The brief asks entrants to find 'environmentally sensitive, socially useful and culturally expressive solutions to the need for telecommunications transmitters and their related equipment, thus turning technical necessity into artistic and social opportunity'.

Above all, they should be 'celebrations of Place' and candidates should not attempt to make the masts invisible, or disguise them as the company has been wont to do in the past. The height of each mast depends on local topography and signal strength requirements, but typically they are 15- 30m tall and around 7km apart.

Orange has not yet chosen its judges, but said there would be around six 'prominent' names, chosen from the fields of the arts, environment, design, engineering and journalism. Sir Norman Foster, who was invited to the launch and designed the Barcelona communications tower, is one possibility.

The riba, however, has not been consulted over the competition and David Rock said he had not been approached as a judge. In a further criticism, Rock asked why technology had not yet reached the stage where no more masts were needed by companies such as Orange, and suggested that a 'few really tall masts around the country' would have had more impact as 'amazing structures'.

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