Saturday, March 8, 2014


An Amtrak residency sounds great. Amazing, in fact. I've been drooling since I read about it. So, tonight, I went to put in my official application. But, since I read a pretty amazing blog Writer Beware, I've learned to pay much closer attention to terms and agreements.

See, part of the Amtrak application asks for a sample submission of your writing. Of course, I figured I'd just submit the first chapter of my book. It's strong writing, and it sure does pull you in. Trust me, ask my beta readers... or don't cause I won't tell you who they are, but they are writing professionals, so take that for what it's worth. (Update: I say all this about my book to point out that they could have legally taken something very precious from me and potentially valuable.) In any case, I started reading the rules, and this bit right here really didn't sit right with me.
"Applicant understands and agrees that Sponsor has wide access to ideas, stories and other literary, artistic and creative materials submitted to it from outside sources or developed by its own employees and agents (together, “Sponsor Creative”); and, such Sponsor Creative may be competitive with, similar to (or even identical to) the writing sample/answers to questions created and submitted by Applicants; and, Sponsor shall have no liability to Applicant or any third party in respect to or in connection with the development, use, sale and/or commercial exploitation of all or any portion of Sponsor Creative by Sponsor and/or its designees and licensees, all of which liability, if any, Applicant hereby expressly and irrevocably waives, releases and discharges. 
6.   Grant of RightsIn submitting an Application, Applicant hereby grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy Applicant’s Application, in whole or in part, for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing, and to sublicense such rights to any third parties. In addition, Applicant hereby represents that he/she has obtained the necessary rights from any persons identified in the Application (if any persons are minors, then the written consent of and grant from the minor’s parent or legal guardian); and, Applicant grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy the name, image, and/or likeness of Applicant and the names of any such persons identified in the Application for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing. For the avoidance of doubt, one’s Application will NOT be kept confidential (and, for this reason, it is recommended that the writing sample and answers to questions not contain any personally identifiable information – e.g., name or e-mail address – of Applicant.) Upon Sponsor's request and without compensation, Applicant agrees to sign any additional documentation that Sponsor may require so as to effect, perfect or record the preceding grant of rights and/or to furnish Sponsor with written proof that he/she has secured any and all necessary third party consents relative to the Application."
From what I understand, if I had submitted the first chapter of my book, it would officially be theirs and they could sell it to whoever they wanted to be "developed" however they saw fit. And guess what, they wouldn't have to pay me a dime. They are only taking 24 writers this month, and even though in the application page they say that "A passion for writing and an aspiration for travel with Amtrak for inspiration are the sole criteria for selection" if you go the the Official Terms, you'll find out that to be the "ideal candidate" you will have to have "extensive social media connections." Yeah, I'd love to see their definition of extensive. I wonder if they check Klout scores (I hope you can tell I'm being sarcastic.) Psht. I was so excited about this. However, this is bogus. Most of the writers who would really benefit from this because they need a change of scenery or maybe a break from the kids or whatever are not going to get it. Not unless they are doing just fantastically on their own with social media, and in that case, I question whether they really need it.

Amtrak is underhandedly taking people's rights to their work. Why not fork over the money for what they've written? This whole program made me so excited until I read these Official Terms.

Oh, and be prepared to be handed a 1099 tax form because they've informed you your gift will be reported to the IRS. So, make sure all you winners remember to file and pay that. (Granted, this is expected, but it's nice to remind us of it after they say they're taking all their applicants rights to their work.)

Anyone else have a problem with this?


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  2. I do – very much! I ran the fine print past a lawyer friend: "While these terms are potentially unethical, they don’t appear to be per se illegal, and may well be enforceable."

    More details:

  3. Exactly! That's what terrifies me! I wanted one badly, but they've misled writers by making it seem like anyone has a chance. But, they're going to to go for the most followed/tweeted/shared persona, and then they're going to (or at least have the rights to) pilfer everyone else's material.

  4. I'd like to think Amtrak just made a mistake, which will be corrected on Monday... Here's hoping! Because otherwise this policy is incredibly greedy and punitive.

  5. Hmmm...I didn't read them that way at all when I applied. I interpreted it as talking about their right to use the 1000 character bits we wrote for them as marketing fodder. In no way did I apply this to my selection submission. Of course, I don't really care, it's nothing I'm going to complete anyway, and I have a copyright on it already. I usually overthink everything, but I think people are looking to construe things that aren't really intended.

  6. Julie, everyone "has copyright" unless they sign it away with a work-for-hire contract. But Amtrak's fine print allows it to use your work anywhere, anytime, and even to alter it and sell it to third parties. No bueno!

    When writers are complacent about rights grabs like this -- and other malarky like "working for exposure" -- we encourage others to devalue our work. I'd love to see that change.

    I suspect Amtrak didn't mean to write such a strong contract: some overzealous lawyer probably got in the mix. But terms like this are incredibly damaging and worth protesting.

    Good luck in the competition!

  7. Well spoken Amanda. That is exactly how I felt, that it was a way to "devalue" our work.

  8. Thanks, AE! I'm really glad you, I and other writers got this message out. Hopefully Amtrak will rethink its terms tomorrow, as I suspect it never meant to cause this much frustration.

  9. They "amended" it on Twitter. Last time I checked, this would hardly hold water in court.

  10. "We would reach out to/have a conversation with any applicant before using their work for promotional purposes. #AmtrakResidency."

    Was it this what you had in mind, AE, or did I miss something?

    A "conversation" can be anything, including "hey, we sublicensed your short story IP to anchor a video game. You won't be seeing any proceeds." (Again, I'm not suggesting this is Amtrak's goal, but it needs to get the over-reaching language out of the contract, not make vague, unenforcable promises about it!)

  11. I'm also saddened not just by the rights issue, but as you mentioned, the "extensive" social media presence requirement. I can basically guarantee I don't have that, and using it as a criteria makes it sound like the entire idea (contrary to a true residency) is designed to partner with those who have in some way already "made it", as opposed to reaching out to the struggling/starving artist.

    It really does sound like they sort of pounced on the white hot popularity of the idea that emerged on twitter, and seek to use the residency as a potential way to advertise themselves, and not serve the writing community. 5,000 have already applied they say...and while I believe in my writing, I don't think it would make up for lacking 'extensive' social media presence.

    Also, I don't like that they wanted my facebook url. (Which I keep private anyway.) Further, no "profane or vulgar' content? I'm an adult..most of my best writing contains some definition of that....

    Hands are tied in many ways. I have not decided against it yet, but I don't know if I have time to write a whole new sample that is both my best writing, and something I don't mind having cannibalized for someone else's profit.

  12. That's appalling. So basically they are using the application process as a way to find and lawfully steal good ideas.

  13. I agree the terms are too broadly defined. What bothers me (beyond what others have expressed) is the statement:
    "...Applicant agrees to sign any additional documentation that Sponsor may require so as to effect, perfect or record the preceding grant of rights..."
    So it appears that signing this agreement means you will sign every change affecting rights to the material.

  14. Thank you for sharing. I first read Amtrak's public announcement and I said to myself, "oh how lovely, good for you Amtrak for being so generous and supportive to the artist community. Why yes, I would love to jump on the train(if you will) and apply." Well, apply no more. It was too good to be true.

    :) So I won't be on the next rain out of Saint Louis tonight, so what, I'm popping a beer and heading to the roof-top deck with my journal. Cheers Amtrak.