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Monday, March 10, 2014

Five Thousand Writers Gave Up Their Rights To Ride Amtrak For Free

Posted by on Mon, Mar 10, 2014 at 2:39 PM

Full disclosure: I submitted an application to the Amtrak residency because I am a female in my mid-20s and the idea of blissfully riding the rails sounds just wonderful. However, I also read the fine print and am very much aware that this is basically a big PR push. I would urge you to do the same.

I’m not alone in submitting; according to Christina Leeds, a spokesperson for Amtrak, more than 5,000 people have submitted applications to the program, which would house around 24 writers/riders for two to five day trips. But, as Electric Literature pointed out this morning, some of those people may not have read all the details regarding what you're submitting.

From the fine print:

In 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.

So basically, when applying, all 5,000 of those people essentially gave over the rights to their submitted writing samples to Amtrak—rights which some of them may not have had, if they submitted writing samples that they had previously sold the rights to.

Additionally, Amtrak is basically amassing a bunch of material that they can use however they want. Which isn't unusual for contest submissions—a lot of companies who solicit free ideas go on to use them in advertisements—but might still be something to be aware of. Additionally, Amtrak hasn't published any information regarding who would have ownership of the work made by the writers; it's entirely possible that Amtrak might want the rights to that, too.

The other element of Amtrak's residency program is that it comes at a time when Amtrak needs some good PR. Threatened by other, trendier (and less expensive) services like Bolt Bus, the company's ridership, while up nationally, is down in key regions like the Northwest. And this winter's extreme storms on the East Coast and in the Midwest proved to be too much for the service, experiencing delays, cancellations and, weirdly, internet outages.

Of course, none of this is to say you shouldn't go ride the rails and write your novel—you should! Just make sure you a.) are OK with any and all of your submission materials becoming commercials, and b.) have the rights to whatever you submit. Oh, and c.), don't mind being part of Amtrak's great American comeback.


Comments (14) RSS

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kitschnsync 1
I was wondering how long it would take to see this name in a byline. Stranger editorial has had an inexplicable crush on Seattlish lately.

Posted by kitschnsync on March 10, 2014 at 2:50 PM · Report this
rob! 2
A more important reason Amtrak ridership is down in the Northwest: huge increase in oil and coal trains causing delays.……
Posted by rob! on March 10, 2014 at 2:50 PM · Report this
Amtrak has already notified applicants that they are aware of the problem and are revising the fine print as we speak. You should have gotten an email. All the people I know who applied did, and posted the text on FB.

You're a little behind on this one.
Posted by libertine on March 10, 2014 at 2:51 PM · Report this
fletc3her 5
Likely a case of overzealous copy and paste of legal terms, but it's great for people to let Amtrak know it isn't cool. They most definitely should not be able to publish audition materials.
Posted by fletc3her on March 10, 2014 at 3:07 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 6
This is why copyrights and patents should only belong to human creators and revert to them, even if sold or given, after the first period of copyright, until they die.

Corporations aren't people.
Posted by Will in Seattle on March 10, 2014 at 3:16 PM · Report this
Phoebe in Wallingford 7
Government subsidized prose rolling on the tracks. I imagine they also had a special menu for the event with an inspiring wine list.
Posted by Phoebe in Wallingford on March 10, 2014 at 3:18 PM · Report this
icouldliveinhope 8
@3 I didn't get one, so she might not've either! Paste some text?

I discussed this a tonnnn on Twitter, and given that they're revising, I think the initial intent was that they want your essay questions for their own use for whatever -- which I'm cool with. The fine print ALSO says that the writing sample can be previously published, which would also support that theory.
Posted by icouldliveinhope on March 10, 2014 at 3:27 PM · Report this
It turns out my source was a series of Tweets from one Katie Kurtz, who mentions the SFWA has entered into discussions with Amtrak regarding Clause 6.
She also claims the uploader is unavailable until they fix the clause, so that part should be easy enough to verify.
Posted by libertine on March 10, 2014 at 4:05 PM · Report this

Talk about egregious oversteps of intellectual property law.

I just signed one that not only gives them the right to anything I publish in their journal, but the right to use anything of my own that I then refer to or quote in my writings for them!

Eventually writing a comment will give Facebook the ownership of my car.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on March 10, 2014 at 4:18 PM · Report this
icouldliveinhope 11
@9: Links would also be helpful!
Posted by icouldliveinhope on March 10, 2014 at 4:37 PM · Report this
It's right there on Google, first three or so hits under katie kurtz twitter. It's all jumbled and scattered though, so it isn't like a single link would be helpful. The whole story is a combination of Amtrak Tweets, people's tweets, and comments on the Amtrak website. I can't find the tweet that supposedly links to the SFWA comments. Maybe your Twitter-Fu is better than mine.
Posted by libertine on March 10, 2014 at 5:12 PM · Report this
icouldliveinhope 13
@12 thanks? there were a ton of katies in the google results, so i was hoping you had links to what you saw...
Posted by icouldliveinhope on March 10, 2014 at 5:22 PM · Report this
@2 You are wrong. You have a hard on for the coal export plan and the oil trains coming through
Seattle. There are no facts that indicate that ridership is down because of the "delays" caused by the rail cars. You are digging pretty deep to make that insane comment, even with your lame attachments you make a pretty weak case.
Posted by longwayhome on March 10, 2014 at 9:31 PM · Report this
rob! 15
@14 "You have a hard on for the coal export plan and the oil trains coming through Seattle."

Quite the opposite.
Posted by rob! on March 11, 2014 at 8:33 AM · Report this

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