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zephyrAs was promised a few days ago, the application process for the Amtrak Residency Program has opened up. Amtrak discusses it in a blog post, and links to the actual application form. Up to 24 writers will be chosen for the first batch of residencies, taking place from March 17, 2014 through March 31, 2015.

The application form asks why you want an Amtrak Residency, and how it would benefit your writing, and gives you 1,000 characters to answer each question. Then it asks you to upload a sample of your work, of up to 24 megabytes in size. (There does not appear to be any restriction or preference as to file type.) Apparently a Twitter account is necessary, because the space for Twitter handle is marked with a “required” marker.

I have heard some concerns expressed about the application’s official terms. In particular, it has one of those rights-acquisitive boilerplate “grant of rights” provisions that “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.” Same goes for the “name, image, and/or likeness of Applicant”.

It looks to me like Amtrak just wants to be sure it has all the rights it needs to use your participation in their Residency program for publicity for itself—which is, after all, the entire point of the exercise. It’s not giving you a free train ride worth up to $900 out of the goodness of its own heart, after all. So it’s asking for all the rights it might possibly want or need, which might end up being more rights than it needs (or actually uses). Amtrak does say in a tweet that “We would only want to use it for potential promotion of the program,” and in another that “We would reach out to/have a conversation with any applicant before using their work for promotional purposes.”

Whether you choose to participate is, of course, up to you. The official terms are a good reminder that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. If you do want a writer’s residency, you’re going to trade them right to use some of your work promotionally. That’s just how it works. If you don’t want to do that, no one is forcing you to participate.

But if you do want to, perhaps you’ll be one of the 24 lucky ones, and get to do your writing from a moving train.

 
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