“All aboard! Irrevocably, Absolutely, In Whole or In Part!


We at Scratch love trains, and we love writing, and we love free things for writers, so we’re interested to see how the #AmtrakResidency works out (yes, the hashtag is officially part of the name). It seems like a fun opportunity.

We’re also interested to see how many applicants read, and understand, the terms of the contract they’re agreeing to when they submit their applications. From the application website:

6. Grant of Rights: 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. …

Your key words here are worldwide, absolute, irrevocablefor any purpose, and sublicense.

As we’re reading it, this means that Amtrak has the right to do pretty much whatever they want with any and all of the application materials you send them, including your writing sample and your personal statements. And even if you don’t win. [The clause goes on to clarify that applications will not be kept private, and any applicant’s materials, name, image (as well as anyone they mention in their materials), etc., may be used or licensed for advertising or any other purposes by Amtrak.]

Let’s review some grant-of-rights basics, shall we?

  • Contracts 101: The Grant-of-Rights Glossary: Download a free PDF of our breakdown of some essential rights terminology here.
  • Contracts 101: Stand Up For Your Rights Clause: Our detailed explanation of the issues involved in the grant-of-rights is free to read with registration.

Some other items in the fine print

  • Clause 5 stipulates that your application materials (including your writing sample or personal statements) must not “have been previously submitted in a promotion/contest of any kind.”
  • Clause 10 states, “All taxes are the sole responsibility of the Award recipients; and, Award recipient will be issued a 1099 Tax Form, with his/her receipt of the Award being reported to the Internal Revenue Service.”

Remember, we are not lawyers, and this is not legal advice. We are, however, editors, and we are advising you to read terms and contracts thoroughly, no matter how exciting or cool an opportunity may be. Now, good luck to everyone applying! Choo choo.

UPDATE: Author Alexander Chee, who was one of the original instigators of the residency, tweeted on Sunday that he has written to Amtrak and asked them to reconsider the language of the grant-of-rights clause:

We’ll update this post if Amtrak amends the terms or issues a response. They’ve been very responsive to their new writerly fanbase so far, so we’ll see…


  1. Thank you SOOO much for this! Yesterday, I read the terms, was a bit concerned, but tried to apply anyway. Guest it wasn’t meant to be at that time, because the form wouldn’t allow for an upload (others had the same problem). So, perhaps it was a sign for me to just wait to all that other business was resolved.

  2. Thank you for this! With all the hype, I was considering applying, and had even started working on my essay. I would have read through the terms carefully before submitting, but now that these important points have been brought to my attention, I’ll abstain until the issues have been resolved.

    I always carefully review submission guidelines, but in the future I’ll make sure to review terms before I get my hopes up.


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