Contest Warning

The Dramatist’s Guild has issued a (major) warning about the Amtrak Residency program. I’ll paste in their email below, but want to add that this language (about the automatic loss of copyright protection) is frequently found in the small print of contests. Be careful! Here’s the Guild’s email:

Over the last few weeks, many of our members have inquired about the terms of the new #AmtrakResidency program. The concerns expressed by these members are absolutely justified.

A specific point of concern is paragraph 6 which grants 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.” Because the author’s application requires submission of a 10-page writing sample, the application could be interpreted in a way in which any author who submits an application to this program would lose all exclusive control over that sample.

The Guild has reached out to Amtrak and Lead Dog Marketing to determine whether or not this was the intent of their drafting, and whether they were willing to revise their terms to clarify this situation so authors could retain exclusive control and ownership of their work. After a week of leaving several phone messages to a variety of contacts, a marketing representative called back, wrote down our concerns, and promised to respond by the end of that day. This was our last contact with Amtrak and the Official Terms of the Application, including paragraph 6, remain unchanged.

When applying to any sponsorship, production, publication or other opportunity, the convention is to submit the very best sample of your work. However, in this situation, Amtrak could take the position that they will have a perpetual right to use your sample in whatever way it chooses, without tendering any compensation whatsoever. Put more bluntly, you could never issue an exclusive license for a work comprising that 10-page writing sample.

We will continue to monitor this situation and will inform our membership should we hear from Amtrak.


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