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Trains Are Wonderful And People…?
March 13, 2014 7:05 AM   Subscribe

Come on in and sit down. I wanna talk to you about trains for a minute. That's pretty much it. Still chuckling...
posted by Namlit (47 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Brilliantly caustic. Loved it.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:12 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Sorry she's so grumpy. Amtrak approved my application! It says, "I choo-choo-choose you!" And there's a picture of a train.
posted by xedrik at 7:21 AM on March 13 [18 favorites]


If you should get that golden ticket, board that train and don’t look back.
Damn straight.

I would love to ride cross-country and watch the world whiz by past the window, stopping off and exploring as the mood took me.
posted by arcticseal at 7:23 AM on March 13


"...BOARD A STEEL BEAST AND RIDE IT ACROSS THE IRON SPINE OF THE GREATEST GODDAMN COUNTRY IN GOD’S ENTIRE GODDAMN SUN-FILLED GREEN EARTH...."

This needs to be Amtrak's next advertising slogan.
posted by zarq at 7:24 AM on March 13 [29 favorites]


I handled this by not reading the rules before I made my submission, so it didn't occur to me that there might be this sort of problem. That said, complaining about complainers is sort of ... still being complainy. I've done a cross-country train trip before (as I said in my application) before I had a cell phone and before there was wifi. I'd love to try it again.
posted by jessamyn at 7:24 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


I loved this article, but any writer folk care to weigh in on the actual Amtrak terms? One of my writer friends ended up not applying because of it.
posted by kmz at 7:26 AM on March 13


Amtrak approved my application! It says, "I choo-choo-choose you!" And there's a picture of a train.

Congratulations xedrik. You must be chuffed!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:28 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


Any article that uses "cunting" as a verb is perfectly alright with me.

Thanks for posting!
posted by nevercalm at 7:28 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


This is a link to the actual terms and conditions. The main part seemed to be this
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.
I'm not sure if there was another relevant part but the part I saw people complaining about (in the Amtrak blog post and elsewhere) was about not wanting to submit writing samples for fear that Amtrak would use them for ... something and claim they had rights to them. I'm not arguing this point, just forwarding what I think is the concern.
posted by jessamyn at 7:36 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


My dad (KING OF ALL LITTLE FREE LIBRARIES!!!!!!!) is applying. And I guaran-damn-tee you he won't be reading the rules.

Damn creative people.
posted by Madamina at 7:44 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Actually gonna go ahead and disagree with her if merely submitting the application gave Amtrak rights to the sample.

I love train rides like the dickens, but that seems like a crappy, if probably unremarkable, little clause. A few people end up with an awesome experience, Amtrack ends up with many, many more peoples' (presumably) professional-quality work.
posted by postcommunism at 7:45 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


There should be a special section for Mallory Ortberg on every website.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:46 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


Yeah, basically you hand over all rights to your writing sample just to be considered for a free ride on the choo-choo. You could write something specifically for this application, something that would have no value in any other context, but even then you are working for free. I'd rather sell a piece of writing for enough so that I could pay for my own train ride.
posted by Longtime Listener at 7:46 AM on March 13


I'd rather sell a piece of writing

Lol
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:47 AM on March 13 [12 favorites]


Nobody OWNS a piece of writing yo.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:48 AM on March 13


Amtrak seems to disagree.
posted by Longtime Listener at 7:54 AM on March 13


that seems like a crappy, if probably unremarkable, little clause.

It's the same terminology in pretty much every competition (photography, for instance). It's to allow them to get some value from the whole thing by using the sample to promote the competition and the people on it - they want people that write well, and they want good writing examples to laude their support of such people. Why would they bother even offering the competition if it was of zero value to them? It's a marketing exercise, people, not a charitable cause.

You could write something specifically for this application

Precisely. That is the cost of admission. I honestly don't see what the fuss is about. If anyone's writing was valuable enough that this would be any kind of problem to them, then they should be able to afford their own damn ticket.
posted by Brockles at 7:54 AM on March 13 [6 favorites]


> I'd rather sell a piece of writing for enough so that I could pay for my own train ride.

Isn't that the explicit purpose of Amtrak's offer?

I mean, there are a lot of writers who get paid for everything they write, but they're on salary (or wage) for some organization which might or might not tolerate them gallivanting across the country for a couple weeks to follow their muse, at least not without proper leave arrangements.

Everybody else has to write for free at least some of the time. Either for the sake of writing, or because they don't get paid to write proposals, pitches, samples, or so on.
posted by ardgedee at 7:56 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Kind of reminds me of the accumulated weeks I sweated on research applications, and then the stuff you submit gets part of the public record (in this country). It's the risk we take, sorta.

But hey. Train Trip!!! Postdoc!!! Shiny!!!
(I still want that trip. The Swedish railways probably don't even know that there are writers. Dang.)
posted by Namlit at 7:58 AM on March 13


I'd rather sell a piece of writing for enough so that I could pay for my own train ride.

Isn't that the explicit purpose of Amtrak's offer?


If only. They want to own your writing before they will even think about whether to let you on board. If they wanted a work-for-hire arrangement, where I get a trip in exchange for my work, that might be a business proposition worth considering. But demanding the rights to my material just to get into the beauty contest? No thanks.
posted by Longtime Listener at 8:03 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Mystery train
rolling down the track
Mystery train
rolling down the track
took my writing sample
ain't gonna give it back
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:09 AM on March 13 [8 favorites]


I'm surprised that other people are interpreting this article as an argument in favor submitting work to Amtrak. The whole thing reads pretty sarcastic to me, such as this part:

Frankly, if every train in the country suddenly decided that it had the right to all of my work, both published and unpublished, I would thank them for building America and sign the reversion cheerfully. The blood of John Henry and the spirit of Paul Bunyan and my own personal honor would compel me.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:18 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


I'm surprised that other people are interpreting this article as an argument in favor submitting work to Amtrak.

Really? That's astonishing to me. The entire article reads 'stop being so precious about your mythical writing skills and its value, who the fuck do you think you are?' to me.
posted by Brockles at 8:24 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


> Why would they bother even offering the competition if it was of zero value to them? It's a marketing exercise, people, not a charitable cause.

And if I wrote, I would probably submit something because trains are the bees knees and how else am I going to get that chance. But it's still much more to Amtrak's advantage at the average applicant's disadvantage, and castigating people, even humorously, for pointing that out feels just a few doors down form complaining about people who won't take unpaid internships. Amtrak gets to collect marketing resources (yes, of varying quality) from many workers but only pay a few.

If folks want to balk at that tradoff, I don't really see where to disagree with them.

> The whole thing reads pretty sarcastic to me

I read that as part and parcel with internet hyper-enthusiasm style, but I could be wrong. She did tag it "this is my application for the amtrak writer's residency."

If I have accidentally smeared the good name of the largely excellent Mallory Ortberg I will feel sad and eke out no satisfaction. Mallory? Really? I've been calling her Molly this whole time.
posted by postcommunism at 8:25 AM on March 13


In my eyes it's really rather a combination of what Jody Tresidder and Jessamyn said earlier:

...Making fun about complainers becomes sort of … brilliantly caustic...

But the article doesn't really have the feel of "I'm enraged and want to change the world" to me. Rather more like "I know how to string together a looong chain of hilarious snark, and that's what I'm doing here, people." The "who the fuck do you think you are" bit especially seems to be severely tongue in cheek.
posted by Namlit at 8:26 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


Having participated (on the business end) of a few contests where users submit material, there's a certain amount of CYA to this as well. If Amtrak doesn't own material submitted, they're in a position where they can't ever do anything, ever again, that vaguely resembles something that somebody submitted without opening themselves up to a world o' legal hurt. Or at least annoyance.

I'm not saying it's right, but from a logistics perspective, when you exist in the most litigious company in the universe, it's safer to include such a clause than risk "you stole my idea" lawsuits from now until the end of time if you happen to coincidentally poop out some marketing that rhymes "train" with "plain", just like Irma J. Terwilliger of Boise, Idaho did in Submission #3,458,231.
posted by Shepherd at 8:28 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


The contest inspires people to create things, that is the positive outcome, in and of itself... the incentive (free train trip) is just the consumable required to prompt all that creativity.

The legalism is just to keep lawyers at bay.

I'd like to take many trips across this great nation of ours, and Canada too... I'll take tons of photos, potentially wearing out at least one more Nikon along the way. (Yes.. shutters actually wear out after 200,000+ photos)

It would be awesome.
posted by MikeWarot at 8:29 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


They want to own your writing before they will even think about whether to let you on board. If they wanted a work-for-hire arrangement, where I get a trip in exchange for my work, that might be a business proposition worth considering. But demanding the rights to my material just to get into the beauty contest? No thanks.

I think the legal reasoning behind why most contests and whatnot have a clause like this is because otherwise they leave themselves open to future litigation from people who sent in material. So for example, if this was a contest where photographers submit photos of trains, some photographer who didn't win might see an Amtrak ad with a photo similar to the one they submitted and sue claiming that the Amtrak ad is an illegal derivative work of their photo. That's also why most companies throw away unsolicited material that is sent to them, the chance that it might be beneficial to the company is not worth the potential legal costs if someone can claim that they used the material without compensating the rights owner. I would think in this particular case it would not be as big of a deal though, because Amtrak is not in the publishing business and it's very unlikely that they would independently create something that is similar enough to a submitted writing sample that it would result in a lawsuit.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:30 AM on March 13


If you don't play, you can't win. But you always have the option not to play. What's unfair about that?
posted by JParker at 8:30 AM on March 13


I love the idea that Amtrak is doing this to, I don't know, corner the market on short fiction or something. Like this whole contest is an underhanded ploy for them to secretly make money by submitting peoples super valuable writing to blogs and webzines everywhere. Screw trains, the real money is in e-publishing short pieces by amateur writers!
posted by artichoke_enthusiast at 8:45 AM on March 13 [9 favorites]


If you'd prefer to raise the money for a train ride by writing something and then trying to sell it, more power to you. It's a free ride, and it's not as if it's mandatory. Amtrak has simply made an offer that they think some writers might consider mutually beneficial; if you disagree, you are free not to take them up on it. If someone submits to the program without reading the contract, well, I'm having a hard time feeling too righteous about that. It's not like we're talking about software EULAs here; if you're a professional writer, or anyone who's participating in a contest, it's important to read that contract and make sure you know what you're getting involved in.
posted by Scientist at 8:48 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Free train trips are okay as they are, but this scheme "buys" headspace too: it's like a writer's retreat, a place where you are "allowed" to write. That's why I think it's cool. Here at home, I'm always compelled to do the dishes and read MetaFilter and call the guy who sells me firewood and so on.
It's like free Cappuccinos at your favorite café, only moving forward (hopefully, that is).
posted by Namlit at 8:52 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I love writing on trains -- have had some major breakthroughs on Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner! -- but the chatter about the residency's grabby terms has made me hesitate. also, knowing the real angle for Amtrak is its residents widely publicizing their journeys on social media as they go. the application even asks for your Instagram handle.

from The Washington Post: Pulling the brake on the Amtrak writer's residency
posted by changeling at 8:54 AM on March 13


Frankly, if every train in the country suddenly decided that it had the right to all of my work, both published and unpublished, I would thank them for building America and sign the reversion cheerfully. The blood of John Henry and the spirit of Paul Bunyan and my own personal honor would compel me.

So... you donate all your income to Amtrak?

Don't get me wrong, living on the East Coast, I love Amtrak (and regional rail systems) and I use it every chance I get, but this is kind of a weird sentiment. I don't think the fuss over Amtrak's requirement is warranted, mostly because of legal issues described above, but this counter-reaction is... a little railroady.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:01 AM on March 13


I could totally see people's ire if Amtrak were asking for the rights to anything written while ON the train, but the idea that the thing you are using to win a competition being ok for them to use is... paranoid?
posted by Brockles at 9:07 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


this is kind of a weird sentiment.

All part of the hyperbole to appeal to Amtrak's selection committee, I suspect.
posted by Brockles at 9:08 AM on March 13


Amtrak's terms are like the rules for basically every promotional photo contest I've ever seen, ever. You can think of giving them the right to use your submission as the 'application fee', if you like — and for most people, the value of a non-exclusive right to use their submission is so low, it's negligible. And if it's not? Well, then you're probably not the sort of person who needs to write their way to free train trips.

By way of comparison, here are the Smithsonian annual photo contest rules:
By entering the contest, entrants grant the Smithsonian Institution, and those authorized by the Smithsonian, a royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual, non-exclusive license to display, distribute, reproduce and create derivative works of the entries, in whole or in part, in any media now existing or subsequently developed, for any educational, promotional, publicity, exhibition, archival, scholarly and all other standard Smithsonian purposes. Any photograph reproduced will include a photographer credit as feasible. The Smithsonian Institution will not be required to pay any additional consideration or seek any additional approval in connection with such uses.
Basically, they — and anyone they authorize! — get to use any photo you submit, for any purpose they want, without paying any royalties, forever. And they have no shortage of submissions. Because, let's face it, most people aren't making any money off of the photos they're submitting, so the real cost is zero.

National Geographic not only asks for a similar license, but also charges a princely $15 per submission, so you are actually paying them for the privilege of using your grotty photo in whatever way they feel like, forever. But I can't get mad at them, because their rules also contain this gem: "CONTEST IS VOID IN CUBA, IRAN, NEW JERSEY, NORTH KOREA, [...]"
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:44 AM on March 13 [8 favorites]


I was considering entering with some writings I had previously sold... 'work for hire' with my byline which I honestly no longer have any rights to (and considering what I wrote and how much I was paid, I don't have much of a problem)... then see how that works out. If they decide to use my entry for any purpose, they might get into a tug-of-war with NBC Interactive, a division of Comcast. THAT would be fun to watch...
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:02 AM on March 13


Yeah I'm confident enough that what Amtrak meant was "Anything you give us in the submission process that is not your writing sample is something we can use for promotion of this idea" that I'm willing to let them fight with my publisher in the off chance that they decide to use the prologue to my book in their own promotional materials.
posted by jessamyn at 10:12 AM on March 13


Mallory Ortberg is my current favorite person I don't know. She kills me.
posted by putzface_dickman at 3:26 PM on March 13


IANAL, but to summarize:
* Not a transfer of ownership, just a license.
* Not even an exclusive license.
* Pretty standard for contests involving content.
* Trains are awesome.
posted by smammy at 5:34 PM on March 13


It's a pretty standard clause in creative competitions run by corporations the world over. It also functions as a fuckwit clause--it filters out the people who have the sort of attitude you'd prefer not to do business with.
posted by Hogshead at 5:34 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


I watched discussion of this on my twitter feed evolve and fragment until I never wanted to write anything ever again and everyone was yelling about how American trains are SO TOTES LOSER and NOT FAST AND Uuuuugh who cares. STUOUD AMERICANS ugh.

But my thing on the toast did go up today and that was cool.
posted by The Whelk at 9:08 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Nice! I read The Toast each day over breakfast. It makes me wish the clinking glasses were slices of bread, but otherwise it's perfect.
posted by putzface_dickman at 4:45 AM on March 14


I was so excited about Free Train Trip I didn't even think about the ownership question. (I too am going to use a published article for a sample.)

But I did recently decline to enter a logline tweet contest sponsored by Heineken and tied to the Tribeca Fest over similar concerns re: rights. Now second-guessing that.
http://twitpic.com/dwua5z

(Also feel the blog author might've gotten a little inspiration from Louis CK's Everything's amazing plane bit.)
posted by NorthernLite at 9:40 AM on March 14


It is a free, optional goddamn train ride for a couple of writers, who are a categorically useless type of person


Aaaaaaaand there is where I stopped reading. Because refusing to acknowledge that writers are professional, and dismissing them as "useless" people who should just suck it up and live on scraps? Fuck that shit in the heezy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:18 AM on March 14


Because refusing to acknowledge that writers are professional, and dismissing them as "useless"

I interpreted that line similarly to the rest of the piece, which is to say simultaneously dismissive and self-deprecating, but not actually really, really serious. I could be wrong, but unless this blog author (who seems quite likable) has serious real-world self-esteem problems, which is a bit much to infer, I'd say it's probably meant in jest.

Having said that, this thread inspired me to let my friends know the following:

To do before I die: Ride across North America from the Bay of Fundy to Bay Area SF on a train. This is veryvery important. It must happen. Soon.

I don't even think I'm joking. I have become aware of the fact that this journey must happen. Because reasons. Thank you, MetaFilter.
posted by quiet earth at 11:37 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


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