Sharing is a universal concept. Or so you would think. But even a three year-old has a better grasp on the concept of sharing than Amtrak does.
An Amtrak passenger uploaded a photo taken from an Amtrak car to Instagram and tagged the company. The company's Twitter account responded, asking the passenger if he'd mind "sharing" the photo with Amtrak.
Shortly after that, the photographer responded with this:
If you can't read it, it says:
btw, I don't mind *giving* you this photo, but you shouldn't use the word "share" when you mean "permanently assign copyright"
You see, when Amtrak says "share," it actually means "take your stuff and never give it back." When this Twitter user "shared" this with Amtrak (via social media management platform Percolate/Fanbranded), he gave up everything
Here's the Terms and Agreement verbiage Amtrak translates as "sharing."
This Photograph Copyright Assignment Agreement ("Agreement") is entered into by and between the National Railroad Passenger Corporation ("Amtrak"), a corporation organized under 49 U.S.C. §24101 et seq. and the laws of the District of Columbia, with its principal office located at 60 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E, Washington, DC 20002 and Photographer for the assignment of the copyright in the photograph(s) ("Photographs"), which are attached to this Agreement as Exhibit I.
Grant of Rights
Photographer does hereby grant, assign and transfer all right, title and interest in the Photographs to Amtrak and any registrations and copyright applications relating thereto, including any renewals and extensions thereof. Photographer agrees to execute all papers and to perform such other proper acts, as Amtrak may deem necessary or desirable to secure for Amtrak the rights herein granted, assigned and/or transferred.
Amtrak may, but is not required to, identify and credit Photographer and Amtrak may use or authorize the use of Photographer’s name, likeness or pertinent biographical material in connection with the advertising and promotion of any work containing all or part of the Photographs.
Entire Agreement, Modifications and Governing Law
This Agreement constitutes the entire agreement and understanding between the parties with respect to the subject matter hereof and supersedes any prior discussion or agreements between them relating thereto. No modification or amendment to this Agreement shall be valid unless in writing and signed by both parties. This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the substantive laws, but not the laws of conflicts, of the District of Columbia.
The short version:
Sharing = giving away your photo for forever for exploitation solely
by Amtrak, which may or may not choose to credit you for your creation and either way, you can't really demand attribution because it's no longer your
photo, is it?
Is it forgivable? In a word, NO. While we can expect most corporate entities to have their way with user-generated content, the most anyone should ask for is non-exclusive rights. Amtrak has no right to demand this and everyone greeted with this offer to "share" should turn it down with a hearty, "go screw yourself."
But this isn't Amtrak's only dip into re-purposing the creations of others into rolling PR platforms (literally). A few months ago, it sent out the call
to aspiring writers, offering finalists a free ticket to the place of their choosing provided they rode there in an Amtrak rail car and wrote something suitably inspiring.
Every aspiring writer who thought viewing up to $900 of the country by rail would beat back writer's block signed up, forcing Amtrak to end its open call for submissions much earlier than it planned to. Enthusiasm outweighed common sense as every submission (over 11,000 of them) became the property of Amtrak, subject to a whole host of stipulations
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. In addition, Applicant hereby represents that he/she has obtained the necessary rights from any persons identified in the Application (if any persons are minors, then the written consent of and grant from the minor’s parent or legal guardian); and, Applicant grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy the name, image, and/or likeness of Applicant and the names of any such persons identified in the Application for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing.
If Amtrak was looking for a bunch of free marketing material written by a cast of thousands, it found it. And then, it stripped away any rights the authors had to their creations, even if they weren't one of the 24 finalists. Amtrak isn't looking for talented, original writers. It's looking for some really cheap spokespeople
The Amtrak Residency’s terms and conditions, which prescribe a search for publicists, not the next great American novelist. Applications and writing samples that pass an initial evaluation will then be judged by a panel “based on the degree to which the Applicant would function as an effective spokesperson/endorser of [the] Amtrak brand.”
Amtrak really needs a refresher course on sharing. Companies can be partners with creators but far too often, they seek complete control. Notably, everything defining this stripping of the creators' rights happens in the fine print. If you assume the worst about Terms and Conditions, you'll rarely be disappointed. But it takes a certain blend of audacity and forced cheerfulness to use the word "share" to describe what's going on here.