Messages sent to artists wanting them to work for free

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It’s fine for us business types to make money from your labor, but you artistic types have to get over the idea of getting paid. This is the New Economy, which is like the Old Economy, except we’re cheating the makers of a different product.


You can die of exposure…


Notice that nobody ever sends these kinds of “opportunities” to accountants or plumbers or engineers.


If someone promises you exposure, put your Patreon address in the middle of the image. If they complain, tell them they promised.



Now I really want to make an artist career sim game where one of the possible outcomes is an Oregon Trail screen reading, “You have died from exposure.”

Anyone want in on this? I can’t pay you…


As an engineer, I can say that it’s rare but not unheard-of for us. Usually, it’s non-profits and schools that ask for free work, with the subtext that we should be ashamed for even thinking of asking for a fee from such a worthy cause. (They seldom even offer exposure.) Naturally, doing the work for free doesn’t remove liability, and many “charitable” organizations view shotgun-pattern lawsuits (sue everyone within a five mile radius for unrelated problems) as a profit stream. Far too many “free” jobs end up costing five or six figures to make go away.

In any case, it’s not nearly as prevalent as the routine abuses artists see.


At least those kinds of organizations are generally up-front about the fact they are asking for an act of charity.


The line “You can’t expect to get paid for everything you do, sometimes you just have to do your job.” is a true masterpiece of conceptual confusion.

And what, pray tell, do you think a ‘job’ is?

The other rather striking(at least to my non-artist first impression) thing about these ‘do it for the exposure’ requests is how vague and/or utterly pitiful the exposure being offered is.

This isn’t a nice fact; but it’s definitely the case that unpaid internships are the norm for entering certain creative industries. Random internet idiots who can’t even be bothered to spell and punctuate, though, aren’t terribly plausible as invaluable contacts.


The 5th image in the set is an example of a paying patron explicitly refusing exposure (the general theme here is that artists value payment rather than exposure, right?) in relation to a project.

Other than the dick-ish attitude, is there a problem here?

I don’t know what’s customary in terms of “ownership” of the (presumably commissioned) work in question. Maybe editing out a signature violates an agreed-to license? What’s typical here? I’m sure it’s hard to say without additional context, but I sure as shit wouldn’t want the photographer’s watermark on photos in my wedding album (for example).

Can anyone flesh out the problem with this particular example?


“Just wait until the word gets out after this project! You’ll have all KINDS of clients asking you to do work for free!”


David Thorne has a great post about being asked to do design work for free. Hilarity ensues!


I’d get this all the time when I was a solo lawyer, “hey, you already wrote the forms – why not just give them to me for $100?” “I will absolutely pay you when we win.” “I can get you a lot of business once after you win my case.” Or, worst of all, “can you just give this contract a quick read, it shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes, so you don’t need to charge me.”


[quote=“atl, post:15, topic:84477”]
I’d get this all the time when I was a solo lawyer[/quote]

Hell, I’m sure you got it in law school. I was studying to be a paralegal and I got it.

My stock response was, “I’m not even done studying to be a fucking paralegal, and even if I were, my advice is still the same: Retain competent counsel.”

To which the reply would be a wink and an elbow nudge, “Okay, but really…”


It’s rarer, but note the second comment on the imgur post:

It’s not just artists. I work in events and get asked to provide stages, lighting and sound for free.


Never seen this one before but yep.

The $19.99 DVD one reminds me of a time I was in an independent video game store. Some new game came out for the usual $59.95 MSRP price point. This genius bro came in and was trying to convince the mom&pop owner to sell it to him for $20 cash. His clinching argument?

“It’s crisp! Like you get at the bank!”

The owner could only should politely shake his head ever more politely harder.


I wish there was some context for these. I can’t tell how many are deluded kids - because some definitely are.
I’m amazed by all the “I have this [game/comic book series/book illustrations] that’s a passion of mine, but I have no skills, so I need someone else to make it for me. It’ll take several years of full time work, but I can’t pay you.” posts. I have to assume they’re teens who are not quite right in the head to have so little understanding of what they’re asking in terms of time commitment and the narcissism involved. I especially liked the would-be game developers with no skills who needed a game development team to make it for them - but it’s ok, because they have a precise idea of what’s needed (except, if they have never made a game, they don’t even have that). That’s pretty common - although it’s usually individuals who are trying to get jobs/give away their “great ideas” to game companies in order to get them made.


No. I don’t think they are all teens. I know people who get approached by grown ass adults for things like this. When I did costuming, I got approached with similar logic.

The teens are easier to deal with. They usually aren’t entitled enough to throw fits about it. The adults are the ones that usually are dead set on you working for free, or in a cosplay costumer’s case, for the materials. As if your time is worth nothing.