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Exposure is a job hazard, not a benefit
August 23, 2014 9:24 AM   Subscribe

Stevie Nicks wants a shawl, and Stephen Fry wants a poster. The catch: Both of them want you to do it for free. Or, rather, "for the exposure."

The best part, as always, is found in the terms and conditions:

"By submitting User Content to us, simultaneously with such submission you automatically grant,
or warrant that the owner has expressly granted, to us a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual,
irrevocable, non-exclusive, fully sublicensable, and transferable right and license to use
,
distribute, publicly display, transmit, and publish the User Content (in whole or in part) on or in
connection with the Website, the promotion of the Website, and/or the promotion of our clients
and/or promotional partners and their products or services."

Both calls for free designs are through the Talenthouse website, fronted by former Culture Clubber Amos Pizzey.

Some of my favourite responses to requests to work for free
posted by wenat (68 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Both of them want you to do it for free.

Except, I mean, for the part where Nicks is paying the winner 2000 dollars and the runner up 500 dollars, and isn't even keeping the winning shawl, she'll just take a picture with it. I know what you're going for, but I don't know if this goofy little contest particularly applies.
posted by Simon! at 9:31 AM on August 23 [16 favorites]


Ah, looking closer, the Stephen Fry winner gets 2000 dollars as well.
posted by Simon! at 9:33 AM on August 23 [9 favorites]


Being asked to create something that will take you time and effort, and take time and effort away from potential paying projects, is in fact working for free. Only two entries will win, therefore all other entries are working for free.
posted by elizardbits at 9:33 AM on August 23 [40 favorites]


Entering a contest is a different thing from "I'll give your band the honor of playing at my bar so you can get exposure."
posted by Foosnark at 9:38 AM on August 23 [33 favorites]


Simon, I just want them to actually hire someone and pay them the $2000, rather than involve so many other people who will have wasted their time — and given up their intellectual property for free to Talenthouse.
posted by wenat at 9:38 AM on August 23 [21 favorites]


"Well *I'm* not working for free," he thought, "Just those other suckers."
posted by GameDesignerBen at 9:39 AM on August 23 [10 favorites]


Yes, but hiring and paying someone is a lost PR opportunity innit?
posted by Zedcaster at 9:40 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


I don't know Talenthouse at all, but I'm betting that they're not working for free or for the exposure. There's got to be money going to them from Penguin and from Stevie Nicks' publishers to run this contest.

How about at least paying all entrants for postage for their submissions?
posted by wenat at 9:41 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


It's trading on fans desire to be involved in a way that abuses the position of celebrity. If you are a working designer or illustrator you don't do a bunch of initial ideas for free and then pick one to develop. The initial process is part of the price.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:42 AM on August 23 [17 favorites]


As an artist who lives in Canada, I know that exposure is something you can die from.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 9:43 AM on August 23 [66 favorites]


If you want to laugh at those terms and conditions, okay, but it somewhat undermines your arguably legitimate complaint about working for "exposure." The part you've bolded is not intended to take advantage of struggling artists. It's intended to preclude malicious and opportunistic lawsuits from people who participate in contests like this solely for the chance at maybe suing Stevie Nicks for $2.3 bajillion because TMZ posted a photo of her dressing room and THERE'S MY SHAWL. Such people exist. As an entertainment lawyer it's your job to draft language like this, basically as the equivalent to walking around a house to make sure all the windows are locked tightly.
posted by cribcage at 9:44 AM on August 23 [10 favorites]


Although the discussion is somewhat broader in scope than the specific abuses listed above, I'll leave this here anyway: Mike Monteiro - F*ck You Pay Me.
posted by turbowombat at 9:51 AM on August 23 [3 favorites]


Lisa Hanawalt’s response to the Showtime thing.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 9:51 AM on August 23 [7 favorites]


> Only two entries will win, therefore all other entries are working for free.

Well, you never know which chocolate bar is going to have the Golden Ticket.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:52 AM on August 23 [4 favorites]


If they're worried about being sued for using a submitted design without owning the rights, then they can have a contest in which participants submit portfolios, they choose a winning application, and then pay the winner for their time in designing the final product.

Which is generally how "design work" is supposed to work.
posted by jaguar at 9:52 AM on August 23 [18 favorites]


The best part, as always, is found in the terms and conditions: [...] the owner has expressly granted, to us a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, fully sublicensable, and transferable right and license to use

Sorry, but this is rubbish. The bit you highlighted is standard web site boilerplate that you'll find everywhere, since people running web servers don't want to get sued for having their web servers serve things posted by users (cf "the facebooks will steal your photos" nonsense etc). The conditions for the actual competition entries are very different:

When you submit a work to Talenthouse as an entry, you grant Talenthouse a limited license to use your work. You always own the copyright in your work. Talenthouse never owns the copyright in your work.

If you are selected as a winner, then in exchange for a prize, you may be required to license or assign your work to the host providing the prize. If you do not want to license or assign your work in exchange for a prize, an alternate winner will be selected and you will retain copyright in your work.
posted by effbot at 9:55 AM on August 23 [14 favorites]


There are design competitions all the time for all sorts of things, and lots of people enter them - amateur and professional, because it's fun to have a challenge, if you have the time, and even if you don't win you end up with something for your portfolio, and you've gained experience, skills and ideas that can lead you elsewhere. Should Stevie Nicks or Stevie Fry be denied the privilege of hosting a competition just because they're famous and will get a huge pool of ideas to choose from?
posted by Flashman at 10:03 AM on August 23 [12 favorites]


My kid drew a picture of Fry for a collage art class, and I got someone to send it to him, via his agent, and he wrote her a letter and sent a photo of him with the art. Nice man. These contests aren't exploitative--did the OP not read the actual postings?
posted by Ideefixe at 10:12 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


I'm on the fence about whether competitions count as spec work, but mostly I disagree. Is the alternative that no one is allowed to engage a community in this way? Sure, go with the pros for commercial designs, but if you just want to jazz up your fans and neighbours, what's so wrong about a colouring contest?

Related questions - how do RFQs work for design professionals / architects etc? Do you typically get paid for your proposal? How much of the final design are customers usually expecting in a quote?
posted by Popular Ethics at 10:13 AM on August 23 [2 favorites]


Nobody tell wenat that mathowie just tricked them into developing content for his website for free.
posted by Ian A.T. at 10:15 AM on August 23 [25 favorites]


Nobody tell wenat that mathowie just tricked them into developing content for his website for free.

For free? We paid $5 (and some of us even more!) to develop content for his website!
posted by Talez at 10:18 AM on August 23 [20 favorites]


Related questions - how do RFQs work for design professionals / architects etc?

In my field both design and construction firms pay for the costs of preparing and submitting proposals to RFQs/RFPs out of their marketing/overhead budgets. They have to pay the time and travel to send people to mandatory pre-bid meetings, there's the time to prepare the proposal itself which can be significant, and then sometimes there are presentations or Q&A sessions for the top finalists which also requires time and travel. The costs of all that are fully on the bidders, and as a result most companies are very selective about what they bid for, while others use the scattergun approach, where they send generic and poorly done proposals to everything, figuring that they will win one now and then.

But an important difference is that although bidders might include some sample work or even some preliminary concepts in the bid package, they aren't taking on the cost of a full design on spec. They have definitely invested intellectual energy and include creative concepts, but they don't do the actual work of the bid unless they win it. That is very different than the kinds of "contests" that people use to get creative people to work for free.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:25 AM on August 23 [3 favorites]


elizardbits: "Being asked to create something that will take you time and effort, and take time and effort away from potential paying projects, is in fact working for free. Only two entries will win, therefore all other entries are working for free."

And this is completely different from submitting an RFP or pitch that includes creatives because…wait, how is it different again?
posted by adamrice at 10:25 AM on August 23 [12 favorites]


Well, I entered. And I don't mind having put my time into it even if I don't win. Because if (when) I DO win I'mma be so happy to see a picture of Stevie Nicks in my finest tarp-and-twine creation. I think she'll like the things I did with duct tape. Fingers crossed...
posted by Cookiebastard at 10:32 AM on August 23 [5 favorites]


If I were just starting out in life, this is how I would decide on a career. Is there an enthusiastically participated-in contest where the creator of the best X gets a pittance and everyone else gets nothing? Machine learning algorithm or essay? Yes. Medical diagnosis or management strategy? No.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 10:38 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


how do RFQs work for design professionals?

Generally in art/design, either you get the job on the strength of your portfolio or not. There isn't much of a middle ground. I have heard that big ad projects tend to involve spec pitch work, but usually the people producing those are either on staff, or they're temp freelancers on contract to the design firm. In both cases, they're getting paid and the design firm is the one risking taking the hit if they don't get the project.

More broadly... seriously, just take the prize money and hire someone. A professional you communicate with and choose based on their prior work will almost always get you better results than random people from the Internet taking a shot in the dark.
posted by tautological at 10:42 AM on August 23


And this is completely different from submitting an RFP or pitch that includes creatives because…wait, how is it different again?

It's different in a few ways:

* The amount being paid here is fairly small, and a job with this budget in my world would entail a "have you seen my stuff? Yes? If I'm a good fit I can work for you during x month."

* On a bigger job, you can generally get an idea of who will also be submitting bids and decide if it's worth the time based on the competition.

* Part of the bid process that's important is the sense that the firm asking for the bid has done their homework as well--that they've contacted you because they feel you're a good fit. I never bid on work which just feels like a free-for-all.

* You don't ask specific people to enter a contest like this. OK, you have an ad in a trade publication, maybe that's OK. But to email specific people is asking for free work.
posted by maxwelton at 10:44 AM on August 23 [2 favorites]


It's how the cookie crumbles. If your talent and the resulting product is unique and in enough demand, buyers will have no choice but to pay - or they won't get it. If what you do is somewhat generic just because that's how the field is, or if you don't stand out from the crowd, if your stuff is interchangeable with an endless supply everywhere, companies and people rich and poor will try to exploit you. It's the difference between being a unique high demand artist/worker, and run of the mill artist/working man. The former get paid, the latter face endless attempts like these. It's a tough world. I tell you what the real tragedy is: bad taste - when the buyers can't tell apart the good from the bad, but I suppose some of that is in the eye of the beholder. Ack.
posted by VikingSword at 10:44 AM on August 23


Maybe these aren't the best examples, but they are indicative of the general trend. Welcome to the new meritocracy. It's all on you, bub. Prove yourself on your own dime and, if you're successful (meaning I can co-opt it), then we'll talk.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:48 AM on August 23 [3 favorites]


There are entire websites built on this business model. "Do this logo, if the client chooses it, they'll pay you $x!" If not, oops, sorry, by the way, we now own the logo.

That just prays on people's ignorance and/or desperation.

I mostly do programming these days, I'm a good designer but not brilliant, and there are a lot of brilliant designers. It's also a "glamour" field that young people who don't need to work are attracted to, so the market is saturated with low-cost, high-talent people.
posted by maxwelton at 10:54 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


Edit: "young people who don't need to work" = "rich young people whose families support them".
posted by maxwelton at 10:55 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


There has to be some maxim about being on the internet too much: Even a funny, intelligent person will do some fucked-up shit eventually per x number of tweets. See: Takei, George.
posted by basicchannel at 10:57 AM on August 23 [4 favorites]


I'm a good designer but not brilliant, and there are a lot of brilliant designers.

What can I say - I disagree. Brilliant people are rare, in every field, unless the field is undemanding. I notice no surfeit of brilliant people in design. Now, I'm not denying that there are these odd chunks of time in history where suddenly there are quite a number of brilliant people in a given field (say, music), but today (i.e. roughly the last 110-15 years) I honestly don't see it in the design field. Truly great design is hard. I see a lot of people call themselves designers, and even make a living at it, and many of them are really bad. So bad, I would say the opposite - it's amazing how many hacks can make a good living in design. So no, not a lot of brilliant designers that I have come across, and believe me, I pay attention. If you are a brilliant designer, believe me, you get paid, because you are in high demand, and you are in high demand, because brilliant designers are rare. Of course, I'm not denying that some of that is down to an educated buyer - and many buyers have atrocious taste, which is how bad designers make a living, I guess.
posted by VikingSword at 11:02 AM on August 23 [5 favorites]


And then there's the NFL that now wants musicians to pay to perform during the half time show. http://www.kgw.com/story/sports/nfl/2014/08/21/nfl-super-bowl-pay-to-play/14390569/
posted by rundhc at 11:06 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


Well, to be fair, the NFL is a nonprofit organization, and you know how they're always hard-up for funding.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:17 AM on August 23 [5 favorites]


There has to be some maxim about being on the internet too much: Even a funny, intelligent person will do some fucked-up shit eventually per x number of tweets.

Everyone fucks up sooner or later: it's just that everyone scrutinizes everything and notices and yells about everything when you do it. Especially if you're famous.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:17 AM on August 23 [2 favorites]


Participation is voluntary, and those who participate probably enjoy themselves.

The final product from a contest like this is probably going to be better than anything solicited from a single designer. I'd expect that to be the case for any relatively small project. If someone needs a serious design or branding campaign, that is a different thing and professionals will need to be hired.

I am not going to be too distressed if customers, manufacturers/Stephen Fry, and contest participants are happier but some marketing designers are losing business.
posted by pseudonick at 11:48 AM on August 23 [4 favorites]


I have no problems with working for free — I just did an hour of photoshop for a cancer charity last night, and I've donated all rights to one of my knitting patterns to a fundraiser for another designer.

But I do have a problem with this idea that all parties involved get paid except for the creatives who are jostling for position at the bottom of the pyramid. If all entrants to these contests at least got an autographed (and I mean really autographed, not machine-stamped) photo from the celebrities, it would be some kind of value exchange.
posted by wenat at 12:04 PM on August 23 [5 favorites]


I get a little perturbed at "crowdsourcing" design. But I do make a distinction (fair or not) for what I consider "fansourcing" via a contest. I've submitted t-shirt designs to podcasts that I support and am a fan of, just for fun. I'm not doing it for "exposure" because I have zero expection that anyone will ever hire me based on a tee shirt I did for a contest. I think it's unrealistic to expect such a thing, but also disingenuous to promote your call for entries based on "exposure."

A call for entries is also vastly different than being approached indivdually and asked to do free work for the exposure. I've had that happen my whole adult (and teen) life on a regular basis, and it's always somewhat insulting. I've been asked to do free magic shows (back when I used to do such a thing), free web and graphic design, and free photography. It can be especially galling when you know that the person asking, as well as other people involved in the organization, are paid for their work.

I don't generally see a contest as being cheap, rather more of a type of fan involvement that many fans are happy to participate in. That's probably not always true, but there you go.
posted by The Deej at 12:04 PM on August 23 [5 favorites]


It's trading on fans desire to be involved in a way that abuses the position of celebrity.

I think this is the part that resonates most with me. I have huge respect for both Stevie Nicks and Stephen Fry. I think their body of work is marvellous, and I really admire Fry's forthrightness when it comes to talking about depression, gay rights, and all those other thorny issues.

But this kind of fansourcing cheapens my experience of their work. Just pay someone for their talents, please. (Also, Penguin used to be one of the global leaders in book design. I'm just as disappointed in them for not supporting designers.)
posted by wenat at 12:09 PM on August 23 [3 favorites]


As an entertainment lawyer it's your job to draft language like this, basically as the equivalent to walking around a house to make sure all the windows are locked tightly.

I'm not a lawyer, cribcage, so I do have a real question: Couldn't this language also be used to come after me if I submitted a losing design to the contest, and then I turn the design into something spectacular and world-changing, and they want to get a piece of the action?

Unlikely, I know, but still, is the possibility there?
posted by wenat at 12:18 PM on August 23


effbot, I'm not a lawyer but the passages you quote there do not appear to contradict or alter the bit quoted in the OP. The effectively-unlimited license to exploit any value posted content may have or develop in the future does not involve the transfer of copyright ownership itself, and it's certainly common for that sort of license to be asserted by web sites and everyone else, but that is definitely a "we reserve the right to screw you" deal: are there even any ways in which Talenthouse would not be able to exploit and profit from the works licensed this way?

It's exactly because agreement to terms like those, if enforceable, would leave the licensee holding all the cards for free that they'd function as a CYA.

The only way in which Facebook is limiting themselves in extracting value from the photos people post, the way they extract maximum value from every other action of their users, is that according to statements from FB spokespersons I'm finding upon googling, if you delete content and everyone you've shared that content with also deletes it (not sure exactly how that works because I've never used FB) their license to it ends. (I haven't come across a reference to where it says this in the terms, though.) But with the Talenthouse terms the license is explicitly "perpetual".
posted by XMLicious at 12:23 PM on August 23


wenat: "But this kind of fansourcing cheapens my experience of their work. Just pay someone for their talents, please"

Consider that there are *LOTS* of fans who would happily contribute to this contest, either for the joy of the exercise, or else value the chance at winning more than the time their contribution would take. "Just paying someone" would mean only ever talking to established design firms. Denying "Ultimate-Fry-Fan-13" access seems like "guildish" labour protection. I'm sure these contests aren't expecting top value talent.
posted by Popular Ethics at 12:43 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


When I was trying to be a professional radio disc jockey eons ago, I should've charged the stations for every Audition Tape I sent them...
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:52 PM on August 23


As an artist who lives in Canada, I know that exposure is something you can die from.

Hey!
posted by Sys Rq at 1:06 PM on August 23


Couldn't this language also be used to come after me if I submitted a losing design to the contest, and then I turn the design into something spectacular and world-changing, and they want to get a piece of the action?

No. The term "non-exclusive" is key. You aren't giving Talenthouse the exclusive right to use your design, just the right to (in casual terms) do whatever the hell they want with it. Let's say that two years from now, someone offers to turn your design into a T-shirt. You accept and the T-shirt becomes a huge seller, the next Forrest Gump smiley-face shirt. Talenthouse can't sue you for a piece of that pie, because you never told them that you wouldn't do other things with your design. They can, however, resurrect the design from their archives and display it prominently on their front page and say, "Look, we had it here first!" Because you gave them that perpetual, irrevocable right.

It's not manipulative language. It's boilerplate. Put it this way: in situations like this, there are some contract terms that a court will invalidate even if you did technically agree to them...because just, no, they're unfair and wrong. This isn't that. This is language where, if you're challenging it, then you are probably the predatory party. The court would roll its eyes. By contrast, if the terms were purporting to create an exclusive license—"By submitting User Content to us, you agree that we now own it outright"—then a court might very well invalidate that.

Obviously none of this is legal advice, neither to the person who asked me the question nor to anybody reading who might be considering entering any of these contests. If you want legal advice, don't trust a random person (me) who is chitchatting on the Internet. Seek consultation from a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction. In the United States, contact your local bar association and request someone who is familiar with intellectual property law.
posted by cribcage at 1:21 PM on August 23 [4 favorites]


I don't know about Fry, but can't Stevie Nicks just magic up a new shawl?
posted by Flunkie at 1:23 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's just a coincidence that spec work, internships, at-will work, and contract work are all on the rise, while wages for most "regular" work have been stagnant or falling for decades.

Nah.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:58 PM on August 23 [6 favorites]


Denying "Ultimate-Fry-Fan-13" access seems like "guildish" labour protection.

You know what? You're absolutely right. And it's done because devaluing work hurts us all in the long run.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:32 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


They can, however, resurrect the design from their archives and display it prominently on their front page and say, "Look, we had it here first!" Because you gave them that perpetual, irrevocable right.

Isn't what that verbiage actually grants way, way more extensive, though? Can't they also say "Talenthouse the website now has the business partners Talenthouse—The T-shirt Store and Talenthouse—The Breakfast Cereal!" and proceed to exploit not only the IP itself but now also the effort you and your own t-shirt business partner went to in creating the market for t-shirts depicting the work? As can anyone and everyone they transfer the license to.

Talenthouse taking via these conditions "the right to (in casual terms) do whatever the hell they want with it" doesn't seem like anything to be minimized; the purported idea behind copyright is to give the creator a government-enforced monopoly on most commercial ways of profiting from the work, but by agreeing to these terms it seems like you might well be ensuring that you'll be a minor player in any commercial market which might at some point develop for it. (Which kinda more seems to be the actual point behind modern copyright law, to ensure the easy separation of the commercial yield of creative works from the creators themselves.)

Yes, it's boilerplate, but it's boilerplate with the purpose of gaining a massive, overwhelming asymmetrical advantage over the creator, conditions which Talenthouse would never allow themselves to become subject to for free, certainly not on the assurance "oh ignore that, it's just boilerplate stuff that's perfectly reasonable as a step in entering a competitive process or communicating through a particular venue." The same document is also very explicit in saying that the other party, the web site user, does not gain any license or rights or interest in regards to Talenthouse or its user-generated-content web site.
posted by XMLicious at 2:42 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


I had a boss once who objected to the cost of logo design, "How long did it take to draw that, thirty minutes?" and I thought, "No, more like thirty years!"
posted by Anitanola at 3:00 PM on August 23 [4 favorites]


it's boilerplate with the purpose of gaining a massive, overwhelming asymmetrical advantage...

That isn't its purpose. It would be ineffective for that purpose. It is defensive boilerplate, not offensive, and it exists for two reasons. They want to be able to adapt their website and business without having to pay hourly for attorneys to review every individual bit of IP to see if WebSite2.0 constitutes a materially different use of the property than did Website1.7...and also, so it can be quoted in a motion to dismiss before some moronic lawsuit can cause any real bother.

One reason why Talenthouse would not exploit your IP as envisioned by your hypothetical is because, again, you have granted them a non-exclusive license. Let's say they do invest the time and effort to turn your brilliant design into a successful T-shirt ($24), lunch box ($16), coffee mug ($5), breakfast cereal ($4), etc. Thanks to Talenthouse's investment of time and effort, there is now considerable demand for a design that you, the Artist, have also turned into a T-shirt ($19), lunch box ($10), and coffee mug ($3). I'm assuming that manufacturing a breakfast cereal is outside your capacity...but hey, maybe instead of doing everything else, you just sell your entire copyright for $20,000 to Kellogg's who can manufacture their own profitable cereal ($2).

See also, why the Washington Redskins will probably end up changing their name, logo, and mascot. Not because the ownership cares about anybody's hurt feelings, but because if the trademark is invalid then the problem of counterfeit merchandise just escalated from difficult to insurmountable.
posted by cribcage at 3:13 PM on August 23


I had a boss once who objected to the cost of logo design, "How long did it take to draw that, thirty minutes?" and I thought, "No, more like thirty years!"

I am sceptical about this kind of argument. I am a highly educated and trained professional too. It took me years to develop the skills I have. I still get paid an hourly rate. Why are creative fields different?

I recognise that many creative professionals are underpaid by clients who don't recognise how long creating a piece of work actually takes (most obviously live performers, but others too), but I don't really buy the "time learning the trade" argument.
posted by howfar at 3:15 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


I think this 27b/6 post is even more apropos than the second link
posted by das_2099 at 3:26 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


Say what you want about Stevie Nicks, but she started out in her 20's dressing like a hip, young grandma, totally made that her thing, and 40 years later, she dresses the exact same way, and it totally still works!

I was prepared to be outraged about this contest, imagining hundreds of people actually making badass shawls and sending them in, but the contest says
Designers can submit a ready-made shawl design or a sketch. Both should include a written description about why they think this shawl would be appealing to Stevie Nicks.
So you send in a sketch, or a previously made design, and if you win you cover the parts and labor of putting it together out of the winnings, and you get to keep it anyway... that... doesn't sound so bad?
posted by hap_hazard at 3:41 PM on August 23




One reason why Talenthouse would not exploit your IP as envisioned by your hypothetical is because...

So by the way I'm a software engineer specializing in content management systems for web sites, not someone in a creative field, so this isn't about my IP, it's about how exploitative I've seen the owners of web sites, employers included, be of both users of their sites and of professional creative types.

Being able to pre-emptively dismiss a lawsuit because a company can demonstrate it has obtained for free a license to "do whatever the hell they want with it" is really exactly what I mean by "a massive, overwhelming asymmetrical advantage" over the creator. If you have to make assertions about practical intricacies and inevitabilities of t-shirt and breakfast cereal manufacturing that would supposedly make it impossible in practice for Talenthouse to ever exploit its license, rather than any inherent legal limitation that would prevent them from using a web-site signup as a justification to produce t-shirts and breakfast cereals incorporating a creative work they didn't produce themselves or pay for, that pretty firmly reinforces my view of what these conditions are actually obtaining from the people agreeing to them.

I understand that the legal verbiage is particularly designed and fit for a specific purpose but it is obviously written to grant much more expansive and generalized license than the scope of the events you've given as examples. I hope you'll pardon me not relying upon your personal assurance that this sort of thing is always only used for good and never for evil, given the behavior I've seen among clients and employers when they even bother with worrying about the law at all.
posted by XMLicious at 4:02 PM on August 23 [4 favorites]


It's trading on fans desire to be involved in a way that abuses the position of celebrity.

I don't think this really even approaches 'abuse' of one's celebrity. In the case of Stephen Fry's poster, it's a one-off 'fan art' competition, with a cash prize, a little bit of self-promotion or at least bragging rights if that's what you're into, and fans also get a brief connection with Stephen, and that's a completely valid draw for them. I'm a big fan of Stephen, and for all the years I've been entertained by his work, and other than a book or two, some tiny fraction of my Netflix subscription and my internet bill, I've got all that for free. So I wouldn't have a problem at all spending several hours designing something for him in return that I may never see a monetary profit from. I can think of a ton of artists, writers, and performers I would do some work for for a chance to have it be part of their promotional content.

If this was the primary (or at least very frequent) way he commissioned promotional artwork, then the abuse argument might have a bit more weight.

If you are a working designer or illustrator you don't do a bunch of initial ideas for free and then pick one to develop. The initial process is part of the price.

Not always. I've taken on several projects on spec doing side work from my main day job over the years designing print, web, 3D modeling and concept art for projects for feature films and start-ups that would only pay off if the project was picked up. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn't. It was an investment gamble, but they were for projects I believed in and we far more challenging than most of the paid side jobs I took on. Even when there was no payoff I still had gained a considerable amount of new knowledge and skills that improved my other work.

Outside of illustration this happens all the time. In TV and film, how many scripts does a writer create before one is finally picked up? How many manuscripts do authors create without pay before they are picked up by a publisher?

I do understand where you are coming from as a freelance/employed/contract designer. Bills need to be paid, and you need to get paid up front for at least a sizable percentage of the total cost. You can't run a business 100% on spec. I'm just saying it's not all that unusual to take a chance and do some spec work and see what comes of it.
posted by chambers at 6:13 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


I am sceptical about this kind of argument. I am a highly educated and trained professional too. It took me years to develop the skills I have. I still get paid an hourly rate. Why are creative fields different?

I recognise that many creative professionals are underpaid by clients who don't recognise how long creating a piece of work actually takes (most obviously live performers, but others too), but I don't really buy the "time learning the trade" argument.


As a guy who was in a band that once ended up being paid only in bananas at the end of the night at a gig (good venue, shitty night, bad weather, low turnout, our cut of the door charge didn't even cover the drinks we had) I agree the majority of live performers get a raw deal, but think about this: Live performances only last a couple hours, and the next day a new group comes in. But a logo, for example, can be for years - a good one can compliment a good business and establish a brand for longer than the entire life of the company, and a bad one can ruin first impressions worse than just about any single bad night a performer has. Hourly rates don't necessarily mean low pay, either. Look at the hourly rates for plumbers, electricians, mechanics, or freelance IT workers, the can charge a high hourly rate because of their experience. I think performers get shafted because the work they do is a transient thing, while the jobs I listed above have work that has a lot more permanence. The career from the performer's perspective is permanent, but for the guy hiring the performer, it's more about getting asses in seats for a few hours, then onto the next night and the next performer.
posted by chambers at 6:33 PM on August 23


tautological: "More broadly... seriously, just take the prize money and hire someone. A professional you communicate with and choose based on their prior work will almost always get you better results than random people from the Internet taking a shot in the dark."

If the goal was the product then sure that would make more sense. But if the goal is to engage with the fan base and delivery of the product is at most a nice to have ancillary to that goal then hiring a single designer would be a big fail.
posted by Mitheral at 6:44 PM on August 23 [8 favorites]


Bloody hell. I thought the argument over Amanda Palmer was pretty bad, but I saw the point of those saying that her fan musicians should be paid in more than merch and experience, even if I disagreed.

But these are competitions with prizes, ways for fans to interact with the person, and is entirely voluntary. This isn't your shitty client suggesting you should do something for free so you get 'exposure' and they get their work for nothing, and drawing that equivalence makes you sound like you have no idea what enjoying a performer's work can mean.

Hell, any designer, amateur or pro, who submits an idea will also not have to deal with a client demanding irritating changes and vague, undefinable demands, which if I've listened to designer complaints correctly might be a reason someone would enter, just because they can do exactly what they want with it.

I mean, I'm Team Compensating Creatives, but not at the expense of Team Fans Make Art. Self-righteous bloviating doesn't change that.
posted by gadge emeritus at 7:57 PM on August 23 [3 favorites]


I hope you'll pardon me not relying upon your personal assurance that this sort of thing is always only used for good and never for evil

What I said is that these things are drafted for defensive purposes and that they are rather ineffective for offense. I can't, nor can anyone, speak to how anything is "always" used. Good and evil also aren't concepts that come up much.

So by the way I'm a software engineer specializing in content management systems for web sites

I certainly pardon you for not taking my word. We're Internet strangers. Equally I hope you'll pardon me if I note that IT professionals arguing with lawyers about law on MetaFilter is kind of a cliche. For sake of politeness I'll leave it there and we can agree to disagree.
posted by cribcage at 8:42 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


But the certain knowledge on both our parts about t-shirt and breakfast cereal manufacture is, of course, unquestionable. :^) If these really are terms you would let someone who'd hired you to protect their IP assets agree to in a contract because they'd have no substantial offensive import, and I were your client, I would certainly defer to you.
posted by XMLicious at 10:28 PM on August 23


The thing is, the Stevie Nicks competition at least is not because she needs a new shawl design and her 'people'/costumers/whatever were too stingy to hire someone to design her one. It is publicity - they are reaching out to a demographic of crafty people* that are not necessarily professionals, and trying to to exposure across the internet for her new album release.

And to make out this is something new - as a kid** there were always competitions to design new posters/shirt designs/logos/whatever for TV shows, companies and community organisations. I remember an local environmental organisation my dad was part of in the 1980s asking members to design a logo and the payment was ... they would use the logo. That was pretty standard. This is nothing different, only that the internet is means this is being seen by a lot more people

*I follow a lot of fellow ravelers and knitwear designers on twitter. More than one knit designer is actively promoting this contest to their followers, so there are some designers out there that do not see this as some kind of threat. Including designers who have a real problem with people unwilling to pay a decent price for their patterns/designs.

** I'm 38, grew up in Australia. YMMV
posted by Megami at 11:50 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


> Hell, any designer, amateur or pro, who submits an idea will also not have to deal with a client demanding irritating changes and vague, undefinable demands

And the effort for handling it will be compensated for by the hour (or a generously estimated equivalent, if quoted as fixed-bid or piecework), if the designer was not an idiot when they had their lawyer prepare their contract paperwork.

See also: Mike Monteiro's Fuck You, Pay Me. Should really be the last word on this.
posted by ardgedee at 3:21 AM on August 24


Whether or not you like Harlan Ellison's abrasive personality, he makes a similar point with "They always want the writer to work for nothing."
posted by eye of newt at 2:43 PM on August 24


It's actually a simple principle, gadge: if you are asking fans to work professionally, then treat them like professionals. Which, more than anything else, means paying them.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:16 AM on August 26


Tony Hart must be glad he's fucking dead*.

*And not just because he's obviously in heaven†.

†Which looks just like The Gallery‡.

‡Which was just another exploitative scam, I now realise.

posted by howfar at 12:44 PM on August 26


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