Monday, July 27, 2009

For Free or Not For Free

Everybody wants everything for free. Why is that? And why do we - especially artists - tend to succumb? I see this trend a lot in the film industry. I get a lot of industry job listings through several online groups I belong to. One came through a while back from an industry person looking for an assistant. They wanted a part time person to do grunt work - filing, answering phones, taking care of phone calls. An assistant job that should pay at least $10/hr. But instead of offering money, they were looking for someone who wanted to work for free. Oh no, wait, they were offering perks. You got to be a part of their upcoming project (that will probably never get made) and you would be fed lunch. Whoopee. They didn't even bother to mask the job under the intern category. I'm sure someone snapped up this "job." So many people want to break into the industry, they're willing to work for free.

This trend is also something that has slowly been killing my graphics business. Too many designers (I use that word loosely) are willing to work for free. They don't really know what they're doing but some of my potential clients don't really care.They're interested in the bottom line more than they care about the quality of the work. I sometimes wonder if anyone can actually recognize quality anymore.

It's the same in the music industry. Maybe even worse. Bands are actually willing to pay to play. The clubs that used to define the music of our generation(s) - The Troubadour, The Whisky, The Roxy, to name a few L.A. - used to make the bands send in a demo tape and the club would pick and choose the bands that were worthy to adorn their stages. People would flock to these clubs to check out new acts that may well be the next big thing. Record companies would come out to see these bands. Deals were signed (yes, I know in many cases they sucked), groups were developed and records were made. We got such great music out of those days. The same music that many of the youngest listeners have on their iPods today. Now those clubs just charge the bands to play and make the bands sell the tickets so the club ends up being filled (filled may be a generous word) with friends and family and a groupie or two the band has pick up through MySpace. They then hand out their CDs - for free - and offer MP3 downloads - for free.

And you shouldn't be surprised that everybody expects me to take pictures for free. It's as if they are saying, "Come on, taking pictures is easy. Point and click. It's all digital. Just download the pictures and email them to me. What's the big deal?" I had a guy on MySpace who had downloaded one of my photographs and was using it as his avatar. No credit or © on it. I only found out because he friended me. When I told him he was infringing on my copyright he had the nerve to say, "What's the big deal? Don't you want people to see your work?" Back in Vancouver I had an Elton John picture taken from a record rep's office and put on t-shirts. I found out about it when I saw the shirts in a big national department store. I'm sure he made lots of money. I wasn't paid one cent. Not even a photo credit on the shirt.

Don't even get me started on the writing thing. We could be the biggest losers of the bunch. Here's a story...There was a guy on a screenwriting board I frequent saying he knew a guy who got a movie made by going directly to the producer, without an agent. The screenwriter was paid $1 for the script but was fine with it because it helped him get another one made later. These days, most production companies ask unproduced screenwriters for a free option and then have the nerve to ask for free rewrites. The writers gladly do them, just happy that someone likes their writing, happy that someone is willing to give them a chance. Hell, I write this blog for free every single day. And sometimes my posts take a couple of hours of what I obviously consider my valueless time.

What the fuck is wrong with us? When did we strip ourselves of our self-worth? Our value? How did we let the money people convince us that we were lucky to get produced or recorded or shown or published? I understand the concept that you sometimes have to give something away to reap greater rewards later, but this thing has really gotten out of hand. You know, if every creative person decided today that they wouldn't do anything for free, people would probably be happy to pay. They'd have no choice. Because there would be no free alternative. Not to mention it's really good for the economy to get paid for what you do well.

Let's figure out a way to turn this trend around. And...


neil storey said...

been saying more or less the same thing for months... my cashmere jumper theory... maybe, just maybe, if enough make a 'noise' about this... then...
but... in any event, well written / well argued and, of course, the argument is irrefutable.


Anonymous said...

What fools think ANYTHING is free... the biggest SCAM perpetrated by those who MUST keep the consumer machine going...

The Internet is free? Your ISP is free? NO. Your electricity is free? NO.


Paul Marangoni said...

Sooooo true it sickens me. But with everyone drunk on narcissism and self delusional ego stroking, it's just gonna get worse. Until everything sucks, and no one is making money from any sort of creative endeavor.

Tom Cain said...

What a fantastic post! Brilliantly sums up the crisis facing the creative industries today. Why should we be the only people in the whole damn economy who don't get rewarded for our work? I have stuck this on my Facebook page, where hundreds of people will read it ...

... Just a pity that you still won't get paid!

Nigel Parker said...

Great stuff. As an ex-friend of mine used to say: "If you're not getting paid, it's a hobby" - not that there's anything wrong in having a hobby. But it should be the artist's choice.
There are so many reasons why consumers no longer value creative works: the perception that creators are either vastly wealthy or talentless failures - neither of which deserve payment; the ubiquity of legitimate "free" services - TV (especially MTV), radio, background music etc - which makes the internet seem like just another delivery service; the perception that only "big business" benefits from any payment - so when you steal your film/music, you're sticking it to The Man; the perception that copyright income is just a bit extra, something for nothing - it only takes a minute to take a photo, an hour to write a song, how can it be worth so much?
Fundamentally, consumers don't understand the economics of creation and reward - and don't want to know.
There's a story about Picasso - I don't know if it actually happened - a lady accosts him in a restaurant, and asks if he would do a drawing on the tablecloth for her, as she is such a fan. After much persuading, he obliges. Not wanting to appear a philistine she says "You must let me give you something for the drawing" "Alright", says Picasso, "ten thousand dollars." "Ten thousand dollars!" shrieks the woman, outraged. "But it only took you a minute!" "No," says Picasso, "it took me a lifetime".
That's what copyright should guarantee - a lifetime's reward for a lifetime's effort. Good luck with it.

Chesher Cat said...

Thanks for the positive feedback...from this and other people who have emailed me, I seem to have struck a chord.

Maybe if enough people pass this around we can create a movement or better yet a creative riot.

Hey, Tom - I hope you post a link or at least gave me a credit...I won't ask for or be expecting any royalties.

submandave said...

I've always seen enabling technologies as a dual edged sword. On the one hand, it's great that modern recording technology, for example, has opened the music business to many who may have previously been excluded (they don't look right or say the right things, etc.), but, on the other hand, it also serves to lower the average level of skill and competence within the community, lessening consumers' expectations. Twenty years ago, to be a good portrait photographer required equipment and studio resources one could only acquire after years of work and success, while today a $300 dollar point-and-shoot with the exposures fixed in Photoshop is good enough for most.

In the long run I am afraid this equalizing of the masses will result in everyone being equally mediocre. Instead of having true artists, we'll just become a nation of dilettantes.

On a less down note, I noticed you ended your piece on expecting free use of intellectual property with a free clip from a commercial product. Not sure if it was authorized by the copyright holder, but at least it had attribution. 8^D

Chesher Cat said...

Submandave - funny about the clip...I was considering sending WB a bill for advertising their movie on my site, but then decided I would let them have it for free.