Recently, there have been a few articles written about the predatory nature of some of the biggest content producers on the web. Namely, that they prey on marginalized groups to create content without paying them or lock them into contracts that limit their ability to profit from their own work. Although it’s very true that internet outlets certainly have a habit of engaging in these practices, it is also true that creators can protect themselves better simply by doing two things: Reading their contracts and not working for free.
Creators aren’t often taught much in the way of business. Money is a four letter word when you’re an artist. This is true in all creative fields. It is pushed that it is MORE important to do the work and get it out there than it is to be PAID for the work. Which is counterintuitive for something that is a job. So when faced with an opportunity to do something you love and have it seen, many creators jump at the chance with the idea that the rewards will come later.
They won’t. That’s why electricians tell you how much something will cost up front. Not because they don’t love what they do but because they understand that jobs require payment in real world money. Not Exposure Bucks.
Not having a background in business also leads to agreeing to bad contracts. Many creators, young or just new, don’t understand what a lot of legalize in the things they are signing mean or how it will affect them in the long run, if they bother to fully read the contract at all.
The websites that prey on creators are counting on you not to read or question the terms they set out in those contracts. They’re multipage documents that include a lot of jargon which can be overwhelming. But, at the same time, as scary as they are, reading that before you sign is part of your new job. And if you don’t like what it says, DO NOT SIGN IT!
These places prey on your desperation to be seen or heard. They know that you have been conditioned to think the important part of being a creative is to be known but it is not. If you’re doing creative WORK then the important thing is to be paid. The fact that you enjoyed it is a bonus.
You are not missing out because you don’t agree to be taken advantage of. I will say it again, YOU ARE NOT MISSING OUT BECAUSE YOU DON’T AGREE TO BE TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF!
So what should you do when an opportunity comes knocking but they can’t pay or the contract seems a bit off?
If it’s the contract, read it, ask questions if you don’t understand something and if you don’t like something, renegotiate it. It’s scary because they might walk away but if the point of contention is something that will harm your career in the long run, it’s not worth it. Remember, you still have to live and support yourself long after their contract is up.
If they can’t pay, tell them to call you back when they can cut a check. Your time and work is valuable. Stop giving it away for free. That old adage “Why buy the cow when you can have the milk for free?” is a gross, sexist statement when applied to women’s bodies BUT is a perfect expression for working for exposure. Why should anyone pay you if you’re willing to put in your best for nothing?
Stop doing that.
So if you want to not be taken advantage of, follow these two simple steps.
1. Don’t work for free. You’re worth more.
2. Read your contract. The whole thing.
You may get nervous because you feel like you’re going to miss a chance at something great but if that chance will ultimately hurt you and the people you’re working for profit FAR more than you will, then you’re not missing anything.