Once again, Damyanti has written a thought-provoking post about writers being asked to write for free. Hers was inspired by the even more thought-provoking “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!” by Tim Kreider for the New York Times.
One of the things I most value about U.S. copyright law is its recognition of the fact that as the creator of a literary work (which, for legal purposes, includes the less than “literary” works out there), I have the exclusive right to reproduce it; to create derivative works based on it; to display or perform it; to give away, loan, rent, or sell copies or recordings of it in any medium. It is mine.
If you ask me to write something for you, for free – absent any contract that specifies a transfer of any of these rights – the work actually still belongs to me.
Bloggers might want to think about that last sentence long and hard.
The short answer to Damyanti’s question is, “Yes.” After all, you wouldn’t be reading this if my answer were, “No.” But I agree with Tim Kreider, too:
This same figure reappears over the years, like the devil, in different guises — with shorter hair, a better suit — as the editor of a Web site or magazine, dismissing the issue of payment as an irrelevant quibble and impressing upon you how many hits they get per day, how many eyeballs, what great exposure it’ll offer. “Artist Dies of Exposure” goes the rueful joke.
I hate the word “exposure.” It makes me think of writers in the park, naked under their overcoats, “exposing themselves” to anyone who can read.
Exposure is overrated. Eyeballs are overrated. Interested readers – that’s who I write for, and they’ll buy my books or hire me and pay me a fair wage, or they’ll find someone else who is willing to starve. As Kreider writes:
Not getting paid for things in your 20s is glumly expected, even sort of cool; not getting paid in your 40s, when your back is starting to hurt and you are still sleeping on a futon, considerably less so. Let’s call the first 20 years of my career a gift. Now I am 46, and would like a bed.
Practicalities aside, money is also how our culture defines value, and being told that what you do is of no ($0.00) value to the society you live in is, frankly, demoralizing.
I don’t always define value as money, personally. But I feel strongly that when we barter value for value, leaving cash out of the equation, we define for ourselves what is of value to us at the time, and what we’re willing to trade for it. I have a job; I’m not starving. I can afford to write as a hobby in addition to any professional writing I do. Today. Here and now. So here, now, on this blog, your comments and participation in the discussion are valuable to me. If I wrote only for myself, I wouldn’t have a blog.
And yet, comments here don’t automatically convey to anyone the right to copy my posts and publish them on their own blog or ezine, or to include them in an anthology of opinion articles they’re working on. And if someone asks me to write for free, I’ll consider it – but I’ll also consider what benefits they’re getting from it, and I’ll expect to share in those. Or I’ll likely decline the invitation.
Harlan Ellison says it so well:
A lot of people think Ellison is a jerk, but seriously – can you really fault him for this?
Another problem is writers, musicians, and artists who don’t value their own time and effort enough to think their creations are worth paying for. I’d urge you not to be one of them. It’s fine to be generous and give your work away for free, if you choose to do so. But don’t fall all over yourself with gratitude that someone was willing to take that gift and give you “free exposure” for it.
Latest posts by HollyJahangiri (see all)
- A Brand New Blog with a Fresh Perspective! - September 15, 2017
- If We Were Having Coffee, I’d Tell You to #WriteBravely… - August 12, 2017
- A Taste of Home for the Next Generation (Interview with Sapna Anu George) - August 9, 2017