Archive for July 18th, 2018

Writer Ted Gioia to the Library of Congress: “Pay us!”

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018
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Ted Gioia in Austin, Texas, 2016. (Photo: Brenda Ladd)

Jazz scholar Ted Gioia has had enough. Today, he sent a letter to the Library of Congress that is making the rounds on the social media. Its message is simple: “Pay us!” (The letter is below.) ”

“I find it troubling that writers, musicians, and other members of the creative economy are often asked to work for free,” Ted wrote me. “No one would ever ask a car mechanic or plumber or the chef at the corner restaurant to provide unpaid labor. Why are writers treated this way? But it’s especially troubling when an institution such as the Library of Congress does this –and keeps on doing it over a period of years.”

At a film shoot in 2016 (Photo: Terri Dien)

He wrote an article on the subject for The Daily Beast several years ago here, when he was first approached by the Library of Congress. “I recently got asked by an administrator at the Library of Congress to do unpaid labor for its website. Yes, I am familiar with people asking me to do time-consuming projects for free—I get at least one such request every day. But I was dumbfounded to get hit up by a federal agency with an annual budget of $750 million,” wrote the author of The History of Jazz and Jazz Standardsboth published by Oxford University Press.

“Yet clearly my experience was not a random event. A few days later, the Smithsonian launched its Transcription Center, which relies on unpaid volunteers to digitize 75,000 pages of documents. I applaud this effort to preserve our nation’s heritage, but I also am puzzled why our overseers in Washington, D.C. can’t pay minimum wage for this project. They wouldn’t ask people to work for free at other government agencies, so why are arts and culture projects the exception?”

  1. Only charities and non-profits should ask for unpaid workers to staff their operations or undertake time-consuming projects.
  2. If a creative professional wants to volunteer to help a for-profit business, that is permissible. But the professional initiates these relationships, and the business should not request or expect it.
  3. Businesses that ask creative professionals to work in exchange for “exposure” should be publicly named and shamed.
  4. When an organization built on free labor starts making money, it needs to start paying for work. The wealthy should never ask the poor to work for free.

“Pretty simple, no? All this is really just good manners and fair practice.”

Postscript on July 21: Hey, there’s more ways you’re getting swindled. See our follow-up here.