13th July, 2018

Why you should avoid the temptation of cheap creative labour

Elon Musk has opened an interesting discussion recently – this time, it’s the value of a farting unicorn.

In case you missed it, the Tesla CEO got into hot water because of Tesla’s use of an artwork (yes, you guessed it, the farting unicorn) and what the company owes the artist for the use of his design.

While the artist wanted to be acknowledged and compensated for the work’s use for a year, Musk said on Twitter that it would be “kinda lame” for the artist to sue (although he has since deleted the tweet).

He implied the artists should be happy “for the exposure”, while the company monetised their content.

“I see it on a regular basis as it’s a big part of my job, and it’s getting worse. It’s not just the big businesses either,” Media Arts Lawyers senior lawyer Yasmin Naghavi, told The Pulse.

She said she’s seen more businesses land in legal trouble for using creative assets without the artist’s permission.

“A lot of my days are spent drafting infringement notices or cease and desist letters for related issues – and that’s where the artist can afford to do so,” she said.

Naghavi says most situations are resolved when she sends a letter to the business that is infringing Australian law because a lot of businesses simply don’t know the laws, rather than deliberately trying to get away with something.

“Very rarely will we have a business assert that they have the right to [use the artist’s work], and not at least try and make a payment to settle the matter, or just take the work down,” she said.

But while Naghavi does take on some pro-bono work, she says the prospect of a lengthy process to get compensation in cases where an artist’s work has been incorrectly used can lead to resolving matters via the social media route.

When artists strike back

Given small businesses are spending more money, time and effort on their brands’ online presence, a dispute with an artist can be damaging.

South Korea-based artist Ryan Estrada started the Twitter account For Exposure over five years ago to highlight cases where creative professionals had been asked to give businesses their work for free.

In some cases, they were abused when they rejected the request.

“It started as a little joke,” he told The Pulse. “I just noticed that asking folks to work for exposure was a trend, and I made a joke on my own Twitter account that someone should start the account.

“It’s been over five years and it never runs out of material!”

Estrada says that since he started the account, he’s seen an uptick in artists publicly naming and shaming companies and individuals giving artists a raw deal.

“I think artists always have been able to stand up for themselves. Now it’s online, people are realising more and more how much we all get asked the same things and how silly it is. People are standing together more, which is great,” he said.

Both Naghavi and Estrada think the simplest solution is for businesses to simply work with artists, paying them a decent day’s pay for a decent day’s work.

Build a deeper relationship

“Working in partnership with an artist can actually yield more benefits for the business because you’ll have double the promotion and it will add legitimacy to your business,” said Naghavi.

You only need to look at the range of “brand collaborations” happening in several sectors to know that two brands working to promote themselves in tandem will yield a better result.

READ: Using brand collaborations to give your hospitality business a boost

It’s about moving those people who provide creative work from your business out of the procurement bucket and into the collaboration pool.

The procurement approach to creative work has led to freelancing platforms where businesses can buy creative assets like logos for dirt cheap.

This, in Estrada and Naghavi’s mind, has led to the further erosion of the value of creative work.

“It’s often a matter of ‘you get what you pay for’. Keep in mind that majority of the individuals offering their services on such sites are not full time creative professionals, perhaps just beginners,” said Naghavi.

“That said, if you don’t really care about how your brand is perceived then you’ll probably get something you’re satisfied with via one of those platforms.

“If you do care about your brand, you should invest in it; and that includes paying a creative person the fair consideration for their creative output.”

Estrada said that, aside from the ethical, moral and legal issues associated with trying to pay artists as little as possible for their work, it sends a message that people can’t trust your company.

“The art people get on those kinds of sites are often mashed-together Clipart that makes a business look unprofessional. A bad design does the exact opposite of what the client intended,” he said.

“Business is all about building trust and relationships. If you’ve built a lot of one-sided relationships taking advantage of artists and showing yourself to be untrustworthy, it rarely ends well.”