Telling stories

When the Sharing Economy Becomes the Stealing Economy

Posted by southwrite on June 27, 2014

Frustrated womanIt’s beginning to look as if the sharing economy has become the “license to steal” economy for some big companies. Oakland, Calif.-based freelance writer and artist Susie Cagle discovered that recently when Yahoo used one of her illustrations as art for its Facebook promotion for a story on the sharing economy, but without any ask or compensation.

Even more galling the topic was one she had written about. In fact it was that story from which Yahoo swiped the art without the annoying bother of asking for permission or – God forbid – paying for it. You can see her article – The Case Against Sharing – and her art here. The article is a clear eyed appraisal of the sharing economy which tends to be very good for companies and their investors, but not so much for the ordinary people for whom it’s designed.

The Yahoo incident seems to be just another indicator of a well-established trend of devaluing the work of freelance writers, artists and other professionals. Content mills and large successful websites like VICE and the Huffington Post have made fortunes persuading writers to offer up their work for nothing or close to it. These sites and even well-established and respected publications like the venerable Atlantic Monthly have lately tried to get away without paying for work.

Like all trends it has filtered down from the big boys to the everyday schmuck trying to save a buck. A few years ago I was working at a university when the graphic designer came in to tell me the track coach had brought in a number of photos that he had copied from various website and wanted to use them in a brochure. Even after explaining to him the images were copyrighted and couldn’t be used without permission, he still wanted to do so.

As with Yahoo the people stealing should know better. I once found a magazine article I had written reprinted under the byline of a local blogger. Not only did she not pay for reprint use, but she didn’t bother to credit either me or the magazine. The article came down, but I wondered what were you thinking? You’re at least presenting yourself as a journalist, so you should have some idea of what it means to create something.

These are just a few examples, but there are hundreds, no thousands more.

Susie Cagle's illustration that found it's way to Yahoo article.

Susie Cagle’s illustration that was used to promote a Yahoo article about the sharing economy.

It’s hard to say where it will end, but in some ways we are at least partly to blame for this situation. Every time a writer agrees to contribute his work to a profit making site it cheapens the entire craft. The miserable writers who give away their work to enrich others make it that much harder for everyone else to make money. Soon it begins to seem that we’re not even entitled to make a living – of any kind.

So, if you’re thinking about not charging for your work not asking what you think you’re worth or not complaining when someone steals it, think again. You, me and everyone who makes this a profession are entitled to be paid.

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