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I am angry about some industries

Who cares
There's a really good discussion over at Drawger right now, over Gary Taxali's flipping off at wannabe-clients who ask illustrators to work for insulting fees, or for free!

Go read it, because it's an absolutely wonderful display of a creative community coming together to support each other and offer advice, but here's the gist of Gary's anger:

In the last little while, there has been a MAJOR backslide in the industry. Poor rates have been an issue for a while but things are becoming worse. Clients' fees are getting even lower and the rights they're demanding are even higher.

You want examples? How about SWATCH calling me and asking me to design a watch. They wanted a complete transfer of copyright for a paltry fee. As if that's going to happen. Google calls me and wants my work for their new search engine all over the web, the fee? Nothing.

Gee, Google sure has been hit by some hard times! I had no idea. I'll have to make sure I use their services more, maybe click on some ads. Help them get back those hundreds of billions of dollars.

In an effort to somehow get by, Google has been forced to ask a great number of commercial illustrators for free work. It's the only way! The mean and unreasonable Melinda Beck thoughtlessly send back this reply to such a request:

I would love to create original artwork for Googles new browser Chrome, however I cannot in good conscience do this work for free. I feel this sets a bad precedent that would be followed by other corporations. Below is a brief discussion of the reasons given for non-payment. I hope this will help you in understanding why I and other illustrators have reluctantly turned down this offer.

Great Exposure
I have done gift cards for Target that are in stores nation wide and Animations for Nickelodeon/ Noggin that run 24 hours a day worldwide on cable TV. Both of these jobs were high profile and gave my work great exposure but both clients still paid me for my services without question. These jobs do promote my artwork. However the use of these illustrations also enhanced the value to the Target and Viacom brands.

No budget
Besides creating art for large corporations I have also done work for small companies and non-profits. Some of my past clients include The Sierra Club, VERA institute of Justice, Sesame Street Productions and Southern Poverty Law Canter. All of these companies pay illustrators modest fees.

Google does not pay for illustration
Google paid the printer for the brochure you sent us and many other services provided by out side vendors. Why is Illustration exempt?

What difference one paycheck makes
To create this artwork would take me 40 hours or the equivalent of one work week. This would be the same as if after a week of work next paycheck from Google was for $0?

Why this is a particularly bad time to make such a request
With the collapse of the magazine and newspaper industry and advertising budgets cut this is a particularly predatory time to make such a request. Many talented illustrators are strapped for cash and will not make it through this recession. Leaving the illustration world much smaller and less diverse.

Please reconsider your policy and support the arts by paying Illustrators

Melinda Beck

Really. Google.


And although I'm sure you've either already read the discussion or shall do right after this, I'm going to post this short quote from William Self:

There are a hell of a lot of organizations out there looking for freebies from writers, illustrators and photographers. They are building their little empires almost entirely using free content - sifting through the likes of Flickr looking for the right image they can use in exchange for a photo credit. This is where the digital age has failed us. We've allowed our work to become too accessible. How did these guys pick up images in the good old days? They had photographers in their staff, they hired freelance photographers or they purchased images through a stock agency! They used to pay money in exchange for art!

As artists we need to wise up and learn not to give our talent away for free. Sure it's nice to get our work out there but think of the bigger picture and what we have enabled.

I think the advice coming from everyone here is important not only to illustrators or artists in general, but also of course to businesses big and small, and just to people in general.

EDIT: Brian Stauffer has done some fantastic illustrations for Google.


( 45 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 2nd, 2009 01:16 pm (UTC)
I've seen this in every field I've worked in. People want free design, programming, technical support, craftwork, illustration... and if they pay at all, they don't want to pay more than materials costs.

And you can sit them down and talk to them about how your TIME is actually worth something, just like THEIR time. And that PAID work looks a lot BETTER on a resume or in a portfolio. And it doesn't help because the moment you say "No, because..." they've already turned around to look for someone else, someone stupider.

But illustration... it's like pulling teeth from a baby. Watching people's eyes glaze over when you talk about usage rights and credits. "But why is clip art so cheap then?" I mean, sure, we're not stuck in the dark ages of work-for-hire per-page rates doing inks for Marvel or whatever. I'd compare it to how the SLIGHTEST bit of computer competence leads to everyone and their ugly kids asking for help setting up their computers (for HOURS, for FREE) but the amount of time, effort, energy, and FUCKING BRAIN JUICE, sweet irreplaceable essential creative limited-supply and too-easily-lost brain juice that illustration requires... there's no contest.

And don't even get me started on how so many people still EXPECT to get a work-for-hire full rights transfer. WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK.
May. 2nd, 2009 01:30 pm (UTC)
I feel like the best solution is more, more, more, more, more education, so that both the public and illustrators themselves are aware of how things should be, even at a basic level. So people not only know their rights and how typical contracts with clients go, but that they know they need to know this in the first place!

So many illustrators don't go to a school where they're taught this sort of thing. Which is why I think illustrator communities are so important. I hate that in some ways it's such a solitary kind of industry.
May. 2nd, 2009 01:44 pm (UTC)
That's why whenever someone tells me they're interested in becoming an illustrator, I buy them a copy of the Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines and make them read it. SOBERING!

The lack of education is also, I think, responsible for the recurring kafuffle about photo reference... not enough people had teachers with a filing cabinet full of clipped-out photos of Things to use as Reference which is Actually Completely Fine To Do.
May. 2nd, 2009 01:47 pm (UTC)
Nick, I want to be an illustrator.


*goes to the library*
May. 2nd, 2009 07:40 pm (UTC)
Or, you could give me a mailing address! Seriously.
May. 5th, 2009 12:10 am (UTC)
I'm right there with you brutha! As a certified network engineer, I suspect that I'll never see the end of "free tech support". The worst are the repeat offenders. People have this train of thought that once you help them with something, no matter how basic or inane, that from that point onward you have committed yourself indefinitely to them for all future workings of their pc life (and they occasionally even BLAME you when something breaks down).

There's not many industries where this would happen, I'd imagine. If you had a friend who's a plumber or a sparky, you'd ask for mates rates, but you wouldn't even consider 'free' because you know how much they would be getting paid if they spent that same time elsewhere. IT is my profession, not my hobby.

I think part of the issue lay between Offered Vs Requested. If you request something, it's a bit rude to expect it for free. On the flip side, if you offer service/work on something that was unsolicited, expecting reimbursement on that is a bit cheeky.
May. 2nd, 2009 03:47 pm (UTC)
This is one of the issues that makes up the print vs. web argument too, in terms of webcomic artists. The print guys can't get their heads around the idea of giving some things away for free, but charging money for other stuff (a lot of which is 'merchandise' and doesn't count as 'core content').

I'm still not sure on it, but I think if someone asks you to do a piece for them and it's specific, then it should cost money. Period.

I remember getting out of film school ready to go be a cartoonist, (this was in '97) and the attitude was that I would work for free because _____ (I was young, I was unknown, people were friends of mine, etc etc etc) and I thought "Man, people *said* there's no money in art. NO KIDDING."

I got commissioned by a "friend" to design a logo for his company softball team, and was expected to do it for a case of beer. He's.... no longer my friend.

The Internet and this whole 'freedom of information' thing has only made it worse, because the attitude of most people is that if you post it online, it somehow instantly becomes public domain.

Sorry this post is long-winded, but yeah. Artists deserve at least as much respect as writers, photographers, graphic designers and web programmers, and it's sad that we're still fighting for it.
May. 2nd, 2009 03:59 pm (UTC)
Long winded is FINE, the post was long winded.

Yes, doing things for friends is a tricky area. I mean, if it's not so important and it gets in the way of your paid work/JOB, then people shouldn't be afraid to say 'no'. Especially if it happens frequently, and especially if that friend really can afford to pay, they'd just rather buy another computer game/go out drinking one night.

I don't think it's sad that having a -name- drives up fees, but that not having one can often mean people don't think you deserve a decent rate. Illustration/cartooning is a trade exactly like any other. You don't ask a butchers for a free leg of ham, or to come over to your house to chop up your cow for free.
May. 2nd, 2009 04:21 pm (UTC)

May. 2nd, 2009 06:48 pm (UTC)
Very similar to open source projects for programmers...
People put a ton of work into open source projects, they're often used by big corporations. It's difficult to monetize them. Consulting companies make a lot of money off of selling support for them (think IBM, Redhat, etc). Not all programmers are willing to work for no money, but others are... and do sometimes.

I think a lot of parallels can be drawn. So why is there a militant response amongst artists to other artists doing work for free, but the response amongst programmers seems to be pretty positive?

I think it hinges around customizations and improvements being requested/made to open source projects. Companies often give back to better the work, etc.

Could the artist community organize some mechanism to encourage collaboration and sharing without sacrificing their time for nothing? Often an open source project will be picked up by a company or a company will help fund the project.

Maybe a site could be formed to share art, where companies would be encouraged to add the art they've paid for to the pool of art, as well as to share new art being created specifically for them. i.e. I need a paintbrush icon, I pay an artist to create it, and share it with the project.

Then again, maybe the parallel doesn't exist because the artist community wants to be more quid pro quo.

I think the other thing that might not fit is that artists seem to expect to be paid per use of their art, rather than for creating of their art. Consulting companies and software development companies sometimes use this model, but individual programmers almost always are paid salary and the company retains all copyrights to the work created.

I think the two industries have a lot in common, but they have taken two entirely different paths. I think each could learn a lot from the other.
May. 2nd, 2009 10:59 pm (UTC)
With friends, work trade can often be a fair way to get around the "You expect me to pay?/You expect me to work for free?" divide.

"Yeah, Mike, I'd be happy to do this for you, but it'll take 4 hours of my time. If you'd be willing to come over and help my husband clean the gutters Saturday afternoon, I'll spend that time inside designing your logo."

Then they can put up or shut up.
May. 2nd, 2009 05:01 pm (UTC)
Google has a long and storied history of an abject refusal of any sort of visual element. They have an obsessive desire to come across as being specifically design-stupid and clueless about anything other than code. For example.

They've also been in the whole "INFORMATION WANTS TO BE FREEEEE" camp for a hell of a long time, which is generally a position held only by the people who stand to profit from that free information, rather than from the people creating the information to begin with.

Even when there's no profit motive, they end up being pretty invasive and pervasive; for example, their gigantic catalog of old Usenet posts, which is EXTREMELY painful to opt out of (for every single old post you want removed from the archive, you have to send them a separate email, from the address that the post was originally made from, and wait for them to manually process it). I posted a lot of retarded shit to Usenet when I was a freshman, and my university account is long-gone. Sucks to be me, I guess.
May. 4th, 2009 05:16 am (UTC)
"They have an obsessive desire to come across as being specifically design-stupid and clueless about anything other than code"

I don't know how many Google employees you got this impression from; but I'll bet I've met more, because I work there, and I haven't gotten this impression. I'll grant that they're not as good at visual design as Apple (my former employer), but they do care about it and have a number of UX designers. They even do user testing, which Apple flat-out refuses to do since SJ came back.

"They've also been in the whole "INFORMATION WANTS TO BE FREEEEE" camp for a hell of a long time, which is generally a position held only by the people who stand to profit from that free information"

Uh, what? Like the Free Software Foundation, or Creative Commons, or Lawrence Lessig, or those other plutocrats?

"for every single old post you want removed from the archive, you have to send them a separate email, from the address that the post was originally made from"

Would it be better if people could send takedown requests for any old posts they didn't like, without verification? No, then people would complain about Google aiding censors. Face it: It's the Internet. The Internet doesn't have a Delete button.
May. 4th, 2009 05:23 am (UTC)
I'm just talking to the impression I get as an Internet citizen, and from reading things like this and the stopdesign article I linked to previously.

Uh, what? Like the Free Software Foundation, or Creative Commons, or Lawrence Lessig, or those other plutocrats?

The major difference is that those organizations exist to make it easier for people to release their own content on their own terms. There's a huge difference between "this information I created for the betterment of humanity wants to be freeeee" and "all this information I harvested from other sources I don't have any rights to wants to be freeee." Google is almost definitely more interested in the second case, not the first case. For every major opensource project they've contributed to or released there's a dozen completely-closed hey-use-our-public-APIs-but-be-tied-to-our-systems web services. Not to mention things like GMail where they provide partial (and broken) implementations of standard protocols like IMAP.

Would it be better if people could send takedown requests for any old posts they didn't like, without verification? No, then people would complain about Google aiding censors. Face it: It's the Internet. The Internet doesn't have a Delete button.

It would have been better if it had been an opt-in thing. Before DejaNews came around, most people never had any idea that someone would be permanently storing a massive archive of every single post to usenet. Sure, the capability was there, and you could be sure that if you were being particularly asinine, someone would be holding on to your posts to throw them back at you, but that's hugely different than a vast automatically-created archive that nobody knew existed until it was too late.
May. 2nd, 2009 05:18 pm (UTC)
To be fair, though, Google doesn't have that much money to throw around, and illustrators in a general sense have way too much.
May. 3rd, 2009 01:40 am (UTC)
I don't know any illustrators who have what I would call too much money.
May. 3rd, 2009 02:52 am (UTC)
I was being ironic, I hoped that would come across. Obviously it didn't. :(
May. 3rd, 2009 05:07 pm (UTC)
Silly internet and its lack of tone!
May. 3rd, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC)
I know, right?! Someone should get on that! Maybe Google..
May. 2nd, 2009 06:19 pm (UTC)
You pay for everything?
Because I sincerely doubt that you paid for your web browser.
May. 2nd, 2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
Have you heard of Katie Lane's blog "Work Made for Hire", who offers lots of (as far as I can tell) useful advice for freelancers ? Like, how to negotiate your rates, etc...
May. 4th, 2009 06:24 am (UTC)
Never heard of it, I'll take a look sometime when I have a moment!
May. 2nd, 2009 09:58 pm (UTC)
Google is a bunch of fart-sniffing douchebags who think they are so fucking awesome people should whore themselves to participate in the Grand Google Fart Sniff, well listen up google, FUCK YOU you're a bunch of queered dorks, I hope you spend the money you save from fucking artists on some Clearasil so you can rub it on your fat nerdy face.


the art world
May. 2nd, 2009 10:24 pm (UTC)
How about their mission with Google Chrome?
I don't know if you have have thought about this or not - but Google is giving that browser, Chromium, away for free. To my knowledge there's absolutely nothing they are doing with it that's generating income. That is if you do not consider "good will" to be a something that creates revenue.

I might be naïve, but doesn't that count for something? If I were running a company, and actually doing some open source stuff, I'd at least try and ask the community to give something back to the it... Even if I had a ton of money.
May. 4th, 2009 01:52 am (UTC)
Re: How about their mission with Google Chrome?
Good will never paid a bill or put shoes on my child. I admit there should be some caring people in the world. But Google being kind we all should be kind like them and give our work away? Come on give me a break. Someone in their executive chain of management has thought this through enough to realize it as a Public Relations "cool" thing to do to get more attention and drive people to Google as a source. It wasn't because they feel like being kind and giving something away.
May. 4th, 2009 05:28 am (UTC)
Re: How about their mission with Google Chrome?
"Good will never paid a bill or put shoes on my child. I admit there should be some caring people in the world. But Google being kind we all should be kind like them and give our work away? Come on give me a break."

Wow, 'Anonymous'. This is kind of a jaw-droppingly selfish statement compared to the attitude of programmers toward open source. I just spent most of my weekend 'giving my work away' for an open source project I recently started. Why? Because it's a cool thing and I want lots of people to use it, and I want to give back to the community that's given me a lot of great software for free.

Chrome is 99% open source, and a lot of the work that's gone into it (and its cousin Safari) has been by people contributing for free. That is also how we got Firefox, Linux, apps like the Gimp, languages like PHP and Python, LiveJournal itself, and most of the architecture that became the Internet. None of this, of course, has destroyed the ability of talented programmers to make money writing code.

But art is somehow different? Giving it away is evil? That can't be true, because Rebecca is giving away these great cartoons, and sites like DeviantArt and Flickr are full of Creative-Commons-licensed reuseable art.

It's kind of weird to see all this anger against Google, when the company has probably never charged any of you a dime for anything.

(And yes, I work there, but I freely admit that a lot of what Google does sucks. I'm certainly no fanboy; they just pay my salary and I put up with their lameness alongside their goodness. But as big corporate entities go, they're about as benign as you could possibly hope for.)
May. 19th, 2009 11:59 pm (UTC)
Re: How about their mission with Google Chrome?
Companies don't do anything for free. Companies, regardless of their industry, exist to make money. Though it may be hard for us, the end users, to see, everything Google does earns them money in the end.
With a company as huge and multifaceted as Google, or Microsoft, or even McDonalds, it's almost impossible for an outsider to see the effects that one project has on another.
Take the McDonalds children's foundation. Considered on it's own, it's a charitable cause which, directly, earns McDonalds nothing. Take a step back, however, and you see the huge tax rebate McDonalds gets for every "charitable" dollar they give out, not to mention the publicity, which invariably takes attention away from the many horrible things they do.
Chrome, from an outside perspective, seems to be a completely free, open source project. But I would bet good money that it's going to make Google a whole lot of money in the end, and I think they can - and SHOULD - afford to pay the people that make it happen.
May. 2nd, 2009 11:30 pm (UTC)
Chrome or Chromium?
Question is was it for Chrome or Chromium?

Chromium is the open source part of chrome.

Open source is where people contribute their work for free, so everyone can use it. And lots of programmers around the world do this, if not on Chromium, but on other applications.

Chrome is google's, so if they were asking for you to give work to that for free, then I agree they were taking the piss. But if it was chromium that's a different story.
May. 4th, 2009 06:28 am (UTC)
Re: Chrome or Chromium?
First off, I have no idea which one it was, I'm afraid, and secondly, this was not ME being offered work. I'm not sure if that's what you thought or not.

I'm sure you guys would be welcome to continue this discussion on the Drawger page I linked to where all of the qualified people who actually know things can have a proper discussion.
May. 3rd, 2009 02:02 am (UTC)
Evolve or Die
Perhaps the industry should take a look at how other industries in the past have dealt with change. I'll give this example of an industry that utterly failed to realize what they had:

The music industry.

Here's what they could have done: They could have provided a service to customers in which they would be provided high quality DRM'd music with a public DRM standard that anyone had free license to implement. A monthly fee (say $10) would be charged. The could have saved on bandwidth cost by providing credits if you donated some of your bandwidth to distribution (think Bittorrent). If you stop paying the monthly fee, you can no longer play the music. While you're paying the monthly fee, you can access any song in the catalog and play it on any device.

Here's what they did: They turned their customer base into criminals. They fought technology at every turn. Entire new distribution methods evolved and a more efficient way of getting music from artists to consumers grew.

Had the music industry realized the OPPORTUNITY that the new technology afforded (i.e. they could have had hundreds of millions of people paying the industry $10 a month, billions of dollars of revenue per month), instead they fought technology and dug their heads in the sand.

I think that illustrators should be compensated for their work, but smearing a popular company isn't innovation. It's desperation.
May. 3rd, 2009 02:54 am (UTC)
They've been doing it for years..... in interviews.
I interviewed with Google maybe 7 years ago now, for a programming job. They specifically asked me in the interview to show my creativity by providing them with good ideas to improve Google. As it happens I sometimes create art, so I do have creative ability. But that means I am also aware that some business types view creative workers in a harsh light-- that's we're all pushovers, willing to work at Starbucks in order to create art. Google is the same and has been for a long time.
May. 3rd, 2009 02:55 am (UTC)
programmers work for free all the time
The fact is that programmers work for free all the time, see Linux, Gnome, KDE, many other open source projects. We do it because we enjoy it, and enjoy using those tools as well. You guys should give something back to the community, drawing for a free web browser would be one way you could do it.
Maybe you don't see the need for alternative tools like these, and you are perfectly happy living in a Microsoft world? Maybe you enjoy spending 1000s a year on inferior tools, simply because you don't know better.
May. 3rd, 2009 03:18 am (UTC)
Re: programmers work for free all the time
I'm busy and don't have time to reply to all these right now, but ... jesus, man. Jesus. I don't even know where to start with this one.
May. 4th, 2009 05:31 am (UTC)
Re: programmers work for free all the time
I am genuinely curious how you would answer, and why you think it'd be difficult to answer. I'm not saying that in a sarcastic way. The comment you're replying to makes perfect sense to me; so there must be some very different perspective you're coming from, to not see any correlation between your own use of free software, vs contributing art to something free.
May. 4th, 2009 06:53 am (UTC)
Re: programmers work for free all the time
Firstly, I don't see how what I wrote in the post AT ALL leads to the comment, "Maybe you don't see the need for alternative tools like these, and you are perfectly happy living in a Microsoft world? Maybe you enjoy spending 1000s a year on inferior tools, simply because you don't know better."

I don't hate Google, I certainly use their search engine, and my reaction to hearing about them asking commercial illustrators to work for free certainly says nothing about me being "perfectly happy to live in a Microsoft world".

Honestly, I think it's a ridiculous thing to say and it sounds like someone reading all sorts of things that weren't there into the writing.

Secondly, nowhere did I say that art cannot be contributed for free towards a project, and I will say thirdly, that the real point of this post was to try and get people to read the discussion on Drawger, where as I said before, real people with real knowledge on the subject are having a great discussion about it all, and can give you a much more intelligent and cohesive argument than me.

Now, just answering those points has already taken ages and I feel the points are actually a real stretch away from what my point was. And my point of view is still pretty solidly defined in what I wrote up there, which is why I haven't been able to spend time replying to all these.

Also, I think you guys are doing a good job talking about it amongst yourselves! :)

I don't know shit about the programming side of things - jesus, I am surprised people are even bringing it up, to be honest. Not that it's wrong, but it surprised me that the whole discussion has turned into talking about coding!

I think, like Nick, that it's GREAT that you guys are contrivuting happily to projects you care about.

What makes you think illustrators don't? Generally speaking, illustrators do this sort of thing a LOT, and I don't think you could speak to many commercial illustrators that wouldn't be able to tell you about various projects they'd done for charity or passion or whatnot.

But that is up to them, and people can for sure approach them asking if they'd be interested. That is not the issue at all.

But I find it, even now, quite shocking that a big giant like Google would approach a great number of illustrators and ask them to work for free. I don't know what they would expect.

Illustrators are rarely paid on a salary (I DON'T know what the case in programming tends to be) and they are typically doing the same thing everyone is, and doing the work they can get to pay the bills.

Now, I don't know much about the subject of this open source stuff. I can only say how it appears to me.

Firstly, it's great that programmers want to contribute to this project and that they feel they can. Perhaps the industry allows for that more than with illustrators but a LARGE reason for this outcry is that jobs like this are exactly the kind of job illustrators earn their money from. And a big problem in illustration is having low paying jobs setting the industry standard for payments lower and lower.

And with all due respect to technology: It's not charity, it's a WEB BROWSER. It is a web browser.

The other thing that seems to make sense to me is that programming is surely an essential part of the FUNCTION of a web browser. What programmers are contributing to is the bones of the thing.

An illustrator is really just making it pretty. Making it more marketable. And I think that, yes, it is unreasonable for Google to expect illustrators to feel some sort of unbridled passion for the -essential service- they are doing towards the white horse of freedom that is Google Chrome.

Come on.

I'm not having a go, this is just what I think. And I admit I don't know the insides and outs of the project, and I'm only just scraping the surface of the illustration industry myself so I'm very keen to learn from these discussions!

But I think a lot of the arguments that have gone on here are either misguided, or are simply things that are WAY LEFT FIELD of what the discussion is actually about, or are people not really thinking about what something like this means to illustrators and their lives. And I think a lot of what needs to be said is said in that Drawger discussion.
May. 4th, 2009 06:53 am (UTC)
Re: programmers work for free all the time
I hope people aren't offended by my lack on participation in this, but I think this post must have taken almost an hour already!
May. 3rd, 2009 04:35 am (UTC)
Re: programmers work for free all the time
I am a former programmer who had turned to another career because people stopped hiring.

Open source killed my career. Having no real recourse, I started making open source software myself, to try to get exposure, with donation buttons, but nobody donates. It's used by Adobe, Oracle, and other big names in addition to everyday users (because of the sheer number of tech support questions I get), but noone donates and I'm f'in broke. I'm in an art related field now with a smaller resume, and find that still everyone wants work for free. But I'm broke and can't afford to do this for free.

What the hell can we do?
May. 3rd, 2009 06:49 am (UTC)
Re: programmers work for free all the time
Open Source built my career.

I'll wager you were a terrible engineer if it killed your career. I wouldn't have had half the opportunities if I never contributed to the open source community.

As someone who has been directly responsible for hiring a lot of people in the past, I can tell you with much certainty that having open source experience is a huge plus.

In nearly every significant open source project, the development methodologies, test coverage, design decisions and general quality is higher than what I see in most companies.

Open Source kills careers of people who program for a paycheck. If that doesn't jive with you, enter a field with a barrier of entry higher than buying a computer, software and some books (design, development, etc).

Civil, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, etc.

Having said all of that, trying to equate programming to design is a very misguided attempt at justifying free work.

If I ever got free work, even for open source projects, from anybody -other- than a developer I'd be shocked. The reason is simple, and very easy to understand.

Open Source software can be made staggeringly better by small blocks of donated 5 minute chunks. Be it small patches to code or large, or simply bug reports with failing test cases, this is why Open Source evolves so quickly.

You can't build a design by having a hundred designers donate 5 minutes of their time, just like you can't have a baby with 9 women donating a month.
May. 4th, 2009 05:03 am (UTC)
Re: programmers work for free all the time
Yeah I knew I'd get the "you're a terrible engineer if OSS killed your career" comment. I'll just say in response that this is not true, and that's generally a bad assumption to make. Not everybody can be Linus, not everybody lives in big tech areas, etc. If anything it's just a matter that folks just want work for free, especially software, music, movies, etc.
May. 3rd, 2009 04:08 am (UTC)
Dear fellow programmers replying to this entry:

The pleasure of programming is no different from the pleasure of illustration. Both are crafts. Both are slave labour if another party receives financial benefit from the effort and the programmer or illustrator is not remunerated. That you, personally, feel the pleasure of the work is sufficient compensation for your contributions to a Free Software project is really excellent! The Free Software movement is one of the few genuinely eutopian craft movements still active.

But we're not living in William Morris' world yet, and it's only in the last couple decades that illustrators have managed to (by collective and prolonged negotiation) have ANY say over the use of their work. Free Software only exists because programmers have the right to license their work as they see fit (if they're not in a work-for-hire situation).

The joy of good work, in our world, will only ever feed a farmer.
May. 4th, 2009 05:49 am (UTC)
"Both are slave labour if another party receives financial benefit from the effort and the programmer or illustrator is not remunerated"

That's the hardline Free Software Foundation attitude, and the rationale behind the 'viral' GPL. But it's not universal. Many open source programmers (including me) don't see any problem with their work being used in commercial software — thus licenses like BSD, MIT, Artistic, etc.

"it's only in the last couple decades that illustrators have managed to (by collective and prolonged negotiation) have ANY say over the use of their work"

Copyright has existed a lot longer than that, and it's always given artists the right to control the use of their work.

"Free Software only exists because programmers have the right to license their work as they see fit (if they're not in a work-for-hire situation)."

Most programmers don't, actually. The Proprietary Rights agreements most employers make us sign give them ownership of anything we do relating to their business, 24/7/365. I have had serious altercations with past employers over this. If salaried programmers contribute to open source, it's only because (a) their employers decided they could, or (b) they're not telling their employers.

The end result is that I don't see a difference between a freelance artist and a freelance programmer; so why the big difference in attitude toward contributing to free projects?
May. 4th, 2009 03:11 pm (UTC)
Yes, copyright has existed a lot longer. It wasn't until recently that illustrators have bargained back out of a situation where for-hire rights-transfer was the assumed default of any exchange. Programming is still like that: as you point out, the vast majority of programming work is for-hire rights-transfer.

I think this might actually be one horn of the difference; other horns include the non-linear relationship of skill to effectiveness in programming (and the resulting near-interchangeability of average and below-average programmers), the fluid and imperfect satisfaction of design constraints in programming, the misunderstanding of craft and design in both fields*, and the devaluing of personal effort. And others.

* Look at how well Christopher Alexander was understood in the first generation of Pattern Programming, and how completely MISunderstood in all subsequent generations
May. 3rd, 2009 06:40 am (UTC)
Google Chrome is open source. Programmers contribute code to open source all of the time. The fact that Google (who I normally despise) pays programmers to work on it doesn't change the fact that it's basically a non-commercial product.

For non-commercial projects, finding art is always a challenge. More specifically, I often do creative collaborations with other programmers (yes, programming is a creative endeavor, or at least it is when you're not doing something banal). Those numerous times I've suggested to a graphic designer that we collaborate, I get this confounded response that reminds me of working for a small company company and trying to get a sales person from Sun to talk to me. Simply put, the "you can't afford that, why are you even asking about it?" response. And graphic designers never ask me to code something for them even when I wish they would.

I don't know what's right or wrong. I know I code primarily for love, not money. I also know that given free time, I'd rather code on my own stuff than someone else's garbage. But I also know that working with other creative minds is good for me and stretches my own capabilities. And I learn. Then there's the entrepreneur spirit. Programmers want to take an idea, realize it, and see where it leads, possibly trying to make the idea self sustaining and pay for itself. Graphic designers overwhelmingly want someone else to figure out where the money comes from.

I guess a site without backend code is more complete than a site without art so programmers are more likely to want to collaborate. But then again, if designers don't even want to come out and play, programmers will just rely on stock site designs from places like, most of which looks like garbage to me.

I think more fundamentally, programmers have all too repeatedly been taught the hard lesson that having skills is not enough. A portfolio of past work impresses no one in the programming field -- unless you invented major things that people use every day. The only worth while thing in a programmer's portfolio is to have created a recognizable application, game, or online service. So programmers aspire to that -- to get things off the ground, worrying about all aspects of the business, starting from nothing. Whereas a designer need only have some pretty pictures that didn't necessarily even get used by anyone. I'm sorry, I don't mean that in any nasty way to say that programmers are somehow better... only that the impossibly high bar for notoriety in programming pushes programmers to do things that self respecting graphic designers wouldn't consider.

May. 3rd, 2009 11:45 am (UTC)
Payment for illustration work
As a designer and art director of some twenty years, I find it repulsive that highly visible brands and corporate entites are stiffing creatives in this manner.
We all ooh and ah about Google's cool offices and corporate culture, but the downside is this miserly penny pinching attitude.
I feel for all you illustrators and designers trying to get these bastards to pony up for your work, but there'll always be somebody trying to undercut you - and far too many juniors with stars in their eyes who believe they hype that 'one free job will get you great exposure' need a quick kick in the arse reality check.

Bottom line - you want to use talent to dress up your brand, you pay.

Of course, we can bitch and moan about this all we like and it won't make a blind bit of difference - not so long as we consider it a 'right' to download the Wolverine movie via torrent sites...

May. 4th, 2009 10:23 pm (UTC)
Why should artists work for free?
Enlightening comments. Add me to the "why should artists have to work for free?" camp. I wrote a short piece on it last month. "Why do Visual Artists Work for Free? or, why visual artists are poor and plumbers are not...
T. Vernon
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