Under The Skin: Stop Working For Free!

Copyright SymbolIn this digital age, as someone who carefully crafts and creates arts content, how do you ensure that you get credit and – perhaps more importantly – paid for the work that you do? When technology allows the rapid distribution, copying and editing of content, how do you ensure that real value is placed upon your work?

Writers, actors, musicians, designers, photographers; all are finding that they are being approached to create and provide original and valuable content for free. Many of these approaches come from long established and widely respected publications, and are accompanied with promises of exposure for the work and it’s creator. More often than not, they are also accompanied by paragraphs about said publication’s lack of budget and, therefore, inability to pay.

But if the publication that is asking you to create content for free attaches cultural worth to your content, and then manages to realise monetary value from it too, why on earth should you be creating it and providing it for free?

It’s not just about origination, either. Because once you’ve carefully created your content and it’s out there in the digital domain, how the hell do you keep track of it and ensure that you get ongoing credit and remuneration?

It’s an issue highlighted in numerous stories of late, but recently, explicitly and – appropriately for Skin Back Alley – in the world of music, via the case of photographer Rohan Anderson and the band Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. The story has been covered in detail by Rohan himself, via many websites, and here by The Daily Dot.

In summary, Rohan photographed Red Jumpsuit Apparatus during a Sydney concert last year, and was surprised when he then stumbled across a version of one of his images on the band’s Facebook feed. Rohan’s watermark had been removed, the photograph cropped and a colour filter applied to it.

After protracted correspondence with the band and their management, and open mockery of Anderson by the band on Facebook and Twitter, the photo was eventually removed from the Facebook feed. But even then, the band and their management tried to have Rohan banned from the Sydney venue where the image was taken, and blacklisted by the publication who had commissioned Rohan to take the photographs in the first place.

I should make it clear that Red Jumpsuit Apparatus did eventually apologise – in a fashion – via their Twitter feed and, as of today (22nd April), have paid an invoice that Rohan issued for the use of his image. But several issues are highlighted by the dispute, including the original copyright infringement, and the notion that the photograph could be used by the band without paying for it or crediting it simply because it happens all the time.

As someone who has created a music related website here at Skin Back Alley, and writes content for it every day, I know full well that there are times when – for many different reasons – I will consider letting some of that content be used without receiving payment. But I also love music and writing with every fibre of my being and, whilst not laying claim to greatness, I genuinely think that my writing is good. I want to share good music and good writing with the world, but I also want my work to be valued, and have that value recognised by those who read it and profit from it.

As Rohan himself states about this specific dispute: “I honestly couldn’t care about the money, it’s the blatant disregard for copyright and the extremely unprofessional and childish behaviour that has got me worked up.”


So, if I’ve let you use my content for free, then I’m not going to get angry or issue invoices to you. You approached me and – weighing up the situation – I gave you permission and requested credit for my work. The instances where I’ve given that permission are very few and far between.

Having said that, I also passionately believe that it should not be the norm for carefully crafted, worthwhile, valuable content to be requested, created, distributed or re-used for free. If you are going to be making money from content that someone else has created, you should be sharing that money with them.

In other words, do yourself and all other creators of valuable content a favour: stop working for free!

With thanks to Iain D. Millar for bringing Rohan Anderson’s story to our attention via The Daily Dot post.

You may be interested in checking out the Facebook group, “Stop Working For Free”, started by music journalist Barney Hoskyns, here

As a creator of quality content, Skin Back Alley seeks permission to use the work of others. If you genuinely think we’ve infringed your copyright, however, let us know and we’ll take immediate action.

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Under The Skin: Is This News?!

broken-record-300x300It may sound like artistic temperament, or hipster schtick, but we really don’t care all that much about genre at Skin Back Alley. Sure, it’s useful to a point in terms of being able to discuss styles of music and pull out trends, themes and common traits. But it also gets used – like all labels – as a way of limiting and pigeonholing. An easy way to put music in a nice, neat, inoffensive little box.

So, what to make of UK newspaper The Guardian’s story today that “rock has once again overtaken pop as the UK’s most popular album genre”?

Well, frankly, not very much, surely?

Says Gennaro Castaldo of the British Phonographic Industry: “While the appeal of pop remains consistent, the popularity of rock music tends to ebb and flow a little more, reflecting as it does the excitement that can quickly build around new acts as they burst through. With Arctic Monkeys now taking on near-iconic status, and the likes of Jake Bugg and Bastille to name a few connecting with a new generation of fans, rock music looks set to enjoy another wonderfully vibrant period.”

Does this really tell us anything new? Very broadly speaking, Pop music tends to be favoured by more youthful listeners, and is afforded more funding and exposure by record companies, broadcast channels and Saturday night prime-time TV shows such as The Voice and The X-Factor.

I would hazard a guess that Pop is also the dominant force in sales of singles because it’s youthful audience are more au-fait with digital technologies. Those technologies allow the delivery and consumption of single tracks in an immediate and cost effective way, tying in nicely with the means by which younger people listen to them, namely digital players such as iPods and smart phones.

But heck, even from it’s earliest days, Pop has been a singles orientated style of music, and whilst youth may dominate the style, it certainly isn’t confined to teen fans.

Very broadly speaking, rock music has tended to be more oriented towards the album format and it’s audience older in years. It doesn’t get the same exposure as Pop in terms of TV and radio coverage, or have the same level of funding from major record labels and promoters. I suspect that rock music fans are more likely to buy physical formats such as vinyl or CD, and tend to buy more full albums than pop fans.

Given the album vs. single trends, then, is this really news? And can’t rock be pop, and pop be rock, and both sets of listeners cross-over and mix and match and vary their tastes and purchasing patterns?

I think that the recording industry would do well to stop thinking in terms of mass markets and audiences and start understanding, as a few notable bands and smaller music labels have done, that those models of selling and distributing music are no longer viable – at least not in the longer term.

The music industry has been slow to cotton on to what the manufacturing industry is now also having to consider. Namely that in the post-industrial, digital age, mass models of marketing and distribution are failing. To greater and lesser degrees, people can now access what they want, when they want it, and will no longer accept waiting inordinate amounts of time, or spending inordinate amounts of money, to get it.

Those who have grasped the nettle are essentially doing it for themselves; using cost-effective digital distribution channels to build direct connections with their fans and audiences, understanding what they want, and delivering it at reasonable cost and on-demand.

In short, they are cutting out time, cost, and giving themselves artistic freedom and direct dialogue with those who are listening and, yes, buying.

Albums vs. singles? Rock vs. pop?

Who cares. Ultimately, there is only music.

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