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Joseph Gordon-Levitt walked right into this one.
The actor and content creator, whose HitRECord project has long been criticized for sourcing unpaid labor, tweeted a request to caption an image of a beleaguered worker on Monday. Twitter couldn’t resist the setup.
Gordon-Levitt’s collaborative production company has long drawn criticism for sourcing unpaid labor from artists. This post, in which he literally asks for free labor to caption an image of someone who is overworked, was too much for the internet to bear.
Some tweeters had receipts.
“Joseph Gordon Levitt is that guy who sends you a DM asking you to draw his fursona, then acts surprised when you give your rates,” @LetItMelo wrote.
Joseph Gordon Levitt is that guy who sends you a DM asking you to draw his fursona, then acts surprised when you give your rates. pic.twitter.com/kfJibG9Ahs— Melo (@LetItMelo) November 4, 2019
Others had pointed responses to the actor’s query. “Art is labor, stealing art should be physically punishable,” @gilgrim suggested as a thought bubble for the young worker.
A few pointed out that JGL didn’t even credit the artist who drew the illustration in the tweet. “Another hard day at the grindstone, thinking about all of this eXpoSuRe I’ll get when a celebrity posts my pic without giving me any credit….” @captwavey wrote in the replies.
"Another hard day at the grindstone, thinking about all of this eXpoSuRe I'll get when a celebrity posts my pic without giving me any credit...."— Dave, Fake Birdwatch Ireland (@captwavey) November 4, 2019
Gordon-Levitt has been running HitRECORD for almost 15 years. The project’s goal seems high-minded enough: facilitating a collaborative community for artists. As its website says: “On HITRECORD, people don’t just post their own stuff—we make things together. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, whether you’re into writing, film, music, or any other kind of art, you’ll find our community a welcoming and positive place to be your creative self.”
HitRECORD does pay some participants whose work appears in “finished products,” but its claim of a communal creative space is muddied when you consider that HitRECORD—which is a private company, not a co-op—handles the payment. Furthermore, HitRECORD didn’t pay contributors at all until 2010.
What payment has been doled out hasn’t matched the labor being leveraged on the site. For example, in 2011, Gordon-Levitt paid out $50,000 on a site that hosted 80,000 members and received 1,000 new pieces of art on a daily basis. The Daily Dot reported last year that the the average payment is between $10 and $30.
HitRECORD crowdsources animation, writing, and even video work on spec, meaning that many people contribute labor without seeing a finished project, let alone payment. While Gordon-Levitt has repeatedly said the company aims to pay contributors fairly, it’s easy to see who has more leverage when thousands of workers are submitting unpaid spec work for a few spots in a finished product.
You are super right. Huge oversight. I think script got trimmed at last minute and we fucked that up. It’s hugely important to me that @hitrecord pays artists fairly. Since 2010 we’ve paid community almost $3 million https://t.co/oauU4IUiyE— Joseph Gordon-Levitt (@hitRECordJoe) June 11, 2018
Since Gordon-Levitt founded HitRECORD in 2004, this kind of crowdsourced creativity has seen increased scrutiny as organized labor has made new inroads in various creative fields, and workers in animation, video games, and freelance writing have seen increased organizing.
The message of unpaid (or underpaid) labor in exchange for a positive community and online exposure isn’t as palatable as it used to be. Judging by the comments on Gordon-Levitt’s new tweet and other posts, the culture has shifted while HitRECORD hasn’t.
Brenden Gallagher is a politics reporter and cultural commentator. His work has been published by Motherboard, Complex, and VH1. He’s the co-founder of Beer Money Films, an indie production company. Based in Los Angeles, he works in television drama as a writers assistant.