Would you let Google use your art for free?

My husband brought this article to my attention today, about how Google has been asking artists to create skins for them for free. The reward to the artist, naturally, is “exposure”, that insipid internet currency.

I am familiar with this sort of scenario, not with my art work, but rather with travel writing. Ever since I started my other blog several years ago, I have been asked to provide my writing to various websites in exchange for “exposure” more times than I can count. My reactions to these requests have ranged from cheerful acceptance to indignant refusal. These days I usually just ignore them entirely.

So why the varied reactions? I’ve found it hard to come up with a blanket policy to determine how I handle such requests. Whether or not it is in my best interest to provide my writing for free depends on several factors. For example:

  • Is it for a cause I believe in? By submitting my work for free, am I helping a really cool website grow? Am I helping to promote someone or something I care about?
  • How much “exposure” are we talking about? Will it actually direct traffic to my website or lead to paying gigs for me? Sites that ask you to write for free often exaggerate the number of readers they get or expect, and these days most of them doing the asking actually get less traffic than I do.
  • What else is in it for me? Will it give me practice writing in a new style? Will it help me explore a new topic that interests me?
  • Who will be earning money from my efforts? Am I OK with that?

Now, back to the art/Google scenario at hand. Would I jump on such an opportunity? Probably, given where I am in my art career right now. Perhaps it would leave a bad taste in my mouth that a large, profitable company was asking me to work for free, but in the end I would probably stand to gain from the scenario overall. But Google is not asking me; it is asking much more well-established artists. Artists who are well-known in their fields, who already have loads of exposure for their work. For them, Google exposure would not necessarily be a benefit. In fact, as the article mentioned, artists agreeing to work for free for a giant, profitable company such as Google could set a “dangerous precedent”, one that would harm artists overall. It makes perfect sense to me that so many are turning Google down.

If Google asked you to provide artwork to them for free, would you do it?

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4 Responses to “Would you let Google use your art for free?”

  1. I have to remember to pop by this blog more often. I am not an artist by any means, but as I writer I've never (at least not since I was in university) given my writing away for free. But it's how I make my living. If I was just starting out, in a medium where finding buyers isn't always as evident as it is in writing, and someone like Google came along – I'd probably do it. But only once.

  2. Jul says:

    Hi Mark, thanks for stopping by my little-known second blog. :)

    Good to hear you've never had to resort to giving away your writing for free.

  3. That's not to say that I haven't given it away for way too cheap! (sadly it also tends to be the stuff I enjoy doing the most). But again, it's a different medium: I would imagine the visual art world's much harder to break into.

    In any case, I'm going to start following this blog too: I like your stuff, and I like seeing how paintings get made.

  4. Jul says:

    Glad to have a new reader. ;)

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