Obama campaign asks artists to ‘work for free’ on jobs posters, sparking outrage

Steven Nelson Associate Editor
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President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign is asking artists to design promotional posters that convey a message: “support American jobs.” The brutal irony for artists, however, is that they will receive no payment for their work.

The campaign, which has $61 million on hand, will reward only the three artists whose work is selected for use. The compensation? A copy of their artwork, signed by the president.

The Graphic Artists Guild isn’t pleased with the ask. On Saturday, the guild issued an open letter to the campaign voicing outrage over what it called a “shameful” competition.

“American artists should be outraged that our President does not recognize that we are entitled to be paid for our work, as are all Americans,” the guild wrote.

The Obama campaign’s request for submissions says that it “is seeking poster submissions from artists across the country illustrating why we support President Obama’s plan to create jobs now, and why we’ll re-elect him to continue fighting for jobs for the next four years.”

According to the guild, the award for the selected artists has no actual value, unless the recipient sells it.  The campaign estimates the signed artwork’s value would be approximately $195. The guild’s pricing guidelines suggest that the proper compensation for such artwork is approximately $4,000.

The description of the contest makes clear that selected posters will be sold, “with proceeds benefiting the campaign.” (SEE ALSO: As poll numbers slide, Obama embraces Occupy protests)

“To add insult to injury,” the guild’s letter said, “the contest rules state that all artists who submit work to the contest grant the Obama For America campaign an unrestricted unpaid irrevocable license to use ALL of the submissions, not just the winning entry.”  Each contestant can enter five designs.

Furthermore, the guild pointed out that “there’s no promise to even give the artist credit when her/his work is used.”

“It gets worse,” the letter continued. “Entering the contest means that you agree to the contest rules, and indemnifying the committee is part of the rules, so you agree to defend the campaign committee and yourself against an infringement claim at your expense.”

As of Wednesday evening, the Graphic Artists Guild had not received a response from the Obama campaign, according to Tricia McKiernan, the guild’s executive director.

A list of suggested slogans compiled by the campaign includes “Fighting for jobs,” “Support small businesses,” “Get America back to work” and “Ask millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share.”

Tim Dickinson of Rolling Stone wrote Wednesday that “the folks at [the] Obama campaign have taken a page from the Arianna Huffington book of economic exploitation.” Dickinson suggested that the campaign consider an additional slogan: “Fuck You. Pay Me.”

Newspaper Guild President Bernie Lunzer, who helped lead the charge earlier this year against The Huffington Post’s practice of using unpaid contributors, told TheDC that the occasion serves as a reminder that “professionals should be paid for their work and should not offer it for free.”

Artwork is being accepted for the competition through November 4.

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