Lena Dunham joins the list of wealthy people who refuse to pay low-level employees for work. Originally, Dunham hired artists to perform on her book tour. Gawker reported she would not be paying them, and the article included a list of Dunham's personal worth, ticket prices, and book earnings. (After the article ran, Dunham announced she would pay those performers.)
If an organization or individual is struggling financially, it's still not okay to not pay someone for her work. Panhandling for expert graphic design, writing, musical performances, website maintenance, data entry or whatever other duties need to be done is still time theft. If it's illegal for McDonalds, it's illegal for everyone else. Promises of free exposure or a letter of recommendation is smug elitism and nothing more. Unskilled work is still work; creative work is still work.
I understand the reasoning behind listing the wealth of twisted individuals and corporations who think they can get something for nothing. But using the "You can pay for it, you rich bastard!" argument is a shitty, irrelevant justification.
It doesn't matter if you can or cannot afford to pay your workers. Just pay them. And if you can't pay them, then you shouldn't be in business because relying on volunteers to get expert work is taking advantage. People can't pay the rent with experience and letters of recommendation or free exposure. Bootstraps or something.
I know of plenty of charities in Washington, DC that are legitimately cash strapped and are forced to rely on interns to survive. However philanthropic that sounds, it's bullshit deep down. The real reason those charities are struggling financially is because of poor management not rich people at the top. Those groups shouldn't be rewarded with free help either, but that's how they get poor college students to do data entry or answer the phones.
One individual in the original Dunham article said she had no qualms about working for free. She should. She fucks up the entire system for every other intern or creative type who is honestly trying to make a living. Even though thousands of people are consenting to being taken advantage of, that doesn't make it okay. Working for free drives down wages, devalues work, and allows employers to break the law. It's fueling a system that's already out of control.
Harlan Ellison says it best: