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Google to artists: Sorry, but you'll have to work for free

By Matthew Shaer / June 15, 2009



In an effort to promote its new Chrome browser, Google recently asked a gaggle of high-profile illustrators and artists to produce personalized "skins" – unique design schemes that could be downloaded by Chrome users across the globe. The catch? Google, the multi-billion dollar corporate behemoth, wouldn't pay the artists a dime.

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As The New York Times noted, the project does have a precedent. Last year, Google asked Jeff Koons and Bob Dylan, among other high-profile artists, to submit work for iGoogle, a personalized homepage template.

“While we don’t typically offer monetary compensation for these projects,” the company said in a statement, “through the positive feedback that we have heard thus far we believe these projects provide a unique and exciting opportunity for artists to display their work in front of millions of people.”

The offer has received a swift rebuke from the artists, who condemned Google for not respecting the value of intellectual property.

"Google calls me and wants my work for their new search engine all over the web," Gary Taxali, a well-known illustrator wrote on the website Drawger. "The fee? Nothing.... Here's to every client with [expletive] fees and terms: Do not waste my time or contact me. I am very busy working with clients who respect artists and you're wasting my time with your solicitations. So for you, I give you a special salute that I hope will keep you away, because I don't need your work."

The post was since removed from the Drawger site, but the Drawn! blog has reproduced it here.

According to the Times, Google reported profits of $1.42 billion in the first quarter of this year – a staggering number. So can't the company afford to commission artwork for Chrome? Google's argument is simple: there's plenty of exposure to be had here, and that exposure can easily be translated into a spike in business for freelance artists. The problem: many of the artists propositioned by Google are already well-known, and accustomed to premium rates for their work.

“I have done gift cards for Target that are in stores nationwide and animations for Nickelodeon that run 24 hours a day worldwide on cable TV,” Brooklyn illustrator Melinda Beck wrote to Google, according to the Times. “Both of these jobs were high-profile and gave my work great exposure but both clients still paid me.”

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