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Thread: 99designs.com

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  1. #1
    Sophipygian AW Moderator Alessandra Kelley's Avatar
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    99designs.com

    On another thread someone brought up 99designs.com. I had never heard of them, so I looked into things.

    Wow. Holy cow.

    Run away and don't look back.

    99designs, for those unfamiliar with it, is a crowdsourcing illustration and design middleman based in Australia. It charges clients who wish a design or illustration a fee -- the lowest is $149 but they go up, way, way up -- to set up a "contest." Designers from around the world submit finished designs and artwork, and the client chooses which one to pay for.

    The client gets all copyrights and intellectual property rights (which is itself worrisome, more about that below) and a piece of cheap artwork. 99designs gets a good chunk of money. The lone winning designer gets paid some lesser amount than the contest's price.

    And every artist who submitted anything that didn't win is hosed.

    This is wrong on many levels, but let's start with "spec work."

    Spec work is when a designer does work without being paid for it. It is unethical and has long been condemned in the industry. Designers' work and time is as valuable as anybody else's, and to ask them to provide work without pay is as outrageous as asking any professional to provide work for free.

    Even asking a designer to provide preliminary sketches without pay is a violation of ethics. But 99designs requires every artist to provide finished, camera-ready artworks. That's a huge amount of work to gamble on the hope of being paid.

    AIGA (the American Institute of Graphic Arts) is firmly against the practice of spec work. As they say, "Just consider the response if you were to ask a dozen lawyers to write a brief for you, from which you would then choose which one to pay!"

    Robin on Book Cover Blog in "Why I Hate 99 Designs" put spec work in writers' terms:

    "Let’s say that self-pub is not available to you at all. And let’s say that you have an agent, and that agent has a publisher, and (remember this is mythical) that publisher wants you to write a certain, very specific type of book for a niche market held only by that publisher. There is no advance and no contract. So you work hard on this book and you finish it and present it to the publisher. Only to find that the publisher has also solicited 10 other authors to write that same book, and he likes that other person’s book better than yours. And even worse, because of the way that book is written, you cannot sell that book to anyone else, because its niche was so specific that you can’t rework it. You have to just trash it. All those hours down the drain."

    What's worse is how this is being sold as somehow a favor to artists and designers.

    I have found many people online cheering 99designs and saying how wonderful it is. There is a huge social pressure for it and against designers, who if they point out its flaws are treated as "whiners" who haven't got enough talent to "win" 99designs' contests. Many of its customers -- the people who get cheap designs, I mean, seem really happy.

    But as Kyle Racki, on "99designs: Hacks and Cheapskates unite!" says (in the comments after his post):

    "As a customer, I would think it’s a pretty good deal to go to a restaurant that has 50 chefs competing to get paid and they have to each create me a dish, and I get to taste from the hundreds of dishes they get made, and whatever one I like best, I have to pay $5.00 for, knowing full well the chefs that ‘lost’ the competition made nothing. But as a person, I would pity the chefs, because obviously they are giving away their work day in and day out without payment because they have no other options, there is no restaurant that will pay them for their work."

    While I have found many clients chortling and crowing about their good fortune at getting something so cheap, I have seen little evidence of artists who are happy with 99designs. There have been anonymous commenters on blogs claiming to be artists who have made generous incomes from 99designs enabling them to travel the world, but there is no more reason to assume them to be reliable than the testimonials at PublishAmerica.

    99designs' copyright policy is also problematic. The "winning" designer loses all rights to the artwork forever. That means that they are claiming that this is "work-for-hire," which means that the artist is not even legally entitled to recognition that he or she made the work.

    What about copyright violations? Many of these contests are open for all to see, so designs can easily be stolen. 99designs' policy on copyright violation is a particularly bad one. They essentially wash their hands of all responsibility. Anyone who has been infringed is told to PM the violator and keep it private. Any public mention of copyright infringement, it says in severe legal language, will be "dealt with." A long and stern warning about false allegations ends with "Keep in mind that you'll be liable for damages, including costs and lawyers or attorneys fees, if you materially misrepresent that an activity is infringing your copyright." They then link to a severely worded legal document any complainant must sign.

    In other words, their official policy is to sweep all copyright violations under the carpet and throw hurdles in front of anyone who wishes to stand up for their rights.

    On Graphic Push , a rather cranky and profane but clear-eyed blog, the author says

    "To summarize: you’re doing spec work for third-world prices with no option for copyright retention. Everyone wins! Oh wait, except you. At the core, 99design’s business model is as evil as any oil company’s — it relies totally on the ignorance and desperation of its constituents."

    more good links:

    http://antispec.com/hq/99designs
    Forbes Magazine, "Why Designers Hate Crowdsourcing," by Mike Isaac.
    Last edited by Alessandra Kelley; 08-06-2012 at 11:33 PM. Reason: thread shuffle to new forum, old intro no longer needed

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