Sorry for the length of this article, but it’s a subject that burns our behinds. We have written numerous articles concerning the giving away of intellectual property without receiving monetary compensation a/k/a “free of charge”.  The theme of each prior post is that large media conglomerates are grabbing your intellectual property because all too many artists are giving it to them on the proverbial silver platter.

Yesterday’s article mentioned the sale of the Huffington Post. Ms. Huffington was receiving some 315 Million Dollars from AOL.  Not a dime was going to the experienced yet naive, journalists and photographers who built her empire for her and didn’t bother getting paid.  Now AOL/Huffington Post has entered the land of, “You Just Can’t Make this Stuff Up”.  Go to and read the great piece, “Huffpo and Patch Recruiting Bloggers as Young as 13”.

In Pakistan, India and dozens of 4th World countries in both hemispheres, children work as indentured servants or outright slaves making everything from soccer balls, to electronic equipment and mattress covers.  Still other kids tend to miss most school days being occupied as sex workers having been sold into the life by their parents.  Decent Americans of all political persuasions express disgust and are shocked when such incidents come to light here in America.

We see stories of illegal aliens promised entry into the U.S. and becoming involved in farming or factory work. Some die on the job while others survive working in inhumane conditions.  Tales of girls from Asia or Eastern Europe induced by traffickers with promises of good jobs in America only to be exploited in a multitude of ways always makes for good ratings on TV.  In a strange way such stories help us feel better about ourselves as Americans. We know that our children can’t be exploited, held captive nor work without pay because we have child labor laws – we are better than that and of course, slavery was abolished here almost 150 years ago.

In America, the tableau of children working in sweatshops is largely a thing of a long ago past.  American children don’t go into coalmines nor handle toxic chemicals.  But that hardly means that even our “All American Squeaky Clean” kids can’t be exploited.  The same media companies and publishers who willingly take what adults give them – free content – are now doing the same to children.  The Huff Po is going to be running a vertical HuffPost High School which will be using “free” content.  Super!   The launch has been covered not only by Forbes but also by Simon Dumenco at Advertising Age who has done some nice work as well.

“Now wait a minute guys” you are probably saying right about now. “You are not equating Ms. Huffington’s use of free child labor to create ‘content’ with the exploitation of an 11 year old sex worker in Thailand are you”?  Well “yes, sort of”.  The exploitation of children via their free labor is morally wrong and violative of just about every child labor law (family farms excepted) in this country. In most respects it is disgusting to compare say a teenager in San Diego who owns an iPad 2, 40 inch flat screen and cools off in an in ground pool in the back yard with a boy in a slum of Sao Paolo who sews soccer balls 15 hours a day 7 days a week.

In one key respect their services are indeed comparable – they have “no pay” jobs. Their free labor benefits adults who know exactly what they are doing.  Arianna’s newest asset is like the last one, being built with a healthy supply of free photos, illustrations or copy supplied by always eager and naive contributors except this time rather than willing adults, children are doing the work.  Are they not being paid because Arianna went to Las Vegas and blew the 315 million dollars she received just 6 months ago? Methinks not.

If children were found to be doing the landscaping at the home of Lady Gaga for the sheer thrill of it, we would be aghast and Gaga in deep kahkah.  If teen girls were found to be on scaffolds four flights up painting the Bieber’s mansion just to be near him, Justin would be in juvenile hall.  Why the difference here?  Why hardly a peep from the media of which Arianna is now ironically, a part?

Some will say because what these contributors are doing is not dangerous.  Still others will assert that the kids are willing participants.  Neither of those factors exempt such activities from child labor laws because for among other reasons, children can not legally consent. (See our prior column on Sexualizing Tweens).  The single biggest reason there is no real up roar is that most Americans just do not consider writing, taking pictures and drawing to be work. 

Ingrained in the American psyche is that work means physical labor, dangerous activities or complicated things you must study hard to learn how to do.  Needing a diploma and especially a license from the state, promotes the endeavor from work to a profession. Creativity is as we all know is something you are “just born with” or is a “gift from God” or an inexplicable fluke not unlike being able to raise your eyebrows John Belushi style.  One needs to be trained to be an auto mechanic, engineer, architect or doctor.  No such formal training is needed to “take a picture”.  Deal with it. Accept it. That is the way many people think.
Which brings us back to Child Labor, American Style. Many parents will think it cool that their kid’s pix of election eve at the firehouse are in such a big publication.  Still others will frame their son’s article on the new interest among his peers in pro soccer. Child labor pure and simple. Fewer jobs for adults? Maybe. Exploitation of children who are working for nothing? Definitely.  Now in fairness to the men and women at the AOL/HuffPo, they maintain that (in effect) “unpaid blogging is not labor” and thus no laws are being violated. That kind of reasoning makes Ed proud that he has found himself on the other side of the table from the folks at the HuffPo.  Get the subtle use of language?  Say “blogging” not “writing” and that which is both work and intellectual property transforms into “fun” with no economic value.  Wow why didn’t we see that?

What can we say about all this? Just : “$315 Million Dollars” from just “fun”.