I was waiting for my haircut when I received the email.
For the past week, this marketing CEO, whom I shall call Mark, had been bugging me to put up a link to his website on one of my articles. I planned to go through the editing process over the weekend as the workweek has been rather hectic.
Suffice to say, I finally squeezed some time into the schedule to get a haircut.
I opened the third email from Mark this week, and read the message. I was now having my reservations about his request. The last email now looks more like a threat.
I read the email in disbelief and felt an uneasy urge to disobey the instruction.
I thought back to Dale Carnegie’s book “How to win friends and influence people”, and then about how this correspondent was violating every rule in that book.
More than not making friends, Mark seemed to be out to make enemies by threatening me to do something I might be uncomfortable about. His message was bubbling with threat and blame for my inaction.
Here is an excerpt of what he said:
I hope you’re having a productive week.
It’s Mark from Company ABC.
Did you get a chance to read my email? I’d really like to know your thoughts on the topic.
We’re so glad that you’re using one of our images in this article: <inserted link to article>
Just a final reminder, I want to ask you if it would it be possible for you to give images credits to our site <inserted link to his site>?
Looking forward to hearing from you!
In case you readers think this message is innocuous enough, keep in mind that this email came at the backdrop of three other emails all requesting that I publish their link in my article as specified and increasingly blaming me for using an image for my writing.
Unsplash image license
Before I start doubting the legitimacy of my use of free licensed images (and of course my sanity), I checked the license of use on Unsplash:
Unsplash grants you an irrevocable, nonexclusive, worldwide copyright license to download, copy, modify, distribute, perform, and use photos from Unsplash for free, including for commercial purposes, without permission from or attributing the photographer or Unsplash. This license does not include the right to compile photos from Unsplash to replicate a similar or competing service.
In other words, Unsplash allows:
- All photos can be downloaded and used for free
- Commercial and non-commercial purposes
- No permission needed (though attribution is appreciated!)
- Photos cannot be sold without significant modification.
- Compiling photos from Unsplash to replicate a similar or competing service.
Surely, there is nothing wrong with both my use of the images and the request for attribution by owners of the images.
That is until the request for attribution turns into something else. A fine line separates attribution from promotion and advertisement.
Why it matters?
I regret the overwhelming passive-aggressive undertones in the exchange. As much as I wanted to be kind and open, the entire situation caught me off-guard and left me almost shell-shocked.
Was I being threatened as a writer? I have no choice but to do as he says, don’t I? Am I being bullied?
Do freelancers regularly face such bullying?
Bullying behaviors across freelancers are not unheard of. Multiple accounts of freelance exploitation litter the web. Buyers and clients are free to abuse, threaten, and blackmail young budding sellers hungry to gain exposure, with work in Photography and Music genres seeing the most widespread of such cases. An example includes clients who take forever to pay.
Fiverr had been, more than once, singled out as a platform that glorifies exploitation of those working in the gig economy.
Few regulations are in place to protect them. Where there are regulations, few freelancers are aware of their rights. Support groups/councils sprout up to combat this.
Left unchecked, this problem will not be going anywhere. A forecast by the Singapore University of Social Science reports that the gig economy is here to stay.
Our society may despise the bullying of children… but it sure loves to exploit freelancers.
I wanted to say no.
I needed a way to say no.
I thought quietly as the hairdresser worked on my haircut in the salon. I figured I will just tell the truth and stop doubting my intentions.
Here was my final reply:
Thanks for reaching out.
I’d like to help you and your company so please let me know what are your thoughts.
I understand that you are looking to promote your site and bring more awareness to your company brand, am I right?
If that is so, I’d like to help.
I am ambivalent about putting up a link that has no relevance to my article because of two main reasons.
1. First, unrelated/indiscriminate link may affect the attribution/ranking/understanding of my articles on search engine and other crawling tools. (I suspect)
2. Second, I abide by the practice of fair compensation to protect freelancers.
I propose that I may overlook the first reason if the second is fairly fulfilled at: <inserts PayPal link>
(As a general guideline, I charge $5/month per article affiliate link. But for your unique case, I am leaving the one-time charge up to your discretion.)
Again, I’d like to help you and your company so please let me know what are you thoughts!
I tapped “send” and let the surge of triumph rush my body. Trivial as it was, I had fought back.
If I could include a postscript. It could very well be this:
P.S. There is a special place in hell for those who bully freelancers.