Back in March, we examined how the circus of South by Southwest forces musicians to sacrifice the value of their live performance, in exchange for the promise of exposure.

A Victorian gold sovereign, a modern £1 coin, ...

Monopoly money vs. cold hard cash (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The question of how much that offline recognition, or online reach, is worth was raised again this week, as actor Wil Wheaton and popular digital cartoonist Matthew Inman took separate stands against offers of exposure from the Huffington Post.

In the case of Wheaton, the request involved publishing one of his articles on HuffPo in exchange for the reach their platform provides. The Star Trek celebrity-turned-web personality wrote, nay ranted about the offer in a blog post that inspired hundreds of comments from supportive creators thanking him for taking a stand.

For Inman, creator of The Oatmeal, it was an even more aggravating story. In this case, it was his images that the British iteration of HuffPo was after and they weren’t afraid to take first, ask questions later.

The Oatmeal

The Oatmeal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The publisher clearly saw the popular appeal of Inman’s recent post entitled Having a Baby vs. Having a Cat,” to the extent that they chose to hot link all of the cartoon strip into their own pages. Not only did they fail to seek permission to do this, they also neglected to include any attribution in their initial article, leading Inman to respond in a characteristically cartoonish manner.

The humor of Inman’s response belies a serious underlying concern for artists and writers: the continued devaluation of creative work by those who can afford to pay.

When big brands and popular publications feel like they don’t have to pay for content they want, what message does that send to individual consumers? It says that creators should be happy to receive any attention they get, rather than setting a fair price for their work.

All of this echoes the call of the Copyright Alliance earlier this year, celebrating the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Copyright Act. It said, simply, that creative work is work.” Publishers, brands, and anyone with a desire to benefit from the creative talent of others should remember that, the next time there’s a great piece of art, music, or writing that they’d like to use.