Pixish Flap

By JoCo February 13, 2008

Scott left a comment on my T-shirt contest post, leading me to this discussion on Metafilter about Pixish and spec work. There are some who are saying that Pixish is essentially enabling Web 2.0 slavery practices, cheapening design work, etc. My contest, and specifically my language about how I will use your design on T-shirts and not pay you for it, are cited as one of the examples of how Pixish can be used for evil. As someone says in a comment in that thread “Am I the only one that notes the irony of a musician gleefully admitting they will be using another artist’s work for free?” Oy.

Let me be clear about a couple of things:

1) I wanted to run a contest, not because I wanted to get free design work, but because I wanted to get a design that comes from, and is ratified by the community here on this site. I think it’s fun when fans get involved – it’s the same reason I got people to send in hand claps for “We Will Rock You” and why I held a solo contest for “Shop Vac.” That was fun, right? Right?

2) I have no idea how much it would cost to commission someone to design a shirt for me, certainly it would depend on who it was and what they and I thought their work was worth. But for the record, it’s going to cost me $200 for the iPod, maybe 50 bucks in raw materials for Thing a Week Box Sets, a few bucks for shipping, and probably a few nights sleep while I worry about this whole affair and read a bunch of flamey comments. After all that, I’m not sure I’ll end up with any designs that I want to print (in which case just having had the contest will have been worth it to me). Honestly T-shirts are not a huge profit center for me, in fact, they’re just barely less trouble than they’re worth.

3) Another quote: “[H]oly cow, JoCo is going to get an assload of free design work that is only going to cost him a single iPod, and on top of that, he might use anyone’s submission without them winning anything.” Yes, that is what I said, I can see how that last part is not really fair, and in fact it seems to be against the rules at Pixish: “…publishers have no rights to your work if you don’t win.” So I’ll change that. Only the winning design may be printed.

4) I admit this is not the first time I’ve felt a little weird about getting free work from fans – I’ve got helpers working on this video shoot for comp tickets (or not, if they already had tickets), many fans who have sold merch in exchange for comps and free merch, website work from Kerrin, illustrations from Len, forum moderation from Bry, music videos from all sorts of people, not to mention the free handclaps I tricked the internet into giving me. And I’m not the only one getting free stuff from the internet: Amazon gets book reviews, YouTube gets videos, MySpace gets, erm, error messages. But seriously, where do you draw the line?

Anyway, this whole thing was supposed to be fun, but it’s feeling a lot less fun now that the internet thinks I’m some kind of Web 2.0 plantation owner. I myself am pretty sure this contest is way different from me asking a bunch of designers to do spec work for me, and I’m also not comfortable deciding that Pixish is evil just because it can be used that way. But I am curious to hear what you all think (and folks from the Metafilter thread if they find their way here – I was going to sign up and post a comment, but it costs $5). If I’m wrong, I’ll call the whole thing off. Then I’ll just buy an iPod and smash it in the street, I don’t care, I’m rich.


Cambiata says

Good lord, what a steaming load of bullshit. One of the things that makes this site eminently cool to me is the fan participation. I think perhaps that the internet "culture of the amateur" might not be fully grasped by critics of this very cool idea. When I think of all the truly great graphic artists out there who spend hours of their time making comics and fan art of intellectual property that they can never profit from (see http://ppg.snafu-comics.com/ or http://www.big-big-truck.com/bebop/ as a couple of examples of my personal favorites), I certainly don't think of them as "enslaved" to the large corporations that own those intellectual properties, free advertising notwithstanding.

Having a "Design a tshirt contest" is badass. You are badass. Don't let jealous assholes tell you different.

Micah says

dude you rock. If I had time to devote to doing up a good design I would submit it. You are one of the few artist who are very connected with your fans.

This whole pixish thing is on the up and up. You go in knowing whats up. No one is being lied too.

Keep on keepin on JoCo!

Demetrius says

Who cares what the internets think? I mean - it's not like you haven't offered your music for everyone to download with nothing but the word of strangers that they will *pay*. We are submitting designs fully aware of the contest rules. I'm sure some would even be willing to do it *without* prizes (Even though prizes are nice. Don't get me wrong!) just to be a part of the JoCo Experience! (We can't *all* play ukelele!) Those what don't want to participate are free not to.

Chris says

I admit that I worry about my design submission being stolen, but certainly not by you. I feel that the contest is just a fun way to get fans involved, and is by no means a method of exploitation. People are prone to pessimism I guess. Its a brilliant contest idea and I plan to participate (I'm finishing up my submission as I type this) and if people had only read up on Pixish, they'd realize they are worrying over nothing (as if they had to worry about you stealing anything... considering that "hacker" posting ways to ACTUALLY steal from you.). Keep on rocking Mr. Coulton, your music kicks ass (even my fiancee giggles at Tom Cruise Crazy and she exhibits no positive emotion/action when it comes to that man) and wish me luck on my design!

P.S> Forgive the incoherent nature of my post, its late here in PA.

SaintPeter says

Bah. It's not like you're putting a gun to their head. Anyone who has a philosophical problem with contributing a design can simply . . . not.

For my part, the value in the contest (as well as so many other user contributed parts of your site) is in what we get back from it. We get to have a fun community experience, some people will take a risk (hat tip Ze Frank) and try and create something for an artist they enjoy, and if the winning design is good, we get a chance to buy a (hopefully) really cool shirt.

You're is hardly the first artist to have some sort of fan contest. How many of those "Why I love artist X" or "Submit your user generated commercial and if it wins, see it on TV" things have we seen over the years? Compared to those corporate whore-fests, you're a mother-humping saint!

As a side note, I don't know how much untrained artists/designers time is actually worth, but I'm betting it's not a lot. Interns a graphic design firms get nothing but an education. Try selling your amateur designed T-shirts on e-bay and see how far you get.

Come to think of it, there is this company called www.Threadless.com who's entire business plan was people submitting designs for T-shirts, having others vote on it, and the most popular are sold on the site? How is that any different than a one-off contest. Talk about exploiting the working class.

Matthew says

I have two thoughts about this:

1) It's a pretty esoteric complaint to say that user-created content is taking job out of designer's hands. And it's very strange to apply that to Jonathan, who gives his fans so much: music, face time after shows, gratitude, etc. In Seattle I saw him give a t-shirt to a destitute fan in exchange for the fan doing a standing backflip. Perhaps some large corporation could be excoriated for doing this kind of end-around, since most profiteers don't give away anything. But with JoCo? We're (the fans) usually DYING to give something back.

2) The "any submissions become my property and I will pay you nothing to print the shirt" disclaimer is nearly universal with these kinds of contests. Jonathan is not brewing up some new kind of evil. Read the following disclaimer from the Vancouver Canucks Ultimate Fan contest: The entrant "grants to [the Canucks] and/or its and their agents the unrestricted right for any purpose to produce, reproduce, publish, broadcast, communicate by telecommunication, exhibit, edit, distribute, adapt and otherwise use or re-use his/her Video or photograph Submission, without compensation, in any and all media now known or hereafter devised." Point is, why roast the guy for this?

Anyways, I've got your back, Jonathan. If I had a spare $10 I'd sign us both up for metafilter so we could start a brawl in some forum alley.

SaintPeter says

Oh, I checked the Terms and Conditions of Threadless - you get $2000 if your design is chosen and a $500 store credit. You also get $500 if the design is reprinted. Humm, I may have to sharpen up my design skills.

Details here:

Still, even though I don't need an iPod, I'd love to win the JoCo contest just for the mini-fame of it, and as a way of showing my enjoyment of his art.

Jon Who says

Damn you rich people, money lying around in sacks...

I personally would be happy designing a shirt for the sake of designing a shirt, if I were to win (which I won't since I haven't entered) then that would just be an added bonus. I'm sure things can be un-uploaded if people were really that worried that you got a T-Shirt plan for free, but to do that would be ridiculous and not in the spirit of things.

I'm making less and less sense as I go, so I'll stop.

Ferix says

I can see why you would want to clear these things up but don't worry about it! Anyone who thinks you're exploiting this constest for free designs has no life, you already said if you win the contest you get the prize, and nothing more, so if anyone submits something and you make some cash selling shirts with thier cash, they can either say "Wow holy crap my designs being put on a JoCo shirt, woo!" or just go sob in a corner where nobody can see them.

On a final note, the shirts are advertising you, and your work, the designs might not be worth jack all if they weren't, so why complain? It's not like You stole thier billion dollar masterpeice >_>

Im starting to ramble, you rock, and keep the constest up man, without a little fan fun, you're sites only at 300% awesome.. and that just wont do =P

Jacek Wesołowski says

I guess there is no way a person could avoid getting a bad reputation over the Net. If it's not a t-shirt contest, it's something else, like supporting a wrong presidential candidate or not supporting some popular cause. In particular, there is no way to escape from teenager wrath. Once they have their minds set, they stop listening, and they usually set their minds in a matter of nanoseconds.

The rule about publisher not having rights to non-winning work is a pretty good protection from turning a contest into cheap labour. That is, as long as the publisher is honest, because there are ways to circumvent that rule. I mean, I do know a few real life instances, so it's not just crazy talk of angry teenagers.

With publisher's honesty granted, the prize doubles as payment for winner's work. So if someone thinks the prize is not worth their time, or that the publisher is being a cheapskate, then they shouldn't participate. It's as simple as that.

So the only real question is: do you trust Jonathan Coulton?

I guess most people's answer is going to be: why not?

Cambiata says

I am offended JoCo isn't supporting my political candidate of choice!

Also, he bulit a little empire out of some crazy garbage called the blood of the exploited working class. Except I don't care how much he looks like a red-haired Jesus, I am NOT calling him your highness.

JoCo, you are a demon, a demon I say. I hereby revoke your internets retroactively and in perpetuity.

Erik says

I for one would be thrilled to get the recognition and credit for my design and have it associated with my newfound idol Mr. JoCo. And...you DO get paid for it... With the iPod? Or did I get that wrong? What is this obsession with getting paid in money people have today? How about getting paid in icecream? Or sunny days? (Sunny days NOT percieved by altering the planet's climate, by the way, thank you very much.) Now, if you will excuse me, I shall go and create a t-shirt print design. Buhbye.

Ryan says

People just like to complain about things. It's one of the many mysteries about the world.

If people wanted to be paid for their designs why would they enter a contest in the first place?

Especially with someone like JoCo, it's really just another vehicile for Fan-Artist interaction. Something few people are willing to do nowadays. Last couple of examples I can think of are Paramore getting fans to compete to sing backing vocals for "Born For This" and Pretty Girls Make Graves getting people to shoot a Music Video for them as part of a competition.

People will always find reasons to have fault with people. So frankly I wouldn't worry about it.

Erik Cooper says

I've looked into the contest and am really enjoying looking at what other people say about your work. I mean, that's why I get online. I like to see what person x will do with person y's work. I mean, couldn't it be said that you did the same thing? You put your music on the internet, where it's easily stolen (when your site is hAx0ReD or whatever), you look for things that interest you and make them into fun music (or change other fun music into your own personal style), and then you just ask for people to appreciate it. I don't get why it's declared that you, who've put yourself on the line time and time again, are a slave driver. Just silliness, methinks. Please, remember that there are people who love you (even though, y'know, that sounds hella stalkerish) and we're just as excited about you as you are about, uh, something really cool. In your eyes, I mean.

Mark Gordon says

(I posted this to the forum a month ago. It sums up how I feel, and I think a lot of others feel the same way.)

I've spent a fair amount of time the last few months becoming increasingly enmeshed in the JoCo community, largely but not exclusively through these forums, and it's been a novel experience for me. Partly I think this is because it's been a few years since I was such a fan of anybody, and the technology has advanced. Partly it's that I have so much in common with JoCo (I'm thirty-seven , I work in the software industry, I have a young child at home, etc.). Partly it's because he's released his songs under a Creative Commons license that has enabled fans to do such interesting things with his music. Partly it's because of all the things that fans have done with his music, and that's the real point of this post. All this community-based creativity really helps to grow and strengthen the community, and it's an inspiration to all of us. It's not just JoCo who's inspiring; the whole lot of you who are creating things based on his work are inspiring as well. To all those who have been creating, I would like to say thanks.

daMax says


you are such a nice guy, stop worrying about some ****heads complaining about everything they find. Of course there IS a serious problem going on with people self-exlpoiting themselves, especially nowadays. But if someone wants to do a thing or two without getting paid, WHAT'S SO WRONG WITH THAT? You yourself are giving many of your songs away for free so I guess you know that sometimes it is fun doing things without expecting to get anything in return.

I could go on and on but to make a long story short: stop worrying about people who hate you and enjoy the feeling that you are loved by many people who respect your ideas. You are one of the nicest guys around, period.

Best regards,

Anonymous says

Railing against spec work is just elitist crap. Of course all designers would love to be paid for every hour of their time, and to never have their work stolen! Not everyone can have that luxury. Some artists are NOT talented enough or educated enough to land contract jobs, and they need spec work and other non-contract jobs to keep them afloat while they develop their trade and build a portfolio. Not all clients can afford to pay designer after designer until they find someone that isn't terrible (and there are a lot of bad designers out there!)

As long as spec work continues to satisfy a particular demand in the marketplace, it will exist. I see no harm in educating clients and designers to the possible downsides to spec work, but if there are people who still want to engage in this kind of business after they know the risks, then that's their right and that should be respected.

The Paperfish says

As I understand it, the internet is just a series of tubes. Why do you care what a series of tubes thinks? Do not allow your awesomeness to be suppressed by a series of tubes.

Jim says

You gotta take it on balance, JoCo. I'm sure you heard the famous Bill Cosby quote:

"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."

It's very true. Honestly, now, you're gonna have people dissenting, call it what you may. But look at the number of people who support you and love what you do; don't let one or two grumpy comments ruin it for you. Sir, you're living a dream. And as long as you have so many fans and followers, and you're enjoying yourself, you're doing the right thing.

JP says


These people you speak of are lame. It's a contest. When someone runs a race, they pay an entry fee, run their but off, and may win nothing.

That is the nature of a contest.

Big evil corporations do these things all the time.

"Send in your best ad jingle to Lameohs and get a chance to win fabulous prizes. "

It isn't like you are the first person to do this. This is a common marketing tool.

And dude, you let me use your music in my podcast as my intro for a dollar, and I didn't have to get you to enter a contest. The people that have a problem with this should just not enter the contest.

If it makes you feel better, showcase the work of the winner. Maybe point some traffic to his or her website.

Allison says

Maybe the folks at Metafilter should also be reminded of the definition of "slavery" (though it's certainly not worth five of my dollars)--last time I checked, it had nothing to do with voluntary contribution of one's work. No one forces Amazon customers to post reviews, and no one is posting t-shirt designs because their lives hang in the balance. The whole point of Web 2.0 is people who *want* to get to contribute, and if you're not into it, you close the page and move on with your life. And for a lot of people, this is just fun. Remember fun, Metafilter? The joy of seeing other people enjoy your work, whether you're paid for it or not (as was explicitly explained in the contest description)?

If the kids from Metafilter don't like it, they don't have to enter the contest; for those who choose to do so, they know what they're doing. Don't worry about it.

Michal says

I saw the contest and thought it was a great idea - then I went to the website and was immediately pissed off. I don't have a problem with you running a contest to design a shirt for you (though I see the point of the people who are upset by that too)... "winning" also gives the intangible benefit of bragging rights, which any real fan knows is payment also.

But as someone who works as a freelance designer, I have to say that it's absolutely true that the site itself was headed in a bad direction. I work mostly in advertising, and in the past 5 years I've seen my own income drop in half because of people who were laid off, who immediately entered the freelance market and didn't negotiate when the big agencies offered lowball dayrates. So now I'm constantly forced to negotiate my own rate, because employers can easily get two people instead of me, regardless that I have years more training and exprerience (even though my experience means I can get the job done in half the time). And now spec sites like this one are having people submit for free, on the promise of a piece of electronic equipment, or a shirt, or a thousand dollars (on sites where payment is promised) or whatever - and of course there are people lining up to participate. Because hey, even five dollars is better than nothing, and creative people like to work. I honestly wonder whether I have much of a future in my own industry because of sites like these. At the point where it doesn't pay to go to work, I'll need to find something new to do -- and I'm really good at what I do. So it hurts.

So I'm torn.

Don't feel bad for running the contest - this isn't the same deal. It's the bigger picture that's the problem.

Sappho says

The kneejerk reaction in America to absolutely any idea is, "Well, sure, but how can I make money off of it?"

I'm overjoyed that you make enough money with your music that you don't have to work in a cubicle, and I'm also overjoyed that you're not so greedy about it that you remove the free downloads from your site. The fact of the matter is, making the most money off of every ounce of work is a terrible priority to have in life, and even though we have it driven into our heads that the only way to make a living is to demand payment for every use of every product, that simply isn't true.

The RIAA says "MUSIC MUST NEVER BE AVAILABLE FOR FREE OR ARTISTS WILL NEVER MAKE A LIVING", but what they really mean is "if people can download music for free, they'll only pay the artists if they think their work is worth it, which means they won't have to go through us, which prevents us from taking a MASSIVE chunk of the money while the artists hardly get any." You've proven it, and other independent artists have proven it as well.

So don't worry about these people screaming "but how will they make money??? That's STEALING!!! As others have said, if someone doesn't want to do the work without getting paid, they can just not enter the contest. Please don't stop doing wonderful things like this just because of a few megacapitalist jerks, k? Your fan involvement on this site is one of the things I love most about you.

three08 says

i'm guessing most of the people whining about it are either tiresome internet ideologues or they got design degrees and haven't found any work. please allow me to summarise for everyone else in the whole rest of the world:

we don't give a damn, and they're full of fecal matter.


i mean last time i checked plantation owners didn't generally ask slaves nicely if they would like to work. this is a voluntary submission thing. one can ignore it if one suffers so severely from cranial-rectal impaction as to have moral qualms about the nature of the contest.

i intend to submit a design or two, and you have my express written permission for full unrestricted usage whether i win or not. if you need it in email or facsimile, i can and will provide that too.

Alex says

I was going to post a rant about how much a load of crap that gripe on metafilter was, but after reading the posts here pretty much everything I had to say was covered... :)

All that's left is to say "!Me Too! Rock On, JoCo!"

Oh, and I have to mention something about Mark Gordon's that adds some interest to his post above. He has put HUGE amounts of time over the years into the volunteer community building and supporting the "Persistence of Vision Raytracer" (POVRay) in the Linux environment. He gets nothing out of this but the satisfaction of knowing that he is making POVRay better. That's pretty much what those of us who contribute to the forums and contests are looking for too, the satisfaction of knowing that our work makes things a little more fun for the community of JoCo fans.

Mark Gordon says

The more I think about this, the more it reminds me of the RIAA, but with guilt trips instead of lawyers. If you listened to all the acolytes of Andrew Keen ("The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture"), you'd have to go back to programming for a living, and we'd be stuck waiting for Britney Spears to release new material. Please, please ignore them.

Brian Excarnate says

I thought I had something useful to say about all of this.

But the real insight I have to offer is that if someone puts out a cranky comment on the Internet, think of it more of someone musing out loud and don't take it personal. They might not agree with themselves after they think about it.

It isn't like a close friend who has known you for decades writing and rewriting you a letter about something.

And hey, it is snowing here. In the southeast. Where it is supposed to be, you know, warm. WTF?

randal says

You know, Scott might have a point, if you didn't give away your music for free on the internet.

Since you do, any design work voluntarily contributed is really payment in kind, like trading you a prizewinning sow in exchange for "Creepy Doll."

Mark Gordon says

@Alex: FWIW, I haven't been involved in POV-Ray for several years now.

Kaethe says

I think from the rules you set it was pretty clear that this was all in fun and you weren't steeling anything from anyone. And frankly, I think comparing this to slavery is just idiotic, especially since I think you give far more to your fans than we give to you (If I buy a CD I have music for life and you get a couple of frozen lasangas).

I think this is really just a good demonstration of how there are some jerks on the internet trying to ruin it for everyone. I can understant you being concerned about this, but please try not to worry about it so much. Your far too cool of a guy to have to worry about ass holes!

JoCo says

Yeah, it sucks when you read bad things about you on the internet right before you go to bed. And it's unsettling to suddenly find yourself on the wrong side of something (Jonathan Coulton thinks Darth Vader has some great ideas). I have a little more perspective this morning - I understand designers' complaints about spec work, and even about Pixish. But I think that my little T-shirt contest is a particularly poorly chosen example of what they're complaining about for a number of reasons. This is just another case of a profession feeling threatened by the creeping presence of amateur content, all the new gray areas between professional and amateur, blah blah blah. But you can't throw the baby out with the bath water, otherwise we'd have to outlaw BitTorrent because it can be used for piracy. And I want my damn T-shirt contest.

three08 says

it's ridiculous to complain about your contest in this context because this isn't a case in which the design work would otherwise have gone to a professional. if not for the contest, probably no designing would have been done and that'd be lame.

three08 says

also, darth vader *did* strangle a couple of imperial military officers. that's one initiative i can get behind... >.>

jon says

Of course it's a poorly chosen example, but you have a face. If the rant scott left was against someone like, actually T-shirt/design moguls, no one would have seen it. He was taking advantage of the fact that you have great fan interaction (which is the reason the contest exists) and knew you'd see it.

I wasn't going to post anything, cause everyone else summed it up so well, but I get so few chances in my life to use the word vitriol, so, yeah. It's a huge load of vitriol against fans. Most of us are amatuers who couldn't 'steal; your job if we wanted. Most of us don't right code or use expensive software, I'd be willing to bet 99% of entries will be made on Gimp, Inkscape, or Pixia. Or Paint, since my Pixia went ape shit yesterday. Look around the website. Theres a huge fan community contributing images, video, and media for free. I don't expect to win. It looked like one really nice professional design that rocks should run away with it, but the rest of us are just having fun. Vitriol. That's 3 times in a day. I usually don't get to say that word 3 times in a year. Vitriol.

Steve Lawson says

Jonathan, I just sent you a Metafilter account (check your email). Use it if you like, or give it away as one of the prizes for the contest.

SaintPeter says

Darth Vader has some really great ideas:
(^- What if Darth Vader blogged?)

I'm a bit torn when I hear professional designers complaining that freelancers are taking away their livelihood. Isn't that the same song that the RIAA is singing? Isn't JoCo basically one of those freelancers? Sometimes you don't need a big firm.

My neighbor growing up was a freelance Graphic Designer. You've probably seen her work. She did the redesign of the Campbell's soup cans. She did the Prell shampoo bottles (this was a number of years back). She was working out of her home with a baby and was working for Fortune 500 companies. She clearly didn't need a whole firm of designers working with her.

Colleenky says

"Pixish is for pictures." For what it's worth, Pixish just posted a notice yesterday (Feb 12) clarifying that the site is for pictures and illustrations, not design work. http://pixish.com/news/4

Luke M says

The T-shirt contest is a perfectly innocent fun community activity.

"Coulton is exploiting the masses" is a stupid idea that in retrospect was just waiting to happen once some buzzkills figured out how to turn the idea of fan-generated content on its head. Having the fan community pitch in, and take part in things like the T-shirt contest, is supposed to be part of the positive feedback you get as a Creative Commons artist who gives tons of content away, for Fark's sake. Ignore this dumbass non-controversy, please.

I hate the idea that you may be losing sleep over some "let's assume the worst" comments from people who clearly are not that familiar with you, your work philosophy and ethics, and your cheerful legion of fans. Participation is fun. Creativity is fun. No one remotely familiar with the JoCo scene could possibly think you are running some kind of lucrative T-shirt sweatshop -- that's insane. Sleep well.

I love the Internets and all, but sometimes, yeesh.

Grondzilla says

Hey JoCo. I was going to write a carefully considered response to the bogus whinging about how all this 'amateur' work was killing off a marketplace for those people who deserve to be designers but it's just too hard with both my middle fingers locked in the upright position like this.

If I A) was desperate for an I-Pod, B) was more deeply under the influence of your mental zombie slave rays or C) felt like reloading my copy of Photoshop I'd be all over this contest just for Poops and Giggles.

I might still be some day...if I can get these durned digits to behave.

Zac says

I just wanted to point out the awesome TMBG quote that Cambiata made. "Kiss Me, Son of God" is one of my favorites.

manyhills says

Well, they are pictures...just, y'know, kind of designey pictures.

Anyway, they haven't deleted it, so presumably they've weighed it in the scales and found it...erm...not wanting.

Grant says

Okay, here comes my pretentious "As a design student..." comment once again.

We discuss this topic quite a bit in my classes. Contests have the potential to take work away from my contemporaries and me, but that really isn't the only factor. There are totally legitimate reasons for a graphic designer to enter a contest.

For example: If I submitted an awesome design, and it is picked as the T-Shirt, suddenly I get exposure to JoCo's fan base. It might cause a huge influx of work for me. That would completely be worth the time spent designing the piece for the contest.

In sum: It isn't, in my estimation, inherently evil to hold a contest for work. The Graphic Artists Guild even has a section relating to contests in their guide to pricing and ethical guidelines.

Courtney says

Unfortunately, the interwebs breed paranoia and hyperbole. A huge point of your site (for me) is developing a really cool community of people who appreciate your music, and probably share bunches of other stuff in common. This is just something for that community to do.

I see nothing at all wrong with holding a t-shirt design contest for your community and rewarding the winner.

jon says


I've done some CAD classes, and unless something is changed, you still put together a professional portfolio for graduation, and I know you would take a portfolio of your work with you to a potential client. Wouldn't having something like this, your design on a professionally marketed product, a T-shirt sure to gross 4 trillion dollars, be beneficial as a student just out of school trying to get work?

Lets remember, the internet is just a series of tubes on trucks driving down the highway with a bunch of stuff dumped inside, just ask Senator Stevens. Scott is probably just worried us JoCo fans are going to break the internet with all our stuff.

Demetrius says

I've been a professional animator/illustrator for ~15 years. (click me) But, I also very much enjoy what I do. I'm lucky that my career is also my hobby. It would be great to get top dollar for every idea that springs forth from my skull. And, it would be great to have the kind of stranglehold on the market where people had to give it to me. But, even though I don't, I enjoy the creative process. I would enter a contest like this mostly because it's fun. (Someone who doesn't want to just *shouldn't*.) The chance to win prizes is certainly appealing. But, the biggest draw for me is the chance to have my work be part of something I think is very cool. I make my real money elsewhere.

dickie says

Bah and double bah, I say. It's a contest, not spec work. Heck, as far as I'm concerned, Jonathan Coulton can have my design. I'd be happy just to say that mine made it on a t-shirt that I might see at PAX next year. ;) But vote for mine anyway. My wife is grumbling that her red iPod Nano isn't "pink". ;)

Speedy says

I doubt many people gave you money so you could buy iPod to smash in the street.

As far as the contest goes, it looks to me like you're providing a service to your fans. Fans love to be included in the works of their idols. You're providing this service for the low, low price of using the design. If that price is too high, people just won't participate.

Besides, an artist that gives away his work shouldn't feel guilty for accepting other works given to him, it'd be hypocritical.

Roman V. says

I am of the opinion that the vastness that is The Intertubes can produce things far greater than I can. This is why the games I create have externalized graphics - if you make something better, use it. This why a game I'm working on that involves a database will let anyone edit the database, either through the in-game editor or just with a program like Notepad. In the end, the Intertubes is (note, that is the correct form of the form) just better. They has (again, correct) better knowlege and moar time on their hands.

So this isn't slave labor at all, it's collaboration, which Thomas Friedman ("The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century") says is REALLY GREAT.

CALI says

Change is good and the internet is uniting people and forcing change. Yeee Hawww!

Well said by many folks here...I agree.
Capitalism did not eat our brains.

Onward Masta J!

Keep The Sassy and continue to experiment while maintaining faith in humanity!
You will be rewarded in more ways than you can dream of...

Ignore The Negs!

Sean says

I think the seriousness of this contest's place in any sort of market-force debate can be summed up thusly:

Don't you think just as many people would submit designs if the only reward would be the opportunity to have your design on a Jonathan Coulton t-shirt?

I can understand the bigger issue of things like Pixish hurting full-time graphics designers, but you've really got to pick your battles here.

It's like saying that American Idol is unfair to those hardworking individuals who slept their way to the top.

Glenn Peters says

All I know is that I now want to be paid for all the comments that I've posted to this blog. After all, it's only fair.

James says

If I had any talent, I'd give you the designs! I think the contest is fun and spurs me to actually enter a design (Although I could hear the laughing all the way down here in NO) You spelled out everything, o me, its all above board. We are your fans and LOVE the participation! I just wish I could participate in the area in which I'm most talented, Crawfish Omelette anyone?

RuthieA says

Mr. Coulton, I stumbled upon your website a couple months ago (right before Christmas), and I found your music really cool. Than, I came back, probably at the end of last month and I found your blog entry in support of the YouTube video of one of your fans. That was the single most awesome thing I have ever seen a musician do. It wasn't some publicity stunt to get people to think "wow, he's a great guy, I should buy his CDs." It was a real expression of care for your fans. That was really cool. Now, I don't know anything about business or money or graphic design copyright law so all of this stuff just goes over my head but I can honestly tell you that there is no way you will ever be Darth Vader of the slave driver of the internet. You're a nice guy who wants to do something fun for his fans, that's all.

Demetrius says

"Roman V. Says:"

What kind of games do you do? I was listening to SkullCrusher Mountain and got obsessed with how he eats and breathes and other science facts... I'm building a (moderately to very, depending on my free time) detailed 3D layout of the "SkullCrusher Mountain Complex". I have a plug-in that lets me output swf files from the 3D scene. I would love to make it available as an interactive "tour". But, I don't do interactivity.

Kurt says

I can't stop imagining a huge robotic JoCo being the slave driver of Chiron Beta Prime.

Anyway, we're all in support of you. There are a lot of assholes on the internet that will criticize a good person they know nothing about just because they have a stance on an issue that doesn't really have anything to do with the case at hand.

You are extremely loyal to your fans, and because of that, we are all loyal to you. There's a difference between respect and loyalty versus slavery. I submitted a design, which although it probably won't be picked, I would be extremely happy to give to you for free. Although if it does win, toss me the iPod, I don't have one yet for some reason ;)

Roman V says

@Demetrius, in an effort to not hijack this topic, I will just say go to my Intertubes and you can email me through there.

Now then, I am all in favor of collaboration - it levels the playing field, which is great, because you get the best of all worlds.

SirWulf says

One bad thing with the Internet is that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, there will be some group of users that are against what you are doing. Ignore those people, they feed off of such negativity.

What you do is one of those great examples of the good things of the Internet. And this site certainly enforces that. The pictures, videos and fan content all having their own personal idea of your music is really quite refreshing. And winning a contest such as this one would be really cool. All said and done, if someone doesn't feel comfortable with not making a profit from this, they don't have to enter.

Jade says

Alright, thi is kind of lame. I mean, I want to make a submission for Jonathan almost as a gift for him, y'know? Here it is saying that's it's no fair for him to use a design if it is not infact the 'winner', but I'm sure ALL the people who submot their designs aren't going to be in it for any gain (though that iPod or a box set would be awesome), they're doing it because their fans. And Jonathan has gien so much to us, from Thing-A-Week to all the free downloads he offers AND allowing everyone to use his music, most artists aren't as awesome as that. Actually, I'm kind of mad that this has him upset, I want him to be happy, and the contest SHOULD be a fun activity for those who choose to participate. I'm going to enter, for sure, more than one design most likely, and if you like any of them Jonathan, feel free to use whenever you please, because it would be my gift to you.

Jade says

Uh, ignore all my typos in that earlier message, I look like an idiot.

Tindómiel says

Wow, I missed that whole row back there. JoCo, I personally don't see this as being much different from putting a donation in the tip jar. You're not some evil, soulless corporation and I'm not an art student trying to get my career off the ground... but if I had gone that path, I'd probably be working on an entry for this contest anyhow, because I'm a fan, and I'm doing this for the hell of it and because you are awesome, and if it wins and makes you some money, that's even more awesome. Listening to your tunes at work is helping me maintain my sanity, and there's no way I could repay you for that anyhow.

Bry says

I'm posting late enough in the discussion that no one will actually read this, but I see my moniker appears in the blog post. Honestly, moderating the forums is almost always so easy that it shouldn't really even warrant a mention, but I'm glad to do it and I would never expect to be paid for it.

I will, however, admit to feeling guilty for taking jobs away from professional forum administrators.

Gary says

So you're the guy who stole my job.....

Michael says

I think the contest is a great idea, and as soon as I find the time, I'm going to create as many designs as I'm allowed to! Normally if someone asked me to create T-shirt designs for them, I'd make sure they were paying me well, but in this particular case, I don't care. I don't even care about winning the iPod, or if my design is even chosen. I just see this as an opportunity for me to take all the inspiration and positive feelings that your music has given me, and give it back to you the best way I know how.

Daniel says

I'll say the same thing I said on metafilter:

"if anybody's an exception to the rule, it'd be Jonathan Coulton: he gives away most of his own work for free online, so if he wants to ask for people to design him t-shirts for free, I say more power to him, he's earned it."

There, now I feel like a suckup, but the whole Pixish flap really wasn't about you, and I'm sorry people dragged you in there as an example.

Scott Frazer says

I, also, cannot post on MeFi, but if someone who can wants to, this one caught my eye:

from tkchrist:
"Anybody here an architect or contractor. Hey how about you all build me three houses each and I will pick witch one I will buy. The best one. No I wont pay you for materials or time. If your good let the market decide. Fuck the rest of you that suck so say I."

Um... that's called a spec house and it happens all the freakin' time.

Bradley O'Farrell says

People on the Internet will complain about anything.

Maybe they should consider how much music YOU have given THEM for free.

Jeff Schoby says


First of all, the people bitching about the contest just need to get a life. The contest is voluntary. If you're going to submit a design, you agree to the rules, if you don't agree to the rules... you don't submit a design.


Someone who has some extra expendable income should make a t-shirt for the submitters that says, "I submitted a design for JoCo's t-shirt design contest and all I got was this lousy t-shirt! (Stupid Internets!)" and donate them to JoCo to send out to the ppl who submit an entry.

...and then Joco can write "SlAvE" on all of the submitters cheeks and give them new names that are unpronouncable glyphs......

Katie FL says

Those folk on MetaFilter should be poked in the eye with the business ends of rabid squirrels.

Only the winning design may be printed.

Personally, I'm planning on submitting a design and I'd be honored if I didn't win and you used it anyway. You're one of my favorite musicians and it would be wonderful to be able to continue to support you, especially with art rather than money since I'm poor.

Seriously, I'll sign a waiver if you want. I just want to be able to point to one of your shirts and say "I fucking designed that."

Joel says

The obvious difference between a plantation and your contest is that the slaves were stuck there and the entrants aren't. If someone thinks they are getting a square deal, they don't have to play. But if a fan wants to contribute something to the JoCo Experience they can do it (or not) of their own, uncoerced choice. If I had ancestors who were real slaves, beaten and forced to work against their will, I'd be pretty irked at having their experience compared to people well-off enough to have computers and Internet access and scanners who freely enter an online contest.

Personally, I'm going to be pointing out this contest to my girlfriend. She loves your music, is an aspiring graphic designer. and could really use a new iPod. Everybody wins!

(Sorry for probably repeating something that has already been said above, but I wanted to add my opinion to the throng.)

Nikki says

What the MeFi ppl are missing, regrettably, is that part of the payoff is that YOU GET FAMOUS FOR MAKING A GREAT JOCO SHIRT. Publicity. FREE PUBLICITY AND AN IPOD. And, fun, and community, and being part of something larger than your big, stupid self. If you are really trying to make a name or get noticed, this is great for you. If you are high-falutin' and want to be paid $500/hour or something, maybe not so much. Again, no one holding a gun to you pretty little head . . just do it if you want to. Jesus. If you're going to get torn up about all your 'wasted time' then probably this is not for you. Why is that so hard to understand.

Gwynne says

Wow, some people will try to take the fun out of everything. I hope you won't call off the contest (which I'm not participating in because I don't have a visually artistic bone in my body, but it seems like a very cool idea!) because of some idiots trying to take the fun out of it.

helpful says

Just FYI, if you e-mail mathowie, the owner of Metafilter, he will set you up with a free account so you can defend yourself without having to support the site.

Bruce says

Man, can I have that to fertilize my garden?

First, Metafilter folks snark because they don't have anything better to do. Like so many other people through history, they think this makes them cool. Feh.

JoCo rocks. Anyone who doesn't like the contest might just as well go download their music illegally and play with their toes because it's free.

Now back to Photoshop.

Jacob says

I am working on a design right now which, if it turns out the way I want, will look pretty swanky. I'm hoping it does well in the Pixish contest, but if not I don't really care.

Yeah the whole ownership and free artwork issues are kind of rocky, but the alternative to that is no design contest at all, which sucks. I wouldn't stress over it.

Joseph Devon says

I am begging you, *begging* you, to purchase a white linen suit and dress the part of plantation owner for, like, a month or something. And take lots of pictures.
Go all Colonel on the streets of Brooklyn.
This has nothing to do with anything, just that image of you as plantation owner is now firmly lodged in my subconscious.
While I'm making outlandish claims, where's my acoustic cover of Fat Bottomed Girls to provide a B-side to Baby's Got Back?

barefootorbust says

This is the same complaint I am hearing from music artists as well. In my mind, whether it is visual art or musical art, it is a good way to get your work out there and recognized. In any kind of esoteric business, you have to show what you can do in order for people to want to hire you. With as famous a person as JoCo is now, anyone who put their design in could get a mention and a post by him, telling the world about their work. Who would not want the free publicity? It is hard to get your work out there and noticed. There is WAY too much competition. I would see this as an opportunity, not exploitation. Well, at the very least it's mutual exploitation. If an artist is worried about JoCo's motives, they do not have to enter the contest. End of story. Are there people out there trying get freebies? Most likely. That is why instead of griping about what could possibly look like it, do some research, use your brain. You don't like the contest? Don't enter.

BlackWolfe says

Hey, I'm going to quote your "music" page for a moment:

Songs that I wrote are licensed Creative Commons by-nc (covers and other stuff I don’t own are not).

So... it's okay for you to put out your music for us to listen to on your website (and in a few cases, download and keep) for free, but it's not okay for people to voluntarily do the same thing when entering your contest?

I think these people have no perception of who you are as a person and an artist, and they can take a flying leap.

M_pony says

the thing to remember is that you have been a 'success' on the internet. Anybody Out There who has been at their craft for as long as you have and who has not yet become a success to the same extent might just be gettign jealous.

Besides, if someone wants to NOT do free design work for you then by all means let them sit there and NOT do it. (I haven't read the 70-some comments above but i'm pretty sure some of them are similar to mine)

manstraw says

I'm a graphic artist type person by trade. I've been in this field for 21 years. I think this whole pixish thing is a fine idea and mechanism. It's up to individuals whether or not they wish to participate. It's actually a wonderful opportunity for non-professional to gain opportunity, exposure etc. It's also a wonderful opportunity for a professional to design something because they love the subject matter, which believe me, doesn't often happen.

I'm not submitting anything, but only because it's not really my area of expertise, and I'm hella busy right now.

And ya know, it's not like Joco makes us buy everything either. I think he gives quite a lot. And a lot of his fan base likes to give back. That relationship is no one else's business frankly.

Matt LeClair says

Speaking as someone with 20-ish years of experience in the graphic design industry, I know exactly the types who would complain about this. These are college students who are getting good grades in their graphic design classes and have a grossly over-inflated view of their self-worth but no actual professional design experience. And no, the work you did re-doing your high-school website doesn't count as professional experience.

The going rate for a design like this is usually 2 copies of the printed t-shirt. If you're lucky. The Nano and other stuff is more than generous.

Anyone complaining about spec work or pro-bono work is either an idiot, or has no actual experience as a designer. If you want to reach a point where you're actually doing cool work you *have* to do spec and pro-bono work.

Here's how it works. You graduate from school and start shopping yourself around. You've got a portfolio full of all the stuff that got you an A+ on in your classes. For bonus points you've thrown in a couple logos you "designed" by following an online tutorial. It's all shiny and chrome and really, really exciting to someone who's never seen Photoshop before.You're showing this off to art directors who are unimpressed because they did the same exercises when they were in college, and your Photoshop tricks are pure cheese to them.

They want to know what you've actually done. As in real work, for real clients. They don't care where you went to school or what you got for grades.

Maybe if your work is truly outstanding, they'll try you out in an entry level position, where the most exiting thing you'll be designing is classified ads for the local used car dealership.

The catch is, this entry level work only proves that you're qualified to do more of the same work. If you want to move beyond this, you're going to have go do work above and beyond what you're getting paid for. Very few people are going to pay for work from someone who isn't a proven commodity, so that means you'll have to work on spec, or for free.

The thing is not to be stupid about it. Just because you're not getting paid for it doesn't mean your work isn't valuable. Make sure it's going to something worthwhile, like a non-profit org you believe in. Or make sure it's work where you can show off your skills and call all the shots.

Do enough of this work and you'll have a portfolio full of real work for real clients, and you can get a better job at a better agency, or get better freelance jobs.

Honestly, the opportunities to do really creative work that will be published, even for free, are very rare. So, Jonathan, even if you were giving nothing in return besides publishing their work on t-shirts, your contest is still worth entering just to get a portfolio piece. Aspiring artists and designers should look for every opportunity like this.

As far as Pixish being "evil," there's a lot of artists and designers out there who are crap, but successful because their clients don't know any better, or don't know how to find anyone else. These are the people who should worry about Pixish. People who are successful because they're good have nothing to worry about.

Bryan says

Pixish is a very good idea spearheaded by a very smart man. As I understand it, it's primarily for _unknown_ and maybe even _amateur_ photographers/illustrators to build a portfolio and/or reputation. I say leave it up.

Mickey Phoenix says

JoCo, ignore them. Ignore them 1000 times. Ignore them with joy in your heart and a spring in your step, echoing the joy and spring that you so freely give to all of us.

Their absolute nonsense response to your (fun, nifty, how damn cool is that some fan is going to get their t-shirt design printed on an actual official JoCo shirt OMG OMG!!!) contest is utterly pinning my irony-meter.


Let me say that again:


You're about as far from a "web 2.0 plantation owner" as I can imagine an artist getting. Your work brings so much happiness to so many people, and you just put it out there on the web for everyone to enjoy and delight in.

Thank you for everything you do--for your musical genius, your wonderfully friendly interactions with your fans, the time and heart you put into holding contests like this, the traveling you do to bring your live shows virtually to our doorsteps.

And please, please, ignore the bitter, angry, selfish people who flame you for offering your fans this nifty opportunity.



G. Bruno says

But I am curious to hear what you all think (and folks from the Metafilter thread if they find their way here - I was going to sign up and post a comment, but it costs $5)

Oh, the irony. The haters need to STFU.

Justin Chase says

I think it's perfectly natural for someone who offers his music up on the internet for essentially free to solicit the help of fans for fun and for a nice design. Sure you make money, great, but you're not Metallica. If you wanted an awesome professional design you'll probably have to pay for it, with this design contest I'm sure you'll get what you pay for!

I think it's a way to tie your music back in with the fans more, which is what makes you really different from the others. We're all having fun and it's supposed to be all about the music right? The tshirts are just occular real estate designed to give fans a public way to declare their affection for you, what better way to do this than to let the fans themselves create it?

Ignore the nay sayers.

PS, I nice initials.

Marcy says

Why not approach it as a collaboration? The person who wins the contest may not gain much monetarily but he/she will have an awesome resume line (sorry, I don't know how to do the accents) and might get some notice by the artistic community. There could certainly be positive repercussions for the artist. I'd be thrilled to win and to sign over the copyright to you. If you had the wealth of Paul McCartney, I might feel a little different about it.....ha ha. LOL

Widgett Walls says

Coming late to the party as I am, I would just like to add my voice to the chorus of freely-given not-forced-out-of-me "WTF are they on about?" people.

Oh, and I brought cookies.

Stuart Maxwell says

I can't add much to the dozens of great comments already here, but I wanted to add my voice to the chorus. Two percent of the internet is made up of fuckwads who'd criticize Mother Theresa if they thought it'd get them 15 nanoseconds of attention. Eff 'em. You've got nothing to apologize for.

roscivs says

I haven't read through all the comments yet, but I just have to laugh at the hilarity of someone saying that JoCo, master of the Creative-Commons-give-your-work-away business model, is trying to take advantage of other people's work for free. Does no one see the irony here?!?!

If anything, you're cheapening the value of awesome music, by fucking giving it away to bastards like us who should be paying through the nose for every creative note that comes out of your mouth.

I say Cheapen Away, JC. I'm enjoying every minute of it.

Down10 says

As a poster on that MetaFilter thread, I feel the need to come defend myself from a lot of these baseless insults on this thread. A whole lot of you are very sure that you know what you're talking about, when you don't.

It's apparent that the great majority of the commenters had either not even bothered to read the MeFi thread or have completely missed the point of the discussion because of they're JoCo fans who now feel threatened.

The gripes that were being made was with the Pixish site itself, NOT JONATHAN COULTON, nor his fans or even this particular contest.

Certainly we all think that fan t-shirt contests like these are fine, but the complaint that I had with Pixish as a whole was that it, for intents and purposes, removes the context of a fan base and just operates as a buffet of cheap/free artwork to whomever makes a request for it. The point was that it removes the community spirit from the work -- that it reduces simple requests for artwork designed in good faith into a low-balling eBay for for cheap work without the inherit love or respect that Jon has no doubt earned from his internet presence. Another complaint was that it there didn't seem to be much protection from artists getting ripped off (like those who rip photos off of Flickr, without paying or crediting the photographers).

Anyway, please don't let the nay-sayers get you down, Jon. You've already given a lot of great stuff to the Web, and you actually deserve something back. It's the Pixish site that raises our hackles, not you.

Nim says

Whatever. We love ya, JoCo. If we send stuff to you or enter design contests, it's cause we

GShaw says

Hey man it's an internet rule of thumb that if metafilter is criticizing you then you're probably doing the right thing

JJ says

I was fine with the contest, but I'm creeped out by how many commenters here said, "It's fine, big corporations do it all the time."

That's really our standard for ethical behavior? Really really?