Recently I received a question about a company called Privila, which has been advertising for journalism interns on Craigslist and other freelance job sites.
The small print on the index page of Privila's website reveals that it's a subsidiary of a company called Domain Holdings Inc., which specializes in "monetizing" URLs with popular names (for instance, Christmasandnannukkahgifts.com), turning them into directories that list retailers and items for sale. The verbiage on Privila's About Us page is pretty opaque, but by inference, it will provide content for websites managed by Domain Holdings.
So far, so good. According to Privila, the benefits of internship include:
# Gain REAL writing EXPERIENCE; Resume builder
# Be a PUBLISHED author across a variety of topics and websites
# Work with seasoned EDITORS to IMPROVE your writing
# CHALLENGE and EDUCATE yourself by meeting deadlines and researching a multitude of topics including: jewelry, sports, fashion, outdoors, automobiles, finances, arts and much more!
# ESTABLISH a sense of what it would be like to FREELANCE for a publication.
# LEARN about INTERNET JOURNALISM, the future of the writing field!!!
The perks of internship look pretty cool too--in fact, with a coffee shop atmosphere, nerf gear "to exercise a minor case of writers block or coding confusion," a fully stocked fridge, and made-to-order lunches, it sounds less like a job than a vacation (the faux-hip description of all this falls a little flat, but never mind). To apply, all you have to do is fill out this simple form.
So what's the catch? (Because you knew there'd be one, didn't you?) Well, the catch is lurking, as it often does, in the fine print--in this case, the Terms and Conditions to which you must agree if you become an intern.
From Section One, "Trade Secrets:"
At all times during and after the term of the internship, PARTICIPANT is prohibited from and shall refrain from disclosing to other persons or entities any confidential information or trade secrets of PRIVILA (including those developed by PARTICIPANT) or of which PARTICIPANT becomes aware.
No disclosure of trade secrets. Check. Now this, from Section Two, "Assignment of Rights to Articles/Projects:"
During the term of the internship, PARTICIPANT agrees that any articles/ projects authored, created, or otherwise worked on by PARTICIPANT during the internship and/or involving direct or indirect use of PRIVILA's facilities, equipment, supplies, trade secrets, or that relate to PRIVILA's current or anticipated work or research, or that result from work done for PRIVILA, shall belong to PRIVILA. PARTICIPANT waives any proprietary right to said work, and assigns such articles/ projects to PRIVILA...PARTICIPANT further agrees that PRIVILA designates such articles/ projects as trade secrets.
Uh oh. According to this clause, interns must relinquish ownership--presumably, this means copyright--of the writing they do during their internship. Now, I understand that websites often use writers on a work-for-hire basis--but surely this should relate only to the work produced for that website. The language above suggests that Privila is claiming ownership of ANY writing its interns do, whether or not that writing relates to Privila.
Moreover, such writing is designated a trade secret, and interns are prohibited from disclosing trade secrets to others (remember Section One?). Would "others" include potential employers? So much for Benefits 1 and 2. It will be difficult to claim "real" writing experience or "published author" status if you can't back up your claim and demonstrate your writing ability by providing clips of your articles.
On to Section Three, "Disclosure of Articles/Projects to PRIVILA:"
To facilitate compliance with this agreement, PARTICIPANT agrees to disclose to PRIVILA all articles/ projects made by PARTICIPANT during the course of the internship. PARTICIPANT agrees that any copyright application filed within one year after the end or termination of PARTICIPANT's is presumed to relate to an article/ project developed during the term of PARTICIPANT's internship with PRIVILA...An article/ project is made by PARTICIPANT during the course of the internship if PARTICIPANT conceived of, or put into practice, the article/ project during the term of PARTICIPANT's internship.
So...having claimed ownership of ANY work produced or "conceived of" by interns during their internships, Privila also claims ownership of work produced afterward, by means of the astounding "presumption" that anything the intern produces in the year following her internship will "relate" to her internship.
Of course, since this provision is triggered by copyright registration, you could simply avoid registering any copyrights for a year (a policy you should be following anyway for unpublished work). But suppose you sell an article to a magazine, and the magazine registers a collective copyright. Would that trigger Privila's ownership claim? Suppose you want to register copyright to that published article yourself, as professional writers' organizations suggest you do (since a publisher's collective copyright may not give you standing to sue for infringement of your individual work). You can register even after infringement and still take the infringer to court--but you can only sue for the full range of damages if registration predates the infringement or is made within three months of publication. Might the possibility of an ownership claim by Privila prevent you from doing that?
So...no money, no clips, and the possibility that your work may be hijacked for up to a year after your internship is over. For this, you must commit to a minimum of 10 hours per week for 15 weeks, research and write a minimum of 5 articles per week, and meet daily deadlines. All in all, a journalism internship for Privila looks to me a lot like indentured servitude.