Are unpaid internships fair?

Black Swan (film)

Black Swan (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This New York Times article discusses how two production interns on the movie Black Swan won a lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Pictures claiming they should have been paid for their work:

Judge Rules That Movie Studio Should Have Been Paying Interns (

Despite the seeming prestige of working on an Academy Award-winning film, the interns who filed the lawsuit were tasked with menial administrative duties, like getting lunch orders, taking out the trash, and assembling furniture.

I personally have mixed feelings about internships. They could be a great way to break into an industry, make valuable networking connections, and form a bond with a company that could eventually hire you as a paid employee.

But internships could also be a way for employers to exploit young workers by making them do grunt-work for free with no intent of teaching them, hiring them, or helping them in any way whatsoever.

For those of you who are interns and are questioning whether your employers are treating you fairly, the following summarizes the Department of Labor’s standards of a proper unpaid internship:

Those rules say unpaid internships should not be to the immediate advantage of the employer, the work must be similar to vocational training given in an educational environment, the experience must be for the benefit of the intern and the intern’s work must not displace that of regular employees.

And while companies justify not paying interns by offering academic credit, the judge who ruled in favor of the interns stated that academic credit was “of little importance in determining whether interns should be paid.”

So what are your opinions of internships? Did you have an internship, and how did it work out for you?

About David

I'm an aspiring writer and filmmaker in my twenties. I also run a blog where twenty-somethings share their stories and advice on beginning a career in this economy. Check it out at

Posted on June 23, 2013, in News & views and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. This is really interesting. I didn’t know that was how unpaid internship were defined. That changes my whole view! Luckily I did get paid… it was a small stipend but it was something and I appreciated it. It’s crazy that they won the law suit. I bet it will start a movement to change how interns get paid.

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