AS IT RELATES TO ARTISTS:
I already know there are those out there who will say their free internship led them to other opportunities. I've met you, and that is grand. For you, it all worked out, but the few cases where a free internship helped you in your career does not mean it is right, fare, or even competitive.
Lets just get the obvious out of the way, an unpaid internship is free work. A company tells you "In exchange you get invaluable experience and we'll throw in a free lunch now and then." Where have I heard this before?..... oh yeah! "In exchange you will get invaluable exposure". ....right.
Personally, I don't care who knocks on my door, big studio or small, I'm not working for free. However, I do have a little experience with this while I was a student at AAU. There is a small studio called The Artillery, it's actually run by some smart young alumni. They offered me a position for a FREE internship, claiming that is how they got their start. I wasn't impressed. I did hang around a bit, and I didn't really do any work. In fact, my biggest contribution was teaching the artists there a couple things about photoshop and their cintiqs, which seems backwards doesn't it? But I digress. They wanted me to work on a new venture project. They planned on doing a kickstarter to fund it (and later did unsuccessfully). This was a red flag for reasons that you all need to know. -
California law states that in order for a position to qualify as an internship (paid or unpaid) it must first be A). an educational position (i.e. learning the production pipeline, which can't just be stated, it has to be tangible. Otherwise they could just say your learning as you sit in broom closet) and B). Cannot "directly" contribute toward a product that produces revenue for the company. Side note, there are indirect ways, of course. It was obvious that they didn't know the laws concerning internships. You can't just slap this title on a position and wait for the work you plan to exploit to come flowing in.
The exchange is supposed to be - We teach you industry stuff, maybe even give you college credit, and you give us your best effort to learn, heck, we might just hire you once your all trained up in the ways of the force!
Still, It is not crazy to expect AT LEAST minimum wage, and everyone should. After all, they do own everything you create.
If you're thinking, " If I don't take it, that opportunity will go to someone else. I gotta do whatever it takes to compete in this crazy market." That is exactly the type of thinking these studios want, and REAL opportunity is backed with money. You're actually hurting the art community by devaluing your own work. This trend is extending well past internships as it becomes easier for companies to exploit artists.
Internships can be a great opportunity. Just be wary and know the difference between opportunity, and exploitation.
Which leads me to another type of free work I have actually been burned on. I'll talk about that gem another day.