UPDATE: JustKiddingFilms Fires Olivia Thai Over Claiming ‘Unpaid Intern’ Status — Will This Affect All Of YouTube?

UPDATE 0714/14 18:43 PST: From Joe Jo (to NMR): “I just want to apologize for everyone who were emotionally affected by all this. We’re not in the business of cheating, hurting, exploiting and lyingWe will be releasing a statement on https://www.facebook.com/JustKiddingFilms regarding this issue.”

With YouTube entities selling for millions of dollars these days, there is no question that social media is now very much a business. And like any business, there are going to be major controversies that shape and reshape the landscape. Right now, major industry players JustKiddingFilms are experiencing an acrimonious –and potentially litigious — situation that has ramifications for all YouTubers and their teams.

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With major respect to A-tunes.net for bringing this story to the forefront, it seems YouTube singer and performer Olivia Thai has been fired by JustKiddingFilms largely over the term “unpaid intern.”

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See, Olivia, who posted a video (below) to her personal channel (which was allegedly blocked by JustKiddingFilms, but has since been re-allowed), stated that she was paid just $1200 for over 1,300 hours of work — resulting in a sum total of roughly 87 cents an hour for her time. Additionally, there were uncompensated uses of her car and gas, house and personal resources. when she complained to the JustKiddingFilms upper management — Bart Kwan and Joe Jo — she was allegedly chastised and then fired.

After Olivia’s video was posted, another member of the JustKiddingFilms “family,” David So, responded to the video and the allegations on Facebook. The post, in its entirety, is below:Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 12.37.21 PM

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To that, Olivia responded on Facebook as well:

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Joe and Bart have so far been the most silent members of this whole ordeal, declining thus far to provide NMR (or any other media org.) with an official comment on the matter. In fact, their only actions on the matter appear to be blocking commenters from the JustKiddingFilms social media accounts who appear to side with Olivia in the matter. When one commenter pressed Olivia about taking legal action she responded, “i (sic) have never done anything like that before and it kind of scares me, to be honest.”Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 1.16.53 PM

So does Olivia have a case? The bottom line is that it appears Olivia didn’t have a contract with JustKiddingFilms and that might be the mitigating circumstance that works against her, despite her insistence that “unpaid interns” are illegal. She is largely correct in her assertions that being an “unpaid intern” is illegal. But the lack of a contract or defined relationship with JustKiddingFilms might not qualify her for intern status. From their perspective, she might have just been a friend helping out. The Department of Labor put out a list of six conditions in 2010 which govern the status of interns and their ability to be unpaid:

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 1.21.37 PMNMR reached out to some legal commentators who provided commentary on the recent Courtney Love “Twibel” case, to see if Olivia’s assertions of being an “unpaid intern” have merit. We will update when they respond.

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In the meantime, what does all this mean for other creators on YouTube? When money begins to factor in to the equation (as it increasingly is), relationships change and the nature of who does what and for what compensation needs to be addressed. When you are filming videos with your friends for no expected compensation, that is one thing. When YouTube becomes a career with serious financial returns, everything must be addressed and run like the business it is. Roles must be defined and time and resources must be accounted for and compensated appropriately. Unfortunately, when your hobby becomes a career, sometimes your friends become your employers and the law gets involved. It’s likely that JustKIddingFilms is going to amend their business practices going forward and if you’re a creator, it would behoove you to learn from their example.

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