In the food chain of the workplace, freelancers rank just above unpaid interns, in terms of exploitation. And we’re partially to blame, argue the founders of open-source legal document database Docracy, for failing to arm ourselves with the necessary contracts. The young startup is hoping remedy the situation with Don’t Get Screwed Over, a new site that helps young freelancers, renters, and generally inexperienced adults get access to free legal documents.
Docracy was founded last year after winning TechCrunch’s Disrupt Hackathon. It’s the brainchild of Larva Lab's Matt Hall and John Watkinson, two app developers who knew firsthand how difficult it is to parse (or pay for) the world of legal documents. After winning the Hackathon, the duo developed Docracy into a site where you can download, e-sign, and share everything from wills to non-disclosure agreements. This spring, the company launched Don’t Get Screwed Over as a stand-alone site to target freelancers, the most unprotected worker in creative industries. “Getting screwed over sucks, whether it’s due to a miscommunication, an intentional slight, or just bad luck,” write the founders. “That’s why we wanted to create a site to help prevent people from getting screwed.”
Appropriately, Don’t Get Screwed Over was actually developed for Docracy by a group of interns at creative agency BBH. "This year [the BBH interns] were charged with branding and promoting a startup, and we were the startup one team picked," says Hall over email. To demonstrate the concept behind the project, the team staged a little social experiment. They set up a table in the park where drawings could be sold for $5. When eager would-be artists submitted their doodles for payment, they were turned away with a stern dismissal: “This isn’t what I imagined,” or “I didn’t ask for this.” The idea is to demonstrate what it feels like to be a freelancer. And it’s fairly accurate—the victims are angry, embarrassed, and completely helpless, since they didn’t bother to find out the details of the agreement. "The reception has been amazing," adds Hall. "Freelancers really identified with the idea of the campaign and then with the solution we’re providing."
After watching the video, you’re invited to click through the site’s tip section, which lists a plethora of likely legal conundrums (everything from a roommate’s non-payment of rent to a freelancer who wants more money from you) and a link to documents that could help assuage them (a renter’s agreement and a freelancer’s contract, respectively). More general life advice is sprinkled throughout the site, some of it hilarious. “You try to text your mom about your new start-up company,” reads one. “Instead the text auto-corrects to tell your mom about your new strap-on company.” The antidote? Proofread those text messages. Advice for the ages.
While DGSO is in no way a substitute for a lawyer, it’s a pretty good alternative if legal advice is out of the question. It’s also a clever way to promote Docracy, just one of a growing group of websites aimed at ending the tyranny frequently foisted upon young freelancers. The Freelancer’s Union, for example, recently launched a stand-alone site called The World’s Longest Invoice, which keeps track of thousands of unpaid invoices. As it stands today, freelancers are owed about $16 million.