Unpaid Internships

There's a lot of controversy surrounding unpaid internships lately.  More and more people are calling them illegal as they violate wage laws.

To be honest, I never gave unpaid internships much thought.  I know many colleges require them as part of a degree program.  And, when I did think of them, I pictured a frazzled college kid running to fetch coffee and then jumping back into the shadowy office corner to listen in on an agent making a deal with a certain publisher (or other interesting thing to witness).  My mind may have only been correct about the first part.

One of the tenets of unpaid internships is "employers" must oversee the education of the intern.  This code also makes note that the intern should reap the most visible benefits.  It seems companies are beginning to forget these things and wave a flag of opportunity just to procure free labor.  It is no longer about mutual gain.  And that, folks, is where it's going wrong.

Now, one of the first results you get from Google when you type in "unpaid internship" is a lawsuit site.  It's truly sad that something that once held great educational and networking value has been so misused.  It leaves companies and organizations that are still providing the service and chances they should open to unfounded legal disputes just for having an internship program.  Not good.

Further reading:  NYT Op-Ed Against Unpaid Internships
                         LA Times Black Swan Interns' Lawsuit
                          Salon's Article on SxSW and Why It Risks a Lawsuit
                        Federal Judge Says Unpaid Internships are Illegal

What do you guys think about all of this?  Have you ever been an unpaid intern?  How much should an intern be expected to do before it becomes exploitation?  Should there be a third party involved to oversee things?  Are people overreacting?  

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