Sofar Sounds, a for-profit, live-entertainment operation known for it's "secret gigs and intimate concerts," has recently come under fire by the Department of Labor for possible violations of its practices, namely its use of unpaid volunteers and its exploitation of artists. Speaking with Variety,  Partner  James Sammataro, Co-Chair of Pryor Cashman's Media & Entertainment Group, weighed in on the labor implications of volunteer-dependent business models. 

"Sofar is a legitimate business — with a genius model!," he says, "They have mastered the cost-side of the live stage business. They don't pay the venue; they pay the performing artists a pittance...and there's an all-volunteer staff.  They're effectively monetizing a beatnik culture for millennials, cashing in on culture without doling out dollars. They're selling a virtually cost-free experience."

Though an unnamed source at the New York State Department of Labor asserts that Sofar's business model is out of compliance, Sammarato acknowledges that while volunteer-dependent business models have labor implications similar to intern laws, "some organizations utilize volunteers in exchange for access, status or other perks." 

Pointing to the widespread use of volunteers in the live-entertainment business, Sammataro asserts that "free labor is not uncommon for festivals. Nearly all of the biggest festivals avail themselves of volunteers, offering free admission, a free t-shirt, meal tokens, preferred camping spots and other comparable perks to volunteers, who are seemingly all too happy to trade their labor for the opportunity to attend an event they might otherwise not be able to afford.  Free labor is prevalent throughout the business."

"Is an adult's willingness to devote five hours of their time really exploitation?," he reasons. "It's hard to ask the state to legislate how adults spend their time."

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