Only a rich guy who’s never had to worry about money or career prospects could ridicule unpaid interns who realize they were taken advantage of.

CNN’s highly paid anchor Anderson Cooper brushes aside labor laws and tells people who were treated like slave labor in the entertainment industry to suck it up.

Cooper is talking about two unpaid interns who worked for free on the very profitable movie, “Black Swan.” The pair decided to sue the producers because they feel they should have been paid.

This from a New York Times story by Steven Greenhouse:

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Manhattan, claims that Fox Searchlight Pictures, the producer of “Black Swan,” had the interns do menial work that should have been done by paid employees and did not provide them with the type of educational experience that labor rules require in order to exempt employers from paying interns.

It’s difficult to know if they’ll prevail in court, but on the surface, it looks like they have a strong case.

I’ve written extensively on this growing trend of adults who are out of school working for free for for-profit companies. In this economy, workers are desperate and they’re buying into a warped notion that working for free, beyond doing so for charities, is a smart career move.

Cooper makes fun of one Black Swan intern in particular who’s in his 40s and must of known exactly what he was doing. Yes, he did. He was being taken advantage of. The intern with an MBA was essentially a free accountant for the movie. Why didn’t the producers hire an accountant for real pay?

Free internships make sense if you’re a student looking for school credit, and I’m all for volunteering for nonprofits. Something I’ve done often.

Beyond that, here are some guidelines from the government on how they’re supposed to work.

The Department of Labor Wage and Hour division has six criteria on when an unpaid internship is considered an internship and not in violation of labor laws:

1. The training is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction;
2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees or students;
3. The trainees or students do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observation;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees or students, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded;
5. The trainees or students are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period; and
6. The employer and the trainees or students understand that the trainees or students are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

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