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US lawsuit to put the spotlight on festival volunteers

By | Published on Monday 28 April 2014

Live Nation

With unpaid internships in the music business having been under the spotlight in both the UK and US in the last year, a class action lawsuit in the States could now put the focus on the use of volunteer labour at music festivals, something many large scale music events depend on.

According to, the lawsuit is aimed at Live Nation and its festival promotion partner Insomniac Events, and has been brought by someone who volunteered at the Californian edition of dance music festival Nocturnal Wonderland. The plaintiff claims that the event’s organisers violated America’s Fair Labor Standards Act by recruiting volunteers to “carry out the work of paid employees”.

It seems that volunteers at the event worked in return for free access to the festival – a pretty common practice in the music festival sector – but the litigation claims that the work done by the volunteers meant that they were in essence proper employees – however they might be classified by the festival’s promoters – and are therefore subject to employment law. This includes rules that cover minimum wage payments, overtime and break entitlements.

It’s not clear whether the lawsuit is suggesting that the ‘payment in kind’ approach is in itself illegal, or if it is rather suggesting that, while a ‘tickets for work’ system is allowed, promoters must treat its ‘volunteers’ as employees and ensure they receive benefits equal to minimum wage for the hours they work, plus other employee rights.

As a class action lawsuit, if this claim against Nocturnal Wonderland is successful it could have much wider implications, in that anyone who has volunteered at an Insomniac or Live Nation promoted festival in the US may be able to claim wages for their past work. It would also likely force a rethink on the way volunteers are used at festivals in the States, possibly bumping up the manpower costs at these events, and likely resulting in a ticket price hike too.

All that said, part of the lawsuit against Nocturnal Wonderland is concerned with specific commitments that event made to the plaintiff, which were allegedly not delivered on, including ‘internship-quality training’ and guaranteed time free to enjoy the festival as a punter. The plaintiff seems most angry that the experience of being a volunteer at the festival was misrepresented during the recruitment process, so it may be that the outcome of this lawsuit will be more an overhaul of the way such volunteer opportunities are communicated.

Live Nation and Insomniac Events are yet to comment.