Kyle Grant was still living in a Bronx homeless shelter when he started interning at Warner Music Group (WMG) in August 2012. The gig was unpaid, and he couldn’t afford an apartment of his own after moving out of his girlfriend’s mother’s house, but he took it anyway. He’d already worked at JAMBOX Entertainment, a much smaller music production company. He was planning to launch his own record label one day. A stint in Warner’s Music Promotions Department seemed a pretty great way to learn the basics.
But like so many facets of the unpaid intern industrial complex, it wasn’t quite what it appeared.
“As an intern I wanted to do whatever I could to make a name, to at least stand out to somebody,” Grant, now 23, told Newsweek in a recent conversation in a Manhattan law office. “That’s not what happened. It was just a routine of getting things.”
Most days, Grant was expected to fetch drinks for two different vice presidents. He also took lunch orders and took clothing to be dry-cleaned. “Things that have nothing to do with working in radio promotions,” he said. “Oh, man, I even took people’s luggage. When you need to repair luggage and you take it to Louis Vuitton? I was picking out jewelry and things like that.”
Unbeknownst to Grant, a set of federal Department of Labor guidelines—known as “Fact Sheet #71”...