The paper seeks to answer the key question: are the several forms of free work done within crowdfunding a gift, an exploitation or an investment? The research question has been articulated with respect to the models of crowdfunding, the actors surveyed, and in relation to the meanings they attach to their experience. The research was carried out by sending out an online questionnaire to all Italian platforms and through semi-structured interviews with a sample of platform owners and project holders. The paper is organized into three main parts: definition of crowdfunding and analysis of operating logics and social mechanisms; map of the spread, growth and impact of crowdfunding in Italy; analysis of the meanings attributed to "free labor" by the main actors in the sector. It ends with the identification of new research avenues for the analysis of an industry that is still in its infancy, but which is growing fast.
Keywords: Crowdfunding, free labour, gift, exploitation, investment, social media