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Huffington Post blogger files class action suit

Journalist Jonathan Tasini plans on filing a class action lawsuit against Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington and AOL compensation for hundreds of unpaid contributors to the online publication. According to the Washington Post Tasini seeks $105 million.

Tasini, in an interview, said HuffPost was engaging in breach of contract with its contributors because of an “implied promise” of compensation. “Some people were given some promises about future payments,” he said, declining to provide specifics.

He said his suit will also allege that HuffPost’s owners, including Huffington herself, engaged in “unjust enrichment” by building a business on uncompensated labor and by accepting AOL’s buyout offer. “AOL would not have paid $315 million without the value [unpaid writers] created,” he said. “Arianna Huffington believes she and only she should pocket the money for the value created.”

A Huffington Post representative retorts that writers use the high traffic website to “connect and ensure that their ideas and views are seen by as many people as possible.”

UPDATE: It seems this legal case has legs only if the plaintif can show that Huffpost has made overtures that bloggers might someday be paid. Matt Bors has posted emails he’s received telling him that a paid class of bloggers was the vision and another email stating that they have no budget to pay bloggers.

Community Comments

#1 HTR
April/12/2011
@ 10:51 am

I blogged for over three years on Huff Post and just stopped for good. How can I join this class action suit?

#2 Ryan Robello
April/12/2011
@ 10:52 am

How can individuals who blogged for Huff Post join this class action suit?

#3 Jeff Darcy
April/12/2011
@ 11:50 am

Any day now I’m expecting to see a Huff Post “All cartoon for free exposure issue”

#4 Nick Wright
April/12/2011
@ 12:32 pm

Ryan and HTR, here’s the contact form:

http://www.huffingtonpostlawsuit.com/Contact_Us.html

More information including a full PDF file of the complaint can be found on that site.

It’s a very basic website, but I got the link frorm Forbes.

#5 Tom Falco
April/12/2011
@ 3:03 pm

Reminds me of the freebie cartoons in the Village Voice. People need to stop giving away their talents for free (including myself, because I have a habit of doing that, too). Writers, artists, poets, etc. should not allow another piece of their work to appear in public without compensation, I think if talented people started keeping this rule, things would turn around in a big way.

#6 Dave Stephens
April/12/2011
@ 3:31 pm

When offered a non-paying gig, I often counter, “Yeah, thanks, but until I can trade exposure for a mortgage payment, you can find someone else to draw your cartoon…”

#7 Mike Peterson
April/13/2011
@ 4:16 am

I’m not a lawyer and I’m often surprised at twists in the law I hadn’t expected. Still, I think if you agree to furnish something in the past without compensation, and without a promise that “if we ever get to X-point, we’ll pay you for all this stuff,” you’re going to have a hard time making the case that you ought to be paid now based on the clients’ current success.

Matt’s emails don’t say that to me. There’s a difference between “We can’t afford it” and “We don’t have it in the budget.” Line items in a budget are not dependent on total resources — you can have a line item for foot massages, a line item for free trips to the Virgin Islands, a line item for peeled grapes and a line item for paying contributors. And the total of all the line items can be a million bazillion dollars. But, if the line item for paying contributors says “zero,” then there’s no money in the budget for paying contributors.

More to the point, there’s a difference between “We can’t afford it” and “We can’t afford it, but in the event that someday we can … ”

Again, IANAL, but the landmark case about online usage was different — that was an unanticipated use of materials that the publication had agreed to pay for in another medium. In other words, as I read it, the NYTimes had agreed that the creators deserved compensation for print use, and then turned around and re-used the material in a different and profit-making attempt. That’s substantially different than (A) everyone agreeing there would be no pay and (B) no change in how the material is being used.

My heart says “good luck,” but my brain says, “don’t expect much.”

#8 Mike Lester
April/13/2011
@ 7:21 am

Work dependent on anticipated benevolence is the business plan of the Squeegee Man.

#9 Rich Diesslin
April/13/2011
@ 10:11 am

Mike that’s a hoot – and so true! ;)

#10 DJ Coffman
April/13/2011
@ 11:00 am

I think ALL of the writers who were unpaid and helped build huffpost into the giant that was able to be sold for zillions. It’s not right that Huffington made all that cash on the deal and the creators got zero.

#11 Matt Bors
April/13/2011
@ 11:04 am

HuffPo can certainly afford to pay, but has chosen not to. In my experiences and those of others I’ve heard from they have been very clear in their complete disrespect for unpaid writing. I wish the lawsuit the best of luck, but the answer is for people to refuse to enter into these relationships from the beginning.

#12 John Cole
April/13/2011
@ 11:45 am

The HuffPoop business model is predicated on no-cost content. Its low overhead is what made it valuable to a buyer.

That said and assuming there’s no “we-promise-to-pay-something-someday” smoking gun out there, I give the lawsuit NO chance and predict it will be laughed out of court. In fact, I think that would be a preferable outcome; it would re-enforce the fact that working for exposure alone is a fool’s errand.

#13 Nelson Dewey
April/13/2011
@ 4:05 pm

I haven’t followed much of this, but I wonder if AOL DID buy HufPost only to find that all the uncompensated contributors suddenly stopped contributing, they might either agree to start paying for work… or demand their buyout money back.

#14 Dave Stephens
April/13/2011
@ 5:14 pm

I suspect the HuffPo’s left leaning aspect allowed them to find more “open-minded-to–working-for-free” type folks, you know, the anti-wallstreet anti-capitalism anti-profit anti-corporate youngsters…

Now that they are walking funny from the Huff-Poke, maybe they can re-examine their dogma… Or not… ;)

#15 Mike Peterson
April/14/2011
@ 5:35 am

Arianna has spoken, and while I generally find her notes on the blog hopelessly self-serving and promotional, well, in the case she can’t much help it. And she certainly sinks her teeth into the subject with a combination of sarcasm, head cheerleader disdain and, you must admit, pretty solid reasoning:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/huffington-post-lawsuit_b_848942.html

#16 Henry Clausner
April/14/2011
@ 7:32 am

I was a teenager and remember sending a comic strip to a local newspaper once, the editor said “I’ll publish your cartoons every week,no pay but it will give you good exposure!”…I agreed and the first one was printed without my name visible..they cut my name off the panel.!…Of course I discontinued that relationship…not a good feeling.

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