Huffpo Sale Built on Bloggers’ Backs, Class Action Asserts

Jonathan Tasini has lent his name to another class action lawsuit, and if the last one is any guide, this one will be bitter and protracted and expensive. It may also be successful. New York Times Co. v. Tasini was waged on behalf of freelance authors and made its way up to the US Supreme Court where the authors’ rights were upheld.

This one is on behalf of bloggers, specifically those who posted on Huffington Post.

“HuffPo,” as it is nicknamed, is one of the most successful media sites of the last decade. Its value was concretely recognized when AOL acquired it recently for $315 million.  But the deal soon provoked criticism because the site’s success has been built on the sweat of unpaid bloggers.

Granted that when they originally wrote for HuffPo the bloggers seemed okay with trading a paycheck for a byline. But when they heard about all that money being shelled out for the value that they had added free of charge, they began to grumble.  Those grumbles are now embedded in the claim filed by Tasini representing more than 9,000 bloggers.  They feel that $105 million out of the AOL money – precisely one third of it – should go to them.

We had observed the same thing when we posted Hey, Anybody Can Sell a Company for $315 Mil if They Don’t Pay Their Help

Tasini, whose fearless crusading spirit hearkens back to the days of two-fisted labor organizers, minced no words on the website dedicated to the lawsuit, comparing Huffington to “every Robber Baron CEO” who thinks that “they and only they” should profit while “peons struggle to survive”

Richard Chirgwin, writing in The Register, says “The complaint claims that the HuffPo lured contributors with the promise of exposure, but unjustly gained from them by keeping the income accrued for itself. (This is, of course, an old trick in the publishing game: any hopeful journalist will have been, at some time or other, offered the chance to ‘get exposure’ if they would let publishers use their articles for free, usually on a ‘trial basis’. This means ‘as soon as you ask us to pay you, we’ll stop running your articles’.)” See Writers sue Huffington Post for back pay

Tasini knows all those tricks, having documented them in the celebrated lawsuit that  bears his name.  That suit was born in the dawn of the digital era when magazines and newspaper republished in various digital formats pieces that had appeared in print written by freelance writers. With the Supreme Court’s affirmation he won the case, reaping some $10 million for writers (and $4 million for lawyers!)

Richard Curtis

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