Bloggers Sue Arianna Huffington
A group of contributors to the popular news aggregator site have filed a class action suit against Huffington, making claims that they are entitled to a portion of the $315 million that she made off of the sale of her site to AOL earlier this year. Blogger Jonathan Tasini, a long-time contributor to the site, filed the suit on Tuesday on behalf of all unpaid HuffPo freelancers, saying that him and around another 9,000 unpaid writers created content for free that the site’s founders may have profited from when they sold the site to AOL in February.
Huffington and co-founder Kenneth Lerer were named in the suit, as was the new owner AOL. The plaintiffs are taking charge against what they believe were deceptive trade practices and unjust enrichment on behalf of HuffPo, also attacking AOL for enabling the mistreatment. The plaintiffs also note that AOL previously paid producers as per the popularity of their posts, though that policy was terminated shortly after the media giant made the purchase from Huffington.
In a statement made by Tasini, the blogger says, "In Huffington's business model, economic gain is only reserved for her. Everyone else, apparently, is expected to work for free regardless of the value they create." Jess Strauss, Tasini’s counsel, said that his team hopes to establish a strong precedent that, in the digital age, “content producers must be compensated for the value they create."
Mario Ruiz, speaking on behalf of Huffington Post, called the lawsuit "wholly without merit."
“Our bloggers use our platform,” adds Ruiz, “as well as other unpaid group blogs across the Web—to connect and help their work be seen by as many people as possible.”
Though the site’s contributors were never promised compensation—save for the 89 full-time employees that help generate the $12 million-plus that HuffPo brings in annually—the official complaint filed claims that, "If it were not for the labor of Plaintiff and the thousands of unpaid Class members on and for TheHuffingtonPost.com … (the site) would not have been an attractive merger target and would have sold for at least $105 million less than the merger price of $315 million.”
While speaking with Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici, Tasini says his fellow bloggers have “essentially been turned into modern-day slaves on Arianna Huffington’s plantation,” and proposed on his own website that contributors strike against the site, saying that that those who don’t are “scabs.”
To Bercovici, Tasini says, “We are going to make Arianna Huffington a pariah in the progressive community . . . No one will blog for her. She’ll never [be invited to] speak. We will picket her home. We’re going to make it clear that, until you do justice here, your life is going to be a living hell.”
Tasini was also the lead plaintiff in another class action lawsuit over a decade ago involving the digital rights of freelancers. His suit against The New York Times and other publications eventually ended up at the US Supreme Court, which ruled that publications must express written consent for the digital reproduction of contributors’ work.