Disgruntled writer sues Huffington Post and AOL for piece of $315-million sale price
Jonathan Tasini, a social activist and commentator, is suing AOL and its newest purchase, the Huffington Post, over claims that he and other writers weren't paid appropriately for their work.
Tasini's suit, which is seeking class-action status and was filed on Tuesday in a New York U.S. District Court, argues that none of the $315 million AOL paid to buy the Huffington Post has gone to the writers and producers of the news and opinion website, while estimating that about $105 million should have.
Between December 2005 and February 2011, Tasini said in the suit that he contributed 216 "pieces of content" for the Huffington Post and was never paid for any of his work. Tasini also alleges in his complaint that as many as 9,000 other "content providers" have also worked for free for the Huffington Post.
"TheHuffingtonPost.com has been unjustly enriched by engaging in and continuing to engage in the practice of generating enormous profits by luring carefully-vetted contributors, with the prospect of 'exposure' (which TheHuffingtonPost.com deceptively fails to verify), to provide valuable content at no cost to TheHuffingtonPost.com, while reaping the entirety of the financial gain derived from such content," the complaint said.
The suit also alleges that, of the $315 million AOL paid for the Huffington Post, "the value
added by the content provided by Plaintiff and the Classes to TheHuffingtonPost.com's price
was at least $105 million, none of which was shared with Plaintiff and the Classes."
Mario Ruiz, a spokesman for the Huffington Post, said the suit was without merit.
"As we've said before, our bloggers use our platform -- as well as other unpaid group blogs across the Web -- to connect and help their work be seen by as many people as possible," Ruiz said. "It's the same reason hundreds of people go on TV shows to promote their views and ideas. HuffPost bloggers can cross-post their work on other sites, including their own. Aside from our group blog, to which thousands of people from around the world contribute, we operate a journalistic enterprise with hundreds of staff editors, writers, and reporters, all of whom have commensurate responsibilities -- and all of whom are paid."
In a post on his personal website, Tasini explained a bit more about why he filed the lawsuit.
"The Huffington Post was, is and will never be, anything without the thousands of people who create the content," Tasini wrote. "Ms. Huffington is acting like every Robber Baron CEO ... who believes that they, and only they, should pocket huge riches, while the rest of the peons struggle to survive. Ms. Huffington stance has been clear: only she deserves the fruits of the labor of the people who work for her.
"Actually, Arianna Huffington is worse than the CEOs of the banks, the Walton family of Wal-mart. At least, they pay their workers something -- even if those wages aren't enough to make ends meet.
"Huffington pays zero. Nothing. Nada."
Tasini's complaint against the Huffington Post isn't the first the writer has lobbed agianst a publication he's worked for.
In Tasini's Huffington Post biography, the writer is described as having been both a writer and activist in labor issues for more than 25 years.
"From 1990 to April 2003, he served as president of the National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981)," the bio reads. "He was the lead plaintiff in Tasini vs. The New York Times, the landmark electronic rights case that took on the corporate media's assault on the rights of thousands of freelance authors.
"For the last 25 years, he has written about labor and economics for a variety of newspapers and magazines."
In 2010, Tasini also made an unsuccessful bid for Congress.
-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screenshot of huffingtonpost.com on April 12, 2011. Credit: Huffington Post Media Group/AOL