Arianna Huffington says Huff Po writer's lawsuit is 'utterly without merit'
Arianna Huffington fired back Thursday morning at a lawsuit filed by former Huffington Post writer Jonathan Tasini's that seeks to give himself and other unpaid contributors a slice of the $315 million AOL paid for her news website.
Huffington, in a blog post on the Huffington Post website (which she co-founded), said Tasini's suit is "so utterly without merit" and cited multiple commentators and a UCLA law professor who criticized the suit, essentially agreeing with her take.
One of the pundits she cited called it the "dumbest lawsuit ever," and another said the suit was a sign that the U.S. is becoming a "nation of Winklevosses," in reference to twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who in lawsuits and court hearings alleged that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea for the social networking website.
Despite her belief that the suit should be dismissed, Huffington said it "touches on so many important issues about the current state of the media."
Tasini's suit, which is seeking class-action status, was filed in a U.S. District Court in New York on Tuesday and argues that writers who have worked for free for the Huffington Post are entitled to an estimated $105 million of the $315 million that AOL paid to buy the news and opinion site last month.
"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 suit said.
Tasini said in his complaint that he wrote 215 "pieces of content" without pay for the Huffington Post from December 2005 to February 2011 and that about 9,000 other "content providers" have also worked for free.
In her response to the suit, Huffington, who now oversees nearly all of AOL's online news and opinion content, said unpaid contributors are part of why the Huffington Post has been a success and that "we are inundated with requests from people who want to use our platform. People are looking to join the party, not go home early."
The Huffington Post employs hundreds of full-time editors, writers and reporters who are paid, she said.
"But while our staff writers have deadlines and commitments, as well as specific assignments, our bloggers can post as frequently or infrequently as they like -- and write about whatever they like, whenever they like, or not at all," Huffington said. "On top of that, they can crosspost their work on their own sites or elsewhere -- they own the rights to their work and can repurpose it in any way they choose."
The distinction between staff writers and bloggers is part of the Huffington Post's DNA, she said.
"People blog on HuffPost for free for the same reason they go on cable TV shows every night for free: either because they are passionate about their ideas or because they have something to promote and want exposure to large and multiple audiences," Huffington said. "Our bloggers are repeatedly invited on TV to discuss their posts and have received everything from paid speech opportunities and book deals to a TV show."
The exposure that the Huffington Post provides is essentially what bloggers work for, she said in her blog post.
"Bottom line: The vast majority of our bloggers are thrilled to contribute -- and we're thrilled to have them," Huffington said.
Tasini's lawsuit ignores how the Internet, new media and "the linked economy" run on content provided for free by willing parties, Huffington said.
The complaint also fails to understand why people on the Web "contribute to Wikipedia for free, who maintain their own blogs for free, who tweet for free, who constantly refresh and update their Facebook pages for free, and who want to help tell the stories of what is happening in their lives and in their communities ... for free," Huffington said. "Free content -- shared by people who want to connect, share their passions, and have their opinions heard -- fuels much of what appears on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Yelp, Foursquare, TripAdvisor, Flickr and YouTube."
-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post, at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York on Sept. 27, 2007. Credit: Chip East / Reuters