Unpaid Bloggers Take Huffington Post to Court

TasiniOne of Huffington Post’s many unpaid contributors has recently filed a $105 million law suit as of April 12, targeting the very site they’re writing for. The suit filed by Jonathon Tasini is against the Huffington Post, its co-founders Arianna Huffington and Kenneth Lerer and also its new owner: AOL. Jonathan’s official title is writer and union organizer, though a more accurate title would be to call him yet another Winklevoss twin, suing for the chance to earn some easy cash.

For those who don’t know, the Winklevoss twins were cast in The Social Network, the movie about Facebook – but what’s more interesting is that these twins sued Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 for allegedly stealing their idea for Facebook. Four years later, the Winklevosses settled with Facebook for what is now worth $200 million, but later returned to court hoping to swindle even more out of the deal. Earlier in April, Judge Alex Kozinski denied the request.

Kozinski did not have kind things to say about the ordeal, he wrote that the “Winklevosses are not the first parties bested by a competitor who then seek to gain through litigation what they were unable to achieve in the marketplace. … At some point, litigation must come to an end. That point has now been reached.”

Which begs the question, if Kozinski was able to see through the Winklevosses swindle, why did the judge of the original settlement not reject the claim in the first place? If only we could advance the judicial system enough to throw gold diggers out in the street before they kick up such a fuss. Jesse Strauss, one of Tasini’s lawyers, conceded he was taking shots in the dark when he spoke to Jeff Bercovici of Forbes’. “The legal theory we’re going on is one based in common law,” Strauss said. “This is not a statutory claim. … This is not a contract claim.”

It was estimated that Huffington Post had roughly 9,000 unpaid contributors writing on its behalf for no reward other than an assumed feeling of self-satisfaction. This is a brilliant business model considering that in 2009 the LA Times reported that there were 89 full-time employees, only 11 of which were responsible for creating original content and that the company grossed between $12 and $16 million annually.

Tasini was one of these self-satisfied writers, producing 216 articles in total between Dec. 5, 2005 and Feb. 10, 2011 which occurred just before the site was sold. Tasini therefore argues that because Huffington Post could have profited from the free submissions, he and the other unpaid writers deserve a back payment from the $315 million sale to AOL.

Once again, this brings us back to Tasini’s likeness to the Winklevosses. Just as the Winklevosses were content with their original settlement until the cash cow grew even bigger, Tasini’s self-satisfaction only sustained him until he saw the dollar signs surrounding the AOL buyout.

Tasini isn’t stopping here though. He’s been quoted saying that he will make Arianna Huffington’s life “a living hell” until she forks some cash over to the unpaid writers of the site. “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.”
He continues to compare Huffington to the Walton family of Wal-Mart, claiming that she is a “Robber Baron CEO” and that those officially writing for her “are scabs”

However, Tasini’s temper tantrum can easily be swept under the rug with the use of actual legal analysis provided by Lauren Kirchner of Columbia Journalism Review. She writes:

The thousands of unpaid bloggers in question, of course, have signed no agreement with the site, and are under no obligation to submit their stories with any regularity. They do not receive assignments. If they have an idea for a post but then decide not to write it, they are not penalized by the site’s editors in any way. This lack of regimentation in that editor/writer relationship would weaken the bloggers’ (hypothetical) case against The Huffington Post.

As I don’t predict that common sense is a trait possessed by Tasini, I can only assume that he will continue his crazy vendetta against Arianna Huffington long after the case is over. I hope he saved enough self-satisfaction over his years at HuffPo to cushion his eventual embarrassment.

Take a look at the filings here.