A lawsuit against AOL by Jonathan Tasini has been dismissed as of Friday. Tasini along with other unpaid bloggers for the Huffington Post claimed that parent company AOL deprived them of their share to the $315 million that was paid to purchase the site.
The ruling was carried out by U.S. District Judge John Koeltl who rejected claims by social activist and commentator Tasini who claimed that the estimated 9000 unpaid content creators of The Huffington Post were entitled to $105 million.
It was argued that the free content provided by unpaid bloggers was responsible for much of The Huffington Post’s value, and that co-creator Arianna Huffington was therefore guilty of unjust enrichment. Tasini claims that he alone had posted 216 submissions since 2005.
However, Koeltl maintains that “no one forced” content creators to write for free on behalf of the website, writers posted what they wanted to post without restrictions or limitations from HuffPo.
“The principles of equity and good conscience do not justify giving the plaintiffs a piece of the purchase price when they never expected to be paid, repeatedly agreed to the same bargain, and went into the arrangement with eyes wide open,” Koeltl wrote.
Koeltl sided so strongly with the defendants that he dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning that the suit cannot be reopened. This was partly due to a rejected argument by the plaintiff which accused AOL of misleading the bloggers of how much revenue they were generating with their posts.
A professor at Columbia Law School had strong opinions on the matter, expressing that bloggers gain a platform by posting on the site. Professor John Coffee said in an interview. “This is the electronic equivalent of someone writing a letter to the editor…You are rewarded by publication not by payment.”
Mario Ruiz, spokesman for AOL had no comment, though Tasini’s lawyer, Jeff Kurzon said “We are reviewing the decision and considering our options”
The Huffington post is a writing platform consisting of both news and opinion, and relies on free contributions by visitors to attract traffic. However the site also claims to have 11 paid staff solely devoted to creating new content for the site, no doubt contributing to its 36.2 million unique viewers in December alone.
This is not Tasini’s first controversial law suit, he was also the plaintiff in a 2001 landmark case Tasini was also the lead plaintiff in a landmark 2001 case in which it was ruled that publishers violate copyright when reproducing freelance works without an author’s permission.
The case is Tasini et al v. AOL Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-02472.