April 12, 2011 10:10am PT by Eriq Gardner
Huffington Post, AOL Hit with Class Action By Bloggers
The Huffington Post has been hit with a class action lawsuit by a group of bloggers who claim the massively popular site, recently acquired by AOL, mistreats those who enrich it with content.
Well-known freelance journalist Jonathan Tasini is leading the proposed class action filed today in New York federal court. The lawsuit comes in the wake of AOL's $315 million acquisition of the site last month, which set off grumblings in the writing community about whether some of that cash should trickle down as fair compensation to those who have volunteered writing during the site's enormous growth period. Amid talk of a possible strike, Tasini is now leading a group of fellow writers in a legal action that claims "mistreatment" by co-defendant and founder Arianna Huffington.
The legal basis for the complaint rests with allegations of deceptive business practices.
Huffington has long maintained that her bloggers gain exposure through their affiliation with the site, and have teased them to take their writings elsewhere if the arrangement isn't satisfactory.
However, in a complaint filed today, the plaintiffs allege that HuffPo "jealously guards" the amount of page views that a blogger like Tasini receives and the amount of revenue generated by blog posts. It's claimed the site has unjustly enriched itself by misleading its contributors.
"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," says the complaint.
If Tasini's name sounds familiar, he was also the lead plaintiff in a landmark class action lawsuit against The New York Times and others involving freelancers' digital rights. The dispute eventually wound up at the U.S. Supreme Court, which handed down a decision more than ten years ago that stated that publications must get express written consent over digital rights from freelancers. In today's class action, Tasini claims to have produced 216 pieces of content, some generating numeous comments and social media exposure, but all without compensation.
The lawsuit also attacks co-defendant AOL as enabling this mistreatment via its recent acquisition. The plaintiffs note AOL's old business model whereby producers are paid according to a post's popularity and the fact that AOL recently terminated such paid content creators after buying HuffPo.
In a statement, The Huffington Post calls the class action "completely baseless."