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Huffington Post and AOL Face Class Action Suit Over Contributed Content

Contributors want to get paid for their free articles

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Huffington Post and AOL Face Class Action Suit Over Contributed Content
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The Huffington Post has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism – more so since the announcement that it would be acquired by AOL, and that that it would essentially run AOL’s entire content business.

A great deal of the criticism has been coming from writers angry about not getting paid for content that that they apparently contributed for free to the site. It’s a pretty common place on the web. Writers want exposure, so they submit articles – not for payment, but for links and/or recognition. This is by no means exclusive to the Huffington Post.

However, The Huffington Post has probably been the the most successful example of a site raking in the traffic and revenue while engaging in this kind of publishing – not that this is the only content that makes up the Huffington Post’s offerings.

Either way, The Huffington Post and AOL are now the target of a class action lawsuits from disgruntled writers who contributed content for free, but now want money for it. the effort is being led by labor activist Jonathan Tasini, according to a report from Forbes, who obtained the following statement from the Huffington Post:

The lawsuit is wholly 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. It’s the same reason 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 paid staff editors, writers, and reporters.

It’s true, they’ve pretty much said that before numerous times. We recently looked at a Huffington Post staff writer’s response to the criticisms on which this suit is based.

The class action complaint can be read in its entirety here (pdf).

I’m no lawyer, but the gist, from what I can tell, is that the Huffington Post has made a ton of money off of the free articles these writers have contributed, and even though nobody forced them to give their work to the publication for free, they feel they are owed money because of said success.

It’s worth noting that, as The Huffington Post has also pointed out numerous times, the contributed content is only part of the publication’s offerings. They run paid-for AP and Reuters content and have staff writers on hand.

In fact, they’ve irritated a lot of non-journalist freelancers as they look to hire those with journalism credentials and stopping the payment of those without, meaning they would have to contribute these free articles if they hoped to get published on the publication (or come back when they have the credentials).

Huffington Post and AOL Face Class Action Suit Over Contributed Content
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  • http://www.arcanasphere.com MrAndrewJ

    I find this to be an interesting exercise in ethics and reason.

    First, I am posting this comment to your site for free. I know that there will be no financial compensation for this work. There is, however, my gravatar and a link to my site. Neither of those will impress anyone, but they are offered as a fair trade. I will assume that contributors to the Huffington Post were rewarded with similar perks under a similar agreement.

    The more fascinating exercise comes from reaching success in large part thanks to the free work of others, while criticizing a “system” that does not reward those same people enough for their labor. So many Wal-Mart employees receive government assistance. The answer becomes: “So? At least their staff get paid.” On what grounds can a company who only pays their elite staff hope to make a case against rewarding the elite?

    Most intriguing, personally, is how they hoped to get away with the sale in the first place. How did they possibly expect to pull in so much money without backlash from a user base who stands firmly against those practices?

    The contributors agreed to work for free. Many cartoonists agreed to work for free. I don’t see any merit in this suit. I do sympathize with their feelings of betrayal.

    I sympathize on a more common ground. I have been with this employer for 9 years. They preach the party line, donate to progressive causes, cite themselves as pro-union and for the working people. They have downsized the staff from 20 employees to 3. I now handle dozens of their sites, operate two “wings” of the business by myself, answer phones, take orders, handle shipping, and perform about 2/3 of the billing on top of the duties I was originally hired in to perform. I have had a 4% wage increase. The cost of living has gone up 24%. Above and beyond the additional work, the 15 minute breaks were taken away from all staff. Raises and benefits all go to their family members. But, they loudly claim to be for the working people, and that’s what counts — right? ;)

    With a smile and my sincerest sympathies, I empathize. Like a televangelist in a brothel or a Republican in a bathroom stall, the elites at the Huffington Post have just shown their true colors.

    Unfortunately, the only right thing for us to do is make better choices in our futures. My best wishes to the unpaid contributors as they seek real careers with ethical human beings.

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    Some talk too much without saying anything! At least here I find what I want in a clear and precise bravo …

  • http://www.yelp.com/biz/atlanta-roofing-resources-atlanta Atlanta Roofing

    Yes, I think under that circumstance the bloggers should definitely be paid for their work. As a writer I can identify with writing for free for publications that aren’t making any money yet in order to gain experience and exposure. But once a large compnay like AOL aquires the publication it’s like come on…you can pay them now. I think it is unfair that the owner reaps all of the benefits of the bloggers work. It’s selfish.

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