Huffington Post and AOL Face Class Action Suit Over Contributed Content

    April 12, 2011
    Chris Crum

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).


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.