Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Huffington Post Writer Wants His Cut From AOL Sale: How Does $105 Million Sound?

Here’s the inevitable class-action suit from bloggers asking for a cut of Huffington Post’s $315 million payday. This one is filed by journalist and labor activist Jonathan Tasini, who says he and other bloggers who gave the site free stories should now get paid.

Tasini figures the volunteer copy Huffington ran for the past five years ended up generating a third of its sale value, or $105 million. But he doesn’t explain how he got to that number.

More important, his complaint, filed in New York’s Southern District court this morning, doesn’t explain why the site should be expected to pay for work people gave it for free.

Instead, Tasini’s argument is in large part directed at the state of Internet content-making today, where users and contributors are frequently asked to help build a Web site without getting any financial compensation. A sample:

TheHuffingtonPost.com’s continued assertion that it, alone, should be enriched by the valuable content provided by Plaintiff and the Classes has the broad detrimental effect of setting an artificially low price for the valuable digital content created by Plaintiff and the Classes, depressing the market for such content and, over the long term, having a serious depressing effect on the value of intellectual content being created by Plaintiff and the Classes and on the ability of Plaintiff and the Classes to support themselves as creators of high quality, engaging, digital content.

As someone who makes digital content myself (I’ll let you guys judge its quality and engagement levels) I’m sympathetic to this kind of thinking. But only in a tears-in-beers kind of way, not a file-a-suit-in-federal-court kind of way.

Because I don’t understand where any of this is illegal. Just (arguably) unpleasant.

Just as important, Huffington Post’s main argument against not paying its bloggers–or the many Web sites whose stuff it aggregated quite aggressively–is that it compensates them with exposure.

And while you can argue over the value of that exposure, you can’t argue over the basic premise. And if you did, you should have stopped handing in columns a long time ago.

I was going to ask Tasini about this on his conference call this morning, but I bailed out as soon as I heard him announce that bloggers were “modern-day slaves on Arianna Huffington’s plantation.”  No point in sticking around for that kind of tortured metaphor.

But, hyperbole aside, as I noted two months ago, this isn’t the first time AOL has been involved in a lawsuit over unpaid labor. And that last one, filed in 1999, did indeed result in a win for the plaintiffs–in 2010. As I wrote earlier:

Still, you never know! And I’m sure there’s at least one attorney, somewhere, who’s ready to try it out. Let’s check back in a decade and see how it panned out.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work