A class-action lawsuit filed April 12 in federal court in New York City alleges that as many as 9,000 unpaid bloggers for the Huffington Post were unjustly denied compensation despite contributing content that helped the liberal-leaning website’s price tag soar to $315 million.
Jonathan Tasini, a labor activist, writer and occasional political candidate is the named plaintiff in the lawsuit, which seeks at least $105 million in damages from HuffingtonPost.com, Huffington Post co-founders Arianna Huffington and Kenneth Lerer, and AOL. In February, AOL bought the Huffington Post for an estimated $315 million.
“Bloggers have essentially been turned into the modern-day slaves on Arianna Huffington’s plantation,” said Tasini, who wrote 216 entries on the site, beginning in December 2005. “Huffington Post is nothing without the bloggers who create the content.”
Tasini was also the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the New York Times in which the Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that the paper could not license the work of freelancers to electronic databases without the writers’ permission.
In a written statement, an AOL spokesman said that the lawsuit was “wholly without merit.” He said that Huffington Post’s bloggers use the site “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.”
Huffington Post was founded in May of 2005 by Huffington and Lerer, and, according to the complaint, had 26 million unique visitors per month as of this past January.
In addition to the lawsuit, Tasini said he has teamed up with the Newspaper Guild and National Writers Union in an attempt to get bloggers to stop writing for the Huffington Post.
Tasini will release an open letter on April 13 demanding progressive bloggers stop posting on the site. And he said pickets outside Arianna Huffington’s home are planned.
“Anybody blogging for Huffington Post is a scab, producing content for someone who is attacking workers,” he said.
Jesse Strauss, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said that the key legal question in the case is putting a value on the contributions of the unpaid bloggers. He said the case goes beyond Huffington Post, and that he was looking to have a “standard set about how bloggers should be compensated.”