Interesting “goings on” within the blog world. Yesterday a class action lawsuit, was filed by labor activist and former Huffington Post blogger Jonathan Tasini. He seeks at least $105 million in damages from the Huffington Post and AOL for approximately the 9,000 bloggers who wrote for Huffpo but did not receive compensation for their work.
“TheHuffingtonPost.com has been unjustly enriched by engaging in and continuing to engage in the practice of generating enormous profits by luring carefully vetted contributors, with the prospect of ‘exposure’ (which TheHuffingtonPost.com deceptively fails to verify), to provide valuable content at no cost to the HuffingtonPost.com, while reaping the entirety of the financial gain derived from such content,” the lawsuit alleges.
There are actually two different issues at play here, the first is the validity of this particular law suit, the second is whether bloggers should get paid for their writing.
Tasini won a similar case against The New York Times in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2001, preventing newspapers from licensing the work of freelancers for distribution via electronic databases without explicit permission from, or compensation to, the writers.
There is a big difference between the lawsuit against Huffington and the case against the NY Times, the New York Times had already agreed to pay the freelancers for their work. In that lawsuit they expanded the usage of their content beyond unspoken “agreement” by between the Times and the writer.
These Huffington post writers agreed upfront to have their work published without compensation, they can’t go back and and demand money now.
But there is a second issue, should bloggers be paid for their efforts, the answer is a resounding yes. Here’s the issue that most bloggers (like me) face. There are very few sites that pay. If a blogger is trying to “break-in” to the business, there is a need to get published on big sites where you can get recognition even if you don’t get paid. This helps the unknown blogger get some name recognition. The hope is that posting on the mega site generate more traffic (and ad revenue) to the blogger’s page, and allow the writer to get “discovered” by a paying site.
Both the writer and the website are taking risks. For the writer, by giving away their product they are enabling mega sites to continue creating business plans based on free content. The mega sites are getting “used” also. People like me post there all the time, but when we start getting paid jobs, they stop getting the best ideas. Well at least until after they run on the sites that pay. In the end, the sites that don’t pay have to constantly find new writers, because the best of the bloggers find their way on to sites that compensate writers. Its simply a matter of financial survival.
That doesn’t change the facts about the class action suit against Huffington, if you agree to give away your product, you can’t go back and ask for money later. The trick is to wean yourself off giving it away and find the publishers who will pay bloggers for their work and creativity. Those are the sites you bring your best work first.