MANHATTAN (CN) – In a federal class action, a former head of the National Writers Union sued AOL and the Huffington Post for $105 million, claiming the website derived at least that much value from writers’ unpaid work in its recent sale to AOL for $315 million.
Lead plaintiff Jonathan Tasini says TheHuffingtonPost.com has posted links to 216 of his articles, for which the defendants did not pay him a dime.
Tasini also sued Arianna Huffington and Kenneth Lerer, co-founders of the website.
Tasini was head of the National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981) from 1990 to 2003, he says in his 38-page complaint. He also was lead plaintiff in Tasini v. The New York Times, which he describes as “the landmark electronic rights case that addressed the scope of copyrights belonging to thousands of freelance authors. Mr. Tasini won that case on behalf of himself and a class of copyright holders at the United States Supreme Court.”
Tasini says he has written four books and hundreds of articles for major magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, and The Wall Street Journal.
They all pay him for it, he says.
But according to his complaint: “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 TheHuffingtonPost.com, while reaping the entirety of the financial gain derived from such content.
“Due to the valuable and uncompensated efforts of plaintiff and the classes, the cost of high quality content at the TheHuffingtonPost.com was, and continues to be, extremely low, making TheHuffingtonPost.com an extremely valuable internet property. As set forth below, when TheHuffingtonPost.com was recently acquired by AOL for $315 million, the value added by the content provided by plaintiff and the classes to TheHuffingtonPost.com’s price was at least $105 million, none of which was shared with plaintiff and the classes.
“The injustice experienced by plaintiff and the classes is compounded by the fact that plaintiff and the classes were selected, and in some cases sought, by defendants because of their ability to produce high quality, engaging, content for the TheHuffingtonPost.com. The content provided by the plaintiff and the classes drove, and continues to drive, internet traffic to TheHuffingtonPost.com, creating revenue for that enterprise, none of which is shared with plaintiff and the classes. Moreover, plaintiff and the classes were, and continue to be, asked to drive internet traffic to TheHuffingtonPost.com by using social networking media and to advise internet users of the valuable content they provided to TheHuffingtonPost.com, and by so doing increase internet traffic to TheHuffingtonPost.com.
“Finally, and perhaps most importantly, 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. According to Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, the purpose of copyright is ‘to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts’ by allowing creators to be appropriately compensated for their contributions. Yet, despite our founders’ intent, TheHuffingtonPost.com continues to assert that it, alone, should be enriched by the valuable content provided by plaintiff and the classes.
“As set forth within, this action is instituted in accordance with and to remedy defendants’ inequitable, unfair, unlawful and unjust gain at the expense of the plaintiff and the classes. Plaintiff and the classes bring this action both individually and as a class action to recover damages and to enjoin defendants’ unlawful conduct as it affects the classes.
“Defendants’ mistreatment of plaintiff and the classes was in fact indiscriminate, occurring in the regular course of Defendants’ business throughout the United States and Canada, whereby plaintiff and the classes were treated in the same general manner by defendants.”
Tasini says the Huffington Post has posted links to 216 of his articles, which he cites, and on which he says he worked for 1 to 10 hours apiece.
Yet, “Despite the fact that the 216 pieces of content listed above generated revenue for TheHuffingtonPost.com, Tasini has never been compensated by TheHuffingtonPost.com.”
Tasini seeks class certification, statutory or treble damages for deceptive business practices and unjust enrichment, “but not less than $105 million,” plus costs.
He is represented by Jeffrey Mead Kurzon and Jesse Strauss.