Judge Smacks Down Lawsuit From HuffPo Volunteers, Says 'They Got What They Paid For'
from the and-stay-away dept
When Jonathan Tasini and a few others filed a lawsuit against the Huffington Post last year, we called it the dumbest lawsuit ever. Even though Tasini has had some luck in filing class action lawsuits against media properties, this lawsuit was completely and absolutely frivolous. Tasini (and many others) had blogged on The Huffington Post for free. That was the deal from the beginning and it was clearly laid out: Huffington Post provided them with a platform which they could use, and they could promote themselves however they wanted, but they didn’t get paid. Huffington Post does have some paid reporters, but they have different rules and responsibilities (including requirements on how much they write, etc.) When the Huffington Post sold for $315 million, Tasini decided that he and the other volunteer writers deserved $105 million.
There were all sorts of problems with his argument, beyond just the fact that he agreed to basic terms and was trying to go back and change them afterwards. It also showed a complete misunderstanding of the nature of equity in a company. If Huffington Post had flopped and was in debt, would Tasini then be legally required to help cover the debt? Of course not. Ownership (equity) is a totally separate issue from compensation — and the capital gains on equity have everything to do with the risk that the founders and investors put into HuffPo, completely unrelated to the question of direct compensation. But, of course, none of that matters because, again, Tasini agreed to the deal upfront in which he blogged for free. If he didn’t understand the terms of the deal, that was his problem. The arguments in his filing were even more ridiculous, where (despite this not being a copyright issue) he pretended that the Copyright Clause of the Constitution meant that content creators must be “appropriately compensated.” The whole thing was a complete joke.
It was made even more ridiculous when it later came out that Tasini himself had a blog… on which he had volunteer writers who he did not pay. Not only was the lawsuit stupid, but it was filed by a hypocrite who didn’t understand the law and did the same thing he was angry at HuffPo for doing.
Thankfully, it appears the judge agreed. Not only did the court dismiss the lawsuit, but it did so with prejudice, meaning that Tasini can’t just refile the lawsuit to make up for its failings. The judge is effectively saying that it doesn’t matter what legal arguments Tasini makes, he has absolutely no case.
There is no question that the plaintiffs submitted their materials to The Huffington Post with no expectation of monetary compensation and that they got what they paid for — exposure in The Huffington Post….
Moreover, equity and good conscience plainly do not support the plaintiffs in this matter. No one forced the plaintiffs to give their work to The Huffington Post for publication and the plaintiffs candidly admit that they did not expect compensation. The principles of equity and good conscience do not justify giving the plaintiffs a piece of the purchase price when they never expected to be paid, repeatedly agreed to the same bargain, and went into the arrangement with eyes wide open…. Quite simply, the plaintiffs offered a service and the defendants offered exposure in return, and the transaction occurred exactly as advertised. The defendants followed through on their end of the agreed-upon bargain. That the defendants ultimately profited more than the plaintiffs might have expected does not give the plaintiffs a right to change retroactively their clear, up-front agreement. That is an effort to change the rules of the game after the game has been played, and equity and good conscience require no such result.
Tasini is apparently considering appealing, which would be a waste of time and money. Any court is going to smack this lawsuit down.
In the meantime, Tasini has now branded himself as someone who has twice filed major lawsuits against publications that published his writings. It makes you wonder: what publication would want to put itself at such risk in the future?