Dumbest Lawsuit Ever? HuffPo Sued By Bloggers Who Agreed To Work For Free... But Now Claim They Were Slaves

from the this-is-just-dumb dept

We may have set a new low for idiotic lawsuits. Jonathan Tasini, a freelance reporter who was famously involved in a lawsuit with the NY Times, concerning copyrights on a database of freelancer articles, is now suing the Huffington Post for not paying him while he wrote for it by choice. The basis of the lawsuit is the already discussed fact that a bunch of folks who blogged for the Huffington Post are stupidly upset that Arianna Huffington sold her site to AOL for $315 million, and that they didn't get any of the money. Of course, they didn't invest their money in the site. They held no equity and, most importantly, they wrote for the site for free by choice. If they didn't like the "deal", they shouldn't have done it.

In discussing the lawsuit, Tasini seems to pretty much admit that this is a petty, personal vendetta against Huffington:
"In my view, the Huffington Post's bloggers have essentially been turned into modern-day slaves on Arianna Huffington's plantation," he said. "She wants to pocket the tens of millions of dollars she reaped from the hard work of those bloggers....This all could have been avoided had Arianna Huffington not acted like the Wal-Marts, the Waltons, Lloyd Blankfein, which is basically to say, 'Go screw yourselves, this is my money.'"
In my view, Jonathan Tasini has essentially been turned into a modern day village idiot. He wants to pocket tens of millions of dollars that he did not earn, that he has no legal claim on, taking away from the hard work of Arianna Huffington and the investors and equity holders in the Huffington Post. This all could have been avoided had Jonathan Tasini not acted like the homeless guy on the corner who spits on your windshield, rubs it off "for free" and then demands money for it.

See how easy that is?
"We are going to make Arianna Huffington a pariah in the progressive community," Tasini vowed. "No one will blog for her. She'll never [be invited to] speak. We will picket her home. We're going to make it clear that, until you do justice here, your life is going to be a living hell."
Or, tons of people will continue to blog for her for the very same reason Tasini originally blogged for her: because it gives them exposure, and that's often a hell of a lot more valuable than money. In the meantime, if you're a publisher, would you ever use work by Tasini? The guy now has a history of biting back at two of the larger publications he wrote for with huge lawsuits. Why would you ever publish his work? It's a clear liability.

As for the actual legal basis for the lawsuit -- well, that's even weaker than I originally imagined. There's clearly no contractual claim here, so Tasini is going with an "unjust enrichment" claim, which I can't see withstanding even the most basic scrutiny. The entire basis of the lawsuit is destroyed by the simple fact that Tasini and others made the choice to blog for Huffington without compensation. If they didn't like it, they shouldn't have done it. Where the lawsuit gets really ridiculous is the claim that this effort "depressed the market" for Tasini's work:
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 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.
So, let me get this straight. You, of your own free will, agree to contribute work for free. Then, you file a lawsuit complaining that this is depressing the market for your work? And you expect anyone to take you seriously? If this is depressing the market for your work, try this on for size: don't work for free!

It then follows with a bizarre and totally irrelevant callout to the Constitution's copyright clause:
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.
Oh, gosh, where to start? First off, this lawsuit has nothing to do with copyright, so calling out the copyright clause is meaningless. Secondly, he's paraphrasing the Copyright clause inaccurately. Nowhere does the copyright clause say that creators should be "appropriately compensated for their contributions." It offers them the exclusive rights to those works. And Tasini gave that up when he licensed his works -- for free -- to the Huffington Post. Finally, the whole point of all of this is that the HuffPo does not say that it, alone, should be enriched. As we've pointed out before, if Tasini, or anyone else, got additional work elsewhere due to his work on HuffPo, would Tasini have paid Huffington for that? Of course not.

The claims of the lawsuit get even more ridiculous. I love this one, for example:
Defendants marketed themselves as a forum for news and ideas to get Plaintiff and the Classes to provide valuable content to it for free. In fact, TheHuffingtonPost.com intended to realize substantial revenues from the free content provided.
So... according to Tasini, no forum for news and ideas could ever possibly also be a business? Earth to Tasini: these two things are not mutually exclusive. Furthermore, at no point did Huffintgon ever hide the fact that she was running a business. If Tasini was too clueless to recognize he was contributing content to a business that was making money, then that's his own damn problem, that speaks a lot more to his own level of business cluelessness, rather than any rational legal argument.

We've seen plenty of really dumb lawsuits, but this one is really up there. I can't see a court spending much time on this one before pointing out to Tasini the obvious fact (which he ignores throughout the filing) that he chose to contribute the content of his own free will. Can you imagine the impact on the internet as a whole if Tasini actually won? It would basically uproot the entire concept of the internet. Any site that involved user contributions would have a massive liability.

And, so, the end result of this lawsuit should not be making Huffington a pariah, but making Tasini a complete pariah if you are a professional media organization.

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  1. icon
    cybernia (profile), 12 Apr 2011 @ 2:51pm

    Re: Re:

    The way it used to be when you were unknown and lacked clips is you wrote on spec. If they turned you down you pitched it to someone else.

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