Jonathan Tasini has added 30 pages of material to his lawsuit against The Huffington Post demanding compensation for unpaid bloggers. But even after taking two more months to gather evidence, Tasini and his lawyers don’t reveal any kind of “smoking gun” that might change their odds of winning this legal longshot.
While there are quite a few new paragraphs in the new complaint-Tasini’s lawyers have inflated their 38-page lawsuit into a 68-page lawsuit-there’s not a lot of “there” there. Certainly, nothing here comes close to the being the powerful evidence that Tasini strongly implied he had discovered. What would have really helped is evidence that HuffPo editors made promises that there would be compensation down the road, but they don’t have that. And the new complaint barely address the fundamental fact that the bloggers all agreed to this deal.
And after spending two months loudly complaining about Arianna Huffington’s behavior, the fact that Tasini has only been able to add four more named plaintiffs to the suit suggests that bloggers aren’t exactly outraged over the way they were treated by HuffPo.
Tasini’s team surely hopes they will find more damning statements by HuffPo higher-ups if they get a chance to go through discovery. That’s “if,” because HuffPo’s lawyers are arguing this lawsuit doesn’t even state a claim, and have asked the judge to throw it out before discovery even happens.
The new plaintiffs are:
» Writer and filmmaker Molly Secours of Nashville, who wrote 23 pieces for HuffPo; Tara Dublin, a single mother and freelance writer from Washington state, who wrote 16 posts for HuffPo; Richard Laermer, a New York author and CEO of a PR firm, who wrote 115 posts; and Billy Altman, a former sports writer for the Village Voice, who wrote 22 posts.
Here’s what’s new in the amended complaint:
» There is a new section that attacks the “browse-wrap terms” that HuffPo is using to defend itself. Tasini and his co-plaintiffs say they didn’t view those terms and never agreed to them; they were never asked to “click” to accept them or give their assent in any way. The contract wasn’t visible from blogger.huffingtonpost.com, the site they used to contribute their material.
However, licenses that users haven’t read get enforced in court all the time. And any blogger concerned about his or her content could have checked the terms, or simply asked about compensation, or lack thereof.
» Tasini’s lawsuit quotes a recent academic survey about his lawsuit, which essentially asked a small set of HuffPo bloggers what they thought about Tasini’s tactics. Done by the “Media Industries Project” at UC Santa Barbara, the survey was sent to 61 HuffPo bloggers on May 10, about a month after Tasini’s lawsuit was filed. Of the 26 bloggers who responded, 69% believe that “bloggers should share in the $315 million” received by HuffPo and its owners; 54% (or 14 bloggers) said they should get paid per-post; and 14 bloggers also supported the idea that “unpaid content providers should press their case through some form of concerted action, such as online organizing and unionization.”
Ultimately, this is an academic survey with only a handful of respondents, which does nothing more than ask HuffPo bloggers if they would rather get paid than not. Not really great evidence for a legal case.
» The amended complaint says that in 2007, Huffington considered compensating bloggers by allowing them to pick a charity which would get some of the revenue associated with their blog posts, but it was never implemented.
» It also goes on in more detail about HuffPo’s recruiting efforts, noting that it focused on professional-level writers who could best drive traffic.
» A new section says that HuffPo’s practice of not paying bloggers is “atypical and a departure from normal practices at other digital media sites.” It describes a variety of sites that do pay content providers, including About.com, Demandstudios.com, Newsvine.com, Suite101.com, Squidoo.com and many others.
If this is all they’ve got, it’s hard to imagine this lawsuit is going to be anything but a nuisance for The Huffington Post.
» Tasini v. The Huffington Post Amended Complaint [PDF]
» Press Release on Tasini Amended Complaint & New Plaintiffs [PDF]