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April 25, 2011

User maybe-not-contributed content

Curiouser and curiouser.

Last week Jonathan Tasini, a free-lance writer, filed a lawsuit on behalf of himself and other bloggers who contributed -- well maybe not contributed -- their work to the Huffington Post site. His complaint is that Huffington Post sold itself to AOL for $315 million and did not share any of the gain with the volunteer -- well maybe not volunteer -- writers.

The lawsuit complaint makes fun reading, as these things go.

The main gripe (other than class warfare: it's unfair!) seems to be that HuffPo "lured" (paragraph 2) writers to contribute their work not for payment but for "exposure (visibility, promotion and distribution)", yet did not provide "a real and accurate measure of exposure" (paragraph 103). However, as far as I can see, there is no claim that HuffPo ever told its writers that HuffPo would not be earning revenue, nor a promise that it would provide any page view or other web analytic data.

How deceived was Tasini? He's no innocent. In fact, he volunteers (oops! there's that word again) in the complaint that he runs his own web site, that he posts articles to it written by volunteers, and that he earned revenue from the web site (paragraph 15). And he was the lead plaintiff in the famous (successful) lawsuit against the New York Times when it tried to resell freelance writer content to digital outlets (not authorized in its original contracts with the writers). And, gosh, though he was "lured" into writing for the HuffPo, and was "deceived" into thinking it was a "free forum for ideas", he didn't notice that they sold ads and were making money during the several years in which he contributed 216 articles to the site. That's a pretty powerful fog of deception! Maybe Arianna Huffington should work for the CIA.

Posted by jmm at April 25, 2011 09:44 AM

Comments

I've been meaning to put this up for a few days, but I forgot my UMich password and they make it impossible to retrieve it.

This doesn't really address the content of your post, but for a different angle: it's been suggested in some corners that Tasini's complaint is so ridiculous that it's meant to garner publicity and increase name-recognition for his next run for political office. A "all publicity is good publicity" thing, which may be true for someone who did so pathetically the last time he ran.

Posted by: drewmm at May 3, 2011 02:20 PM

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