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Arianna Huffington: Slave Owner or Crowdsourcing Pioneer?

Arianna Huffington: Slave Owner or Crowdsourcing Pioneer?

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Published by: Crowdsourcing.org on Apr 14, 2011
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02/03/2013

 
Arianna Huffington: Slave Owner or Crowdsourcing Pioneer?
By Mathew Ingram Apr. 13, 2011, 10:45am
WhenAOL bought The Huffington Postfor $315 million,some saw it as avalidation of the Web 2.0 model of newmedia: aggregation, curation andproviding a platform for bloggers, manyof whom donated their services in returnfor the attention of readers. Others,however, seem to feel that founderArianna Huffington owes those unpaid writers something for her success, and nowone blogger has put that idea to the test with a class-action lawsuit that claims The
Huffington Post is guilty of “unjust enrichment” for p
rofiting from the labor of others. Web 2.0 has grown up, it seems, and decided to call in the lawyers.The blogger behind the lawsuit, Jonathan Tasini, is no stranger to this kind of legalbattle. He was also involved ina landmark suit against the
adecade ago,in which a group of freelance writers argued publishers were usingtheir work illegally by distributing it online and through various electronicservices. The argument in that case was that writers had been paid freelance rates,but they had only given up their rights for print publication, not electronicpublication. The case was settled for $18 million in 2001.Tasini also happens to be a union leader, and he is dragging out every piece of classic union lingo he can muster in defence of his class-action claim (which is
embedded below). “In my view, the Huffington Post’s bloggers have essentially
been turned into modern-
day slaves on Arianna Huffington’s plantation,”
.Tasini vowed to picket the founder’s home and make her life “aliving hell,” and said that “anybody blogging fo
r the Huffington Post now is a
scab” and a “strike breaker.”
 
 
Tasini
— 
who wrote sporadically for Huffington Post for the past several years,
knowing he wouldn’t be compensated — 
 
isn’t the only one to pull out the strike
talk. The Newspaper Guildendorsed the idea of a strike against the site shortly
after it was acquired by AOL, saying “working for free does not benefit workers
and under
mines quality journalism,” and that writers were being asked to “honor this electronic picket line.”
 Tasini admits that
Huffington Post breaching any contract with writers,since the freelance writers and bloggers who worked
for the site didn’t have a contract, and most
apparently understood they would never becompensated other than in pageviews. But he arguesthe huge sums that the company made by selling itself to AOLjustify payingwriters something anyway 
— 
as much as $100 million. In effect, he and others aresaying The Huffington Post may not have a legal duty to pay them, but there issome kind of moral obligation to do so.
This argument has come up in virtually every case where a “Web 2.0″ company
has been acquired for large sums of money. YouTube was criticized by some fornot paying those who created and uploaded videos after it wasbought by Google for $1.6 billion in 2006, and Flickr was also the subject of similar criticism fromsome users after Yahoo bought it for $35 million in 2005. The only reason sites
such as Wikipedia aren’t hit with similar criticisms, apparently, is that they don’tactually make any money and therefore they can’t pay anyone anything.
 
Is there any real merit to Tasini’s claim? Not really,
as Jack Shafer at Slate andothershave pointed out.The reality is that many people donate their services on the web and they are compensated inall kinds of non-monetary ways.But in every case, they do soknowing there will be no direct compensation from the site they are using.Tasini made the same deal when he agreed to write for The Huffington Post. Why
did he do so? He hasn’t said, but presumably for the same reason others did — 
inorder to gain visibility, and because writing for the site was easier or moreproductive than writing posts for his own blog (where he tries to defend his claim).

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