Hyperlocal publishers may be able to breathe a little easier today after a New York Federal Court threw out a lawsuit this afternoon filed by bloggers and contributors who were seeking a share of the sale price that AOL paid to buy Huffington Post.
Freelance writer Jonathan Tasini and others filed a class action lawsuit against AOL and Huffington Post claiming that they were entitled to a share of the $315 Million that AOL paid to acquire Huffington Post on the grounds that their contributions and articles — which they provided without compensation — contributed to the value of Huffington Post. AOL and Huffington Post moved to dismiss the lawsuit.
In dismissing the lawsuit today, Federal Judge John Koeltl ruled “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.” Huffington Post’s terms of service provided that the contributors were not entitled to compensation. “No one forced the plaintiffs to give their work to The Huffington Post for publication and plaintiffs candidly admit that they did not expect compensation,” Judge Koeltl added in his opinion. Court documents show that some writers provided articles to the Huffington Post for five years without claiming any right of compensation.
The court also dismissed the contributors’ claim that Huffington Post engaged in deceptive trade practices. The court determined that the contributors were not “consumers” protected under New York law, and the contributors failed to show that Huffington Post misled them when they started writing for the site.
The decision will help hyperlocal publishers who depend on bloggers, freelancers and user content from later claims brought by contributors who believe they are entitled to pay or a share in the publishers’ ownership — even if they knew they were not entitled to compensation. The ruling was made in Case No. 11-Civ.-2472 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Brian Dengler is an attorney with Vorys Legal Counsel and journalist who covers legal issues in eMedia. He is a former vice-president of AOL, Inc., a former newspaperman, and an EMMY-winning TV journalist. He teaches new media issues as an adjunct at Kent State University and formerly at Otterbein University.