April 2, 2012

Author rights lawsuit against HuffPo dismissed, plaintiff considers next option


Jonathan Tasini

Still smarting from last week’s dismissal by a US District Court against his case versus The Huffington Post, author and labor activist Jonathan Tasini is moving to Sydney where he intends to write a book and, assumedly, keep a leg up on the HuffPo machine, which has its sights set on publishing in Australia, the world’s fifth-largest economy.

Tasini’s gripe with The Huffington Post, and with online media in general, is that too many content creators are not valued for their contributions. From The Australian:

“We’re using the lawsuit to spark a movement and an organising effort among bloggers to set a standard for the future because this idea that all individual creators should work for free is like a cancer spreading through every media property on the globe.

The fundamental question is: How are individual creators going to make a living and how are they going to create new content that is the basis of culture, democracy and knowledge?”

That’s a valid question. But still I can see why this case was dismissed, or at least not granted the legitimacy it deserves.

Language — how things are defined and the opinions those definitions carry — helps establish a profession’s esteem, and blogging (unfortunately) still connotes amateurism, which works against Tasini’s suit.

Instead, why not call it online journalism, and watch the powers-that-be emerge as supportive (albeit belated) bellwethers in turn.

After all, what’s in a name?

With HuffPo saying a move into the Australian market is on its agenda, Tasini hopes to prepare a cold welcome by urging local writers to boycott the online giant.

“Writers should organise through their union and make the demand that if the HuffPo wants to do business in Australia, they have to pay authors,” says Tasini.

“Make it clear that all advertisers should be put on notice that nobody should be doing business with the Huffington Post in Australia unless it declares it’s going to pay its writers. That has an effect.”

HuffPo revealed its intention to expand into Australia mid-last year but since then has refused to comment on its plans, despite numerous requests from Media. A spokesperson did not respond to questions for this story.

Since launching in 2005, HuffPo has made no bones about its free content. It reportedly employs only about 100 editors and journalists, relying on some 9000 unpaid contributors. Its low cost base helps make it one of the few profitable online news sites, reportedly making about $US30m ($28.9m) in annual profit.

Tasini’s approach is twofold: Identify a high-profile issue and then, after much research, write a book defining it.

Just like Melville House’s own celebrated author Dave Graeber, who’s considered one of Time’s Most Influential People of the Year for his role in Occupy Wall Street, and whose book Debt, The First 5,000 Years now serves as an economic/anthropologic bible, Tasini is leading a charge that will help shape how we create and digest information across the globe.

VIDEO: Jonthan Tasini vs. Huffington Post

Kevin Murphy is the digital media marketing manager of Melville House.