A group of bloggers hoping to get a cut of The Huffington Post’s lucrative sale to AOL were thwarted last week with a court decision to dismiss their lawsuit. A large part of the reasoning is in what the judge stated when they announced the decision: “The plaintiffs entered into their transactions with the defendants with full knowledge of the facts and no expectation of compensation other than exposure.”
The important takeaway from this is that if you are writing for exposure, you shouldn’t expect any monetary compensation down the road should the site you are writing for be sold for umpteen million dollars. Despite my problems with writing for free as a rule, I accept that what I believe is the right path to success in a freelance career may not be the formula for the next person.
I do believe the Huffington Post business model waters down freelance earnings for the rest of us as other media organizations try to copy it for the express purpose of putting writers out of work, but the blame should clearly be laid at the feet of the site itself, not the people who write for it.
That being said, it is regrettable that a court has officially devalued the work of writers who write for free. It is true that they entered into the transaction knowing that they were donating their work, but the missing element in the argument is that they placed their trust in Arianna Huffington, however naively, that the site would be used as a collective platform for crowdsourced news, not as a way for the media mogul to stock her garage with fine cars or her shoe closet with whoever is popular with the fashionistas these days. It’s the abuse of this trust, however naively given, that should be penalized.
We should never trust blindly that a site owner or media company will “do the right thing”. We should join up with groups like PWAC and the Canadian Freelance Union to be stronger collectively and to give ourselves a voice should abuses like this occur in Canada, because they do happen. As with any industry, we are better together.