Maryland Law Review
Last year, the Huffington Post blog found itself involved in a contentious legal dispute with its unpaid bloggers about the commodification of its content. The Huffington Post features many posts that are straight-ahead news reports; other posts have featured more ideological content aimed at a liberal audience. Leading up to the 2008 election, many Huffington Post bloggers wrote accounts critical of then-President George W. Bush, specifically his administration’s treatment of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners, while others wrote to assist fellow Democratic voters become more familiar with the primary candidates. Regardless of one’s personal political leanings, the website attracted a sophisticated level of writing in its posts: Featured bloggers included professional journalists and attorneys who contributed their efforts to the Huffington Post for free, despite normally being paid for their writing. Freshly updated content helped attract an additional audience to the blog, which grew rapidly, reaching fifteen million hits per weekday.
In March 2011, media giant AOL submitted a $315 million acquisition bid for the Huffington Post. The HuffPo website, and the traffic driven to that site, was valuable to AOL, a company that had been searching for more content providers and an expanded audience for existing content. Arianna Huffington and her financial backers stood to make a handsome profit from the acquisition. The bloggers, on the other hand, who had built the blog’s readership by dint of their hard work, were to receive nothing. Frustrated, Jonathan Tasini, a journalist and labor activist, along with other unpaid bloggers, filed a lawsuit challenging the terms of the deal. The bloggers claimed that their hard work had built the blog’s value, entitling them to a share of the profits by virtue of a contract claim or a claim for unjust enrichment and restitution.