NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Huffington Post unfairly pocketed more than $100 million from its unpaid bloggers when AOL Inc bought the influential news website in February, according to a lawsuit filed on Tuesday.
The suit, filed in Manhattan federal court, comes two months after Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the website, sold it to AOL for $315 million.
Of that price, at least $105 million was the estimated value of the website’s unpaid writings, which should now be given to the bloggers, the lawsuit says.
“The Huffington Post is nothing without the bloggers who created the content,” said Jonathan Tasini, a one-time Huffington Post blogger who filed the suit and is seeking class-action status on behalf of the bloggers.
Part opinion and part news, the left-of-center website has to some extent relied on free contributions by celebrities, politicians and experts to drive traffic, turning it into a major online force since it started in 2005.
A spokesman for the website said he had not reviewed the lawsuit, but called the allegations “completely baseless.”
“Our bloggers utilize our platform to connect and ensure that their ideas and views are seen by as many people as possible,” spokesman Mario Ruiz said.
“It’s the same reason hundreds of people go on TV shows to broadcast their views to as wide an audience as possible.”
To what extent the website’s sale value or estimated revenue was based on unpaid blogs is unclear, the lawsuit acknowledged, but it claimed the roughly 9,000 unpaid bloggers should receive their fair cut.
The lawsuit also called for the website to release detailed information on the Internet traffic to and from the blogs.
John Coffee Jr, a professor at New York’s Columbia University Law School, said the lawsuit would likely be dismissed by a judge as the bloggers’ decision to contribute to the website was a rational one, and that the Internet site was within its rights to profit from the free content.
The case is Jonathan Tasini v Aol Inc et al, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 11-cv-2472.
Reporting by Basil Katz; editing by Mark Egan and Lisa Von Ahn