Following appeal of a New York trial court decision issued last spring, the Second Circuit has rejected three Huffington Post (the “Post”) bloggers’ claims to recover $105 million allegedly owed to them and the Post’s other bloggers under theories of unjust enrichment and deceptive business practices. Tasini, et al. v. AOL, Inc., et al., 2d Cir., No. 12-1428, 12/12/12 (Summary Order). Plaintiffs provided the Post online content in exchange for “exposure” the Post’s platform provided for their work. Following the Post’s sale to AOL, Inc., the bloggers filed suit alleging the Post “duped” bloggers into providing free content as a “public service” based upon the Post’s purported representation that the content would not be provided or sold to “Big Media.” The Second Circuit rejected this unjust enrichment claim observing that the bloggers understood at the time they provided content that they would never receive any compensation beyond “exposure” and, therefore, lacked any basis to recover monetary damages on such a theory. The Court further rejected the bloggers’ alternative legal theory alleging violation of New York’s deceptive business practices law, based on the fact that the alleged unlawful acts—i.e., the alleged misrepresentation regarding use of the bloggers’ online content—did not impact consumers.
The decision, while certainly welcome to employers, particularly those utilizing unpaid content providers, further illustrates the risks associated with reliance on unpaid workers or talent. The Post, as the court found, never provided nor promised the bloggers any monetary compensation, and the bloggers “understood that they would receive compensation only in the form of exposure and promotion,” yet the Post nevertheless bore the expense and burden of 20 months of litigation against claims the Second Circuit ultimately found lacked legal basis.