Is Arianna Huffington Evil?

I’m not Arianna Huffington’s biggest fan but some of the charges levied against her since the sale off HuffPo to AOL are unfair.

Balloon Juice’s mistermix dubs her “The Ultimate Freeloader” because: 1.) She’s not giving the people who have written her content over the years any of the $315 million AOL paid for the company and 2.) she didn’t pay an exorbitant and voluntary fee to Movable Type for using their shareware platform.

The first charge is one I’ve seen dozens of times on Twitter and the blogs. And it strikes me as absurd. The people who wrote for HuffPo were never promised any money. Nor is it entirely clear how much of HuffPo’s value is attributable to its writers in general, much less any individual writer.  HuffPo became a viable business model by lifting tons of content from other media outlets, summarizing it in a particularly pithy way, and stuffing it with tons of keywords and other SEO tricks.

The second charge is new but a headscratcher. I used Moveable Type for about a year and a half and switched to WordPress, mostly for technical reasons, years ago. Some time after my switch, MT moved to a pay-per-use model, arguably the key reason it became a bit player in the blog software wars, which have now been all but won by WordPress.  Anyhoo, the fact that HuffPo was on MT rather than WP can hardly be said to be a key factor in its explosive growth. And, surely, they’re not entitled to a revenue share.  It’s not clear what MT’s enterprise license costs but, if they’re giving it away for free and merely hoping that users will give them money, that’s hardly Huffington’s problem.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    You’ve got to admit it’s a brilliant business model. Your production facilities (blogging engine) are free and your employees (contributors) work for free. It’s essentially the same as Facebook in that respect.

    Is it possible to be just and evil? When the producers of the blogging engine get what they’ve asked for and the contributors get what they’ve asked for, it’s certainly just. Not particularly magnanimous under the circumstances but just.

    On a related note Google pays nothing to the millions of web sites whose contents it searches, indexes, and lists. Quite the contrary. Some of them pay Google for the privilege of being listed. Now that’s a brilliant business plan.

  2. Ben Wolf says:

    Most of the indignation is due to a sense of betrayal. Huffington has posed for years as anti-corporate power, pro people-power yadda yadda. Then she sells a blog where virtually all content is generates by volunteers to the most mainstream of media corporations. None of the people who made her that $315 million are so much as consulted, or even informed about the possibility of the deal, which suggests Huffington simoly expected them to keep their mouths shut and continue lining her pockets.

    Is she evil? No. She’s simply an unprincipled opportunist.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    She’s simply an unprincipled opportunist.

    Blow me down! Who’d’a thunk it?

  4. sam says:

    Hey, I thought HuffPo had taken over AOL, not the other way around.

    Wonder how Breitbart feels? (Bad, I hope.)

  5. Gustopher says:

    Just because she never promised the writers anything, and isn’t paying for guiltware doesn’t mean she *isn’t* evil.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    Gustopher, could you expand on that a bit? As it stands you’re not making an argument just a claim.

  7. mantis says:

    I’m not sure what “evil” is, but she certainly doesn’t seem to grateful to all the people who contributed to this phenomenal success. In other words, just like most every other boss.

  8. mistermix says:

    On (1), don’t you agree that the acquisition market should speak by devaluing her acquisition because of her misrepresentation of what she was selling (i.e., a stable of willing unpaid authors).

    On (2) enterprise users of MT were supposed to pay licensing – she’s running the enterprise version. Shame on SixApart for not collecting it, but that still doesn’t mean Arianna doesn’t owe them a few grand. I wouldn’t, and didn’t, argue that they owe Sixapart share of the acquisition.

  9. James Joyner says:

    MM

    1) Not unless there was some willful misrepresentation. It’s up to the buyer to project whether the business model will survive the transition.

    2) But a lot of people never pay licensing fees on Shareware or Bugware. Especially not when it’s absurdly high. It’s like saying I shouldn’t be allowed to quote NPR stories on my blog since I never give them any many during their annoying pledge drives.

  10. tom p says:

    “Gustopher, could you expand on that a bit? As it stands you’re not making an argument just a claim.”

    “Just because she never promised the writers anything, and isn’t paying for guiltware doesn’t mean she *isn’t* evil.”

    It is real simple Dave: One does not automatically negate the other. Gus is not saying she is evil, just that we can not say she isn’t.

    I on the other hand will just come right out and say that she isEVIL INCARNATE! I mean, have ever actually listened to that accent? ATROCIOUS!!! She is up to no good… I know it.

  11. PD Shaw says:

    If she gave a huge chunk of the money to her contributors, wouldn’t we say she is generous? And not “generous” in the sense of giving windfall to just anyone who is less fortunate, but in the sense of recognizing the direct contributions of others to her good fortune. We might think this to be a highly moral, though in no sense legally obligatory, position.

    But by not doing so, would it be appropriate to say she is ungenerous? stingy? Or is the real problem that few of us have standing to condemn someone else given each of our own inherent shortcomings?

  12. PD Shaw says:

    MM, on (1) : involuntary servitude is illegal. Even if the contributors were being paid, the buyer has no reasonable expectation that they would stay.

  13. Gustopher says:

    I’m just pretty sure she is evil.

    The title of the post, and the questions asked in the post are entirely orthogonal to each other. Neither of the claims (rewarding contributors with a platform rather than currency, or not paying for the guilt-ware) address the more overriding question of the posts title: Is Arriana Huffington Evil?

    Look into her eyes when she speaks on TV, and you will recognize the horrors. The eyes are the windows of the soul… FOR THOSE PEOPLE THAT HAVE SOULS!

  14. TG Chicago says:

    “2) But a lot of people never pay licensing fees on Shareware or Bugware.”

    A lot of people steal their neighbors’ wi-fi, but that doesn’t make it right.

    If I understand the MT thing (and I’m not certain I do), they changed their licensing agreement so that some users (including HuffPo) were obligated to pay for use. However, they didn’t enforce it. Basically, I don’t think your NPR analogy is correct. I think it’s more like “If I jump this turnstile every day and none of the transit workers stop me, then that means it’s okay!”. Which it’s not.

  15. john personna says:

    If you want Ben and Jerry, go buy some ice cream.

    (They are both the icon, and about the only example, of wearing your business heart on your sleeve. What, do all those Hollywood lefties run their studios and production companies like Ben and Jerry?)

  16. john personna says:

    BTW, I’m not sure what the MT story is, but if it was released as source under GPL, that’s about as free as it gets. Anyone can (and I see someone does) maintain a free fork based on that release.

    It is not possible, under that license, to be an indian giver, and and ask for it back.

    Now, you can do other, later, releases under other licenses, but your users are free to stick with the old GPL code, or the new GPL fork.

    It was that safety, that guarantee, that attracted them to your GPL release.

  17. mistermix says:

    @TG, The licensing terms were crystal clear – enterprise commercial users owed a license fee. It wasn’t shareware – it was like a lot of other enterprise commercial software, which operates on the honor system to some extent. Oracle, to pick just one example, lets people download full versions of their software but they expect you to pay if you use it commercially. It’s a common business practice and Huffington should have paid, though, unlike Oracle, SixApart apparently wasn’t doing due diligence on licensing. Even so, I’m sure even JJ’s mother wouldn’t have accepted “everyone is doing it” as an excuse, so I don’t know why he thinks it is OK in this case.

    @JJ – On (1), acquisitions are a two-way street. The seller makes a set of representations and warranties as part of the deal. The fine print is critical, but this much is true: the price wasn’t just for the Huffington Post, as is, it was for a bunch of intangibles centered around Arianna Huffington. One of these is Huffington’s supposed ability to attract local, cheap talent. Specifically, in the case of Patch (AOL’s “hyperlocal” effort), HuffPo is supposed to supplant, replace or enhance Patch’s mission, with Huffington in the lead.

    Did she represent that she would be able to retain and increase her stable of unpaid bloggers? I don’t know, but judging from the press on this deal, my guess is she did. If her unpaid minions are revolting, it’s certainly relevant to the deal.

  18. john personna says:

    mm, your arrgument is not consistent with the GPL, and the Oracle example is a flyer for that reason.

    Better to compare MT with MYSQL, which is open source, and has both “community” and “supported” versions. In that case any company small or large is free to choose one or the other.

    Are you suggesting that MT is GPL but has a way to “make” customers sign commercial deals?

    Link:

    The Movable Type Open Source Project is a community effort, led by Six Apart, devoted to building and maintaining the open source version of Movable Type, the award winning, ground breaking and revolutionary blogging platform. This open source platform is free for anyone to modify, redistribute and use for any purpose that they choose. The Movable Type Open Source Project is more than just a piece of software however.

    That’s not the way Oracle does it, at all.

  19. mistermix says:

    @john: You’re looking at the wrong version. MT has an enterprise version, with proprietary extensions, noted in the link below, with pricing by quote. That version can be downloaded freely but you need to pay. I assume that’s what HP is running, and why the guy who *worked for MT*, whose post I linked to, complained about HP not paying licensing.

    http://www.movabletype.com/download/compare-products.html

    The similarity between MT and Oracle is not the GPL or open source, (and yeah I know full well what the GPL and open source code are, and I know that Oracle isn’t GPL or open source). It is that MT will let you download their enterprise version for free with the expectation that you will pay for it if you use it in production.

  20. john personna says:

    I tried goggling this, to see the MT-HP story outside of this recent kerfuffle. All I found were positive stories, and then “whoop” this claim out of the blue.

    I’m not really finding anything to this claim that HP stole a non open-source version.

    Got a good “story” link predating this “Arianna is evil” tempest in a teapot?