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Huffington, Toasted

April 12th, 2011

Far-Left Whitewash Brigade Smells the Kapitalist Coffee

Pride is a terrible thing. But I will indulge.

The news says Arianna Huffington is being sued by the people who write for her website. Apparently, one of them finally realized the obvious truth: they’re providing a valuable product for nothing!

Where are the Real Men of Genius people when you need them? Someone call the Nobel committee.

I was saying this back in 2005. I compared Arianna to Tom Sawyer. Remember the story? Aunt Polly made Tom whitewash her fence. Tom hated the work, so as kids walked by, he told them it was an exclusive gig, and that it was a great privilege to be involved. After a while, he had a whole bunch of envious morons doing the whitewashing for him.

I could draw other obvious comparisons, to creatures like tapeworms, but I’ll pass.

I think one reason Arianna got away with this for so long is that she was working with writers. Everyone cheats writers. It’s accepted practice. After all, writing isn’t work. If you’re a writer or artist or musician, people will say unbelievably stupid things to you. They’ll come up to you and say, “Could you come to my house and wait for the cable guy for three straight days? It’s not like you have a job.”

Mind you, it doesn’t matter what great services these people are providing for humanity in THEIR lynchpin-of-the-universe careers. The most mediocre, fungible person on earth thinks his job is more valid than Ernest Hemingway’s. Crazy. They should ask themselves why there is no Nobel Prize in Project Management or Sales or Kitchen Remodeling.

It’s funny; if you have no education, and you literally dig ditches for a living, no one questions your right to a paycheck. But if you go to Juilliard and then play local gigs for ten years and THEN manage to sell a few songs, everyone thinks you’re a parasite when you complain about MP3 theft.

It’s insane. I’m a lawyer, and when I work on a case, what I do is writing. I look at statutes and cases, and then I write my conclusions. I can charge $400 per hour for this, and no one will blink. But if I write a 10,000-word short story, people will think it’s okay to republish it word-for-word on their blogs. And which skill is rarer and more valuable? Lawyers are a dime a dozen. Writing talent is comparatively rare.

Royalties are not charity. If you use a person’s work, you owe them money. I’m not making an argument here. I’m not stating an opinion. I’m pointing out a fact. The law backs me up. You can be sued for stealing artistic works. People are rotting in jail for it. Open a restaurant and play music without paying for it, and BMI and ASCAP will come to your door and threaten you with lawsuits. And if they sue, they’ll win.

Trying to tell this to reasonable people is like talking to people with severe brain damage. “Okay, but if I buy the CD, and I COPY it, then I can give the copy to anyone I want, because I PAID for the CD.” No, Justice Cardozo, that is not how it works. You don’t get eternal, unlimited rights when you buy a book or an album. You get the right to personal use, with all sorts of limitations. If you burn a CD for a pal, you’re a thief.

It’s amazing how greed and stinginess warp the mind. It’s like addiction. Rationalization kicks in, and rationalization is one of the strongest things in the universe. “I can admit the truth, OR I can have 100,000 free songs on my Ipod.” The truth loses.

The public’s ignorant view of royalties is what leads to problems like the one Arianna is having. Even content providers–the writers themselves–start thinking their work is worthless. That’s why Arianna was able to get her site going in the first place. People thought they were lucky to be asked to work for nothing!

I had this happen to me a few years back. I wrote a piece that was picked up by Real Clear Politics. When they asked about republishing it, I was offended that they didn’t want to pay me. In the end, I gave up and let them use it. That was stupid. It did me no good whatsoever, and I was entitled to payment. They never bothered me again. So what? Do I need nonpaying jobs? Is there some hidden blessing in donating your work to other capitalist enterprises? Of course not.

People who don’t pay for content love to talk about “exposure.” If Vanity Fair or Time Magazine prints your piece, you shouldn’t ask for money, because you’re getting EXPOSURE!

Go to the grocery, fill your cart up with steaks, and tell the cashier you deserve them because you got EXPOSURE. Tell her to make a withdrawal from your EXPOSURE account. Folks, you can’t eat exposure. It won’t buy medicine for your kids. It won’t keep you from sleeping on a park bench in February. It’s worthless, unless it’s so huge it leads to bigger things. Being republished on a blog is not that kind of exposure.

Let me use my magical translating skills. “You’ll be getting EXPOSURE” really means, “I am cheap and greedy, and I think you’re an idiot.”

Here’s what my exposure on Real Clear Politics (and websites that have stolen my material) got me: nothing. It was flattering, but you can’t put flattery on bread and make a peanut butter and flattery sandwich.

When I ran Huffington’s Toast, I wanted everyone who wrote for it to make money. I wanted everyone to be credited for their work, so they would benefit from the thousands of hits we got every day. We were going to sell stuff. We were going to have ads. Most of the other writers wanted no part of it! One of them actually called me a filthy name because I wanted to run the site correctly.

These were supposedly conservative capitalists, yet they thought I was nuts for trying to run a business like a business. They didn’t want the public to know who wrote what. I don’t know what they expected to live on while the site generated no income and no one knew the names of the writers. The friction that developed over the disagreement is what killed the website. People just quit writing. If conservative writers can be this wrong, what hope is there for the rest of humanity?

I will note that none of us went on to greatness. Allahpundit, for all his talent, is still an obscure blogger. I managed to publish three books, and only one was even moderately successful, although becoming a religious nut and interrupting my promotion campaign played a big role there. Moxie and Jeff are history. Noel…I have have no idea what he’s up to. Aaron doesn’t even have a blog. This is the great victory our socialist ideals bought us! Comrades, I salute you! The folks at The Daily Kos should get a good belly laugh if they read this. We face-planted so beautifully.

We should have been the conservative Onion (only funny). Instead, we decided our work had no value, and in the end, the free market agreed, and I deleted the website. The Onion is on TV now, and it’s still not funny, but people are getting paid, because someone, somewhere realized that writing is a product.

I should have become what I was lampooning. I should have become Arianna. I should have accepted free work and made no effort to promote or credit anyone other than myself. Maybe I’d be getting sued now, but I’d be rich. Arianna will still be rich when this is over. A lawsuit is a small price to pay.

Of course, I don’t mean that. Losing yourself and becoming what you contemn is worse than failing at an enterprise. And every bad thing that has happened to me happened for a reason. God has swept in and picked me up, and things are better now than I could ever have imagined. If I had become the anti-Arianna, I wouldn’t have God’s powerful presence in my life every day. And I would be surrounded by a lot of sour, unfulfilled, grasping, treacherous people. I’m not referring to the other HT writers. I’m referring to political media figures, generally.

It’s funny; when I look back on this stuff, I temporarily forget how I’ve changed and how much I love life. I feel like I’m the same bitter person I was six years ago. But I’m not. So many wonderful things are happening to me. I trust happiness now. In the past, it was always a rug I knew would be pulled out from under me. I’m on a positive trend that will still be unfolding ten thousand years from now. The things I wanted back then were worthless and even poisonous. Thank God I didn’t get them.

Funny coincidence: yesterday I got a notification that the registration for huffingtonstoast.com was up for expiration. I kept it in my name so no one would try to rip it off. Now the corpse is beyond hope of resurrection, so I guess I can let it lapse.

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10 Responses to “Huffington, Toasted”

  1. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    This is a great post!
    So true!
    I’m gonna repost it on my blog as an homage.

  2. Rick C Says:

    “Open a restaurant and play music without paying for it, and BMI and ASCAP will come to your door and threaten you with lawsuits.”

    I don’t understand how that makes sense. I assume it’s considered a performance, but it just doesn’t make sense to me*. If you actually buy the CDs and play them, you’re not really cheating anyone. How is that different from playing music that you bought when you have friends at home? Yes, I know–the RIAA would love to make you pay for that, too.

    * I mean, except that the RIAA is a bunch of remoras and wants money for everything.

  3. Steve H. Says:

    I still can’t believe how hard it is for people to understand this. I think you’re pulling my leg. Surely you realize that playing music for customers is not personal use.
    .
    How can you say you’re not cheating anyone when you’re paying for the right to personal, noncommercial use and then using the music to make money?

  4. aelfheld Says:

    Okay, it so happens I just sent a copy of one of your recipes (pizza) to an acquaintance. What do I owe you?

  5. Steve H. Says:

    $300,000

  6. Jeffro Says:

    I bow in your general direction.

  7. D Murray Says:

    Your brain damage observation has been confirmed. Would that there was some sort of confirmation bet that one could collect when a prediction came true. Keep up the good work!

  8. Steve B Says:

    You make a great point here, Steve. If I have a CD, and I give it to you, then there is a transfer of ownership/rights. I no longer have the CD.

    If I copy it and give you a copy, now you have a copy that neither you or I paid for. All commercial music and videos have express policies on them that prohibit unauthorized reproduction.

    Most published, wrtiten material does too. It’s called a “copyright.” It implies a value that must be protected.

    It would make sense that writers would want compensation for their work. Otherwise, it’s not work. It’s a hobby.

  9. J. West Says:

    1. The Defense Investigative Service (does security clearances) is failing more potential applicants for illegal downloads than drug use.
    2. The government takes theft of intellectual property seriously.
    3. Found that fact out, called daughter attending college.
    4. Said, “You will stop the downloading business immediately and pay for future songs, DVD’s, etc. If asked, you will say that, yes, you did engage in that, but ceased when informed of its illegal nature.
    You are informed.”
    5. Am hard at work attempting to land the child in a government job of some sort. The best of those require security clearances -some also require polygraphs.
    V/R JWest

  10. Virgil Says:

    “Nobel Prize in Project managment or Sales or Kitchen Remodling”
    .
    “Peanut Butter and Flattery Sandwich”
    .
    You kill me sometimes with your wit…