When the Little Gals Get Stepped On: How Huff Po Stole from Women and Hollywood

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by Melissa Silverstein
January 10, 2014 12:00 PM
18 Comments
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Last night I got an email from a friend with a link to a Huffington Post piece he thought I would be interested in. I clicked on it and to my immediate alarm, I realized it was a piece that had been published several hours earlier on Women and Hollywood by our Oscar columnist.

The Huffington Post stole the entire piece, word for word. They did not even change the title (though they did change the picture), and most egregiously, they did not mention that the post had been written for and published by another site. It was just posted like they owned it. They credited the writer Susan Wloszczyna and used a bio and picture that they took from her writing on RogerEbert.com.

Let me make this clear. Whoever it was that did this, they did not ask either the writer or myself -- the founder and editor of the site -- for permission to post a piece written and paid for by Women and Hollywood. How ironic is it that a site that does not pay for posts actually stole an article that had been paid for?

This morning, after a complaint from me, the post was removed. I appreciate that they dealt with it quickly, but I am still spitting mad and very concerned. The explanation I received was, "It appears as though the piece was submitted on her behalf in violation of our terms.  We've cut that party off from the platform and will be looking into further so no need to worry about a repeat." I have no idea what that means, and honestly, it doesn't ease my worry.

I have been working my ass off to build Women and Hollywood over the last six years. I don't have millionaire investors. I don't have multiple editors and staff. We are a small operation -- a part-time news editor (who edited the stolen post, by the way), a couple of columnists, fantastic guest posters, and me. That's it.

There should be a place on the web for all different kinds of sites to thrive. Women and Hollywood is very lucky to live on Indiewire, but we still have to get traffic for each and every piece. And by the way, Women and Hollywood does not pay anyone's rent. We all do this because we believe this is important work. 

It is very hard to compete against well-funded operations. Most days I don't think that it is a competition. We do our thing in our corner and we are perfectly happy with our work. But a day like this reminds me that the blogosphere is full of big beasts and that small folks like Women and Hollywood can easily get trounced on. 

I have some helpful contacts and was able to find someone at Huff Po to pay attention to my grievance very quickly. But what about the other folks who do not? A writer or editor should not have to be worried that the fruits of their labor will be stolen without permission, explanation, or notice.

This is all about respect. And I'm still waiting for an apology.

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18 Comments

  • asha dahya | January 13, 2014 4:53 PMReply

    Sorry to hear about this fiasco Melissa. I personally am a big fan of this blog, it is one of my "go to" bookmarked sites I look on nearly every day. I too am a start-up blogger and applaud you for the great work you, albeit with a small team. My website, girltalkhq.com is built kinda the same way, and I run it all by myself with the help of a few guest bloggers. Not big investors etc. It also does not pay my rent (yet).
    It makes me mad that the Huffpost would blatantly do this, and not even have the guts to apologize! It's the LEAST they could do. Or they could offer to host your content and pay you for it. But it seems as though you are done with them and their model of blogging.
    It's sad that an org like them who started out as a "grass roots" blogging platform has had to come to this.
    I would keep your head held high (as you are) and continue your hard work knowing what you are doing IS important and helping many other women like myself. So thank you :) Keep doing what you do :)

  • Jeffrey | January 13, 2014 3:28 PMReply

    Wow, this is not the first time ive heard this complaint. I would definitely ask for money. They got paid for the traffic your hard work brought them via ad clicks.

  • Ruth Papazian | January 13, 2014 3:20 PMReply

    An apology is not enough. You should ask for all the advertising revenue the page(s) containing your article generated during the period that it was posted without your knowledge and consent. A "lawyer letter" is in order and, if not sufficient, a lawsuit for copyright infringement and theft of services (or some such).

  • Allene Swienckowski | January 13, 2014 2:51 PMReply

    I have not been a fan of Arianna Huffington for decades. Her assumed transformation from a republican conservative to progressive democrat flies in the face when you exam how she continues to make millions on the backs of both talented men and women writers. The Huffington Post now requires commenters to "share" their Facebook affiliation in order to comment, as if a Facebook account ensures someones identity. It would be sooooo nice to see the little empire crumble just because Arianna's and in turn her publications worldwide think it's just dandy to earn money without paying people for their work.

  • al crusoe | January 13, 2014 9:50 AMReply

    quit complaining and sue huffpo.
    apologies mean nothing. pulling the story is meaningless. that's like catching a burglar running from your house and he "agrees" to drop your TV on the ground.
    the culture of artistic theft, winked at, enabled and even encouraged by the oh-so-hip, will only be stopped when it becomes financially crippling.

  • jean hantman | January 13, 2014 3:22 PM

    Who can afford to take Huffington Post (or another internet criminal, Experience Project [Armen Berjikly]) to court for cutting and pasting from one site to another, sometimes whole articles, sometimes cited out of context, sometimes not sourced? Al, I agree they should be sued but as far as most writers (poor) are concerned, your good idea is a wish, not an affordable plan of action.

  • Melissa Silverstein | January 12, 2014 6:23 AMReply

    Richard-

    Several years ago I posted some of my content on the Huffington Post for a short time. It always was up to me what I wanted to upload and I did it myself. There was never a feed directly from my website. I stopped doing that a long time ago because I detest the model of the Huffongton Post. Full disclosure - I also run unpaid guest posts, it is not a majority of the work, it is limited to a couple of times a week and they are all submitted willingly to the site.

  • Richard Horgan | January 11, 2014 4:40 PMReply

    Hi Melissa:

    A quick Web search seems to suggest (?) that at one, long-ago point, The Huffington Post was properly carrying "Women and Hollywood" content, under your byline with bottom-of-page links to the original blog? Is that right? And if so, when did you formerly stop feeding content over to HuffPo?

    I'm not suggesting that prior history between W&A/HuffPo makes this egregious incident acceptable. Just wondering if somehow an old RSS-style widget could have somehow been re-activated, malfunctioned.

  • Richard Horgan | January 11, 2014 4:41 PM

    W&H, not "W&A". Sorry.

  • Lisa Nesselson | January 11, 2014 4:16 PMReply

    No, no -- it's not "theft," it's "metamodernism." (Or so one argument about what Shia LaBoeuf is really up to, goes.)
    One scary component is that if a friend had not alerted you to the bald trangression, you still might not know about it.
    It doesn't take much to summon up the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that accompanied several instances of my prose being stolen. There was the guidebook to Paris that I took off a bookshop shelf only to see two full paragraphs that I had written swiped and republished nearly verbatim under somebody else's name. That someone had ever so carefully replaced ONE word every 27 words in a row, so they knew precisely what they were doing.

    The irony was, I had ZERO intention of buying the book in order to complain to the publisher. While the store was sympathetic, they refused to photocopy the offending pages for me out of not-unfounded fear that that might have broken the book's spine.

    There was the time I happened to be on a plane from Amsterdam to Paris and, while reading the in-flight magazine article about Jody Foster, stumbled upon two very elaborate sentences that I had written about her elsewhere. Twelve or more monkeys typing for eternity would never ever have slung those particular words together in that order. No atribution, just folded neatly into somebody else's article without quote marks.

    And then there was the time a friend showed up clutching another in-flight magazine to tell my husband "I was so excited to see the article you wrote for this."
    My husband had never heard of the magazine in question. It was his article, all right, and they kept his name on it. There was just the small matter of it having been written for another publication entirely.

    These instances all took place before the Internet really took off.

    The Huffington Post should be ashamed of itself -- except, of course, Web sites don't boast human emotions or see the need to atone for wrongdoing. Which is probably why you're still waiting for an apology.

  • rl | January 11, 2014 12:09 AMReply

    HuffPo doesn't steal, it just doesn't pay for anything ...

  • solitasolano | January 10, 2014 5:23 PMReply

    Glad you got the HuffPost taken down so quickly.
    Love your site.

  • PJ | January 10, 2014 2:47 PMReply

    While I am very sorry that your content was outright stolen by the HuffPo blogger, I think it's important to clarify some stuff here.

    One of the biggest misconceptions about HuffPo is that they don't pay for content - which is not EXACTLY true. HuffPo employs hundreds of writers and reporters (many of whom are very, very good) as, well, ACTUAL HUFFPO EMPLOYEES, but they ALSO host a kind of blogging platform (that's where it looks like this piece was published, and it's also where people like Alec Baldwin and whoever put up their random blogs and such) that doesn't pay for content - it's sort of like Tumblr or Blogger. The writers chose to post their stuff there simply so they can say they "blog for Huffington Post!" or whatever (and, trust me, plenty of people do this). This is obviously not an ideal situation - HuffPo approves bloggers and such, and then these people can toss up whatever they want (and steal, appearantly!), and plenty of non-professional people try to make it sound like they are employed by a large outlet when they are, in fact, not.

    No, HuffPo doesn't pay those bloggers, but Tumblr doesn't pay people and Blogger doesn't and so on and so forth (and, yes, I admit that is an imperfect comparison). This is something that hasn't ever been very clearly conveyed to most people, which is why people consistently accuse the company of not paying for content and why stuff like this happens. To be clear - no one who WORKS for HuffPo let this one through, this "former entertainment reporter" just posted it on her blog, which is hosted by HuffPo. To say that "Huffington Post Stole" from you is about as true as saying "Tumblr Stole" from you if someone passed off your work as their own over there. This Susan person stole from you, and she used the HuffPo platform to do it.

    Look, I get what it's like to be stolen from creatively. It's the worst. It HURTS, but I also know a lot of wonderful people who are ACTUALLY employed by HuffPo, and it also hurts me to see them smushed in with stuff like this. HuffPo should get rid of this dumb blogging platform and they should certainly monitor what goes up and how it goes up and who is doing it a lot closer, but please don't lump in the work of hundreds of professionals with the actions of one idiot.

    Susan stole from you. HuffPo did not.

  • Susan Wloszczyna | January 10, 2014 7:12 PM

    Thanks to you PJ, my husband is insisting on referring to me as "This Susan person" from now on. And, as David Edelstein and my editor Melissa are kind enough to make clear to you and others, I am one of the victims here. It's a scary world out there where people feel it is just fine to take your work without permission or even credit. I only hope this incident, which has made the Romenesko report (http://jimromenesko.com/category/romenesko/), brings more traffic to Women and Hollywood.

  • Melissa Silverstein | January 10, 2014 6:18 PM

    PJ- Susan is a columnist for Women and Hollywood. She is paid by me to share her expertise and insights with the people who read my site. Of course I don't have the traffic of Huff Post because I am an independent blogger, so it is galling to see a piece I paid for was STOLEN- yes, that is the right word and then made to seem that it was uploaded by Susan.

    I repeat. Susan did not upload this post.

    Someone decided to take it from my site and repackage it and then make it seem like it was a blog post uploaded in the normal way that other people upload.

    I don't know why anyone still gives the Huff Po anything they write.

    Do you understand now? I will not delete your comment because I want people to understand the shadiness of Huff Post.

  • David Edelstein | January 10, 2014 6:11 PM

    PJ--You seem to have gotten this wrong. Susan didn't steal the piece. She wrote it. HuffPo reposted it as if she'd written it for them. No one has said who gave it to HuffPo ("we've cut the party off from the platform") but it obviously wasn't Susan. Please retract!

  • KC | January 10, 2014 1:15 PMReply

    Sorry to hear that happened, though I'm not surprised as HuffPo just feels shady. I love your site and the quality content posted here.

  • grrljock | January 10, 2014 12:56 PMReply

    Ugh. Sorry that this happened to you. This makes me wonder how many posts at HuffPost are stolen content? I really hate the HuffPost business model.

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