Mahalo Allegedly Stealing From Writers

Mahalo Content Thieves?

by Ben Cook on June 28, 2010

Mahalo, the incredibly successful spam factory, has apparently decided to rob their writers blind.

For those of you unfamiliar with the site, Mahalo has a TON of content much of which is written by hundreds if not thousands of writers. These writers HAD been working under a revenue sharing model which meant if their pages did well, they got a cut of the Google AdSense profits.

Naturally this was an appealing model for many writers, as an article written today could turn into a passive income source for years to come given how well Mahalo ranks in the search engines! Not a bad gig right?

Just one problem… Mahalo has decided to end the revenue sharing program effective June 30th.

They’re not closing it off to new writers, or even closing it off to new articles. They’re ending the entire thing.

So writers who have put in countless hours of work creating content for the site, will no longer earn the income that was promised them.

Where I’m from if someone doesn’t pay me the agreed upon price for my work, I call that stealing.

Mahalo’s Response

Jason Calacanis, Mahalo’s founder, has responded to the criticism of this move in several places. Unfortunately, none of the responses actually address the fact that his company is stealing money from the pockets of the very people who helped build his site.

Writers Will Earn More

Calacanis seems to confirm Mahalo is screwing writers with high earnings

Jason’s first defense is that this model will actually help most Mahalo writers earn more money. While that might very well be true, it still sucks big time for anyone who wrote content under the old agreement. Calacanis in fact admits this saying “The small number of folks who had the killer revenue pages are going to be disappointed.”

Calacanis’ admission that Mahalo will be “disappointing” writers with high revenue pages is astounding given his vehement denials of the allegations.

The Writers Wanted the Change

Jason claims they did this “because 19/20 writers voted in favor of getting paid a flat rate over revenue sharing.” While that could also be true (I’d be interested in seeing where that vote took place), it doesn’t change the fact that ALL Mahalo writers are no longer receiving the payment they agreed to when writing the content.

The Content is Creative Commons

Calacanis misses this point...

I’m not sure why or how, but Calacanis somehow got it into his head that this whole issue was about what license Mahalo uses for the content. The license Mahalo uses has absolutely nothing to do with the agreement between Mahalo and the writers creating content for them. Let’s move on.

These Accusations Are Lies/False

Calacanis claims accusations are false

Calacanis has responded in several different places stating that the accusations being leveled against Mahalo are “lies”, “false”, and just made “by one person who is upset we changed models.” In one tweet he pointed me towards a Mahalo post about the change asking me to check the facts. Unfortunately for Calacanis & Mahalo the blog post announcing the change only supports the allegations against them.

They ARE ending revenue sharing, and they AREN’T offering writers any alternative. That’s the accusation being made, and Mahalo’s own post doesn’t do anything to dispute it.

And, throwing doubt on Calacanis’ claim that these accusations are being leveled by “one person,” a Mahalo question page was created by a different writer than the one mentioned in David Porter’s post which brought the issue to my attention. While someone at Mahalo attempted to silence the critic by deleting the post, the magic of the internet and a quick screen shot by @neyne preserved it.

This Mahalo writer doesn't seem very happy...

(...Click for full view...)

And if that’s STILL not enough to convince Mr. Calacanis that several writers are upset about being ripped off, this comment on Mahalo’s own post was deemed helpful by over 25 other Mahalo members!

25+ Mahalo members prove Calacanis wrong

(...Click for full view...)

That certainly doesn’t sound like it’s just one rouge writer causing trouble for Mahalo.

This is an SEO Conspiracy

Just about any time Mahalo is criticized, Calacanis claims it’s just a bunch of angry SEOs trying to get back at him for criticizing the profession several years ago. While it is true that many of Mahalo’s critics are SEOs, I personally could care less what Calacanis has to say about the industry. Stealing from hard working writers just to improve his bottom line, now THAT I have a problem with.

A Way Out

Obviously Mahalo has a right to pay new writers however they want. If new writers are willing to work for peanuts and a copy of Calacanis’ self produced rap album (I’m making this up folks) that’s fine by me.

However, these writers produced content under a specific agreement and that agreement should be honored.

I’m no lawyer but Mahalo’s actions certainly seem to be a breach of contract.

Instead of treating the very people who built his site like crap, I would urge Calacanis and Mahalo to honor their initial agreement for all articles created under those terms.

If they’re absolutely unwilling to do that (I suspect some pages are making way too much money for Mahalo to be open to that idea) let the writers take their content elsewhere.

No, this isn’t going to help the writers replace their lost income. But at least the content wouldn’t have been stolen from the writers. Mahalo could easily replace the content with new, residual free content without losing much if any income.

Note: Lest this post appear one sided, I’ve extended an offer to Calacanis to be interviewed as a part of this post. I’m not holding my breath on that one, but if he, or anyone else involved feels like chiming in, I’ll make sure to keep you all up to date.

I was wrong, Calacanis says he'll do an interview!

Update: Calacanis has agreed to be interviewed (see above) and also states that Mahalo was “clear from the start that we might change revenue sharing if it didn’t work.” I would certainly like to see the documentation supporting that claim, and I’ll be sure to address the issue if/when the interview happens. Stay tuned!

image source: anarchosyn

{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

youfoundjake June 28, 2010 at 9:15 pm
youfoundjake June 28, 2010 at 9:19 pm
Deborah Aldridge June 28, 2010 at 11:32 pm

I asked that Mahalo take down that post, and remove my account. I am being horribly harrassed by some lunatics over there, who will not leave me alone. I have lupus, and I am becoming physically ill from this stress. I’ve had to turn comments off on all my blogs and all the sites I write for, just because I wrote the facts on Suite101. They are very strict editorially, and made me make sure I backed up everything I said. I just want to be left alone!

Jason, I am so hurt that you would say these things about me. You are such a two-faced lying bastard! Should I publish the threatening email you sent me, or the nice one saying you wished me the best in my projects? Who the fuck are you? Your personality changes from day to day.

Please call off your dogs, because if I have to go back to the hospital because of this harrassment, I’m coming after YOU Jason…YOU!

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Ben Cook June 28, 2010 at 11:38 pm

Deborah, please feel free to share as much information as you feel comfortable. The more info about this that’s in the public eye, the better.

Thanks for commenting and please feel better.

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Deborah Aldridge June 29, 2010 at 6:26 am

I have screen captures of a lot of my posts there, as well as emails from Jason and I did not delete my blog post he commented on, I just moved it back to draft status. I have saved everything to disk just in case one of his lunatic fringe decides to hack my computer. I’m not dumb. I document everything. Jason knows that. He can say what he wants, but he knows that if he pushes me too far, the gloves are off, and all the awful truth comes pouring out. If he leaves me alone, I’ll leave him alone, but he needs to apologize for calling me a liar.

Yolanda @ Paid in Passive June 29, 2010 at 1:14 am

When it comes to writing for revenue sharing websites, unfortunately, that is the risk you take.

To be honest, I didn’t even know what Mahalo is…simply because I’ve never performed any searches where this website has popped up on the first page of SERPs. But, I will say that I know for a fact when I write for similar website like HubPages, they could, at a whim, remove my content, disable my account, etc…and I must prepare myself for that.

However, to put hours upon hours into content for someone else’s website (not your own) in the hopes that it will pay off years down the road is a not a secure way to make money online, and this unfortunately, is the sad reality of what can/will happen.

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bmoviegirl June 29, 2010 at 2:56 am

Well there were many many upset people. Some of the vertical managers or VMs in his model were making $4000.00 a month on the high end and 2000.00 on the low end. They are now being offered positions that top out at 1500.00 a month which some members have pointed out is below minimum wage when applied to Calacanis’s work expectations “If you look in the letter you’ll see that each of the Guides will be responsible for 12 hours of updates per week. 60 x 12 = 720 hours of updates. Guides can update four to five pages in a hour. That will put us at 3-4k updates a week/12-15k updates month. More than enough!” The 1500 is for “senior guides” and regular guides will only receive a flat 1k. If it took you 1.5 hours to make a decent article, and just 15 minutes for a Q/A (most will just post a question they don’t really care about), you’d be working 52 hrs/wk for about $233, which amounts to a salary of $4.48/hr

Granted this work is for real money which they will get paid bi weekly for it still turns out to be considerably less pay than anyone can really live off of in the United States and it is a full time job. He is only hiring writers in the US for these positions and they supposedly received hundreds of applications. He is lucky he barely scrapes the legalities of this being contracted work or he would be forced to pay min wage at federal standards.

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Amie Warren June 29, 2010 at 6:23 am

That’s not entirely true. Some VM’s were only making $500-600 a month for mega hours, because Jason made them give up all their best paying pages when they became VM’s. One went from over $1200 a month to $500 she they became a VM. They are happy to be making more, but the ones who were making $4000 a month are understandably upset.

There are people from all over who write there and are on Q&A teams. I know of one from Maylasia.

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Michelle L Devon (Michy) June 29, 2010 at 8:39 am

That cached version is not the original. I have the screen captures of the original. You can see the snippets of them here:

But I also have the original full pages if you’d like a copy. I have plenty of screen captures.

Feel better Deb. No website — no one, period — is worth risking your health. Believe me, on the Lupus end of this, I feel for you and understand, being there myself. Rest, relax, meditation — they help.

As for the Mahalo stuff, I’ve got my own four part expose’ coming out soon. I’m at the TRA Expo this week, last day is today, so I’ll finish it up and get my documents and screen caps ready and I’ll post it probably on Thursday.

I was banned yesterday while I was at the conference, no email, no notice, nothing that says why. I know why, but they won’t tell me why. LOL I can’t wait to post this… anyway, I’ll be watching for that interview.

Love and stuff,
Michy

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chris June 30, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Can’t wait to read it.

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Michelle L Devon (Michy) June 29, 2010 at 8:54 am

Sorry, I forgot to add the links – as you probably know, click on the image to make it full sized:

New Terms after the Change:
http://accentuateservices.com/images/Terms%20of%20Service_1277520655092new

Old Terms of Services before the Change:
http://accentuateservices.com/images/Terms%20of%20Service_1277520688035cache

The important part that changed radically is under Proprietary Information, #2.

The old one said: “You own your Content. We claim no intellectual property rights over the Content you provide to the Services through your Mahalo account. Your profile and materials remain yours.”

The new one says: “All content you write and submit to Mahalo in exchange for payment in Mahalo Dollars becomes the intellectual property of Mahalo. This includes questions and answers on the Mahalo Answers system, submissions to Mahalo Tasks and changes made to the content of Mahalo Topic Pages. Edits and text added to your personal Mahalo user profile remains yours.”

And then if you look at the current version, you’ll see where he had them move the Creative Commons License up to the top, but he left the proprietary ownership part the same.

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Ben Cook June 29, 2010 at 9:29 am

@Michelle, thanks for providing the screen shots! That seems like pretty damning evidence.

Whether the law thinks there’s anything wrong with what Mahalo did or not, this certainly seems to support the allegations being made. I’m not sure there’s much left Jason could say to save himself on this one.

Hopefully enough light will be shone on this issue that they do the right thing by you all.

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Will June 29, 2010 at 11:39 am

Couple of thoughts, and I’m not taking anyone’s side–I would if I felt like I could examine all the facts in detail, but I can’t, so, like a politician, I refuse to take a side. But here’s what I think:

When a CPA company, for instance, files for Chapter 11, the affiliates don’t complain that future revenue will be lost because going bankrupt is a part of business. You could be making $300 a day from said affiliate company, and when it goes under, you will be making nothing. People don’t say, “but we had a revenue share agreement,” because companies going under is a fact of life. But, this situation, one would argue is different, because Mahalo isn’t going under. But, how different is it really? Mahalo has investors they are accountable to, monstrous liquidation preferences etc. Business is business. All Mahalo has to do is prove that it said their revenue share was “experimental” and there shouldn’t be any issue, legal, moral, or otherwise. No one held a gun to the writers’ heads and forced them to participate in an “experimental revenue share system.”

Let’s cover the TOS changes…everyone remembers when Facebook had that significant TOS change and prompted everyone to agree to it. Again, companies are allowed to change their TOS obviously, and the end user is never forced to agree to it. They can leave.

But, the situation should have been handled differently. Attempting to rewrite history is stupid, and you should never delete someone’s opinion because that ALWAYS looks bad. Masterful PR never involves shoving things under a rug in an obvious way. That’s not a very smart way to go about it.

I feel sorry for the people making say $700 a month who felt they would make much more over time, but, there was never a guarantee that they were going to. If you had your way, Ben, they wouldn’t because Mahalo would be thrown out the index 🙂 Now, granted, there’s a difference between writers no longer making money because Mahalo is de-indexed and Mahalo paying people less, but the bottom line is people wouldn’t be paid if Mahalo was destroyed in the way that many wish it was.

So, on the one hand, you have SEOs angry over their special treatment calling for the site be filtered or thrown out of the index (which would result in no one being paid a revenue share obviously), and on the other hand, you have the same people complaining that the writers should be paid. So, what scenario do you want? Pick one, because if Mahalo is penalized then these same writers who you are defending won’t make any money anyway. Whether you realize it or not, by saying these writers should be paid a revenue share in the future, you are effectively throwing out your argument that Google should de-index the site…

I think the situation with the people who were making more money from the revenue share then they will in the new flat payout system can be remedied easily. All Jason Calacanis has to do is give them a large bonus for their months of effort, and they SHOULD be happy.

Whether or not any company has the right to create a revenue share system and then scratch it later has already been answered throughout history. The answer is, yes, provided the provisions are there. This whole debate really comes down to how “nice Jason has been to the content builders…” And if you want people to think you’re nice, all you have to do is throw enough cash at them..

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Ben Cook June 29, 2010 at 11:51 am

Will, this is absolutely a different situation than an affiliate company going under. If I declare bankruptcy I don’t have to pay most of my debts. However, I can’t just decide to stop paying my debts and claim it’s no different than bankruptcy.

Also, the fact that Mahalo uses several tactics that are blatantly against Google’s guidelines, does not mean it’s ok for Mahalo to rip off their writers.

As long as Mahalo continues to make enough AdSense revenue for Google to look the other way, these writers should get their fare share.

There is no guarantee of revenue, but what WAS guaranteed is that they’d get a share of whatever revenue there was.

Again, whether Mahalo violated any laws or not, I have no idea. But unless Calacanis drops a bombshell in our interview, I wouldn’t want to ever do business with him, Mahalo, or any of the investors that are supporting this kind of behavior.

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Will June 29, 2010 at 1:20 pm

I’m looking forward to that interview.

mike July 2, 2010 at 1:07 pm

“There is no guarantee of revenue, but what WAS guaranteed is that they’d get a share of whatever revenue there was.”

The revshare program was never marketed as a permanent or static compensation system. There was never a permanent guarantee of RevShare under any TOS or any other official literature. This is categorically false and for anyone to suggest this is being dishonest.

chris June 30, 2010 at 1:36 pm

when are you interviewing jason?

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Ben Cook June 30, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Chris, it looks like I’ll be taking part in Jason’s TWiST show on Friday at 1pm PST.

It’s part of a “hater” Friday so I don’t know how much time I’ll get personally but I figure any is better than nothing. Twitter hasn’t been very good at getting a straight answer from Jason so we’ll see how this goes.

Krystyne20 June 29, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Hi Skitzzo – this whole revoking of pages thing has been going on for months at Mahalo, but now Jason is taking the pages away from everyone. I’ve been writing about it here on my blog: http://mahaloreview.blogspot.com/

I saw on one of Jason’s Twitter posts that he says everyone is lying and that he is paying everyone — that’s total B.S. What Mahalo does is they ban the accounts of the people who speak out against being wronged by Mahalo, and then Jason uses that as a reason for not paying that person. Jason actually stole about $500 of my AdSense revenue when he banned me.

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Ben Cook June 29, 2010 at 12:42 pm

@Krystyne yeah, I had heard about some Mahalo bannings and unfortunately, banning and not paying people isn’t all that rare in the online world. I once had my AdSense account banned (for reasons unknown) and a couple hundred dollars confiscated and never paid out.

However, changing from a residual revenue sharing model to a flat fee model after the content is created is morally and ethically (if not legally) repugnant.

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mike June 29, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Disclaimer: I’m the former Product Director at Mahalo.

I’d like comment on 1 specific detail of your post. Characterizing the rev share program as a passive income source is flat out wrong. Mahalo constantly reminded users that they needed to keep their pages up to date and would revoke pages from contributors who just sat on them. Users could even request pages to be stripped from other users if there has been no content added in over a month.

Writers got an up front payment for the initial article and then rev share for maintaining the content with fresh information and news (which rarely happened). I’m betting the reason they decided to end the program was that most contributors were neglecting their updating responsibilities.

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Ben Cook June 29, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Mike, you’re right, “passive” income is a bad way to phrase it. However there’s no doubt it’s less work to maintain & refresh content than creating brand new stuff.

Also, if most contributors were neglecting their updates, it doesn’t sound like any change would be needed. They’d simply be able to revoke the neglected pages.

In fact, your statement suggests if these people still had their pages, they were performing their jobs. In that case they deserve to continue to be paid that much more, no?

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mike June 29, 2010 at 5:49 pm

When I left, the majority of users were either not updating at all or making an inconsequential edit (moving a word or punctuation) and clicking save so that their page would not show up in our “hasn’t been updated in a while list”. We did what we could to curb that activity but it was tough for the editorial team to keep up with the growing user base.

If you are asking me if I think the writers were holding up their end of the deal then at the time I left (Nov 2009) I’d have to say no for for the overwhelming majority of them.

Also, if you are making the case that the system did not need to change because Mahalo could always just revoke the pages, you should rethink that. If a system yields over 90% negative user activity, the system needs to be changed.

Krystyne20 June 29, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Mike (former Prod. Dir. at Mahalo): The problem with the way Mahalo revoked pages is that they weren’t following their own rules as I outline here: http://mahaloreview.blogspot.com/2010/04/am-i-just-being-bitter.html

How can we be expected to follow rules when the Mahalo staff and VMs are not even following the rules? It’s hypocritical. That was the problem I had with the way Mahalo was revoking pages. Plus, there’s the whole “You own your Content” thing.

Also, not everyone received up-front payment for their pages. That was not offered when page management first started.

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mike June 30, 2010 at 1:40 am

I think you are getting to one of the core of why they eliminated the program. They were unable to manually keep track of all the pages and send out reminder emails to everyone. If they were unable to keep up with one of the rules that they made for their system, that is another good reason for a system to be drastically changed or taken down completely.

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john June 29, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Jason C never follows his own rules anyway. He scolds us for putting up big tipped questions on MA and not awarding BA. He’ll put up questions and announcements and refund tips constantly.

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Windowshopping June 30, 2010 at 9:56 pm

To add another angle to this discussion about Mahalo TOS, there was another question and ensuing discussion posted which directly pertains to the questions of ownership and usage. Three Mahalo members were banned, effectively taking their responses completely out of the discussion. I am linking to the original (pre-ban) question/discussion.

The Discussion prior to posts being removed:
http://accentuateservices.com/images/How%20are%20the%20changes%20in

To see the link in legible form, you will need to click on the image and scroll.

This is not a matter of one writer being upset at a business decision. This is a matter of a complete lack of integrity on the part of Mahalo and Jason Calacanis. In my opinion, this is theft, and actionable in civil court if not in criminal court.

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Windowshopping June 30, 2010 at 10:14 pm
Michelle L Devon (Michy) June 30, 2010 at 11:18 pm

@John – I had that problem too, with the big tips he put up then never paid. It was when I mostly stopped writing for Mahalo and quit putting any effort into MA. Until that point, I was making pretty good money–900 bucks one month, for about 10 hours of work. The saddest part of this is that Mahalo had such potential–it just needed a different leader. He’s got some decent ideas, but Jason’s implementation, people skills and management skills suck.

Jason put up a $100 and $50 question about Scientology. I spent much time researching and answering those questions, much more than I would have for a lower tip. He paid no one, even though I clearly gave him the right answers with proof to back it up. He picked ‘no best answer’, revoked the tip and then sent me $10 Mahalo dollars (7.50 real money) and said I should be happy with that. I wasn’t. It was pure bait and switch, another illegal move on his part.

Here’s the thread on my writing forum where I discussed it: http://accentuatewriters.com/viewthread.php?tid=9576 – there, I said clearly, I’m upset he didn’t award it to ANYONE, not just that he didn’t pick ME. He claimed I was just ‘sour grapes’ and told me not to participate if I didn’t like it.

Here’s the cached versions of the two questions(I have lots and lots of screen captures! I’m michelleldevon on the answers):

http://accentuateservices.com/images/scientologyjason.png
http://accentuateservices.com/images/scientologyjason2.png

They are cached because after he deleted my account, all my answers got removed – looks funny, really, since people responded to me, but my answer doesn’t exist anymore. Also, I’m refusing to live link to anything on his site anymore.

This asking high-dollar questions and then not paying anyone or paying less than advertised is a long-time pattern for Jason, the leader of Mahalo.

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Michelle L Devon (Michy) June 30, 2010 at 11:21 pm

One other thing:

Mahalo has given to new guides and QC people a contract they have been asked to sign with Mahalo–the first time he’s EVER asked for an official contract. It is 11 pages long. I have someone who sent me a copy of the agreement (I’m a paralegal and this person asked me to read it and explain it to him/her to see if he/she should sign it.) I won’t share the whole thing here yet, but check out this new clause in the agreement…

“Non-Disparagement. Both Parties agree (and to cause their officers and direct their employees) to not make any disparaging, negative or uncomplimentary statements, whether public or private, regarding the other Party, any related companies and/or any officers of the other Party or related companies.”

Awww, poor Jason. He’s feeling bad that people are saying bad things about him… boo hoo.

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Worked For Nothing At Mahalo July 1, 2010 at 5:21 am

I don’t think this has been covered here, but I may have missed something due to the amount information. But in any interview or exposé, it should be noted that Jason/Mahalo are insisting on not paying for work recently completed (money accrued in people’s accounts) unless their balance is $150 or close to it. This has been said in the online video announcement, as well as many, many times on the site when clarification was asked for; and more recently as he tries to defend himself on blog comments.

Mahalo feels comfortable stealing amounts of $10, $20, $50, or $100 for work completed, and not pay for it by cash through PayPal as understood when the work was completed, under the old TOS. People in this situation have been told that they can make a purchase at the Mahalo store, or donate the amount they have worked for (some for months) to charity.

Overseas members cannot use the Mahalo store so this option is not open to them. Those who will not be remaining with Mahalo as of the current TOS, or who have not been given a Guide position under the new system, will not be able to make it up to the minimum cashout.

http://www.mahalo.com/answers/given-the-unique-circumstances-should-mahalo-allow-new-users-to-cashout-without-reaching-the-m-150-milestone-this-month

Mahalo members who worked hard for this money (even accruing it over months, and many many hours of work) do not understand in what universe this is not stealing, cheating, lying, and exploiting. Particularly after admissions by Jason that the changes are not occurring because of Mahalo struggling or being in any kind of trouble.

Why not share the wealth, Jason, this one last time, with those thousands who have done the work of building the content on the site that is doing so well and bringing in money.

Just by you asserting that you are not stealing, cheating, or exploiting does not make it the truth. The truth is obvious, and you cannot simply BS it away. Make it the truth by paying the people you owe.

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Krystyne20 July 1, 2010 at 12:40 pm

I doubt that Mahalo will do the right thing and just let everyone cash out this one last time. If he had any decency, which he apparently doesn’t, he would allow this.

But given the fact that Jason has also stolen thousands of dollars from people he has banned recently who had balances at the time, makes me believe that he will not do the right thing. Jason stole $500 from me, so I don’t think it phases him in the least to steal some more.

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chris July 1, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Once a corporate thief, always one.

Michelle L Devon July 2, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Actually, Mike, it’s not really a separate topic at all. Look at the title of this blog post – Mahalo Allegedly Stealing from Writers. It took two things to make that happen 1) they pulled the rev share program that paid writers for their content and then at the same time with no warning 2) they changed the TOS to change the ownership of the content to them, with de facto ‘agreement’ that anyone who ‘used’ the site after the change, even with no notice, would be agreeing to it.

It took both of those things for them to STEAL the content. If only one of them had happened, it would have just been a boneheaded move on their part that would have been sorted out. Both together shows clear and undeniable intent on their part to steal the content and not pay people for it. If anything ever goes to court, it will be this intent that hurts Jason the most.

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Windowshopping July 2, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Beg pardon, Mike…
1) Where did Jason / Staff constantly talk about the “experimental” nature of the program? Care to provide screen shots? As it currently stands, even direct communications via DQ/DA are visible to anyone, including those not registered on the site, so multiple screen shots over time showing the “constant” nature of such comments should not be difficult to produce, right?

2) TOS and rev share are related, especially in this situation. Nowhere in the TOS was the revshare program listed as “experimental”. Rev share was not some bold, new brain-child of Jason Calacanis / Mahalo, it was a me-too move to compete with other content sites which had already been providing rev share/page view payments for several years. In similar fashion to those other sites, Mahalo supplemented a lower up-front payment with rev share, drawing better writers who believed that they would earn residuals over time as Mahalo grew. While I will admit that payment of rev share on MA (Mahalo Answers) was introduced as experimental, I do not EVER recall rev share on content pages being introduced as experimental, neither was it ever emphasized as such. In fact, Mahalo continues the MA rev share program, even now. They simply limit all earnings to be used in the “company store” (much like the unethical practices employed by mine owners in the 19th century).

3) The fact is that the TOS EXPLICITLY told participants that they OWNED their contributions and content. It also stated that either party could remove material, at their discretion, at any time. Now, those writers who have requested, in writing, that material that they produced under that TOS be removed are told, in writing, that their material is the sole property of Mahalo. That means that Mahalo claimed ownership of the property of others de facto, without prior notification, any opportunity to opt in/out, and/or the ability to remove material before claimed ownership changed.

The actions of Mahalo, as either directed or supported by Jason Calacanis and any or all stakeholders, is unethical, at least, and very possibly actionable on a class or individual basis. I sincerely hope that “angel backers” might be found to support such a class action.

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balinesecat July 3, 2010 at 12:14 am

Ben, thanks for bringing these additional points to light.

I created 73 articles (word count range of 400-2000 words each) for Mahalo under a TOS that stated that I owned my content, and there was also specific mention of the possibility I might choose to remove it. When Jason posted his announcement of the new system, I went IMMEDIATELY to my page directory and found my editing tools had been removed; in other words, my option to remove my content was taken away. And shortly thereafter the new TOS appeared.

Was I “paid” for this content? I would say absolutely NOT … the system was set up with the idea that writers would receive a small amount (usually M$3 and referred to consistently as a TIP) but that the work would earn ongoing Adsense revenue. If the Adsense component had not been part of the deal, I would NEVER have sold my work for the amount offered as a tip (in real dollars, $2.25).

I don’t think anyone can defend the way Jason handled this as being ethical or acceptable on any level. I strongly believe I have the right to reclaim my content and post it elsewhere.

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Michelle L Devon (Michy) July 4, 2010 at 8:55 am

As I said in your other post, the TOS were the entire agreement between the members. The agreement he referred to didn’t exist until June, several days AFTER the revenue share cancellation announcement happened.

As I also said, it appears only a legal remedy will make him see what he’s done is theft.

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balinesecat July 4, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Mahalo has now deleted all mention of who wrote the pages on the site. Previously you could click on the page history link and see full data on a page’s origin and revisions, but now that’s all gone. What a despicable, sleazy and mean-spirited thing to do, especially given Jason’s recent flying of the Creative Commons license as his gang colors. People are free to repost their content elsewhere so long as they link back to Mahalo, where their article will exist with no information at all about who wrote it or revised it. Total crap. Glad I saved screenshots of all my pages.

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Former Mahalo Writer July 9, 2010 at 2:04 pm

I am one of the many former Mahalo writers who had their page revenue terminated unfairly. Jason makes the case that they stopped page revenue because it wasn’t working for most people, when in fact it was. One of the top revenue earners just cashed out over $10,000 last month. No that is not a typo, and yes that is real dollars. Revenue share was increasing every month and will probably continue to do so.

Jason says that writers prefer a flat fee as opposed to rev share. Maybe some do, and it would be great to offer them that option, but that doesn’t mean you should stop paying people royalties for the pages they already produced for you. Writers created content with the agreement that they would earn a percentage of the revenue earned from ads on that page. The pages are still earning that revenue, the only difference now is that Mahalo is keeping 100% instead of 40% like before.

They make the claim that now they are paying a flat fee of $1000-$1300 per month for writers to produce content, update pages and participate in the Q&A section of the site. The hours needed to complete these tasks given the monthly compensation comes out to about $5-$6 per hour, and this is working full time. If you don’t meet the requirements, you get nothing.

Many writers were content with earning hundreds of dollars a month as passive income while working part time to update pages and produce new content in their free time. Now these writer have been kicked out and all of their royalties are being kept by Mahalo.

The right thing to do would be for Mahalo to honor the page revenue system for the writers who managed pages under the former system. This should be done as long as the pages are still earning money from ads.

Many of the top writers on Mahalo have left because of the changes. Even of the select few who were picked to be in the first group of guides to continue writing for the site, many of them have changed their minds and are no longer writing for Mahalo. If Jason thinks he is going to get hundreds of writers to work full time for $5 an hour to bring his site to the top of the ranks, he is in for a rude awakening.

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Former Mahalo Writer July 19, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Any more news on the legality of what’s been going on? There was talk that some were investigating the possibility of legal action.

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Former Mahalo Writer September 17, 2010 at 5:03 pm

There is a class action lawsuit against Mahalo in the works in regards to the issues that have been presented here. For more information about the case, check out this article: http://blog.accentuateservices.com/2010/09/16/mahalo-com-potential-class-action-law-firm-retained/

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balinesecat October 2, 2010 at 11:19 am
Ben Cook July 2, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Mike, actually, under the old TOS it was explicitly stated that the writers owned their content and went on to further say that license would remain in place as long as the content remained on the site. Essentially Mahalo was leasing the writer’s content and while it was not explicitly stated to be permanent, there was also no mention of any cut off date. Any reasonable person would understand that as long as their content is on the site, they’d be paid their licensing fee.

Unless of course you’re dealing with a company who doesn’t care much for ethics and will sneak in a TOS change to allow them to keep your content while no longer paying you.

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mike July 2, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Content ownership/licensing is really a separate topic from the revshare program.

The TOS officially states that they can be changed at any time and we constantly talked about the experimental nature of the program in our direct communication with the writers.

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Ben Cook July 2, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Mike, the TOS saying that they can be changed is fine. However, writers are under no obligation to accept the new TOS.

If the writers own their content and were only leasing it to Mahalo, they have the right to remove it from the site now that the revshare program has ended.

However, if, as Jason seems to be contending, Mahalo owns the content, then the writers have no right to the content they created. It would still be kind of a pissy thing to have happen, but there would be absolutely nothing legally wrong with that.

The previous TOS makes no distinction between pages and community related content. If there was no other agreement between Mahalo and the writers, I don’t see how Jason can claim Mahalo owns the content.

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