In the Alamo Foundation case, the workers didn’t themselves feel exploited, per se, but the courts ruled that their work was unfair for other businesses competing with the foundation. Writers who contribute free content to a website may be individually happy to do so, but collectively, that work contributes to the overall trend of devaluation of writing as a skill and a profession. If the only online news sites that make money in the current publishing climate are the very ones that pay their writers the least, the danger is that this assumption that writers will never share in that success will gradually shift from a singular unfortunate trade-off to the industry norm.

Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner