Why I was Almost Sued by The New York Times


Almost being sued by a major corporation such as the New York Times definitely isn’t funny business. In fact, it’s extremely frightening and stressful.

What happened?

I found out recently that the New York Times was going to start charging readers in January 2011 for frequent access to their website. The article (published by the New York Times itself) clearly outlines the business model, targeting frequent readers. If you read the New York Times’ website once a month, you will be not be asked to pay. However, if you are a frequent reader, you will be asked to subscribe in order to continue reading after a certain point. It does not take rocket science to figure out that the newspaper is going to track this via cookies.

I personally dislike the idea of being charged for online content, especially general news. My idea was a website explaining how to navigate around the fee. It would simply be a guide on how to erase cookies and a plugin for Firefox or Chrome that would do it automatically.

After buying the domain FreeNewYorkTimes.com, I set up the site. I purchased Optimize, a fantastic WordPress theme, from WooThemes.  Designed a nice logo that looked very different from that of the New York Times to be certain that visitors would not think this site was owned by the paper. At the same time, I found a developer to make the plugin. Everything was in place.

Aftermath

A few days later, I awoke to the most alarming email I have ever received. It was from my hosting and domain provider, Godaddy. The subject line read: “Copyright Dispute (HOSTING FOR FREENEWYORKTIMES.COM)”.

Frantically, I checked all of my sites to see if they were still up. Each one displayed: “This website cannot be found.” You may have noticed it…

I knew from a prior experience of being hacked that I had to stay calm. Panicking would not help.

I reread Godaddy’s email to better assess the situation. It contained the following message from a New York Times’ attorney.

NYTCo recently became aware of the existence of freenewyorktimes.com, a website that uses NYTCo’s exact trademarks, logo, layout and photographs in promoting a plug-in that purportedly gives unlimited, unauthorized access to NYTCo’s online version of The New York Times. This website is infringing upon NYTCo’s ownership of trademarks and copyrighted material displayed on NYTCo’s own website, NYTimes.com.

On behalf of NYTCo, I hereby demand that Domaincontrol.com immediately remove the infringing material.

At this point, I would have been happy to do what they were asking. Unfortunately, my hosting account was suspended and I couldn’t even login to take down the website.

Attracting the attention of the New York Times might sound exciting, but in reality, it was very scary. They had easily succeeded in convincing Godaddy to block my hosting without prior warning.

My only option: ask my father for help. After 36 hours of non-stop calls and emails with Godaddy he finally succeeded. Everything was back to normal. Once I had access to my hosting account, I immediately deleted everything on FreeNewYorkTimes.com.

 

Lessons

 

I am still in shock from this whole story, but the bottom line is, when you have a business idea, make sure to check all the legal aspects before moving forward. One simple mistake can lead to huge consequences.

Although I thought the New York Time’s response was slightly over-exaggerated, I was afraid to take on a huge company. They’re a massive corporation with almost unlimited resources, and I probably wouldn’t even be able to afford a lawyer.

77 Responses to “Why I was Almost Sued by The New York Times”

  1. BENJAMIN! You gots some CAJONES on you boy. If you would have told me your ideas, I could have definitely told you to not do it! Next time don’t be so secretive, lol.

  2. WOW! Keep doing this and you will end famous :)

  3. You even offer sale of that domain? 😆

  4. I don’t know whether to feel relived for you, or to laugh.

    Yes, it was probably risky. But, it doesn’t seem like it would actually be illegal. It’s not like you branded it with their logo and layout or streamed their content. You simply provided information that any smart person could have figured out.

    Their letter and bullying sounds scary enough, but seriously? They must not have looked very hard if they say you used the SAME logo/pics/etc

    • That’s the same feeling I felt, but I was definitely more relieved looking back. Yeah, I think they were completely wrong, their information was false, but it wasn’t worth putting up a fight.

  5. Ben, congratulations to you :-

    You have gained another experience that might be useful to you in the future. Man, I would have been scared in this type of situation. I really appreciate your patience and calmness.
    I am very much glad that we had parents to look after (They will be our attorney).

    Anyway, I am glad that your site is alive. Thanks for sharing the experience, Man !

  6. I don’t feel sorry for you though because this is just like stealing legal software, cracking it and distributing it for free. I’m surprised you didn’t think of that before you launched the site.

    • It’s not at all, giving directions on how to delete cookies is perfectly legal, it was just in context of avoiding the NYT fee.

      • Yea well deleting cookies is fine, but bypassing it for the intention of extended the limited time is cheating. Obviously users could exploit the situation on their own, due to NYT’s negligence… but offering an entire site for the purpose of exploiting the hole isn’t exactly legit.

  7. Why sell the name it doesnot seems the name was the problem it sounds more like the content

  8. That’s insane Ben! creative idea – but looks like you lost out this time. Keep coming up with the great idea thoughts :)

  9. I second Hesham on this, Ben, lol. Although it may seem funny now, I would not want to be in your shoes when this happened. Knowing myself I would have definitely panicked, and then after maybe calm down.

    I have once registered a name that may infringe proprietary rights and what I did was try to sell the domain via domaining.com. They would not accept it because of the possible infringement. I knew there and then that it was not wise to move forward with it. So I just have the domain there, unparked and waiting to be canceled.

  10. Getting a e-mail like never is never a good thing, thankfully the outcome was fine for you, could of gone a lot worse!

  11. Awesome Ben – love that you are always challenging the status quo and trying to find new ways to get your entrepreneurial hustle on, lol. Did you tell them that you were an innocent entrepreneurial teenager and see if they wanted to feature you in this week’s ‘News of the Weird’ 😛

    Love it, love it, love it! And it is a great thing that you shared this post about what happened in the public domain (not only to educate other readers) but also because it probably wouldn’t have looked to good if someone else released this message right as someone was about to name a building after you. Oh man. This really made my day, Ben. So cool.

    Sorry about the stress that it caused and the time your dad had to spend on it. That’s a bummer. But hey, you came out a wee bit smarter. Don’t let it limit your entrepreneurial spirit and creative drive. Remember, as long as your intentions are good, things will always work in your favor.

    Cheers.

    p.s. @Alex Brooks – Hi up there. I noticed that you recently visited my blog and commented there as well. Thanks so much for your support.

    • Thanks Shonika, so glad to see you here!

      I didn’t tell them that, it would have been very ironic if they had featured me ‘News of the Weird’ haha.

      I’m so glad that this made your day, you commenting here and sharing this to your network also made me really happy :)

      I will continue to do everything I can to challenge the status quo, if not life would be too boring, wouldn’t it.

      Again thanks so much and so glad to hear from you :)

  12. Hi Ben

    Wow that must have been scary! What were they afraid of?! They already make plenty. As long as what you were doing was legal.

    I don’t agree with any black hat systems. But if it was above board, then sad that the big boys won again.

    Patricia Perth Australia

    • Hi Patricia,

      It sure was. I think they’re afraid that their revenues are going to go down as the print business dies. They need to insure that they’re website is going to be profitable which is why they’ve decided to start charging for frequent access. Explaining how to get around that charge is perfectly legal since it only involves erasing cookies. Cheers.

  13. Speaking from experience, that’s never fun! Glad things went smoothly and nothing crazy happened. That was a bit daring, especially the service it was providing!

  14. Jack | TeenBusinessForum Reply Dec. 18, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Wow, nice story. Did you know you were infringing on trademark rights when you put NewYorkTimes in the domain name? That’s usually the first sign of a company suing someone. It’s alright. It’s one of those really good stories that you can tell your friends and say I took on Goliath, sort of.

    • Thanks. I had no idea because I checked their trademark, its for “The New York Times” not “New York Times” so I thought it wouldn’t be a problem. Turns out it was, well you’re right atleast it made a nice story.

  15. Hi Ben, thanks for sharing this. We learn from your experience. We should respect to people’s idea and think carefully it is legal or not if we want to start.

  16. I know the feeling. I once did a post on my BS blog that reiterated something I watched on TV. It was to do with a local photo company and seeing as how I had some personal experience with them I wrote my post.

    Basically it warned people off them saying that they used unethical means in order to gain a sale. Long story short they sent me an email saying that if I didn’t remove the article they would sue.

    I wrote back saying that the article was factual with a link to the news site. I also said that if they wanted to pursue the matter I would be glad to get the same TV station involved for another expose.

    Never heard from them again and that post still exists. Get’s a lot of hits too which probably pisses them off some.

  17. That had to be scary. As soon as I saw the domain name I knew you were going to be in trouble. Had a local guy try to do the same thing against a company and he lost the lawsuit as well.

  18. What a story Ben:)

    I am sure this project would be successful and it is really nonsense to force people to subscribe this way.

    Keep up a great work!

  19. You know, at first I was thinking “Wow, how crazy was this guy to try and get away with that? What was he thinking?” But then I realized how bass ackwards publishing companies are these days, and how they could use someone as risk taking and forward thinking as you are giving them these crazy ideas. Don’t ever stop, but definitely think things through ;).

  20. Nice story man. I probably would’ve pissed my pants had that happened to me.

  21. Nice one Ben! I’m glad you gave it a try! :) I gat your back bro. They can never sue you! Thanks for sharing.

  22. As I read your article I felt the emotion come back from when I had a similar experience last January! Glad you got it all sorted out!

  23. LOL yeah, don’t think I’m interested in buying that domain name..no matter how cheap it is! Good luck with that one friend! And as far as the NYT charging their most layal readers, that’s a little backwards, don’t you think??

  24. That’s crazy man! Makes me think twice about some domains and ideas I’ve come up with.

    Too bad you might of just blown your chance to have them write an article on you. lol

  25. I’d say it was worth it ;)!

  26. You probably have noticed that NYTimes’ business is dwindling. That’s why they want to charge for on-line content. Regardless, they (along with magazines and many other forms of traditional advertising) are a sinking ship.

    There are bullies in every corner. You obviously had some ethical issues with what they were doing. Congratulations on taking the steps to voice your discontent.

  27. “Live long and prosper”
    The most valued lessons in life are mistakes not repeated!

  28. You got off pretty easy if all they did was make you shut down the site. I’m surprised they didn’t fine you, or worse. Good to hear nothing bad came from this, and I’m sure you’ve learned a pretty good lesson.

    I once owned a Nintendo related site, and even used their trademark name in the domain. Not once was I asked to shut down the site. I had disclosures and statements in place, and I also linked out to Nintendo’s partner sites and brought in revenue for them.

    Not sure if they approved or not, but thankfully they never took any legal action against me. I ended up selling the site to a friend, and the site is still up.

    Hopefully this will be a lesson to everyone that it’s important to comply with copyright and trademark laws. I was fined for a copyright violation (against my knowledge) myself in the past for using an image on my site, and I know how stressful and scary that situation can be.

  29. I got the same with you cos one of my domain contain the keywords of a famous brand, I think it’s not the company find out you, but godaddy, they don’t allow this kind of domain~~~
    Everybody should be aware of this when you reg a new domain~~~

  30. “Although I thought the New York Time’s response was slightly over-exaggerated”

    You gotta be kidding me. You try to screw them out of revenue by using their trademarks and logo and think they over-reacted? That’s how they pay their employees dude, it’s not a ‘sucks’ site

    • I did not try to screw them over, I also did not use their trademark or logo but the domain was misleading according to them which was the problem.

    • what they claimed and did was basically a alse DMCA take down, unfortunately it seemed to give a young kid a scare of a lifetime and they got away with it. there was nothing really infringing of copyright just a slap on the wrist for bypassing with a VERY simple method.

  31. You were surprised at how this went down? Dude. Welcome to Earth. Seriously, that was idiotic.

  32. For some reson you are wrong , but please dont kill small people went they start something, if this is your false for my opinion is not 100%, why the hack Go daddy sale this account,  you paid for domain and is available for sale, so,, if you have alot of money running business, why dont you buy all of domain for your self, so no one can buy the same or even closed domain, this is business like forest life, only can fight with small people like us, you alway feel right, because of money and law. my opinion,

    Who is false here :
    Whoever please dont create the problem buy salling domain that not allow, or who ever have big business buy all domain that you think will make your company bad, dont blame some one can buy. fight with the same big company, see if you have ball !

    http://fastcatcher.com 

  33. It is very amazing that such a big name as New York Times charge their regular and frequent readers. Instead they should be happy for the fact that people trust them. This kind of action of New York Times will only make them loose readers and followers.
    -Sudha
    http://www.brainwavelive.com/services/material-management-system.html

  34. Wow!
    You got some story dude.
    Keep up the creative ideas thinking outta box.

    • Yea, I don’t know a lot of people who have almost been sued by a major corporation such as the NY times, Its terrible how they have that kind of power.

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