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?

In January 2011, I found out that the New York Times was going to start charging readers in 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. So I thought I'd start a website explaining how to navigate around the fee. It would simply be a guide on how to erase cookies and provide 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.  We 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."

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

I reread the email from Godaddy 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'd 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 was to 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-blown, 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.

Ben Lang is an 18-year-old internet entrepreneur. He's the founder of EpicLaunch.com and MySchoolHelp.com. For more see his personal site.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the country's most promising young entrepreneurs.  The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment and provides its members with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of a business's development and growth.

About Ben Lang

Ben is the creator of Mapped In Israel and a growth hacker at lool ventures. He is currently a soldier in the IDF. He has created projects that have been used by millions of people and has been featured on sites around the world such as TechCrunch, LifeHacker, NYT and more.

4 Responses to I Was Almost Sued by The New York Times

  1. Ben Lang says:

    Certainly wasn't one of my brightest ideas, good lesson though :)

  2. Pingback: I Was Almost Sued by The New York Times - LOGO WORLD 2011 – LOGO WORLD 2011

  3. matt says:

    "I personally dislike the idea of being charged for online content, especially general news."

    1. your making the assumption that the news is free to produce it is not.

    2. then go read something else?

  4. Matt Benedetto says:

    I ran into a similar altercation with my website and Intel Computers. I ran a video blog website called thenewintel.com, which was a shortened name for our production company New Intelligent Group. We had the new website up for about 6 or 7 months until I received a very similar email from a lawyer at Intel.

    Intel is not a registered trademark as it is accepted dictionary abbreviation of intelligence. However Intel was acting up a new grey area of trademark law that would be able to protect them from possible harm due to the scope and familiarity of the Intel brand.

    I began doing a decent amount of research and Intel was sending dozens of these cease and deist letters to small business and scaring them to conform with their deep pockets and army of lawyers.

    I was currently taking a business law course at St. Micheal's College, so I started working with my professor on the matter.

    I went back and forth with Intel for over a year because I truly did not believe their actions were very legit.

    I finally caved after I knew I wouldn't get anywhere and that I had most likely already done my damage through the amount of time and money they had to pay lawyers to respond to my letters.

    I rebranded and launched the website again recently.

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