Another day, another story of a ridiculously overaggressive legal move by a big company. This time it's the NY Times, which turned its bogus nastygramming skills on a startup called Scroll Kit
. Scroll Kit is a three person startup that tries to make a system to create more compelling publishing of stories easier. There's been a big push to make digital media more digitally native, and there have been a few cool examples of it in action, but it still tends to take a lot of development time -- something that Scroll Kit is looking to make easier. Neat. Of course, if you follow the media space, you'd know that last year, the NY Times put out a story called Snow Fall
that was very well designed. I didn't think it was miraculous, but definitely a step up, and showed a better way to tell a story online. The old media guard has been spazzing out over Snow Fall as if it was the greatest thing ever, which is silly -- and even the NYT itself is taking that one example way too seriously in turning "snow fall" into a verb
inside its newsroom -- as in, "we need to 'snow fall' that story."
Okay. Whatever. The guys at Scroll Kit agreed that Snow Fall is a nice example, and they knew that it took the NY Times many months to design it. So, in a compelling example of their own product, they showed how Scroll Kit could be used to recreate Snow Fall's design elements in about an hour, and put up a video showing that. This is called "good marketing." But, to the NY Times, they claimed it was copyright infringement, sending the following email to Scroll Kit founder Cody Brown:
First of all, there's a tremendously
strong fair use argument here. Nothing in what Scroll Kit did with the video competed with the Snow Fall story in any way shape or form. The video was just a demonstration of its product and how you could use it to create a Snow Fall like experience. Still, the folks at Scroll Kit decided that fighting the NY Times wasn't worth the trouble, so they took down the video and sent off an email to the lawyer saying they had complied. But, apparently that wasn't enough for Deborah Beshaw-Farrell of the NY Times' legal department, as she sent off another letter, still complaining:
The first letter was bad, but this one is downright ridiculous. Switching the video to private should certainly be enough. But, the claim that they need to remove any reference to the NY Times from the website, including a factual description of reality
is completely bogus. It's just the NY Times acting as a legal bully. Brown publicly asked the NY Times to reconsider, noting that if it believes so strongly that things like Snow Fall are the future of news, it's pretty ridiculous for them to try to intimidate and shut down a startup looking to make that process easier.
In response to Brown's request for more info, he received a third email, from a different lawyer at the NY Times, Richard Samson, with a statement that is even more ridiculous:
Dear Mr. Brown:
We are offended by the fact that you are promoting your tool, as a way to quickly replicate copyright-protected content owned by The New York Times Company. It also seems strange to me that you would defend your right to boast about how quickly you were able to commit copyright infringement:
The NYT spent hundreds of hours hand-coding “Snow Fall” We made a replica in an hour.
If you wouldn’t mind using another publication to advertise your infringement tool, we’d appreciate it.
Again, this is completely bogus on many levels. The tool is not "an infringement tool," it's a creative tool for creating this type
of thing. Anyone with any
even rudimentary knowledge of design and development know that it's fairly standard for people to create tools based on creating things that others have created in the past. In fact, lots of websites copy elements and style from other websites. Even the NY Times tends to be a fairly derivative site design-wise. Second: being "offended" is no legal basis for making a threat. Brown was not boasting about "committing copyright infringement," but about using a tool to be able to do a similar design. It had nothing to do with infringement, and everything to do with making the design process easier.
The NY Times is being absolutely ridiculous here.
Once again, however, we see what happens when companies focus on legal strategies rather than supporting innovation. Sure, Scroll Kit could make it easier for competitors to the NY Times to create compelling stories, but it also might help the NY Times drive its own efforts forward. Perhaps, rather than spend many months of its own designers' time, it could use something like Scroll Kit to make it easier for their staff to design such compelling stories. Instead, they focus on stifling it with highly questionable legal threats. You know how you can tell when a company is really in trouble? When it focuses on legal attacks on others, rather than driving its own innovation.