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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.

  • Douglas

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

    • http://epiclaunch.com Ben Lang

      Yes, hopefully, sure learned a lot from this.

  • http://www.replaceyoursalary.com Alan Mater

    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.

    • http://epiclaunch.com Ben Lang

      Well that’s good to hear. Thanks for sharing your experience Alan.

  • http://www.ecigator.com ecigs

    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~~~

    • http://epiclaunch.com Ben Lang

      It was the NYT that emailed Godaddy…

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  • MUY

    “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

    • http://epiclaunch.com Ben Lang

      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.

    • Mathew Lisett

      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.

  • popo

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

  • Tigerman

    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 

  • Sudha

    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

  • Tanuj

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

    • Tyler

      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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