New York Times allows judgement to be clouded by jealousy?

I came across this story back in May, but things appear to be at a stand-still. Essentially, The New York Times came up with an awesome new way to tell stories on the web and when someone figured out how to duplicate it, they sued. Let me start by saying that one awesome thing about the NYT is that they are incredibly innovative at how they use the web. About 10 or so years ago they had a state of the art photo journalism blog that I frequented and LOVED. They were telling neat new stories and really taking advantage of the web. Snow Fall, the prototype for this new way to tell stories on the web is incredibly beautiful. Go check it out on that link. Back? OK, wasn’t that great? It is the NYT taking what’s awesome about the web – what it can do better than print – and making it beautiful. When I came across this site it made me feel like this is the future of magazine journalism. This is what Time Magazine, Newsweek, etc should look like on the web. Instead of ugly (in comparison) walls of text with a few tiny photos, this website really does everything right. It has animation and video and good margins, great fonts. I know it’s not appropriate for the daily news – at least when it’s a short story. But I am absolutely shocked that Rolling Stone magazine isn’t using it for their 5-6 page stories – I think their legendary photos would work so well with this format and it would provide a great transition to digital that would rival the print version. (And perhaps give a compelling reason to pay for the magazine?) Right now it’s like when you see those awesome prototype cars and then they never come out. It just sucks that someone out there has come up with something that could be a real order of magnitude shift in how we experience journalism and stories on the web and no one seems to be using it. Instead the news website and blogs are just slightly better than paper in that they have hyperlinks.

Then a developer saw Snow Fall and decided he could replicate all this custom code that the NYT had done into a plugin – a way for everyone to make these on the cheap. That guy came up with Scroll Kit. Check out the manifesto where he more elegantly (and with more words) explains what I was trying to say above. And he replicated the NYT design to show it could be done. The lawyers at the NYT didn’t like that and got him to remove it. (Which is bunk because as he was using it as a example of making the same code, it was on good fair use grounds) But that happens all the time with large companies. What pissed me off, and inspired me to write this is that he then received another letter from a lawyer saying he had to remove the following from his site:

It took The New York Times hundreds of hours to hand code “Snow Fall.”
…we made a replica in an hour.

Sorry, NYT, but statements of fact can’t be copyright infringement or libel or something you can sue over. I mean, it’s pretty clear from the NYT’s letter that it’s all about jealousy and having egg on their face.

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.

I’m happy to say that as of the time of writing this, in late June, he has not cowed to the silly demand and still has the claim on his blog. I’m also intrigued that he has a plugin for WordPress. I might just check that out in the future.

One response to “New York Times allows judgement to be clouded by jealousy?”

  1. I”m gonna agree with you here that the NYT is being pretty pushy about this. But at the same time – when I read his statement – my first thought was that it was a pretty snarky jab at company who created something that he thought was cool enough to replicate and is clearly putting the NYT way ahead of the game compared to other online news outlets. I feel like the NYT might have less of an issue if he gave them more of a hat tip than a veiled insult.